Clifford Marsh left Pompeii on the same day as his two chance acquaintances; he returned to his quarters on the Mergellina, much perturbed in mind, beset with many doubts, with divers temptations. "Shall I the spigot wield?" Must the ambitions of his glowing youth come to naught, and he descend to rank among the Philistines? For, to give him credit for a certain amount of good sense, he never gravely contemplated facing the world in the sole strength of his genius. He knew one or two who had done so before his mind's eye was a certain little garret in Chelsea, where an acquaintance of his, a man of real and various powers, was year after year taxing his brain and heart in a bitter struggle with penury; and these glimpses of Bohemia were far from inspiring Clifford with zeal for naturalization. Elated with wine and companionship, he liked to pose as one who was sacrificing "prospects" to artistic conscientiousness; but, even though he had "fallen back" on landscape, he was very widely awake to the fact that his impressionist studies would not supply him with bread, to say nothing of butter -- and Clifford must needs have both.
That step-father of his was a well-to-do manufacturer of shoddy in Leeds, one Hibbert, a good-natured man on the whole, but of limited horizon. He had married a widow above his own social standing, and for a long time was content to supply her idolized son with the means of pursuing artistic studies in London and abroad. But Mr. Hibbert had a strong opinion that this money should by now have begun to make some show of productiveness. Domestic grounds of dissatisfaction ripened his resolve to be firm with young Mr. Marsh. Mrs. Hibbert was extravagant; doubtless her son was playing the fool in the same direction. After all, one could pay too much for the privilege of being snubbed by one's superior wife and step-son. If Clifford were willing to "buckle to" at sober business (it was now too late for him to learn a profession), well and good; he should have an opening at which many a young fellow would jump. Otherwise, let the fastidious gentleman pay his own tailor's bills.
Clifford's difficulties were complicated by his relations with Madeline Denyer. It was a year since he had met Madeline at Naples, had promptly fallen in love with her face and her advanced opinions, and had won her affection in return. Clifford was then firm in the belief that, if he actually married, Mr. Hibbert would not have the heart to stop his allowance; Mrs. Denyer had reasons for thinking otherwise, and her daughter saw the case in the same light. It must be added that he presumed the Denyers to be better off than they really were; in fact, he was to a great extent misled. His dignity, if the worst came about, would not have shrunk from moderate assistance at the hands of his parents-in-law. Madeline knew well enough that nothing of this kind was possible, and in the end made her lover's mind clear on the point. Since then the course of these young people's affections had been anything but smooth. However, the fact remained that there was mutual affection -- which, to be sure, made the matter worse.
Distinctly so since the estrangement which had followed Marsh's arrival at the boarding-house. He did not take Madeline's advice to seek another abode, and for two or three days Madeline knew not whether to be glad or offended at his remaining. For two or three days only; then she began to have a pronounced opinion on the subject. It was monstrous that he should stay under this roof and sit at this table, after what had happened. He had no delicacy; he was behaving as no gentleman could. It was high time that her mother spoke to him.
Mrs. Denyer solemnly invited the young man to a private interview.
"Mr. Marsh," she began, with pained dignity, whilst Clifford stood before her twiddling his watch-chain, "I really think the time has come for me to ask an explanation of what is going on. My daughter distresses me by saying that all is at an end between you. If that is really the case, why do you continue to live here, when you must know how disagreeable it is to Madeline?"
"Mrs. Denyer," replied Clifford, in a friendly tone. "there has been a misunderstanding between us, but I am very far from reconciling myself to the thought that everything is at an end. My remaining surely proves that."
"I should have thought so. But in that case I am obliged to ask you another question. What can you mean by paying undisguised attentions to another young lady who is living here?"
"You astonish me. What foundation is there for such a charge?"
"At least you won't affect ignorance as to the person of whom I speak. I assure you that I am not the only one who has noticed this."
"You misinterpret my behaviour altogether. Of course, you are speaking of Miss Doran. If your observation had been accurate, you would have noticed that Miss Doran gives me no opportunity of paying her attentions, if I wished. Certainly I have had conversations with Mrs. Lessingham, but I see no reason why I should deny myself that pleasure."
"This is sophistry. You walked about the museum with both these ladies for a long time yesterday."
Clifford was startled, and could not conceal it.
"Of course," he exclaimed, "if my movements are watched, with a view to my accusation ----!"
And he broke off significantly.
"Your movements are not watched. But if I happen to hear of such things, I must draw my own conclusions."
"I give you my assurance that the meeting was purely by chance, and that our conversation was solely of indifferent matters -- of art, of Pompeii, and so on."
"Perhaps you are not aware," resumed Mrs. Denyer, with a smile that made caustic comment on this apology, "that, when we sit at table, your eyes are directed to Miss Doran with a frequency that no one can help observing."
Marsh hesitated; then, throwing his head back, remarked in an unapproachable manner:
"Mrs. Denyer, you will not forget that I am an artist."
"I don't forget that you profess to be one, Mr. Marsh."
This was retort with a vengeance. Clifford reddened slightly, and looked angry. Mrs. Denyer had reached the point to which her remarks were from the first directed, and it was not her intention to spare the young man's susceptibilities. She had long ago gauged him, and not inaccurately on the whole; it seemed to her that he was of the men who can be "managed."
"I fail to understand you," said Marsh, with dignity.
"My dear Clifford, let me speak to you as one who has your well-being much at heart. I have no wish to hurt your feelings, but I have been upset by this silly affair, and it makes me speak a little sharply. Now, I see well enough what you have been about; it is an old device of young gentlemen who wish to revenge themselves just a little for what they think a slight. Of course you have never given a thought to Miss Doran, who, as you say, would never dream of carrying on a flirtation, for she knows how things are between you and Madeline, and she is a young lady of very proper behaviour. In no case, as you of course understand, could she be so indelicate as anything of this kind would imply. No; but you are vexed with Madeline about some silly little difference, and you play with her feelings. There has been enough of it; I must interfere. And now let us talk a little about your position. Madeline has, of course, told me everything. Listen to me, my dear Clifford; you must at once accept Mr. Hibbert's kindly meant proposal -- you must indeed."
Marsh had reflected anxiously during this speech. He let a moment of silence pass; then said gravely:
"I cannot consent to do anything of the kind, Mrs. Denyer."
"Oh yes, you can and will, Clifford. Silly boy, don't you see that in this way you secure yourself the future just suited to your talents? As an artist you will never make your way; that is certain. As a man with a substantial business at your back, you can indulge your artistic tastes quite sufficiently, and will make yourself the centre of an admiring circle. We cannot all be stars of the first magnitude. Be content to shine in a provincial sphere, at all events for a time. Madeline as your wife will help you substantially. You will have good society, and better the richer you become. You are made to be a rich man and to enjoy life. Now let us settle this affair with your step- father."
Still Clifford reflected, and again with the result that he appeared to have no thought of being persuaded to such concessions. The debate went on for a long time, ultimately with no little vigour on both sides. Its only immediate result was that Marsh left the house for a few days, retiring to meditate at Pompeii.
In the mean time there was no apparent diminution in Madeline's friendliness towards Cecily Doran. It was not to be supposed that Madeline thought tenderly of the other's beauty, or with warm admiration of her endowments; but she would not let Clifford Marsh imagine that it mattered to her in the least if he at once transferred his devotion to Miss Doran. Her tone in conversing with Cecily became a little more patronizing, -- though she spoke no more of impressionism, -- in proportion as she discovered the younger girl's openness of mind and her lack of self-assertiveness.
"You play the piano, I think?" she said one day.
"For my own amusement only."
"And you draw?"
"With the same reserve."
"Ah," said Madeline, "I have long since given up these things. Don't you think it is a pity to make a pastime of an art? I soon saw that I was never likely really to do anything in music or drawing, and out of respect for them I ceased to -- to potter. Please don't think I apply that word to you."
"Oh, but it is very applicable," replied Cecily, with a laugh. "I think you are quite right; I often enough have the same feeling. But I am full of inconsistencies -- as you are finding out, I know."
Mrs. Lessingham displayed good nature in her intercourse with the Denyers. She smiled in private, and of course breathed to Cecily a word of warning; but the family entertained her, and Madeline she came really to like. With Mrs. Denyer she compared notes on the Italy of other days.
"A sad, sad change!" Mrs. Denyer was wont to sigh. "All the poetry gone! Think of Rome before 1870, and what it is now becoming. One never looked for intellect in Italy -- living intellect, of course, I mean -- but natural poetry one did expect and find. It is heart-breaking, this progress! If it were not for my dear girls, I shouldn't be here; they adore Italy -- of course, never having known it as it was. And I am sure you must feel, as I do, Mrs. Lessingham, the miserable results of cheapened travel. Oh, the people one sees at railway-stations, even meets in hotels, I am sorry to say, sometimes! In a few years, I do believe, Genoa and Venice will strongly remind one of Margate."
No echo of the cry of "Wolf!" ever sounded in Mrs. Denyer's conversation when she spoke of her husband. That Odysseus of commerce was always referred to as being concerned in enterprises of mysterious importance and magnitude; she would hint that he had political missions, naturally not to be spoken of in plain terms. Mrs. Lessingham often wondered with a smile what the truth really was; she saw no reason for making conjectures of a disagreeable kind, but it was pretty clear to her that selfishness, idleness, and vanity were at the root of Mrs. Denyer's character, and in a measure explained the position of the family.
During the last few days, Barbara had exhibited a revival of interest in the "place in Lincolnshire." Her experiments proved that it needed but a moderate ingenuity to make Mr. Musselwhite's favourite topic practically inexhaustible. The "place" itself having been sufficiently described, it was natural to inquire what other "places" were its neighbours, what were the characteristics of the nearest town, how long it took to drive from the "place" to the town, from the "place" to such another "place," and so on. Mr. Musselwhite was undisguisedly grateful for every remark or question that kept him talking at his ease. It was always his dread lest a subject should be broached on which he could say nothing whatever -- there were so many such! -- and as often as Barbara broke a silence without realizing his fear, he glanced at her with the gentlest and most amiable smile. Never more than glanced; yet this did not seem to be the result of shyness; rather it indicated a lack of mental activity, of speculation, of interest in her as a human being.
One morning he lingered at the luncheon-table when nearly all the others had withdrawn, playing with crumbs, and doubtless shrinking from the ennui that lay before him until dinner-time. Near him, Mrs. Denyer, Barbara, and Zillah were standing in conversation about some photographs that had this morning come by post.
"This one isn't at all like you, my dear," said Mrs. Denyer, with emphasis, to her eldest girl. "The other is passable, but I wouldn't have any of these."
"Well, of course I am no judge," replied Barbara, "but I can't agree with you. I much prefer this one."
Mr. Musselwhite was slowly rising.
"Let us take some one else's opinion," said the mother. "I wonder what Mr. Musselwhite would say?"
The mention of his name caused him to turn his head, half absently, with an inquiring smile. Barbara withdrew a step, but Mrs. Denyer, in the most natural way possible, requested Mr. Musselwhite's judgment on the portraits under discussion.
He took the two in his hands, and, after inspecting them, looked round to make comparison with the original. Barbara met his gaze placidly, with gracefully poised head, her hands joined behind her. It was such a long time before the arbiter found anything to remark, that the situation became a little embarrassing; Zillah laughed girlishly, and her sister's eyes fell.
"Really, it's very hard to decide," said Mr. Musselwhite at length, with grave conscientiousness. "I think they're both remarkably good. I really think I should have some of both."
"Barbara thinks that this makes her look too childish," said Mrs. Denyer, using her daughter's name with a pleasant familiarity.
Again Mr. Musselwhite made close comparison. It was, in fact, the first time that he had seen the girl's features; hitherto they had been, like everything else not embalmed in his memory, a mere vague perception, a detail of the phantasmic world through which he struggled against his ennui.
"Childish? Oh dear, no!" he remarked, almost vivaciously. "It is charming; they are both charming. Really, I'd have some of both, Miss Denyer."
"Then we certainly will," was Mrs. Denyer's conclusion; and with a gracious inclination of the head, she left the room, followed by her daughters. Mr. Musselwhite looked round for another glance at Barbara, but of course he was just too late.
Poor Madeline, in the meantime, was being sorely tried. Whilst Clifford Marsh was away at Pompeii, daily "scenes" took place between her and her mother. Mrs. Denyer would have had her make conciliatory movements, whereas Madeline, who had not exchanged a word with Clifford since the parting in wrath, was determined not to be the first to show signs of yielding. And she held her ground, tearless, resentful, strong in a sense of her own importance.
When he again took his place at Mrs. Gluck's table, Clifford had the air of a man who has resigned himself to the lack of sympathy and appreciation -- nay, who defies everything external, and in the strength of his genius goes serenely onwards. Never had he displayed such self-consciousness; not for an instant did he forget to regulate the play of his features. Mrs. Denyer he had greeted distantly; her daughters, more distantly still. He did not look more than once or twice in Miss Doran's direction, for Mrs. Denyer's reproof had made him conscious of an excess in artistic homage. His neighbour being Mr. Bradshaw, he conversed with him agreeably, smiling seldom. He seemed neither depressed nor uneasy; his countenance wore a grave and noble melancholy, now and then illumined with an indescribable ardour.
The Bradshaws had begun to talk of leaving Naples, but this seemed to be the apology for enjoying themselves which is so characteristic of English people. Even Mrs. Bradshaw found her life from day to day very pleasant, and in consequence never saw her friends at the villa without expressing much uneasiness about affairs at home, and blaming her husband for making so long a stay. Both of them were now honoured with the special attention of Mr. Marsh. Clifford was never so much in his element as when conversing of art and kindred matters with persons who avowed their deficiencies in that sphere of knowledge, yet were willing to learn; relieved from the fear of criticism, he expanded, he glowed, he dogmatized. With Mrs. Lessingham he could not be entirely at his ease; her eye was occasionally disturbing to a pretender who did not lack discernment. But in walking about the museum with Mr. Bradshaw, he was the most brilliant of ciceroni. Jacob was not wholly credulous, for he had spoken of the young man with Mrs. Lessingham, but he found such companionship entertaining enough from time to time, and Clifford's knowledge of Italian was occasionally a help to him.
A day or two of moderate intimacy with any person whatsoever always led Clifford to a revelation of his private circumstances; it was not long before Mr. Bradshaw was informed not only of Mr. Hibbert's harshness, but of the painful treatment to which Clifford was being subjected at the hands of Mrs. Denyer and Madeline. The latter point was handled with a good deal of tact, for Clifford had it in view' that through Mr. Bradshaw his words would one way or other reach Mrs. Lessingham, and so perchance come to Miss Doran's ears. He made no unworthy charges; he spoke not in anger, but in sorrow; he was misunderstood, he was depreciated, by those who should have devoted themselves to supporting his courage under adversity. And as he talked, he became the embodiment of calm magnanimity; the rhetoric which was meant to impress his listener had an exalting effect upon himself -- as usual.
"You mean to hold out, then?" asked the bluff Jacob, with a smile which all but became a chuckle.
"I am an artist," was the noble reply. "I cannot abandon my life's work."
"But how about bread and cheese? They are necessary to an artist, as much as to other men, I'm afraid."
Clifford smiled calmly.
"I shall not be the first who has starved in such a cause."
Jacob roared as he related this conversation to his wife.
"I must keep an eye on the lad," he said. "When I hear he's given in, I'll write him a letter of congratulation."
An interesting conversation took place one morning between Mrs. Spence and Mrs. Lessingham with regard to Cecily. They were alone together at the villa; Cecily and Miriam had gone for a drive with the Bradshaws. After speaking of Reuben Elgar, Mrs. Lessingham passed rather abruptly to what seemed a disconnected subject.
"I don't think it's time yet for Cecily to give up her set studies. I should like to find some one to read with her regularly again before long -- say Latin and history; there would be no harm in a little mathematics. But there's a difficulty in finding the suitable person." She smiled. "I'm afraid only a lady will answer the purpose."
"Better, no doubt," assented Eleanor, also with a smile.
"And ladies who would be any good to Cecily are not at one's disposition every day. What an admirable mind she has! I never knew any one acquire with so little effort. Of course, she has long ago left me behind in everything. The only use I can be to her is to help her in gaining knowledge of the world -- not to be learnt entirely out of books, we know."
"What is your system with her?"
"You see that I have one," said Mrs. Lessingham, gratified, and rustling her plumage a little as a lady does when she is about to speak in confidence of something that pleases her. "Of course, I very soon understood that the ordinary surveillance and restrictions and moral theories were of little use in her case. (I may speak with you quite freely, I am sure.) I'm afraid the results would have been very sad if Cecily had grown up in Lancashire."
"I doubt whether she would have grown up at all."
"Indeed, it seemed doubtful. If her strength had not utterly failed, she must have suffered dreadfully in mind. I studied her carefully during the first two years; then I was able to pursue my method with a good deal of confidence. It has been my aim to give free play to all her faculties; to direct her intelligence, but never to check its growth -- as is commonly done. We know what is meant by a girl's education, as a rule; it is not so much the imparting of knowledge as the careful fostering of special ignorances. I think I put it rightly?"
"I think so."
"It is usual to say that a girl must know nothing of this and that and the other thing -- these things being, in fact, the most important for her to understand. I won't say that every girl can safely be left so free as I have left Cecily; but when one has to deal with exceptional intelligence, why not yield it the exceptional advantages? Then again, I had to bear in mind that Cecily has strong emotions. This seemed to me only another reason for releasing her mind from the misconceptions it is usual to encourage. I have done my best to help her to see things as they are, not as moral teachers would like them to be, and as parents make-believe to their girls that they are indeed."
Mrs. Lessingham ended on a suave note of triumph, and smiled very graciously as Eleanor looked approval.
"The average parent says," she pursued, "that his or her daughter must be kept pure-minded, and therefore must grow up in a fool's paradise. I have no less liking for purity, but I understand it in rather a different sense; certain examples of the common purity that I have met with didn't entirely recommend themselves to me. Then again, the average parent says that the daughter's lot in life is marriage, and that after marriage is time enough for her to throw away the patent rose-coloured spectacles. I, on the other hand, should be very sorry indeed to think that Cecily has no lot in life besides marriage; to me she seemed a human being to be instructed and developed, not a pretty girl to be made ready for the market. The rose coloured spectacles had no part whatever in my system. I have known some who threw them aside at marriage, in the ordinary way, with the result that they thenceforth looked on everything very obliquely indeed. I'm sorry to say that it was my own fate to wear those spectacles, and I know only too well how hard a struggle it cost me to recover healthy eyesight."
"Mine fell off and got broken long before I was married," said Eleanor, "and my parents didn't think it worth while to buy new ones."
"Wise parents! No, I have steadily resisted the theory that a girl must know nothing, think nothing, but what is likely to meet the approval of the average husband -- that is to say, the foolish, and worse than foolish, husband. I see no such difference between girl and boy as demands a difference in moral training; we know what comes of the prevalent contrary views. And in Cecily's case, I believe I have vindicated my theory. She respects herself; she knows all that lack of self-respect involves. She has been fed on wholesome victuals, not on adulterated milk. She is not haunted with that vulgar shame which passes for maiden modesty. Do you find fault with her, as a girl?"
"I should have to ponder long for an objection."
"And what is the practical result? In whatever society she is, I am quite easy in mind about her. Cecily will never do anything foolish. It's only the rose-coloured spectacles that cause stumbling. And I mean by 'stumbling' all the silliness to which girls are subject. Ah! if I could live my girlhood over again, and with some sensible woman to guide me! If I could have been put on my guard against idiotic illusions, as Cecily is!"
"We mustn't expect too much of education," Eleanor ventured to remark. "There is no way of putting experience into a young girl's head. It would say little for her qualities if a girl could not make a generous mistake."
"Such mistakes are not worthy of being called generous, as a rule. They are too imbecile. That state of illusion is too contemptible. There is very little danger of Cecily's seeing any one in a grossly false light."
Eleanor did not at once assent.
"You seem to doubt that?" added the other, with a searching look.
"I think she is as well guarded as a girl can be; but, as I said before, education is no substitute for experience. Don't think me captious, however. I sympathize entirely with the course you have taken. If I had a daughter, I should like her to be brought up on the same principles."
"Cecily is very mature for her age," continued Mrs. Lessingham, with evident pleasure in stating and restating her grounds of confidence. "She feels strongly, but never apart from judgment. Now and then she astonishes me with her discernment of character; clearness of thought seems almost to anticipate in her the experience on which you lay such stress. Have you noticed her with Mr. Mallard? How differently many girls would behave! But Cecily understands him so well; she knows he thinks of her as a child, and nothing could be more simply natural than her friendship for him. I suppose Mr. Mallard is one of the artists who never marry?"
"I don't know him well enough to decide that," answered Eleanor, with a curious smile.
It was in the evening of this day, when the Spences and Miriam were sitting together after dinner, that a servant announced a visit of Reuben Elgar, adding that he was in his sister's room. Miriam went to join him.
"You can spare me a minute or two?" he asked cheerily, as she entered.
"Certainly. You are just back from Pompeii?"
"From Castellamare -- from Sorrento the indescribable -- from Amalfi the unimaginable -- from Salerno! Leave Naples without seeing those places, and hold yourself for ever the most wretched of mortals! Old Mallard forced me to go with him, and I am in his debt to eternity!"
This exalted manner of speech was little to Miriam's taste especially from her brother. Sobriety was what she desired in him. It seemed a small advantage that his extravagance should exhibit itself in this way rather than in worse; the danger was still there.
"Sit down, and talk more quietly. You say Mr. Mallard forced you to go?"
"I was coming back to Naples from Pompeii. By-the- bye, I went up Vesuvius, and descended shoeless. The guides ought to have metal boots on hire. I was coming back, but Mallard clutched me by the coat-collar. Even now I've come sorely against his will. I left him at Amalfi. I'm going to settle my affairs here to-morrow, and join him again. He's persuaded me to try and work at Amalfi."
"How long do you think of staying there?"
"It all depends. Perhaps I shan't be able to do anything, after all."
"But surely that depends on yourself."
"Not a bit! If I were a carpenter or bricklayer, one might say so -- in a sense. But such work as I am going to do is a question of mood, influences, caprices ----"
"Mr. Mallard was unwilling to let you return here?"
"Naturally. He knows my uncertainty. But I have promised him; I shall keep my word."
"He is working himself?"
"Will be by now; we had horrible day of rain at Amalfi. He seems rather glummer than usual, but that won't hinder his work. I wish I had the old fellow's energy. After all, though, one can force one's self to use pencils and brushes; it's a different thing when all has to come from the brain. If you haven't a quiet mind ----"
"What disturbs you?" Miriam asked, watching him.
"Oh, there's always something. I wish you could give me a share of your equanimity. Never mind, I shall try. By-the-bye, I ought to have a word with Mrs. Lessingham and Cecily before I go. Are they likely to be here tomorrow?"
"I can't say."
"Then I shall call at their place. When will they be at home?"
"Do you think you ought to do that?" Miriam asked, without looking at him.
"Why on earth not?"
His brow darkened, and he seemed about to utter something not unlike his vehemencies on the day of arrival.
"You must judge for yourself, of course," said Miriam. "We won't talk about it."
Reuben nodded agreement carelessly. Then he began to talk of his proposed work, and presently they went to join the Spences. For an hour or more, Reuben held forth rapturously on what he had seen these last few days. He could not rest seated, but paced up and down the room, gesticulating, fervidly eloquent.
"Do play me something, will you, Mrs. Spence?" he asked at length. (His cousinship with Eleanor had never been affirmed by intimate association, and he had not the habit of addressing her by the personal name.) "Just for ten minutes; then I'll be off and trouble you no more. Something to invigorate! A rugged piece!"
Eleanor made a choice from Beethoven, and, whilst she played, Elgar leant forward on the back of a chair. Then he bade them good-bye, his pulse at fever-time.
Half-past ten next morning found him walking hither and thither on the Mergellina, frequently consulting his watch. He decided at length to approach the house in which his acquaintances dwelt. Passing through the portone, whom should he encounter but Clifford Marsh, known to him only from the casual meeting at Pompeii, not by name. They stopped to speak. Elgar inquired if the other lived at Mrs. Gluck's.
"For the present."
"I have friends here," Reuben added. "You know Mrs. Lessingham?"
"Oh yes," replied Clifford, eyeing his collocutor. "If you are calling to see those ladies," he continued, "they went out half an hour ago. I saw them drive away."
Elgar muttered his annoyance. Though he disliked doing so, he asked Marsh whether he knew when the ladies were likely to return. Clifford declared his ignorance. The two looked at each other, smiled, said good morning, and turned different ways.
Reuben walked about the sea-front for a couple of hours. "Who is that confounded fellow?" he kept asking in his mind, adding the highly ludicrous question, "What business has he to know them?" His impatience waxed; now and then he strode at such a pace that perspiration covered him. The most trivial discomposure had often much the same effect on him; if he happened to have a difficulty in finding his way, for instance, he would fume himself into exasperated heat.
"What business have they to live in a vulgar boarding house? It's abominable bad taste and indiscretion in that woman. In fact, I don't like Mrs. Lessingham. -- And what the devil has it to do with me?"
He strode up to the villa. Possibly they were there; yet he didn't like to call -- for various reasons. He fretted about the roads, this way and that, till hunger oppressed him. Having eaten at the first restaurant he came to, he directed his steps towards the Mergellina again. At two o'clock he reached the house and made inquiry. The ladies had not yet returned.
He struck off towards the Chiaia, again paced backwards and forwards, cursed at carriage-drivers who plagued him, tried to amuse himself on the Santa Lucia. And pray what was all this fuss about? When he rose this morning, he had half a mind to start at once for Amalfi, and not see Mrs. Lessingham and her niece at all; he "didn't know that be cared much." He had met Cecily Doran twice. The second time was on the Strada Nuova di Posillipo, where he encountered a carriage in which Cecily and her aunt were taking the air; he talked with them for three minutes. It was the undeniable fact that he had broken away from "old Mallard" merely to see Cecily again. He had never tried to blind himself to it; that kind of thing was not in his way. None the less was it a truth that he thought himself capable of saying good-bye to the wonderful girl, and posting off to his literary work. Why expose himself to temptation? Because he chose to; because it was pleasant; surely an excellent reason.
If only he hadn't come up against that confounded artist-fellow! That had upset him, most absurdly. A half good-looking sort of fellow: a fellow who could prate with a certain brio; not unlikely to make something of a figure in the eyes of a girl like Cecily. And what then?
Before now, Elgar had confessed to a friend that he couldn't read the marriage-column in a newspaper without feeling a distinct jealousy of all the male creatures there mentioned.
He sought out a caffè, and sat there for an hour, drinking a liquor that called itself lacryma-Christi, but would at once have been detected for a pretender by a learned palate. He drank it for the first time, and tried to enjoy it, but his mind kept straying to alien things. When it was nearly four o'clock, he again went forth, took a carriage, and bade the man drive quickly.
This time he was successful. A servant conducted him by many stairs and passages to Mrs. Lessingham's sitting-room. He entered, and found himself alone with Cecily.
"Mrs. Lessingham will certainly be back very soon," she said, in shaking hands with him. "They told me you had called before, and I thought you would like better to wait a few minutes than to be disappointed again."
"I think of going to Amalfi to-morrow morning, perhaps for a long time," remarked the visitor. "I wished to say good bye."
The accumulated impatience and nervousness of the whole morning disturbed his pulses and put a weight upon his tongue; he spoke with awkward indecision, held himself awkwardly. His own voice sounded boorish to him after Cecily's accents.
Cecily began to speak of how she had spent the day. Her aunt was making purchases -- was later in returning than had been expected. Then she asked for an account of Elgar's doings since they last met. The conversation grew easier Reuben began to recover his natural voice, and to lose disagreeable self-consciousness in the delight of hearing Cecily and meeting her look. Had he known her better, he would have observed that she spoke with unusual diffidence, that she was not quite so self-possessed a. of wont, and that her manner was deficient in the frank gaiety which as a rule made its great charm. Her tone softened itself in questioning; she listened so attentively that, when he had ceased speaking, her eyes always rose to his, as if she had expected something further.
"Who is the young artist that lives here?" Elgar inquired. "I met him at Pompeii, and to-day came upon him here in the courtyard. A slight, rather boyish fellow."
"I think you mean Mr. Marsh," replied Cecily, smiling. "He has recently been at Pompeii, I know."
"You are on friendly terms with him?"
"Not on unfriendly," she answered, with amusement.
Elgar averted his face. Instantly the flow of his blood was again turbid; he felt an inclination to fling out some ill-mannered remark.
"You must come in contact with all kinds of odd people in a place like this."
"One or two are certainly odd," was the reply, in a gentle tone; "but most of them are very pleasant to be with occasionally. Naturally we see more of the Bradshaws than of any one else. There's a family named Denyer -- a lady with three daughters; I don't think you would dislike them. Mr. Marsh is their intimate friend."
It was all but as though she pleaded against a mistaken judgment which troubled her. To Mallard she had spoken of her fellow-boarders in quite a different way, with merry though kindly criticism, or in the strain of generous idealization which so often marked her language.
"Do you know anything of his work?" Elgar pursued.
"I have seen a few of his water-colour drawings."
"He showed you them?"
"No; one of the Miss Denyers did. He had given them to her"
"Oh!" He at once brightened. "And how did they strike you?"
"I'm sorry to say they didn't interest me much. But I have no right to sit in judgment."
Elgar had the good taste to say nothing more on the subject. He let his eyes rest on her down-turned face for a moment.
"You see a good deal of Miriam, I'm glad to hear."
"I am sometimes afraid I trouble her by going too often."
"Have no such fear. I wish you were living under the same roof with her. No one's society could do her so much good as yours. The poor girl has too long been in need of such an aid to rational cheerfulness."
They were interrupted by the entrance of an English maidservant, who asked whether Miss Doran would have tea brought at once, or wait till Mrs. Lessingham's return.
"You see how English we are," said Cecily to her visitor. "I think we'll have it now; Mrs. Lessingham may be hero any moment."
It was growing dusk. Whilst the conversation was diverted by trifles, two lighted lamps were brought into the room. E]gar had risen and gone to the window.
"We won't shut out the evening sky," said Cecily, standing not far from him.
The door closed upon the servant who had carried in the tea-tray. Elgar turned to his companion, and said in a musing tone, with a smile:
"How long is it since we saw each other every day in Manchester?"
"Seven years since that short time you spent with us."
"Seven; yes. You were not twelve then; I was not quite twenty-one. As regards change, a lifetime might have passed since, with both of us. Yet I don't feel very old, not oppressively ancient."
"And I'm sure I don't."
They laughed together.
"You are younger than you were then," he continued, in his most characteristic voice, the voice which was musical and alluring, and suggestive of his nature's passionate depths and heights. "You have grown into health of body and soul, and out of all the evil things that would have robbed you of natural happiness. Nothing ever made me more glad than first seeing you at the villa. I didn't know what you had become, and in looking at you I rejoiced on your account. You would gladden even miserable old age, like sunlight on a morning of spring."
Cecily moved towards the tea-table in silence. She began to fill one of the cups, but put the teapot down again and waited for a moment. Having resumed her purpose, she looked round and saw Elgar seated sideways on a chair by the window. With the cup of tea in her hand, she approached him and offered it without speaking. He rose quickly to take it, and went to another part of the room.
"I hope Miriam will stay here the whole winter," Cecily said, as she seated herself by the table.
"I hope so," he assented absently, putting his tea aside. "How long are you and Mrs. Lessingham likely to stay?"
"At least till February, I think."
"Shall you get as far as Amalfi some day?"
"Oh yes And Miriam will come with us, I hope. And to Capri too."
"I must see Capri. I shouldn't wonder if I go there soon; probably it would suit my purpose better than Amalfi. Yet I must be alone, if I am to work. I haven't Mallard's detachment. That seems to you a paltry confession of weakness."
"No, indeed. I am told that Mr. Mallard is quite exceptional in his power of disregarding everything but his work."
"Exceptional in many things, no doubt. I must seem very insignificant in comparison."
"Why should you? Mr. Mallard is so much older; he has long been fixed in his course."
"Older, yes," assented Elgar, with satisfaction." Perhaps at his age I too may have done something worth doing."
"Who could doubt it?"
"It does me good to hear you say that!"
He moved from his distant place, and threw himself in one of his usual careless attitudes on a nearer chair. "But Miriam has no faith in me, not a jot Does she speak harshly of me to you?"
Cecily shook her head, and seemed unable to speak more than the monosyllable.
"But she has nothing encouraging to say? She shows that she looks upon me as one of whom no good can come? That is the impression you have received from her?"
Cecily looked at him gravely.
"She has scarcely spoken of you at all -- scarcely more than the few words that were inevitable."
"In itself a condemnation."
Cecily was mute. Before Elgar could say anything more, the door opened. With a sudden radiance on her features, the girl looked up to greet Mrs. Lessingham's entrance.
"How long you have been, aunt!"
"Yes; I am sorry. How do you do, Mr. Elgar? Tea, Cecily, lest I perish!"
From the doorway her quick glance had scrutinized both the young people. Of course she betrayed no surprise; neither did she make exhibition of pleasure. Her greeting of the visitor was gracefully casual, given in passing. She sank upon a low chair as if overcome with weariness. Mrs. Lessingham had nothing to learn in the arts wherewith social intercourse is kept smooth in spite of nature's improprieties. When she chose, she could be the awe-inspiring chaperon, no less completely than she was at other times the contemner of the commonplace.
"So you leave us to-morrow, Mr. Elgar? I have just met Mr. Spence, and heard the news from him. I am glad you could find a moment to call. You are going to be very busy, I hear, for the rest of the winter."
"I hope so," Elgar replied, walking across the room to fetch his half-emptied teacup.
"We shall look eagerly for the results of your work."
For ten minutes the conversation kept a rather flat course. Cecily only spoke when addressed by her aunt; then quite in her usual way. Elgar took the first opportunity to signal departure. When Cecily gave him her hand, it was with a moment's unfaltering look -- a look very different from that which charmed everyday acquaintances at their coming and going, unlike anything man or woman had yet seen on her countenance. The faintest smile hovered about her lips as she said, "Good-bye;" her steadfast eyes added the hope which there was no need to speak.
When he was gone, Mrs. Lessingham sipped her tea in silence. Cecily moved about and presently brought a book to her chair by the tea-table.
"No doubt you had the advantage of hearing Mr. Elgar's projects detailed," said her aunt, with irony which presumed a complete understanding between them.
"No." Cecily shook her head and smiled.
"Curious how closely he and Mr. Marsh resemble each other at times."
"Do you think so?"
"Haven't you noticed it? There are differences, of course. Mr. Elgar is originally much better endowed; though at present I should think he is even less to be depended upon, either intellectually or morally. But they belong to the same species. What numbers of such young men I have met!"
"What are the characteristics of the species, aunt?" Cecily inquired, with a pleasant laugh.
"I dare say you know them almost as well as I do. You might write an essay on 'The Young Man of Promise' of our day. I should be rather too severe; you would treat them with a lighter hand, and therefore more effectually."
In speaking, she kept her eyes on the girl, who appeared to muse the subject with sportful malice.
"I am not sure," said Cecily, "that Mr. Elgar would come into the essay."
"You mean that his promise is too obviously delusive?"
"Not exactly that. I rather think he should have an essay to himself."
"Of what tendency?" asked Mrs. Lessingham, still closely observant.
"Oh, it would need much meditation; but I think I could make it interesting."
With another laugh, she dismissed the subject; nor did her aunt endeavour to revive it.
The morrow was Sunday. Elgar knew at what time his tram left for Salerno; the time-table was the same as for other days. Yet he lay in bed till nearly noon, till the train had long since started. No, he should not go to-day.
It irked him to rise at all. He had not slept; his head was hot, and his hands shook nervously. Dressed, he sat down for a minute, and remained seated half an hour, gazing at the wall. When at length he left the house, he walked without seeing anything, stumbling against things and people.
Of course, he knew last night that there was no journey for him to-day. Promise? A promise is void when its fulfilment has become impossible. Very likely Mallard had a conviction that he would not come back at the appointed time. To-morrow, perhaps; and perhaps not even to-morrow It had got beyond his control.
He ate, and returned to his room. Just now his need was physical repose, undisturbed indulgence of reverie. And the reverie of a man in his condition is a singular process. It consists of a small number of memories, forecasts, Imaginings, repeated over and over again, till one would think the brain must weary itself beyond endurance. It can go on for many hours consecutively, and not only remain a sufficient and pleasurable employment, but render every other business repulsive, all but impossible.
At evening there came a change. He was now unable to keep still; he went into the town, and exhausted himself with. walking up and down the hilly streets. Society would have helped him, but he could find none. He would not go to the villa; still less could he visit the boarding-house.
What a night! At times he moved about his room like one in frantic pain, finally flinging himself upon the bed and lying there till the impulse of his fevered mind broke the beginnings of sleep. Or he walked the length of the floor, with measured step, fifty times, counting each time he turned -- a sort of conscious insanity. Or he took his pocket-knife, and drove the point into the flesh of his arm, satisfied when the pang became intolerable. Then again a loss of all control in mere frenzy, the desire to shout, to yell. . . .
Elgar was out of the house at sunrise. He went down to the Chiaia, loitered this way and that, always in the end facing towards Posillipo. He drank his coffee, but ate nothing; then again walked along the sea-front. Between nine and ten he turned into the upward road, and went with purpose towards Villa Sannazaro.
Through it was Sunday, Cecily resolved to go and spend the afternoon with Miriam. She was restless, and could not take pleasure in Mrs. Lessingham's conversation. Possibly her arrival at the villa would be anything but welcome; but she must see Miriam.
She drove up by herself, and first of all saw the Spences. From them she learnt that Miriam, as usual on Sunday, was keeping her own room.
"Do you think I may venture, Mrs. Spence?"
"Go and announce yourself, my dear. If you are bidden avaunt, come back and cheer us old people with your brightness."
So Cecily went with light step along the corridor, and with light fingers tapped at Miriam's room. The familiar voice bade her enter. Miriam was sitting near the window, on her lap a closed book.
"May I ----?"
"Of course you may," was the quiet answer.
Cecily closed the door, came forward, and bent to kiss her friend. Then she glanced at the "St. Cecilia;" then examined herself for a moment in one of the mirrors; then took off her hat, mantle, and gloves.
"I want to stay as long as your patience will suffer me."
"You avoid saying how long that is likely to be."
"How can I tell?"
"Oh, you have experience of me. You know how trying you find me in certain moods. To-day I am in a very strange mood indeed; very malicious, very wicked. And it is Sunday."
Miriam did not seem to resent this. She looked away at the window, but smiled. Could Cecily have been aware how her face had changed when the door opened, she would not have doubted whether she was truly welcome.
"What book is that, Miriam?"
Cecily had been half afraid to ask; to her surprise it proved to be Dante.
"Do you read this on Sunday?"
Miriam deigned no reply. The other, sitting just in front of her, took up the volume and rustled its leaves.
"How far have you got? This pencil mark? 'Amor ch'a null' amato amar perdona.'"
She read the line in an undertone, slowly towards the close. Miriam's face showed a sudden and curious emotion. Glancing at the book, she said abruptly:
"No; that's an old mark -- a difficulty I had. I'm long past that."
"So am I. 'Amor ch'a null' ----'"
Miriam stretched out her hand and took the volume with impatience.
"I'm at the end of this canto," she said, pointing. "Never mind it now. I should have thought you would have gone somewhere such a fine afternoon."
"That sounds remarkably like a hint that patience is near its end."
"I didn't mean it for that."
"Then let us get a carriage and drive somewhere together, we two alone."
Miriam shook her head.
"Because it is Sunday?" asked Cecily, with a mischievous smile, leaning her head aside.
"There is an understanding between us, Cecily. Don't break it."
"But I told you my mood was wicked. I feel disposed to break any and every undertaking. I should like to fret and torment and offend you. I should like to ask you why I am allowed to enjoy the sunshine, and you not? Oggi è festa! What a dreadful sound that must have in your ears Miriam!"
"But they don't apply it to Sunday," returned the other, who seemed to resign herself to this teasing.
"Indeed they do!" With a sudden change of subject, Cecily added, "Your brother came to see us yesterday, to say good-bye."
"It doesn't interest you. You care nothing where he goes, or what he does -- nothing whatever, Miriam. He told me so; but I knew it already."
"He told you so?" Miriam asked, with cold surprise.
"Yes. You are unkind; you are unnatural."
"And you, Cecily, are childish. I never knew you so childish as to-day."
"I warned you. He and I had a long talk before aunt came home."
"I'm sorry he should have thought it necessary to talk about himself."
"What more natural, when he is beginning a new portion of life? Never mind; we won't speak of it. May I play you a new piece I have learnt?"
"Do you mean, of sacred music?"
"Sacred? Why, all music is sacred. There are tunes and jinglings that I shouldn't call so; but neither do I call them music, just as I distinguish between bad or foolish verse, and poetry. Everything worthy of being called art is sacred. I shall keep telling you that till in self-defence you are forced to think about it. And now I shall play the piece whether you like it or not."
She opened the piano. What she had in mind was one of the "Moments Musicaux" of Schubert -- a strain of exquisite melody, which ceased too soon. Cecily sat for a few moments at the key-board after she had finished, her head bent; then she came and stood before Miriam.
"Do you like it?"
There was no answer. She looked steadily at the trouble a ace, and, as it still kept averted from her, she laid her arms softly, half playfully, about Miriam's neck.
"Why must there always be such a distance between us, Miriam dear? Even when I seem so near to you as this, what a deep black gulf really separates us!"
"You were once on my side of it" said Miriam, her voice softened. "How did you pass to the other?"
"How could I tell you? No one read me lectures, or taught me hard arguments. The change came insensibly, like passing out of a dream into the light of morning. I followed where my nature led, and my thoughts about everything altered. I don't know how it might have been if I had lived on with you. But my happiness was not there."
"Happiness!" murmured the other, scornfully.
"A word you don't, won't understand. Yet to me it means much. Who knows? Perhaps there may come a day when I shall look back upon it, and see it as empty of satisfaction as it now seems to you. But more likely that I shall live to look back in sorrow for its loss."
The dialogue became such as they had held more than once of late, fruitless it seemed, only saddening to both. And Cecily was to-day saddened by it beyond her wont; her excessive gaiety yielded to a dejection which passed indeed, but for a while made her very unlike herself, silent, with troubled eyes.
"I had one valid excuse for coming to see you to-day," she said, when gaiety and dejection had both gone by. "Mr. and Mrs. Bradshaw seriously think of going to Rome at the end of next week, and they wish to have another day at Pompeii. They would like it so much if you would go with them. If you do, I also will; we shall make four for a carriage, and drive there, and come back by train."
"To-morrow, if it be fine. Let me take them your assent."
On Monday morning, as arranged, she was driving down to the Mergellina, when, with astonishment, she saw her brother standing by the roadside, beckoning to her. The carriage stopped, and he came up to speak.
"Where are you off to?" he asked.
"You are still here?"
"I haven't been well. Didn't feel able to go yesterday. I was just coming to see you."
"Not well, Reuben? Why didn't you come before?"
"I couldn't. I want to speak to you. Where are you going?"
She told him the plan for the day. Elgar turned aside, and meditated.
"I'll see you there -- at Pompeii somewhere. It'll be on my way."
"I had rather not go at all. I'll ask them to excuse me; Mrs. Lessingham will perhaps take my place, and ----"
"No! I'll see you at Pompeii. I shall have no difficulty you."
Miriam looked at him anxiously.
"I don't wish you to meet us there, Reuben."
"And I do wish! Let me have my way, Miriam. Say nothing about me, and let the meeting seem by chance."
"I can't do that. You make yourself ridiculous, after ----"
"Let me judge for myself. Go on, or you'll be late."
She half rose, as if about to descend from the carriage. Elgar laid his hand on her arm, and clutched it so strongly that she sank back and regarded him with a look of anger.
"Miriam! Do as I wish, dear. Be kind to me for this once. If you refuse, it will make no difference. Have some feeling for me. This one day, Miriam."
Again she looked at him, and reflected. On account of the driver, though of course he could not understand them, they had subdued their voices, and Reuben's sudden action had not been noticeable.
"This one piece of sisterly kindness," he pleaded.
"It shall be as you wish," Miriam replied, her face cast down.
"Thank you, a thousand times. Avanti, cocchiere!"
Scrutiny less keen than Miriam's could perceive that Cecily had not her usual pleasure in to-day's expedition. Even Mrs. Bradshaw, sitting over against her in the carriage, noticed that the girl's countenance lacked its natural animation, wore now and then a tired look; the lids hung a little heavily over the beautiful eyes, and the cheeks were a thought pale. When she forgot herself in conversation, Cecily was the same as ever; mirthful, brightly laughing, fervent in expressing delight; but her thoughts too often made her silent, and then one saw that she was not heart and soul in the present. It was another Cecily than on that day at Baiæ. "She has been over-exciting herself since she came here," was Mrs. Bradshaw's mental remark. Miriam, anxiously observant, made a different interpretation, and was harassed with a painful conflict of thoughts.
Jacob Bush Bradshaw had no eyes for these trivialities. He sat in the squared posture of a hearty Englishman, amusing himself with everything they passed on the road self-congratulant on the knowledge and experience he had been storing, joking as often as he spoke.
"The lad Marsh would have uncommonly liked an invitation to come with us to-day," he said, about midway in the drive. "What precious mischief we could have made by asking him, Hannah!"
"There's no room for him, fortunately."
"Oh yes; up on the box."
His eye twinkled as he looked at Cecily. She questioned him.
"Where would be the mischief, Mr. Bradshaw?"
"He talks nonsense, my dear," interposed Mrs. Bradshaw. "Pay no attention to him."
Miriam had heard now and then of Clifford Marsh. She met Jacob's smile, and involuntarily checked it by her gravity.
"We might have asked the Denyers as well," said Cecily, "and have had another carriage, or gone by train."
Mr. Bradshaw chuckled for some minutes at this proposal, but his wife would not allow him to pursue the jest.
They lunched at the Hôtel Diomède before entering the precincts of the ruins. Mr. Bradshaw had invariably a splendid appetite, and was by this time skilled in ordering the meals that suited him. The few phrases of Italian which he had appropriated were given forth ore rotundo, with Anglo-saxon emphasis on the o's, and accompanied with large gestures. His mere appearance always sufficed to put landlords and waiters into their most urbane mood; they never failed to take him for one of the English nobility -- a belief confirmed by the handsomeness of his gratuities. Mrs. Bradshaw was not, perhaps, the ideal lady of rank, but the fine self-satisfaction on her matronly visage, the good-natured disdain with which she allowed herself to be waited upon by foolish foreigners, her solid disregard of everything beyond the circle of her own party, were impressive enough, and exacted no little subservience.
Strong in the experience of two former visits, Mr. Bradshaw would have no guide to-day. Murray in hand, he knew just what he wished to see again, and where to find it.
As Miriam was at Pompeii for the first time, he took her especially under his direction, and showed her the city much as he might have led her over his silk-mill in Manchester. Unimbued with history and literature, he knew nothing of the scholar's or the poet's enthusiasm; his gratification lay in exercising his solid intelligence on a lot of strange and often grotesque facts. Here men had lived two thousand years ago. There was no mistake about it; you saw the deep ruts of their wheels along the rugged street; nay, you saw the wearing of their very feet on the comically narrow pavements. And their life had been as different as possible from that of men in Manchester. Everything excited him to merriment.
"Now, this is the house of old Pansa -- no doubt an ancestor of friend Sancho " -- with a twinkle in his eye. "We'll go over this carefully, Mrs. Baske; it's one of the largest and completest in Pompeii. Here we are in what they called the atrium."
Cecily spoke seldom. Of course, she would have preferred to be alone here with Miriam; best of all -- or nearly so -- if they could have made the same party as at Baiæ. At times she lingered a little behind the others, and seemed deep in contemplation of some object; or she stood to watch the lizards darting about the sunny old walls. When all were enjoying the view from the top of Jupiter's Temple, she gazed long towards the Sorrento promontory, the height of St. Angelo.
"Amalfi is over on the far side," she said to Miriam. "They are both working there now."
Miriam replied nothing.
When they were in the Street of Tombs, Cecily again paused, by the sepulchre of the Priestess Mamia, whence there is a clear prospect across the bay towards the mountains. Turning back again, she heard a voice that made her tremble with delighted surprise. A wall concealed the speaker from her; she took a few quick steps, and saw Reuben Elgar shaking hands with the Bradshaws. He looked at her, and came forward. She could not say any thing, and was painfully conscious of the blood that rushed to her face; never yet had she known this stress of heart- beats that made suffering of joy, and the misery of being unable to command herself under observant eyes.
It was years since Elgar and the Bradshaws had met. As a boy he had often visited their house, but from the time of his leaving home at sixteen to go to a boarding-school, his acquaintance with them, as with all his other Manchester friends, practically ceased. They had often heard of him -- too often, in their opinion. Aware of his arrival at Naples, they had expressed no wish to see him. Still, now that he met them in this unexpected way, they could not but assume friendliness. Jacob, not on the whole intolerant, was willing enough to take "the lad" on his present merits; Reuben had the guise and manners of a gentleman, and perhaps was grown out of his reprobate habits. Mr. Bradshaw and his wife could not but notice Cecily's agitation at the meeting; they exchanged wondering glances, and presently found an opportunity for a few words apart. What was going on? How had these two young folks become so intimate? Well, it was no business of theirs. Lucky that Mrs. Baske was one of the company.
And why should Cecily disguise that now only was her enjoyment of the day begun -- that only now had the sunshine its familiar brightness, the ancient walls and ways their true enchantment? She did not at once become more talkative, but the shadow had passed utterly from her face, and there was no more listlessness in her movements.
"I have stopped here on my way to join Mallard," was all Reuben said, in explanation of his presence.
All kept together. Mr. Bradshaw resumed his interest in antiquities, but did not speak so freely about them as before.
"Your brother knows a good deal more about these things than I do, Mrs. Baske," he remarked. "He shall give us the benefit of his Latin."
Miriam resolutely kept her eyes alike from Reuben and from Cecily. Hitherto her attention to the ruins had been intermittent, but occasionally she had forgotten herself so far as to look and ponder; now she saw nothing. Her mind was gravely troubled; she wished only that the day were over.
As for Elgar, he seemed to the Bradshaws singularly quiet, modest, inoffensive. If he ventured a suggestion or a remark, it was in a subdued voice and with the most pleasant manner possible. He walked for a time with Mrs. : Bradshaw, and accommodated himself with much tact to her way of regarding foreign things, whether ancient or modern. In a short time all went smoothly again.
Not since they shook hands had Elgar and Cecily encountered each other's glance. They looked at each : other often, very often, but only when the look could not be returned; they exchanged not a syllable. Yet both knew that at some approaching moment, for them the supreme moment of this day, their eyes must meet. Not yet; not casually, and whilst others regarded them. The old ruins would be kind.
It was in the house of Meleager. They had walked among the coloured columns, and had visited the inner chamber, where upon the wall is painted the Judgment of Paris. Mr. Bradshaw passed out through the narrow door. way, and his voice was dulled; Miriam passed with him, and, close after her, Mrs. Bradshaw. Reuben seemed to draw aside for Cecily, but she saw his hand extended towards her -- it held a spray of maidenhair that he had just gathered. She took it, or would have taken it, but her hand was closed in his.
"I have stayed only to see you again," came panting from his lips. "I could not go till I had seen you again!"
And before the winged syllables had ceased, their eyes met; nor their eyes alone, for upon both was the constraint of passion that leaps like flame to its desire -- mouth to mouth and heart to heart for one instant that concentrated all the joy of being.
What hand, centuries ago crumbled into indistinguishable dust, painted that parable of the youth making his award to Love? What eyes gazed upon it, when this was a home of man and woman warm with life, listening all day long to the music of uttered thoughts? Dark-buried whilst so many ages of history went by, thrown open for the sunshine to rest upon its pallid antiquity, again had this chamber won a place in human hearts, witnessed the birth of joy and hope, blended itself with the destiny of mortals. He who pictured Paris dreamt not of these passionate lips and their unborn language, knew not that he wrought for a world hidden so far in time. Though his white-limbed goddess fade ghostlike, the symbol is as valid as ever. Did not her wan beauty smile youthful again in the eyes of these her latest worshippers?
And they went forth among the painted pillars, once more shunning each other's look. It was some minutes before Cecily knew that her fingers still crushed the spray of maidenhair; then she touched it gently, and secreted it within her glove. It must be dead when she reached home, but that mattered nothing; would it not remain the sign of something deathless?
She believed so. In her vision the dead city had a new and wonderful life; it lay glorious in the light of heaven, its strait ways fit for the treading of divinities, its barren temples reconsecrate with song and sacrifice. She believed there was that within her soul which should survive all change and hazard -- survive, it might be, even this warm flesh that it was hard not to think immortal.
She sought Miriam's side, took her hand, held it playfully as they walked on together.
"Why do you look at me so sadly, Miriam?"
"I did not mean to."
"Yet you do. Let me see you smile once to-day."
But Miriam's smile was sadder than her grave look.
It was true enough that Clifford Marsh would have relished an invitation to accompany that party of four to Pompeii. For one thing, he was beginning to have a difficulty in passing his days; if the present state of things prolonged itself, his position might soon resemble that of Mr. Musselwhite. But chiefly would he have welcomed the prospect of spending some hours in the society of Miss Doran, and under circumstances which would enable him to shine. Clifford had begun to nurse a daring ambition. Allowing his vanity to caress him into the half-belief that he was really making a noble stand against the harshness of fate, he naturally spent much time in imagining how other people regarded him -- above all, what figure he made in the eyes of Miss Doran. There could be no doubt that she knew, at all events, the main items of his story; was it not certain that they must make some appeal to her sympathies? His air of graceful sadness could not but lead her to muse as often as she observed it; he had contemplated himself in the mirror, and each time with reassurance on this point. Why should the attractions which had been potent with Madeline fail to engage the interest of this younger and more emotional girl? Miss Doran was far beyond Madeline in beauty, and, there was every reason to believe, had the substantial gifts of fortune which Madeline altogether lacked. It was a bold thing to turn his eye to her with such a thought, circumstances considered; but the boldness was characteristic of Marsh, with whom at all times self-esteem had the force of an irresistible argument.
He was incapable of passion. Just as he had made a pretence of pursuing art, because of a superficial cleverness and a liking for ease and the various satisfactions of his vanity in such a career, so did he now permit his mind to he occupied with Cecily Doran, not because her qualities blinded him to all other considerations, but in pleasant yielding to a temptation of his fancy, which made a lively picture of many desirable things, and flattered him into thinking that they were not beyond his reach. For the present he could do nothing but wait, supporting his pose of placid martyrdom. Wait, and watch every opportunity; there would arrive a moment when seeming recklessness might advance him far on the way to triumph.
And yet he never for a moment regarded himself as a schemer endeavouring to compass vulgar ends by machination. He had the remarkable faculty of viewing himself in an ideal light, even whilst conscious that so many of his claims were mere pretence. Men such as Clifford Marsh do not say to themselves, "What a humbug I am!" When driven to face their conscience, it speaks to them rather in this way: "You are a fellow of fine qualities, altogether out of the common way of men. A pity that conditions do not allow you to he perfectly honest; but people in general are so foolish that you would get no credit for your superiority if you did not wear a little tinsel, practise a few harmless affectations. Some day your difficulties will be at an end, and then you can afford to show yourself in a simpler guise." When he looked in the glass, Clifford admired himself without reserve; when he talked freely, he applauded his own cleverness, and thought it the most natural thing that other people should do so. When he meditated abandoning Madeline, his sincere view of the matter was that she had proved herself unworthy: however sensible her attitude, a girl had no right to put such questions to her lover as she had done, to injure his self-love. When he plotted with himself to engage Cecily's interest, he said that it was the course any lover would have pursued. And in the end he really persuaded himself that he was in love with her.
Yet none the less he thought of Madeline with affection. He was piqued that she made no effort to bring him back to her feet. To be sure, her mother's behaviour probably implied Madeline's desire of reconciliation, but he wished her to make personal overtures; he would have liked to see her approach him with humble eyes, not troubling himself to debate how he should act in that event. With Mrs. Denyer he was once more on terms of apparent friendliness, though he held no private dialogue with her; he was willing that she should suppose him gradually coming over to her views. Barbara and Zillah showed constraint when he spoke with them, but this he affected not to perceive. Only with Madeline he did not converse. Her air of unconcernedness at length proved too much for his patience, and so it came about that Madeline received by post a letter addressed in Clifford's hand. She took it to her bedroom, and broke the envelope with agitation.
"Your behaviour is heartless. Just when I am in deep distress, and need all possible encouragement in the grave struggle upon which I have entered -- for I need not tell you that I am resolved to remain an artist -- you desert me, and do your best to show that you are glad at being relieved of all concern on my account. It is well for me that I see the result of this test, but, I venture to think, not every woman would have chosen your course. I shall very shortly leave Naples. It will no doubt complete your satisfaction to think of me toiling friendless in London. Remember this as my farewell. -- C. M."
The next morning Clifford received what he expected, a reply, also sent by post. It was written in the clearest and steadiest hand, on superfine paper.
"I am sorry you should have repeated your insult in a written form; I venture to think that not every man would have followed this course. For myself, it is well indeed that I see the result of the test to which you have been exposed. But I shall say and think no more of it. As you leave soon, I would suggest that we should be on the terms of ordinary acquaintances for the remaining time; the present state of things is both disagreeable and foolish. It will always seem to me a very singular thing that you should have continued to live in this house; but that, of course, was in your own discretion. -- M. D."
This was on the morning when Cecily and her companions went to Pompeii. Towards luncheon-time, Clifford entered the drawing-room, and there found Mrs. Lessingham in conversation with Madeline. The former looked towards him in a way which seemed to invite his approach.
"Another idle morning, Mr. Marsh? " was her greeting.
"I had a letter at breakfast that disturbed me," he replied, seating himself away from Madeline.
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"Mr. Marsh is very easily disturbed," said Madeline, in a light tone of many possible meanings.
"Yes," admitted Clifford, leaning back and letting his head droop a little; "I can seldom do anything when I am not quite at ease in mind. Rather a misfortune, but not an uncommon one with artists."
The conversation turned on this subject for a few minutes, Madeline taking part in it in a way that showed her resolve to act as she had recommended in her note. Then Mrs. Lessingham rose and left the two together. Madeline seemed also about to move; she followed the departing lady with her eyes, and at length, as though adding a final remark, said to Clifford:
"There are several things you have been so kind as to lend me that I must return before you go, Mr. Marsh. I will make a parcel of them, and a servant shall take them to your room.
Since the quarrel, Madeline had not worn her ring of betrothal, but this was the first time she had spoken of returning presents.
"I am sorry you have had news that disturbed you," she continued, as if in calm friendliness. "But I dare say it is something you will soon forget. In future you probably won't think so much of little annoyances."
She smiled, and walked away, stopping to glance at a picture before she left the room. Clifford was left with knitted brows and uneasy mind; he had not believed her capable of this sedateness. For some reason, Madeline had been dressing herself with unusual care of late (the result, in fact, of frequent observation of Cecily), and just now, as he entered, it had struck him that she was after all very pretty, that no one could impugn his taste in having formerly chosen her. His reference to her letter was a concession, made on the moment's impulse. Her rejecting it so unmistakably looked serious. Had she even ceased to be jealous?
In the course of the afternoon, one of Mrs. Gluck's servants deposited a parcel in his chamber. When he found it, he bit his lips. Indeed, things looked serious at last. He passed the hours till dinner in rather comfortless solitude.
But at dinner he was opposite Cecily, and he thought he had never seen her so brilliant. Perhaps the day in the open air -- there was a fresh breeze -- had warmed the exquisite colour of her cheeks and given her eyes an even purer radiance than of wont. The dress she wore was not new to him, but its perfection made stronger appeal to his senses than previously. How divine were the wreaths and shadowings of her hair! With what gracile loveliness did her neck bend as she spoke to Mrs. Lessingham! What hand ever shone with more delicate beauty than hers in the offices of the meal? It pained him to look at Madeline and make comparison.
Moreover, Cecily met his glance, and smiled -- smiled with adorable frankness. From that moment he rejoiced at what had taken place to-day. It had left him his complete freedom. Good; he had given Madeline a final chance, and she had neglected it. In every sense he was at liberty to turn his thoughts elsewhither, and now he felt that he had even received encouragement.
"We had an unexpected meeting with Mr. Elgar," were Cecily's words, when she spoke to her aunt of the day's excursion.
Mrs. Lessingham showed surprise, and noticed that Cecily kept glancing over the columns of a newspaper she had carelessly taken up.
"Yes; in the Street of Tombs. For some reason, he had delayed on his journey."
"I'm not surprised."
"Delay is one of his characteristics, isn't it?" returned the elder lady, with unaccustomed tartness. "A minor branch of the root of inefficiency."
"I am afraid so."
Cecily laughed, and began to read aloud an amusing passage from the paper. Her aunt put no further question; but after dinner sought Mrs. Bradshaw, and had a little talk on the subject. Mrs. Bradshaw allowed herself no conjectures; in her plain way she merely confirmed what Cecily had said, adding that Elgar had taken leave of them at the railway-station.
"Possibly Mrs. Baske knew that her brother would be there?" surmised Mrs. Lessingham, as though the point were of no moment.
"Oh no! not a bit. She was astonished."
"Or seemed so," was Mrs. Lessingham's inward comment, as she smiled acquiescence. "He has impressed me agree ably," she continued, "but there's a danger that he will never do justice to himself."
"I don't put much faith in him myself," said Mrs. Bradshaw, meaning nothing more by the phrase than that she considered Reuben a ne'er-do-well. The same words would have expressed her lack of confidence in a servant subjected to some suspicion.
Mrs. Lessingham was closely observant of her niece this evening, and grew confirmed in distrust, in solicitude. Cecily was more than ever unlike herself -- whimsical, abstracted, nervous; she flushed at an unexpected sound, could not keep the same place for more than a few minutes. Much before the accustomed hour, she announced her retirement for the night.
"Let me feel your pulse," said Mrs. Lessingham, as if in jest, when the girl approached her.
Cecily permitted it, half averting her face.
"My child, you are feverish."
"A little, I believe, aunt. It will pass by the morning."
"Let us hope so. But I don't like that kind of thing at Naples. I trust you haven't had a chill?"
"Oh dear, no! I never was better in my life!"
"Yet with fever? Go to bed. Very likely I shall look into your room in the night. -- Cecily!"
It stopped her at her door. She turned, and took a step back. Mrs. Lessingham moved towards her.
"You haven't forgotten anything that you wished to say to me?"
"Forgotten? No, dear aunt."
"It just come back to my mind that you were on the point of saying something a little while ago, and I interrupted you."
"No. Good night."
Mrs. Lessingham did enter the girl's room something after midnight, carrying a dim taper. Cecily was asleep, but lay as though fatigue had overcome her after much restless moving upon the pillow. Her face was flushed; one of her hands, that on the coverlet, kept closing itself with a slight spasm. The visitor drew apart and looked about the chamber. Her eyes rested on a little writing-desk, where lay a directed envelope. She looked at it, and found it was addressed to a French servant of theirs in Paris, an excellent woman who loved Cecily, and to whom the girl had promised to write from Italy. The envelope was closed; but it could contain nothing of importance -- was merely an indication of Cecily's abiding kindness. By this lay a small book, from the pages of which protruded a piece of white paper. Mrs. Lessingham took up the volume -- it was Shelley -- and found that the paper within it was folded about a spray of maidenhair, and bore the inscription "House of Meleager Pompeii. Monday, December 8, 1878." Over this the inquisitive lady mused, until a motion of Cecily caused her to restore things rapidly to their former condition.
A movement, and a deep sigh; but Cecily did not awake. Mrs. Lessingham again drew softly near to her, and, without letting the light fall directly upon her face, looked at her for a long time. She whispered feelingly, "Poor girl! poor child!" then, with a sigh almost as deep as that of the slumberer, withdrew.
In the morning, Cecily was already dressed when a servant brought letters to the sitting-room. There were three, and one of them, addressed to herself, had only the Naples postmark. She went back to her bedroom with it.
After breakfast Mrs. Lessingham spoke for a while of news contained in her correspondence; then of a sudden asked:
"You hadn't any letters?"
"Yes, aunt; one."
"My child, you are far from well this morning. The fever hasn't gone. Your face burns."
"May I ask from whom the letter was?"
"I have it here -- to show you." A choking of her voice broke the sentence. She held out the letter. Mrs. Lessingham found the following lines: --
Mrs. Lessingham looked up. Cecily, who was standing before her, now met her gaze steadily.
"The meaning of this is plain enough," said her aunt, with careful repression of feeling. "But I am at a loss to understand how it has come about."
"I cannot tell you, aunt. I cannot tell myself."
Cecily's true accents once more. It was as though she had recovered all her natural self-command now that the revelation was made. The flush still possessed her cheeks, but she had no look of embarrassment; she spoke in a soft murmur, but distinctly, firmly.
"I am afraid that is only too likely, dear. Come and sit down, little girl, and tell me, at all events, something about it."
"Little girl?" repeated Cecily, with a sweet, affectionate smile. "No; that has gone by, aunt."
"I thought so myself the other day; but ---- I suppose you have met Mr. Elgar several times at his sister's, and have said nothing to me about it?"
"That would not have been my usual behaviour, I hope. When did I deceive you, aunt?"
"Never, that I know. Where have you met then?"
"Only at the times and places of which you know."
"Where did you give Mr. Elgar the right to address you in this manner?"
"Only yesterday. I think you mustn't ask me more than that, aunt."
"I'm afraid your companions were rather lacking in discretion," said the other, in a tone of annoyance.
"No; not in the sense you attach to the words. But, aunt, you are speaking as if I were a little girl, to be carefully watched at every step."
Mrs. Lessingham mused, looking absently at the letter. She paid no heed to her niece's last words, but at length said with decision:
"Cecily, this meeting cannot take place."
The girl replied with a look of uttermost astonishment.
"It is impossible, dear. Mr. Elgar should not have written to you like this. He should have addressed himself to other people."
"Other people? But you don't understand, aunt. I cannot explain to you. I expected this letter; and we must see each other."
Her voice trembled, failed.
"Shall you not treat my wish with respect, Cecily?"
"Will you explain to me all that you do wish, aunt?"
"Certainly. It is true that you are not a French girl, and I have no desire to regard you as though we were a French aunt and niece talking of this subject in the conventional way. But you are very young, dear, and most decidedly it behoved Mr. Elgar to bear in mind both his and your position. You have no parents, unhappily, but you know that Mr. Mallard is legally appointed the guardian of your interests, and I trust you know also that I am deeply concerned in all that affects you. Let us say nothing, one way or another, of what has happened. Since it has happened, it was Mr. Elgar's duty to address himself to me, or to Mr. Mallard, before making private appointments with you."
"Aunt, you can see that this letter is written so as to allow of my showing it to you."
"I have noticed that, of course. It makes Mr. Elgar's way of proceeding seem still more strange to me. He is good enough to ask you to relieve him of what he thinks ----"
"You misunderstand him, aunt, entirely. I cannot explain it to you. Only trust me, I beg, to do what I know to be right. It is necessary that I should speak with Mr. Elgar; do not pain me by compelling me to say more. Afterwards, he will wish to see you, I know."
"Please to remember, dear -- it astonishes me that you forget it -- that I have a responsibility to Mr. Mallard. I have no legal charge of you. With every reason, Mr. Mallard may reproach me if I countenance what it is impossible for him to approve."
Cecily searched the speaker's face.
"Do you mean," she asked gravely, "that Mr. Mallard will disapprove -- what I have done?"
"I can say nothing on that point. But I am very sure that he would not approve of this meeting, if he could know what was happening. I must communicate with him at once. Until he comes, or writes, it is your duty, my dear, to decline this interview. Believe me, it is your duty."
Mrs. Lessingham spoke more earnestly than she ever had done to her niece. Indeed, earnest speech was not frequent upon her lips when she talked with Cecily. In spite of the girl's nature, there had never existed between them warmer relations than those of fondness and interest on one side, and gentleness with respect on the other. Cecily was well aware of this something lacking in their common life; she had wished, not seldom these last two years, to supply the want, but found herself unable, and grew conscious that her aunt gave all it was in her power to bestow. For this very reason, she found it impossible to utter herself in the present juncture as she could have done to a mother -- as she could have done to Miriam; impossible, likewise, to insist on her heart's urgent desire, though she knew not how she should forbear it. To refuse compliance would have been something more than failure in dutifulness; she would have felt it as harshness, and perhaps injustice, to one with whom she involuntarily stood on terms of ceremony.
"May I write a reply to this letter?" she asked, after a silence.
"I had rather you allowed me to speak for you to Mr. Elgar. To write and to see him are the same thing. Surely you can forget yourself for a moment, and regard this from my point of view."
"I don't know how far you may be led by your sense of responsibility. Remember that you have insisted to me on your prejudice against Mr. Elgar."
"Vainly enough," returned the other, with a smile. "If you prefer it, I will myself write a line to be given to Mr. Elgar when he calls. Of course, you shall see what I write."
Cecily turned away, and stood in struggle with herself. She had not foreseen a conflict of this kind. Surprise, and probably vexation, she was prepared for; irony, argument, she was quite ready to face; but it had not entered her mind that Mrs. Lessingham would invoke authority to oppose her. Such a step was alien to all the habits of their intercourse, to the spirit of her education. She had deemed herself a woman, and free; what else could result from Mrs. Lessingham's method of training and developing her? This disillusion gave a shock to her self-respect; she suffered from a sense of shame; with difficulty she subdued resentment and impulses yet more rebellious. It was ignoble to debate in this way concerning that of which she could not yet speak formally with her own mind; to contend like an insubordinate school-girl, when the point at issue was the dearest interest of her womanhood.
"I think, aunt," she said, in a changed voice, speaking as though her opinion had been consulted in the ordinary way, "it will be better for you to sec Mr. Elgar -- if you are willing to do so."
"But I must ask you to let him know exactly why I have not granted his request. You will tell him, if you please, just what has passed between us. If that does not seem consistent with your duty, or dignity, then I had rather you wrote."
"Neither my duty nor my dignity is likely to suffer, Cecily," replied her aunt, with an ironical smile. "Mr. Elgar shall know the simple state of the case. And I will forthwith write to Mr. Mallard."
There was no further talk between them. Mrs. Lessingham sat down to write. With the note-paper before her, and the pen in hand, she was a long time before she began; she propped her forehead, and seemed lost in reflection. Cecily, who stood by the window, glanced towards her several times, and in the end went to her own room.
Mrs. Lessingham's letter was not yet finished when a servant announced Elgar's arrival. He was at once admitted. On seeing who was to receive him, he made an instant's pause before coming forward; there was merely a bow on both sides.
Elgar knew well enough in what mood this lady was about to converse with him. He did not like her, and partly, no doubt, because he had discerned her estimate of his character, his faculties. That she alone was in the room gave him no surprise, though it irritated him and inflamed his impatience. He would have had her speak immediately and to the point, that he might understand his position. Mrs. Lessingham, quite aware of his perfervid state of mind, had pleasure in delaying. Her real feeling towards him was anything but unfriendly; had it been possible, she would have liked to see much of him, to enjoy his talk. Young men of this stamp amused her, and made strong appeal to certain of her sympathies. But those very sympathies enabled her to judge him with singular accuracy, aided as she was by an outline knowledge of his past. Her genuine affection for Cecily made her, now that the peril had declared itself, his strenuous adversary. For Cecily to marry Reuben Elgar would be a catastrophe, nothing less. She was profoundly convinced of this, and the best elements of her nature came out in the resistance she was determined to make.
A less worthy ground of vexation against Elgar might probably be attributed to her. Skilful in judging men, she had not the same insight where her own sex was concerned, and in the case of Cecily she was misled, or rather misled herself, with curious persistence. Possibly some slight, vague fear had already touched her when she favoured Mrs. Spence with the description of her "system;" not impossibly she felt the need of reassuring herself by making clear her attitude to one likely to appreciate it. But at that time she had not dreamt of such a sudden downfall of her theoretic edifice; she believed in its strength, and did not doubt of her supreme influence with Cecily. It was not to be wondered at that she felt annoyed with the man who, at a touch, made the elaborate structure collapse like a bubble. She imagined Mrs. Spence's remarks when she came to hear of what had happened, her fine smile to her husband. The occurrence was mortifying.
"Miss Doran has put into my hands a letter she received from you this morning, Mr. Elgar."
Reuben waited. Mrs. Lessingham had not invited him to sit down; she also stood.
"You probably wished me to learn its contents?"
"Yes; I am glad you have read it."
"It didn't occur to you that Miss Doran might find the task you imposed upon her somewhat trying?"
Elgar was startled. Just as little as Cecily had he pondered the details of the situation; mere frenzy possessed him, and he acted as desire bade. Had Cecily been embarrassed? Was she annoyed at his not proceeding with formality? He had never thought of her in the light of conventional obligations, and even now could not bring himself to do so.
"Did Miss Doran wish me to be told that?" he asked, bluntly, in unconsidered phrase.
"Miss Doran's wish is, that no further step shall be taken by either of you until her guardian, Mr. Mallard, has been communicated with."
"She will not see me?"
"She thinks it better neither to see you nor to write. I am bound to tell you that this is the result of my advice. Her own intention was to do as you request in this letter."
"What harm would there have been in that, Mrs. Lessingham? Why mayn't I see her?"
"I really think Miss Doran must be allowed to act as seems best to her. It is quite enough that I tell you what she has decided."
"But that is not her decision," broke out Elgar, moving impetuously. "That is simply the result of your persuasion, of your authority. Why may I not see her?"
"For reasons which would be plain enough to any but a very thoughtless young gentleman. I can say no more."
Her caustic tone was not agreeable. Elgar winced under it, and had much ado to restrain himself from useless vehemence.
"Do you intend to write to Mr. Mallard to-day?" he asked.
"I will write to-day."
Expostulation and entreaty seemed of no avail; Elgar recognized the situation, and with a grinding of his teeth kept down the horrible pain he suffered. His only comfort was that Mallard would assuredly come post-haste; he would arrive by to-morrow evening. But two days of this misery! Mrs. Lessingham was gratified with his look as he departed; she had supplied him with abundant matter for speculation, yet had fulfilled her promise to Cecily.
She finished her letter, then went to Cecily's room. The girl sat unoccupied, and listened without replying. That day she took her meals in private, scarcely pretending to eat. Her face kept its flush, and her hands remained feverishly hot. Till late at night she sat in the same chair, now and then opening a book, but unable to read; she spoke only a word or two, when it was necessary.
The same on the day that followed. Seldom moving, seldomer speaking; she suffered and waited.
"Hic intus homo verus certus optumus recumbo, Publius Octavius Rufus, decuno."
Mallard stood reading this inscription, graven on an ancient sarcophagus preserved in the cathedral of Amalfi. A fool, probably, that excellent Rufus -- he said to himself, -- but what a happy fool! Unborn as yet, or to him unknown, the faith that would have bidden him write himself a miserable sinner; what he deemed himself in life, what perchance his friends and neighbours deemed him, why not declare it upon the marble when be rested from all his virtues?
"Here lie I, Ross Mallard; who can say no good of myself, yet have as little right to say ill; who had no faith whereby to direct my steps, yet often felt that some such was needful; who spent all my strength on a task which I knew to be vain; who suffered much and joyed rarely; whose happiest day was his last."
Somehow like that would it run, if he were to write his own epitaph at present.
The quiet of the dim sanctuary was helpful to such self-communing. He relished being alone again, and after an hour's brooding had recovered at all events a decent balance of thought, a respite from madness in melancholy.
But he could not employ himself, could not even seek the relief of bodily exertion; his mind grew sluggish, and threw a lassitude upon his limbs. The greater part of the day he spent in his room at the hotel, merely idle. This time he had no energy to attack himself with adjurations and sarcasms; body and soul were oppressed with uttermost fatigue, and for a time must lie torpid. Fortunately he was sure of sleep to-night; the bell of the cathedral might clang its worst, and still not rob him of the just oblivion.
The next day he strayed into the hills, and there in solitude faced the enemy in his heart, bidding misery do its worst. In imagination he followed Reuben Elgar to Naples, saw him speed to Villa Sannazaro, where as likely as not he would meet Cecily. Mallard had no tangible evidence of its being Reuben's desire to see Cecily, but he was none the less convinced that for no other reason had his companion set forth. And jealousy tormented him sorely. It was his first experience of this cruellest passion: what hitherto had been only a name to him, and of ignoble sound, became a disease clutching at his vitals. It taught him fierceness, injustice, base suspicion, brutal conjecture; it taught him that of which all these are constituents -- hatred.
But it did not constrain him to any unworthy action. The temptation that passed through his mind when he looked from the balcony on the carriage that was to convey Elgar, did not return -- or only as a bitter desire, impossible of realization. Distant from Naples he must remain, awaiting whatsoever might happen.
Ah, bright, gentle, sweet-faced Cecily! Inconceivable to her this suffering that lay upon her friend. How it would pain her if she knew of it! With what sad, wondering tenderness her eyes would regard him! How kindly would she lay her soft hand in his, and entreat him to be comforted!
If he asked her, would she not give him that hand, to be his always? Perhaps, perhaps; in her gentleness she would submit to this change, and do her best to love him. And in return he would give her gruff affection, removal from the life to which she was accustomed, loneliness, his uncertain humours, his dubious reputation. How often most he picture these results, and convince himself of the impossibility of anything of the kind?
He knew her better than did Mrs. Lessingham; oh, far better! He had detected in her deep eyes the sleeping passion, some day to awake with suddenness and make the whole world new to her. He knew how far from impossible it was that Reuben Elgar should be the prince to break her charmed slumber. There was the likeness and the unlikeness; common to both that temperament of enthusiasm. On the one hand, Cecily with her unsullied maidenhood; and on the other, Elgar with his reckless experiences -- contrasts which so commonly have a mutual attraction. There was the singularity of their meeting after years, and seeing each other in such a new light; the interest, the curiosity inevitably resulting. What likelihood that any distrust would mingle with Cecily's warmth of feeling, were that feeling once excited? He knew her too well.
How Mrs. Lessingham regarded Elgar he did not know. He had no confidence in that lady's discretion; he thought it not improbable that she would speak of Reuben to Cecily in the very way she should not, making him an impressive figure. Then again, what part was Mrs. Baske likely to have in such a situation? Could she be relied upon to rep resent her brother unfavourably, with the right colour of unfavourableness? Or was it not rather to be feared that the thought of Cecily's influence might tempt her to encourage what otherwise she must have condemned? He retraced in memory that curious dialogue he had held with Miriam on the drive back from Baiæ; could he gather from it any hints of her probable behaviour?. . . .
By a sudden revulsion of mind, Mallard became aware that in the long fit of brooding just gone by he had not been occupied with Cecily at all. Busying his thoughts with Mrs. Baske, he had slipped into a train of meditation already begun on the evening in question, after the drive with her. What was Mrs. Baske's true history? How had she come to marry the man of whom Elgar's phrases had produced such a hateful image? What was the state, in very deed, of her mind at present? What awaited her in the future?
It was curious that Mrs. Baske's face was much more recoverable by his mind's eye than Cecily's. In fact, to see Miriam cost him no effort at all; equally at will. he heard the sound of her voice. There were times when Cecily, her look and utterance, visited him very clearly; but this was when he did not wish to be reminded of her. If he endeavoured to make her present, as a rule the picturing faculty was irresponsive.
Welcome reverie! If only he could continue to busy himself with idle speculation concerning the strange young Puritan, and so find relief from the anguish that beset him. Suppose now, he set himself to imagine Miriam in unlikely situations. What if she somehow fell into poverty, was made absolutely dependent on her own efforts? Suppose she suffered cruelly what so many women have to suffer -- toil, oppression, solitude; what would she become? Not, he suspected, a meek martyr; anything but that, Miriam Baske. And how magnificent to see her flash out into revolt against circumstances! Then indeed she would be interesting.
Nay, suppose she fell in love -- desperately, with grim fate against her? For somehow this came more easily to the fancy than the thought of her loving obstacle. Presumably she had never loved; her husband was out of the question. Would she pass her life without that experience? One thing could be affirmed with certainty; if she lost her heart to a man, it would not be to a Puritan. He could conceive her being attracted by a strong and somewhat rude fellow, a despiser of conventionalities, without religion, a man of brains and blood; one whose look could overwhelm her with tumultuous scorn, and whose hand, if need be, could crush her life out at a blow. Why not, however, a highly polished gentleman, critical, keen of speech, deeply read, brilliant in conversation, at once man of the world and scholar? Might not that type have power over her? In a degree, but not so decidedly as the intellectual brute.
Pshaw! what brain-sickness was this! What was he fallen to! Yet it did what nothing else would, amused him for a few minutes in his pain. He recurred to it several times, and always successfully.
Sunday came. This evening would see Elgar back again.
No doubt of his return had yet entered his mind. Whether Reuben would in reality settle to some kind of work was a different question; but of course he would come back, if it were only to say that he had kept his promise, but found he must set off again to some place or other. Mallard dreaded his coming. News of some kind he would bring, and Mallard's need was of silence. If he indeed remained here, the old irritation would revive and go on from day to day. Impossible that they should live together long.
It was pretty certain by what train he would journey from Naples to Salerno; easy, therefore, to calculate the probable hour of his arrival at Amalfi. When that hour drew near, Mallard set out to walk a short distance along the road, to meet him. Unlike the Sorrento side of the promontory, the mountains here rise suddenly and boldly out of the sea, towering to craggy eminences, moulded and cleft into infinite variety of slope and precipice, bastion and gorge. Cut upon the declivity, often at vast sheer height above the beach, the road follows the curving of the hills. Now and then it makes a deep loop inland, on the sides of au impassable chasm; and set in each of these recesses is a little town, white-gleaming amid its orchard verdure, with quaint and many-coloured campanile, with the semblance of a remote time. Far up on the heights are other gleaming specks, villages which seem utterly beyond the traffic of man, solitary for ever in sun or mountain mist.
Mallard paid little heed to the things about him; he walked on and on, watching for a vehicle, listening for the tread of horses. Sometimes he could see the white road-track miles away, and he strained his eyes in observing it. Twice or thrice he was deceived; a carriage came towards him, and with agitation he waited to see its occupants, only to be disappointed by strange faces.
There are few things more pathetic than persistency in hope due to ignorance of something that has befallen beyond our ken. It is one of those instances of the irony inherent in human fate which move at once to tears and bitter laughter; the waste of emotion, the involuntary folly, the cruel deception caused by limit of faculties -- how they concentrate into an hour or a day the essence of life itself!
He walked on and on; as well do this as go back and loiter fretfully at the hotel. He got as far as the Capo d' Orso, the headland half-way between Amalfi and Salerno, and there sat down by the wayside to rest. From this point Salerno was first visible, in the far distance, between the sea and the purple Apennines.
Either Elgar was not coming, or he had lingered long between the two portions of his journey.
Mallard turned back; if the carriage came, it would overtake him. He plodded slowly, the evening falling around him in still loveliness, fragrance from the groves of orange and lemon spread on every motion of the air.
And if he did not come? That must have some strange meaning. In any case, he must surely write. And ten to one his letter would be a lie. What was to be expected of him but a lie?
Monday, Tuesday, and now Wednesday morning. Hitherto not even a letter.
When it was clear that Elgar had disregarded his promise, and, for whatever reason, did not even seek to justify or excuse himself, there came upon Mallard a strong mood of scorn, which for some hours enabled him to act as though all his anxiety were at an end. He set himself a piece of work; a flash of the familiar energy traversed his mind. He believed that at length his degradation was over, and that, come what might, he could now face it sturdily. Mere self-deception, of course. The sun veiled itself, and hope was as far as ever.
Never before had he utterly lost the power of working. In every struggle he had speedily overcome, and found in work the one unfailing resource. If he were robbed of this, what stay had life for him henceforth? He could not try to persuade himself that his suffering would pass, sooner or later, and time grant him convalescence; the blackness ahead was too profound. He fell again into torpor, and let the days go as they would; he cared not.
But this morning brought him a letter. At the first glance he was surprised by a handwriting which was not Elgar's; recollecting himself, he knew it for that of Mrs. Lessingham.
"DEAR MR. MALLARD, --
"It grieves me to be obliged to send you disquieting news so soon after your departure from Naples, but I think you will agree with me that I have no choice but to write of something that has this morning come to my knowledge. You have no taste for roundabout phrases, so I will say at once in plain words that Cecily and Mr. Elgar have somehow contrived to fall in love with each other -- or to imagine that they have done so, which, as regards results, unfortunately amounts to the same thing. I cannot learn by what process it came about, but I am assured by Cecily, in words of becoming vagueness, that they plighted troth, or some thing of the kind, yesterday at Pompeii. There was a party of four: Mr. and Mrs. Bradshaw, Cecily, and Mrs. Baske. At Pompeii they were unexpectedly (so I am told) joined by Mr. Elgar -- notwithstanding that he had taken leave of us on Saturday, with the information that he was about to return to you at Amalfi, and there devote himself to literary work of some indefinite kind. Perhaps you have in the meantime heard from him. This morning Cecily received a letter, in which he made peremptory request for an inter view; she showed this to me. My duty was plain. I declared the interview impossible, and Cecily gave way on condition that I saw Mr. Elgar, told him why she herself did not appear, and forthwith wrote to you. Our young gentleman was disconcerted when he found that his visit was to be wasted on my uninteresting self. I sent him about his business -- only that, unhappily, he has none -- bidding him wait till we had heard from you.
"I fancy this will be as disagreeable to you as it is to me. The poor child is in a sad state, much disposed, I fear, to regard me as her ruthless enemy, and like to fall ill if she be kept long in idle suspense. Do you think it worth while to come to Naples? It is very annoying that your time should be wasted by foolish children. I had given Cecily credit for more sense. For my own part, I cannot think with patience of her marrying Mr. Elgar; or rather, I cannot think of it without dread. We must save her from becoming wise through bitter sorrow, if it can in any way b" managed. I hope and trust that nothing may happen to prevent your receiving this letter to-morrow, for I am very uneasy, and not likely to become less so as time goes on.
"Believe me, dear Mr. Mallard,
At seven o'clock in the evening, Mallard was in Naples. He did not go to Casa Rolandi, but took a room in one of the musty hotels which overlook the port. When he felt sure that Mrs. Gluck's guests must have dined, he presented himself at the house and sent his name to Mrs. Lessingham.
She took his hand with warm welcome.
"Thank you for coming so promptly. I have been getting into such a state of nervousness. Cecily keeps her room, and looks ill; I have several times been on the point of sending for the doctor, though it seemed absurd."
Mallard seated himself without invitation; indeed, he had a difficulty in standing.
"Hasn't she been out to-day?" he asked, in a voice which might have signified selfish indifference.
"Nor yesterday. Mrs. Spence was here this morning, but Cecily would not see her. I made excuses, and of course said nothing of what was going on. I asked the child if she would like to see Mrs. Baske, but she refused."
Mallard sat as if he had nothing to say, looking vaguely about the room.
"Have you heard from Mr. Elgar?" Mrs. Lessingham inquired.
"No. I know nothing about him. I haven't been to Casa Rolandi, lest I should meet him. It was better to see you first."
"You were not prepared for this news?"
"His failure to return made me speculate, of course. I suppose they have met several times at Mrs. Baske's?"
"That at once occurred to me, but Cecily assures me that is not so. There is a mystery. I have no idea how they saw each other privately at Pompeii on Monday. But, between ourselves, Mr. Mallard, I can't help suspecting that he had learnt from his sister the particulars of the excursion."
"You think it not impossible that Mrs. Baske connived at their meeting in that way?"
"One doesn't like to use words of that kind, but ----"
"I suppose one must use the word that expresses one's meaning," said Mallard, bluntly. "But I didn't think Mrs. Baske was likely to aid her brother for such a purpose. Have you any reason to think the contrary?"
"None that would carry any weight."
Mallard paused; then, with a restless movement on his chair exclaimed:
"But what has this to do with the matter? What has happened has happened, and there's an end of it. The question is, what ought to be done now? I don't see that we can treat Miss Doran like a child."
Mrs. Lessingham looked at him. She was resting one arm on a table by which she sat, and supporting her forehead with her hand.
"You propose that things should take their natural course?"
"They will, whether I propose it or not."
"And if our next information is that they desire to be married as soon as conveniently may be?"
"That is another matter. They will have no consent of mine to anything of the kind."
"You relieve me."
Mallard looked at her frowningly.
"Miss Doran," he continued, "will not marry Elgar with my consent until she be one-and-twenty. Then, of course, she may do as she likes."
"You will see Mr. Elgar, and make this clear to him?"
"Very clear indeed," was the grim reply. "As for any thing else, why, what can we do? If they insist upon it, I suppose they must see each other -- of course, under reason able restrictions. You cannot make yourself a duenna of melodrama, Mrs. Lessingham."
"Scarcely. But I think our stay at Naples may reasonably be shortened -- unless, of course, Mr. Elgar leaves."
"You take it for granted, I see, that Miss Doran will be guided by our judgment," said Mallard, after musing on the last remark.
"I have no fear of that," replied Mrs. Lessingham with confidence, "if it is made to appear only a question of postponement. This will be a trifle compared with my task of yesterday morning. You can scarcely imagine how astonished she was at the first hint of opposition."
"I can imagine it very well," said the other, in his throat. "What else could be expected after ----" He checked himself on the point of saying something that would have revealed his opinion of Mrs. Lessingham's "system" -- his opinion accentuated by unreasoning bitterness. "From all we know of her," were the words he substituted.
"She is more like her father than I had supposed," said Mrs. Lessingham, meditatively.
Mallard stood up.
"You will let her know that I have been here?"
"She has expressed no wish to see me?"
"None. I had better report to her simply that you have no objection to Mr. Elgar's visits."
"That is all I would say at present. I shall see Elgar tonight. He is still at Casa Rolandi, I take it?"
"That was the address on his letter."
"Then, good-night. By-the-bye, I had better give you my address." He wrote it on a leaf in his pocket-book. "I will see you again in a day or two, when things have begun to clear up."
"It's too bad that you should have this trouble, Mr. Mallard."
"I don't pretend to like it, but there's no help."
And he left Mrs. Lessingham to make her comment on his candour.
Yes, Signor Elgar was in his chamber; he had entered but a quarter of an hour since. The signor seemed not quite well, unhappily -- said Olimpia, the domestic, in her chopped Neapolitan. Mallard vouchsafed no reply. He knocked sharply at the big solid door. There was a cry of "Avanti!" and he entered.
Elgar advanced a few steps. He did not affect to smile, but looked directly at his visitor, who -- as if all the pain of r the interview were on him rather than the other -- cast down his eyes.
"I was expecting you," said Reuben, without offering his hand.
"So was I you -- three days ago."
"Sit down, and let us talk. I'm ashamed of myself, Mallard. I ought at all events to have written."
"One would have thought so."
"Have you seen Mrs. Lessingham?"
"Then you understand everything. I repeat that I am ashamed of my behaviour to you. For days -- since last Saturday -- I have been little better than a madman. On Saturday I went to say good-bye to Mrs. Lessingham and her niece; it was bonâ fide, Mallard."
"In your sense of the phrase. Go on."
"I tell you, I then meant to leave Naples," pursued Elgar, who had repeated this so often to himself, by way of palliation, that he had come to think it true. "It was not my fault that I couldn't when that visit was over. It happened that I saw Miss Doran alone -- sat talking with her till her aunt returned."
Mrs. Lessingham had made no mention of this little matter. Hearing of it, Mallard ejaculated mentally, "Idiot!"
"It was all over with me. I broke faith with you -- as I should have done with any man; as I should have done if the lives of a hundred people had depended on my coming. I didn't write, because I preferred not to write lies, and if I had told the truth, I knew you would come at once. To be sure, silence might have had the same result, but I had to risk something, and I risked that."
"I marvel at your disinclination to lie."
"What do you mean by saying that?" broke out Elgar, with natural warmth.
"I mean simply what I say. Go on."
"After all, Mallard, I don't quite know why you should take this tone with me. If a man falls in love, he thinks of nothing but how to gain his end; I should think even you can take that for granted. My broken promise is a trifle m view of what caused it."
"Again, in your view. In mine it is by no means a trifle. It distinguishes you from honourable men, that's all; a point of some moment, I should think, when your character is expressly under discussion."
"You mean, of course, that I am not worthy of Cecily. I can't grant any such conclusion."
"Let us leave that aside for the present," said Mallard. "Will you tell me how it came to pass that you met Miss Doran and her companions at Pompeii?"
Elgar hesitated; whereupon the other added quickly:
"If it was with Miss Doran's anticipation, I want no details."
"No, it wasn't."
Their looks met.
"By chance, then, of course?" said Mallard, sourly.
Elgar spoke on an impulse, leaning forward.
"Look, I won't lie to you. Miriam told me they were going. I met her that morning, when I was slinking about, and I compelled her to give me her help -- sorely against her will. Don't think ill of her for it, Mallard. I frightened he! by my violent manner. I haven't seen her since; she can't know what the result has been. None of them at Pompeii suspected -- only a moment of privacy; there's no need to say any more about it."
Mallard mused over this revelation. He felt inclined to scorn Elgar for making it. It affected him curiously, and at once took a place among his imaginings of Miriam.
"You shall promise me that you won't betray your knowledge of this," added Reuben. "At all events, not now. Promise me that. Your word is to be trusted, I know."
"It's very unlikely that I should think of touching on the matter to your sister. I shall make no promise."
"Have you seen Cecily herself?" Elgar asked, leaving the point aside in his eagerness to come to what concerned him more deeply.
"I have waited for your permission to visit her. Do you mean to refuse it?"
"No. If you call to-morrow morning, you will be admitted. Mrs. Lessingham is willing that you should see her niece in private."
"Hearty thanks for that, Mallard! We haven't shaken hands yet, you remember. Forgive me for treating you so ill."
He held out his band cordially, and Mallard could not refuse it, though he would rather have thrust his fingers among red coals than feel that hot pressure.
"I believe I can be grateful," pursued Elgar, in a voice that quivered with transport. "I will do my best to prove it."
"Let us speak of things more to the point. What result do you foresee of this meeting to-morrow!"
The other hesitated.
"I shall ask Cecily when she will marry me."
"You may do so, of course, but the answer cannot depend upon herself alone."
"What delay do you think necessary?"
"Until she is of age, and her own mistress," replied Mallard, with quiet decision.
"Impossible! What need is there to wait all that time?"
"Why, there is this need, Elgar," returned the other, more vigorously than he had yet spoken. "There is need that you should prove to those who desire Miss Doran's welfare that you are something more than a young fellow fresh from a life of waste and idleness and everything that demonstrates or tends to untrustworthiness. It seems to me that a couple of years or so is not an over-long time for this, all things considered."
Elgar kept silent.
"You would have seen nothing objectionable in immediate marriage?" said Mallard.
"It is useless to pretend that I should."
"Not even from the point of view of Mrs. Lessingham and myself?"
"You yourself have never spoken plainly about such things in my hearing; but I find you in most things a man of your time. And it doesn't seem to me that Mrs. Lessingham is exactly conventional in her views."
"You imagine yourself worthy of such a wife at present?"
"Plainly, I do. It would be the merest hypocrisy if I said anything else. If Cecily loves me, my love for her is at least as strong. If we are equal in that, what else matters? I am not going to cry Peccavi about the past. I have lived, and you know what that means in my language. In what am I inferior as a man to Cecily as a woman? Would you have me snivel, and talk about my impurity and her angelic qualities? You know that you would despise me if I did -- or any other man who used the same empty old phrases."
"I grant you that," replied Mallard, deliberately. "I believe I am no more superstitious with regard to these questions than you are, and I want to hear no cant. Let us take it on more open ground. Were Cecily Doran my daughter, I would resist her marrying you to the utmost of my power -- not simply because you have lived laxly, but because of my conviction that the part of your life is to be a pattern of the whole. I have no faith in you -- no faith in your sense of honour, in your stability, not even in your mercy. Your wife will be, sooner or later, one of the unhappiest of women. Thinking of you in this way, and being in the place of a parent to Cecily, am I doing my duty or not in insisting that she shall not marry you hastily, that even in her own despite she shall have time to study you and herself, that she shall only take the irrevocable step when she clearly knows that it is done on her own responsibility? You may urge what you like; I am not so foolish as to suppose you capable of consideration for others in your present state of mind. I, however, shall defend myself from the girl's reproaches in after-years. There will be no marriage until she is twenty-one."
A silence of some duration followed. Elgar sat with bent head, twisting his moustaches. At length:
"I believe you are right, Mallard. Not in your judgment of me, but in your practical resolve."
Mallard examined him from under his eyebrows.
"You are prepared to wait?" he asked, in an uncertain voice.
"Prepared, no. But I grant the force of your arguments. I will try to bring myself to patience."
Mallard sat unmoving. His legs were crossed, and he held his soft felt hat crushed together in both his hands. Elgar glanced at him once or twice, expecting him to speak, but the other was mute.
"Your judgment of me," Elgar resumed, "is harsh and unfounded. I don't know how you have formed it. You know nothing of what it means to me to love such a girl as Cecily. Here I have found my rest. It supplies me with no new qualities, but it strengthens those I have. You picture me being unfaithful to Cecily -- deserting her, becoming brutal to her? There must be a strange prejudice in your mind to excite such images." He examined Mallard's face. "Some day I will remind you of your prophecies."
Mallard regarded him, and spoke at length, in a strangely jarring, discordant voice.
"I said that hastily. I make no prophecies. I wished to say that those seemed to me the probabilities."
"Thank you for the small mercy, at all events," said Elgar, with a laugh.
"What do you intend to do?" Mallard proceeded to ask, changing his position.
"I can make no plans yet. I have pretended to only too often. You have no objection to my remaining here?"
"You must take your own course -- with the understanding to which we have come."
"I wish I could make you look more cheerful, Mallard. I owe it to you, for you have given me more gladness than I can utter."
"You can do it."
"See her to-morrow morning, and then go back to England, and make yourself some kind of reputable existence."
"Not yet. That is asking too much. Not so soon."
"As you please. We understand each other on the main point."
"Yes. Are you going back to Amalfi?"
"I don't know."
They talked for a few minutes more, in short sentences of this kind, but did not advance beyond the stage of mutual forbearance. Mallard lingered, as though not sure that he had fulfilled his mission. In the end he went away abruptly.
In vain, at each meal, did Clifford Marsh await Cecily's appearance. A trifling indisposition kept her to her room, was Mrs. Lessingham's reply to sympathetic inquiries. Mr. and Mrs. Bradshaw, who were seriously making their preparations for journeying northward, held private talk concerning the young lady, and felt they would like to stay a week longer, just to see if their suspicions would be confirmed. Mrs. Denyer found it difficult to assume the becoming air when she put civil questions to Mrs. Lessingham, for she was now assured that to Miss Doran was attributable the alarming state of things between Clifford and Madeline; Marsh would never have been so intractable but for this new element in the situation. Madeline herself on the other hand, was a model of magnanimity; in Clifford's very hearing, she spoke of Cecily with tender concern, and then walked past her recreant admirer with her fair head in a pose of conscious grace.
Even Mr. Musselwhite, at the close of the second day, grew aware that the table lacked one of its ornaments. It was his habit now -- a new habit came as a blessing of Providence to Mr. Musselwhite -- on passing into the drawing-room after dinner, to glance towards a certain corner, and, after slow, undecided "tackings," to settle in that direction. There sat Barbara Denyer. Her study at present was one of the less-known works of Silvio Pellico, and as Mr. Musselwhite approached, she looked up with an air of absorption. He was wont to begin conversation with the remark, flatteringly toned, "Reading Italian as usual, Miss Denyer?" but this evening a new subject had been suggested to him.
"I hope Miss Doran is not seriously unwell, Miss Denyer?"
"Oh, I think not."
Mr. Musselwhite reflected, stroking his whiskers in a gentlemanly way.
"One misses her," was his next remark.
"Yes, so much. She is so charming -- don't you think, Mr. Musselwhite?"
"Very." He now plucked at the whiskers uneasily. "Oh yes, very."
Barbara smiled and turned her attention to the book, as though she could spare no more time. Mr. Musselwhite, dimly feeling that this topic demanded no further treatment, racked his brains for something else to say. He was far towards Lincolnshire when a rustle of the pages under Barbara's finger gave him a happy inspiration.
"I don't know whether you would care to see English papers now and then, Miss Denyer? I always have quite a number. The Field, for instance, and ----"
"You are very kind, I don't read much English, but I shall be glad to see anything you like to bring me."
Mrs. Denyer was not wholly without consolation in her troubles about Clifford Marsh.
On the following morning, as she and her daughters were going out, they came face to face with a gentleman who was announcing to the servant his wish to see Miss Doran. Naturally they all glanced at him. Would he be admitted? With much presence of mind, Madeline exclaimed, --
"Oh dear, mamma! I have forgotten that letter. Please wait for me; I won't be a minute."
And she disappeared, the others moving out on to the staircase. When Madeline rejoined them, it was with the intelligence that the visitor had been admitted.
"Who can he be?"
"Rather a strange-looking person."
"Miss Doran cannot be ill. She has no brother. What an odd thing!"
They walked on, close serried, murmuring to each other discreetly. . . .
For several minutes there had been perfect stillness in the room, a hush after the music of low, impassioned voices. It was broken, yet scarcely broken, by the sound of lips touching lips -- touching to part sweetly, touching again to part more slowly, more sweetly still.
"They will not influence you against me?"
"They will try, Cecily. You will hear endless things to my disadvantage -- things that I cannot contradict if you ask me."
"I care for nothing, Reuben. I am yours for ever and ever, hear what I may, happen what may!"
"Don't call me by my hateful name, dearest. We will find some other, if I must have a name for you."
"Why, that is like Romeo!"
"So it is; I wish I had no worse than Romeo's reason. I had rather have had the vulgarest Anglo-Saxon name than this Jewish one. Happily, I need have no fear in telling you that; you are no Puritan."
"As little as a girl could be." She laughed in her happiness. "Have you the same dislike for your sister's name?"
"Just the same. I believe it partly explains her life."
"She will not be against us, though?"
"Neither for nor against, I am afraid. Yet I have to thank her for the meeting with you at Pompeii. Why haven't you asked me how I came there?"
"I never thought to ask. It seemed so natural. I longed for you, and you stood before me. I could almost believe that my longing had power to bring you, so strong it was. But tell me."
He did so, and again they lost themselves in rapturous dreamland.
"Do you think Mr. Mallard will wish to see me?" she asked timidly.
"I can't be sure. I half think not."
"Yet I half wish he would. I should find it strange and a little difficult, but he couldn't be harsh with me. I think it might do good if he came to see me -- in a day or two."
"On what terms have you always been with him? How does he behave to you?"
"Oh, you know him. He still looks upon me rather too much as a child, and he seems to have a pleasure in saying odd, half-rude things; but we are excellent friends -- or have been. Such a delightful day as we had at Baiæ! I have always liked him."
"At Baiæ? You didn't go alone with him?"
"No; Miriam was there and Mr. Spence. We found him dreaming at Pozzuoli, and carried him off in the boat with us."
"He never thought much of me, and now he hates me."
"No; that is impossible."
"If you had heard him speaking to me last night, you would think differently. He makes it a crime that I should love you."
"I don't understand it."
"What's more, he has feared this ever since I came; I feel sure of it. When I was coming back from Pompeii, he took me with him to Amalfi all but by force. He dreaded my returning and seeing you."
"But why should he think of such a thing?"
Elgar led her a few paces, until they stood before a mirror.
"Don't look at me. The other face, which is a little paler than it should be."
She hid it against him.
"But you don't love me for my face only? You will see others who have more beauty."
"Perhaps so. Mallard hopes so, in the long time we shall have to wait."
She fixed startled eyes on him.
"He cannot wish me so ill -- he cannot! That would be unlike him."
"He wishes you no ill, be sure of it."
"Oh, you haven't spoken to him as you should! You haven't made him understand you. Let me speak to him for you."
"Suppose he doesn't wish to understand me. Have you never thought, when he has pretended to treat you as a child, that there might be some reason for it? Did it never occur to you that, if he spoke too roughly, it might be because he was afraid of being too gentle?"
"Never! That thought has never approached my mind. You don't speak in earnest?"
Why could he not command his tongue? Why have suggested this to her imagination? He did not wholly mean to say it, even to the last moment; but unwisdom, as so often, overcame him. It was a way of defending himself; he wished to imply that Mallard had a powerful reason for assailing his character. He had been convinced since last night that Mallard was embittered by jealousy, and he half credited the fear lest jealousy might urge to the use of any weapons against him; he was tempted by the satisfaction of putting Cecily on her guard against interested motives. But he should not have troubled her soul with such suspicions. He read on her face how she was pained, and her next word. proved his folly.
"If you are right, I can never speak to him as I might have done. It alters everything; it makes everything harder. You are mistaken."
"I may be. Let us hope I am."
"How I wish I had never seen that possibility! I cannot believe it; yet it will prevent me from looking honestly in his face, as I always have done."
"Forget it. Let us speak only of ourselves."
But she was troubled, and Elgar, angry with himself, spoke impatiently.
"In pity for him, you would love me less. I see that."
"You are not yet satisfied? You find new ways of forcing me to say that I love you. Seem to distrust me, that I may say it over and over; make me believe you really doubt if I can be constant, just that I may hear what my heart says in its distress, and repeat it all to you. Be a little unkind to me, that I may show how your unkindness would wound me, and may entreat you back into your own true self. You can do nothing, say nothing, but I will make it afford new proofs of hew I love you."
"I had rather you made yourself less dear to me. The time will be so long. How can I live through it?"
"Will it not help you a little to help me? To know that you are unhappy would make it so much longer to me, my love."
"It will be hell to live away from you! I cannot make myself another man. If you knew what I have suffered only in these two days!"
"There was uncertainty."
"Uncertainty? Then what certainty could I ever have? Every hour spent at a distance from you will be full of hideous misgivings. Remember that every one will he doing the utmost to part us."
"Let them do the utmost twice over! You must have faith in me. Look into my eyes. Is there no assurance, no strength for you? Do they look too happy? That is because you are still here; time enough for sadness when you are gone. Oh, you think too humbly of yourself! Having loved you, and known your love, what else can the world offer me to live for?"
"Wherever you are, I must come often."
"Indeed you must, or for me too the burden will be heavier than I can bear."
As the Denyers were coming home, it surprised them to pass, at a little distance from the house, Clifford Marsh in conversation with the gentleman who had called upon Miss Doran. Madeline, exercising her new privilege of perfect sang-froid, took an opportunity not long after to speak to Clifford in the drawing-room.
"Who was the gentleman we saw you with?"
"I met him at Pompeii, but didn't know his name till today. He's asked me to dine with him."
"He is a friend of Miss Doran's, I believe?"
"I believe so."
"You accepted his invitation?"
"Yes; I am always willing to make a new acquaintance."
"A liberal frame of mind. Did he give you news of Miss Doran's health?"
He smiled mysteriously, only to appear at his ease; and Madeline, smiling also, turned away.
Cecily reappeared this evening at the dinner-table. She was changed; Mrs. Gluck and her guests were not again to behold the vision to which their eyes had become accustomed; that supremacy of simple charm which some of them had recognized as English girlhood at its best, had given place to something less intelligible, less instant in its attractiveness. Perhaps the climate of Naples was proving not well suited to her.
After dinner, she and Mrs. Lessingham at once went to their private room. Cecily sat down to write a letter. When she moved, as if the letter were finished, her aunt looked up from a newspaper.
"I've been thinking, Cecily. Suppose we go over to Capri for a change?"
"I am quite willing, aunt."
"I think Mr. Elgar has not been there yet. He might accompany us."
Unprepared for this, Cecily murmured an assent.
"Do you know how much longer he thinks of staying in Italy?"
"We haven't spoken of it."
"Has he given up his literary projects?"
"I'm afraid we didn't speak of that either."
"Shall you be satisfied if he continues to live quite without occupation?"
"I don't for a moment think he purposes that."
"And yet it will certainly be the ease as long as he remains here -- or wherever else we happen to be living."
Mrs. Lessingham allowed her to ponder this for a few minutes. Then she resumed the train of thought.
"Have you had leisure yet to ask yourself, my dear, what use you will make of the great influence you have acquired over Mr. Elgar's mind?"
"That is not quite the form my thoughts would naturally take, aunt," Cecily replied, with gentleness.
"Yet may it not be the form they should? You are accustomed to think for yourself to a greater extent than girls whose education has been more ordinary; you cannot take it ill if I remind you now of certain remarks I have made on Mr. Elgar lately, and remind you also that I am not alone in my view of him. Don't fear that I shall say anything unkind; but if you feel equal to a woman's responsibilities, you must surely exercise a woman's good sense. Let us say nothing more than that Mr. Elgar has fallen into habits of excessive indolence; doesn't it seem to you that you might he]p him out of hem?"
"I think he may not need help as you understand it, now."
"My dear, he needs it perhaps five hundred times more than he did before. If you decline to believe me, I shall be only too much justified by your experience hereafter."
"What would you have me do?"
"What must very soon occur to your own excellent wits, Cecily -- for I won't give up all my pride in you. Mr. Elgar should, of course, go back to England, and do something that becomes him; he must decide what. Let him have a few days with us in Capri; then go, and so far recommend himself ii) our eyes. No one can make him see that this is what his dignity -- if nothing else -- demands, except yourself. Think of it, dear."
Cecily did think of it, long and anxiously. Thanks to Elgar, her meditations had a dark background such as her own fancy would never have supplied.
He knew not how sadly the image of him had been blurred in Cecily's mind, the man who lay that night in his room overlooking the port. Whether such ignorance were for his aid or his disadvantage, who shall venture to say?
To a certain point, we may follow with philosophic curiosity, step by step, the progress of mental anguish, but when that point is passed, analysis loses its interest; the vocabulary of pain has exhausted itself, the phenomena already noted do but repeat themselves with more rapidity, with more intensity -- detail is lost in the mere sense of throes. Perchance the mind is capable of suffering worse than the fiercest pangs of hopeless love combined with jealousy; one would not pretend to put a limit to the possibilities of human woe; but for Mallard, at all events this night did the black flood of misery reach high-water mark.
What joy in the world that does not represent a counter-balance of sorrow? What blessedness poured upon one head but some other must therefore lie down under malediction? We know that with the uttermost of happiness there is wont to come a sudden blending of troublous humour. May it not be that the soul has conceived a subtle sympathy with that hapless one but for whose sacrifice its own elation were impossible?
At Villa Sannazaro, the posture of affairs was already understood. When Eleanor Spence, casually calling at the pension, found that Cecily was unable to receive visitors, she at the same time learnt from Mrs. Lessingham to what this seclusion was due. The ladies had a singular little conversation, for Eleanor was inwardly so amused at this speedy practical comment on Mrs. Lessingham's utterances of the other day, that with difficulty she kept her countenance; while Mrs. Lessingham herself, impelled to make the admission without delay, that she might exhibit a philosophic acceptance of fact, had much ado to hide her chagrin beneath the show of half-cynical frankness that became a woman of the world. Eleanor -- passably roguish within the limits of becoming mirth -- acted the scene to her husband, who laughed shamelessly. Then came explanations between Eleanor and Miriam.
The following day passed without news, but on the morning after, Miriam had a letter from Cecily; not a long letter, nor very effusive, but telling all that was to be told. And it ended with a promise that Cecily would come to the villa that afternoon. This was communicated to Eleanor.
"Where's Mallard, I wonder?" said Spence, when his wife came to talk to him. "Not, I suspect, at the old quarters, It would be like him to go off somewhere without a word. Confound that fellow Elgar!"
"I'm half disposed to think that it serves Mr. Mallard right," was Eleanor's remark.
"Well, for heartlessness commend me to a comfortable woman."
"And for folly commend me to a strong-minded man."
"Pooh! He'll growl and mutter a little, and then get on with his painting."
"If I thought so, my liking for him would diminish. I hope he is tearing his hair."
"I shall go seek him."
"Do; and give my best love to him, poor fellow."
Cecily came alone. She was closeted with Miriam for a long time, then saw Eleanor. Spence purposely kept away from home.
Dante lay unread, as well as the other books which Eleanor placed insidiously in her cousin's room. Letters lay unanswered -- among them several relating to the proposed new chapel at Bartles. How did Miriam employ herself during the hours that she spent alone?
Not seldom, in looking back upon her childhood and maidenhood.
Imagine a very ugly cubical brick house of two stories, in a suburb of Manchester. It stands a few yards back from the road. On one side, it is parted by a row of poplars from several mean cottages; on the other, by a narrow field from a house somewhat larger and possibly a little uglier than itself. Its outlook, over the highway, is on to a tract of country just being broken up by builders, beyond which a conglomerate of factories, with chimneys ever belching heavy fumes, closes the view; its rear windows regard a scrubby meadow, grazed generally by broken-down horses, with again a limitary prospect of vast mills.
Imagine a Sunday in this house. Half an hour later than on profane days, Mrs. Elgar descends the stairs. She is a lady of middle age, slight, not ungraceful, handsome; the look of pain about her forehead is partly habitual, but the consciousness of Sunday intensifies it. She moves without a sound. Entering the breakfast-room, she finds there two children, a girl and a boy, both attired in new-seeming garments which are obviously stiff and uncomfortable. The little girl sits on an uneasy chair, her white-stockinged legs dangling, on her lap a large copy of "Pilgrim's Progress;" the boy is half reclined on a shiny sofa, his hands in his pockets, on his face an expression of discontent. The table is very white, very cold, very uninviting.
Ten minutes later appears the master of the house, shaven, also in garments that appear now and uncomfortable, glancing hither and thither with preoccupied eyes. There is some talk in a low voice between the little girl and her mother; then the family seat themselves at table silently. Mr. E]gar turns a displeased look on the boy, and says something in a harsh voice which causes the youngster to straighten himself, curl his lip precociously, and thereafter preserve a countenance of rebellion subdued by fear. His father eats very little, speaks scarcely at all, but thinks, thinks-and most assuredly not of sacred subjects.
Breakfast over, there follows an hour of indescribable dreariness, until the neighbourhood begins to sound with the clanging of religious bells. Mr. Elgar has withdrawn to a little room of his own, where perhaps, he gives himself up to meditation on the duties of a Christian parent, though his incredulous son has ere now had a glimpse at the door, and observed him in the attitude of letter-writing. Mrs. Elgar moves about silently, the pain on her brow deepening as chapel-time approaches. At length the boy and girl go upstairs to be "got ready," which means that they indue other garments yet more uncomfortable than those they already wear. This process over, they descend again to the breakfast-room, and again sit there, waiting for the dread moment of departure. The boy is more rebellious than usual; he presently drums with his feet, and even begins to whistle, very low, a popular air. His sister looks at him, first with astonished reproach, then in dread.
Satis superque. Again and again Miriam revived these images of the past. And the more she thought of herself as a child, the less was she pleased with what her memory presented. How many instances came back to her of hypocrisy before her father or mother, hypocrisy which, strangely enough, she at the time believed a merit, though perfectly aware of her own insincerity! How many a time had she suffered from the restraints imposed upon her, and then secretly allowed herself indulgences, and then again persuaded herself that by severe attention to formalities she blotted out her sin!
But the worst was when Cecily Doran came to live in the house. Cecily was careless in religion, had been subjected to no proper severity, had not been taught to probe her con science. At once Miriam assumed an attitude of spiritual pride -- the beginning of an evil which was to strengthen its hold upon her through years. She would be an example to the poor little heathen; she talked with her unctuously; she excited herself, began to find a pleasure in asceticism, and drew the susceptible girl into the same way. They would privately appoint periods of fasting, and at several successive meals irritate their hunger by taking only one or two morsels; when faintness came upon them, they gloried in the misery.
And from that stage of youth survived memories far more painful than those of childhood. Miriam shut her mind against them.
Her marriage came about in the simplest way; nothing easier to understand, granted these circumstances. The friends of the family were few, and all people of the same religious sect, of the same commercial sphere. Miriam had never spoken with a young man whom she did not in her heart despise; the one or two who might possibly have been tempted to think of her as a desirable wife were repelled by her austerity. She had now a character to support; she had made herself known for severe devotion to the things of the spirit. In her poor little world she could not submit to be less than pre-eminent, and only by the way of religion was pre-eminence to be assured. When the wealthy and pious manufacturer sought her hand, she doubted for a while, but was in the end induced to consent by the reflection that not only would she be freer, but at the same time enjoy a greatly extended credit and influence. Her pride silenced every other voice.
Religious hypocrisy is in our day a very rare thing; so little is to be gained by it. To be sure, the vast majority of English people are constantly guilty of hypocritical practices, but that, as a rule, is mere testimony to the rootedness of their orthodox faith. Mr. Elgar. shutting himself up between breakfast and chapel to write business letters -- which he pre- or post-dated -- was ignoble enough, but not therefore a hypocrite. Had a fatal accident happened to one of his family whilst he was thus employed, he would not have succeeded in persuading his conscience that the sin and the calamity were unconnected. His wife had never admitted a doubt of its being required by the immutable law of God that she should be sad and severe on Sunday, that Reuben should be sternly punished for whistling on that day, that little Miriam should be rewarded when she went through the long services with unnatural stillness and demureness. Nor was Miriam herself a hypocrite when, mistress of Redbeck House, she began to establish her reputation and authority throughout dissenting Bartles.
Her instruction had been rigidly sectarian. Whatever she studied was represented to her from the point of view of its relation to Christianity as her teachers understood it. The Christian faith was alone of absolute significance; all else that the mind of man could contain was of more or less importance as more or less connected with that single interest. To the time of her marriage, her outlook upon the world was incredibly restricted. She had never read a book that would not pass her mother's censorship; she had never seen a work of art; she had never heard any but "sacred" music; she had never perused a journal; she had never been to an entertainment -- unless the name could be given to a magic-lantern exhibition of views in Palestine, or the like. Those with whom she associated had gone through a similar training, and knew as little of life.
She had heard of "infidelity;" yes. Live as long as she might, she would never forget one dreadful day when, in a quarrel with his mother, Reuben uttered words which signified hatred and rejection of all he had been taught to hold divine Mrs. Elgar's pallid, speechless horror; the severe chastisement inflicted on the lad by his father; -- she could never look back on it all without sickness of heart. Thenceforth, her brother and his wild ways embodied for her that awful thing, infidelity. At the age which Cecily Doran had now attained, Miriam believed that there were only a few men living so unspeakably wicked as to repudiate Christianity; one or two of these, she had learnt from the pulpit, were "men of science," a term which to this day fell on her ears with sinister sound.
Thus prepared for the duties of wife, mother, and leader in society, she shone forth upon Bartles. Her husband, essentially a coarse man, did his utmost, though unconsciously, to stimulate her pride and supply her with incentives to unworthy ambition. He was rich, and boasted of it vulgarly; he was ignorant, and vaunted the fact, thanking Heaven that for him the purity of religious conviction had never been endangered by the learning that leads astray; be was proud of possessing a young and handsome wife, and for the first time evoked in her a personal vanity. Day by day was it -- most needlessly -- impressed upon Miriam that she must regard herself as the chief lady in Bartles, and omit no duty appertaining to such a position. She had an example to set; she was chosen as a support of religion.
Most happily, the man died. Had he remained her consort for ten years, the story of Miriam's life would have been one of those that will scarcely bear dwelling upon, too repulsive, too heart-breaking; a few words of bitterness, of ruth, and there were an end of it. His death was like the removal of a foul burden that polluted her and gradually dragged her down. Nor was it long before she herself understood it in this way, though dimly and uncertainly. She found herself looking on things with eyes which somehow had a changed power of vision. With remarkable abruptness, certain of her habits fell from her, and she remembered them only with distaste, even with disgust. And one day she said to herself passionately that never would she wed again -- never, never! She was experiencing for the first time in her life a form of liberty.
Not that her faith had received any shock. To her undeveloped mind every tenet in which she had been instructed was still valid. This is the point to note. Her creed was a habit of the intellect; she held it as she did the knowledge of the motions of the earth. She had never reflected upon it, for in everything she heard or read this intellectual basis was presupposed. With doctrinal differences her reasoning faculty was familiar, and with her to think of religion was to think of the points at issue between one church and another -- always, moreover, with pre-judgment in favour of her own.
But the external results of her liberty began to be of importance. She came into frequent connection with her cousin Eleanor; she saw more than hitherto of the Bradshaws' family life; she had business transactions; she read newspapers; she progressed slowly towards some practical acquaintance with the world.
Miriam knew the very moment when the thought of making great sacrifices to build a new chapel for Bartles had first entered her mind. One of her girl friends had just married, and was come to live in the neighbourhood. The husband, Welland by name, was wealthier and of more social importance than Mr. Baske had been; it soon became evident that Mrs. Welland, who also aspired to prominence in religious life, would be a formidable rival to the lady of Redbeck House. On the occasion of some local meeting, Miriam felt this danger keenly; she went home in dark mood, and the outcome of her brooding was the resolve in question.
She had not inherited all her husband's possessions; indeed, there fell to her something less than half his personal estate. For a time, this had not concerned her; now she was beginning to think of it occasionally with discontent, followed by reproach of conscience. Like reproach did she suffer for the jealousy and envy excited in her by Mrs. Welland's arrival. A general uneasiness of mind was gradually induced, and the chapel-building project, with singular confusion of motives, represented to her at once a worldly ambition and a discipline for the soul. It was a long time before she spoke of it, and in the interval she suffered more and more from a vague mental unrest.
Letters were coming to her from Cecily. Less by what they contained than by what they omitted, she knew that Cecily was undergoing a great change. Miriam put at length certain definite questions, and the answers she received were unsatisfactory, alarming. The correspondence became a distinct source of trouble. Not merely on Cecily's account; she was led by it to think of the world beyond her horizon, and to conceive dissatisfactions such as had never taken form to her.
Her physical health began to fall off; she had seasons of depression, during which there settled upon her superstitious fears. Ascetic impulses returned, and by yielding to them she established a new cause of bodily weakness. And the more she suffered, the more intolerable to her grew the thought of resigning her local importance. Her pride, whenever irritated, showed itself in ways which exposed her to the ridicule of envious acquaintances. At length Bartles was surprised with an announcement of what had so long been in her mind; a newspaper paragraph made known, as if with authority, the great and noble work Mrs. Baske was about to undertake. For a day or two Miriam enjoyed the excitement this produced -- the inquiries, the felicitations, the reports of gossip. She held her head more firmly than ever; she seemed of a sudden to be quite re-established in health.
Another day or two, and she was lying seriously ill -- so ill that her doctor summoned aid from Manchester.
What a distance between those memories, even the latest of them, and this room in Villa Sannazaro! Its foreign aspect, its brightness, its comfort, the view from the windows, had from the first worked upon her with subtle influences of which she was unconscious. By reason of her inexperience of life, it was impossible for Miriam to analyze her own being, and note intelligently the modifications it underwent. Introspection meant to her nothing but debates held with conscience -- a technical conscience, made of religious precepts. Original reflection, independent of these precepts, was to her very simply a form of sin, a species of temptation for which she had been taught to prepare herself. With anxiety, she found herself slipping away from that firm ground whence she was won't to judge all within and about her; more and more difficult was it to keep in view that sole criterion in estimating the novel impressions she received. To review the criterion itself was still beyond her power. She suffered from the conviction that trials foreseen were proving too strong for her. Whenever her youth yielded to the allurement of natural joys, there followed misery of penitence. Not that Miriam did in truth deem it a sin to enjoy the sunshine and the breath of the sea and the beauty of mountains (though such delights might become excessive, like any other, and so veil temptation), but she felt that for one in her position of peril there could not be too strict a watch kept upon the pleasures that were admitted. Hence she could never forget herself in pleasure; her attitude must always be that of one on guard.
The name of Italy signified perilous enticement, and she was beginning to feel it. The people amid whom she lived were all but avowed scorners of her belief, and yet she was beginning to like their society. Every letter she wrote to Bartles seemed to her despatched on a longer journey than the one before; her paramount interests were fading, fading; she could not exert herself to think of a thousand matters which used to have the power to keep her active all day long. The chapel-plans were hidden away; she durst not go to the place where they would have met her eye.
She suffered in her pride. On landing at Naples, she had imagined that her position among the Spences and their friends would not be greatly different from that she had held at Bartles. They were not "religious" people; all the more must they respect her, feeling rebuked in her presence. The chapel project would enhance her importance. How far otherwise had it proved! They pitied her, compassionated her lack of knowledge, of opportunities. With the perception of this, there came upon her another disillusion In classing the Spences with people who were not "religious," she had understood them as lax in the observance of duties which at all events they recognized as such. By degrees she learnt that they were very far from holding the same views as herself concerning religious obligation; they were anything but conscience-smitten in the face of her example. Was it, then, possible that persons who lived in a seemly manner could be sceptics, perhaps "infidels"? What of Cecily Doran? She had not dared to ask Cecily face to face how far her disbelief went; the girl seemed to have no creed but that of worldly delight. How had she killed her conscience in so short a time? Obviously, her views were those of Mrs. Lessingham; probably those of Mr. Mallard. Were these people strange and dreadful exceptions, or did they represent a whole world of which she had not suspected the existence?
Yes, she was beginning to feel the allurement of Italy. Instead of sitting turned away from her windows when musing, she often passed an hour with her eyes on the picture they framed, content to be idle, satisfied with form and colour, not thinking at all. Habits of personal idleness crept upon her; she seldom cared to walk, but found pleasure in the motion of a carriage, and lay back on the cushions, instead of sitting quite upright as at first. She began to wish for music; the sound of Eleanor's piano would tempt her to make an excuse for going into the room, and then she would remain, listening. The abundant fruits of the season became a temptation to her palate; she liked to see shops and stalls overflowing with the vineyard's delicious growth.
She knew for the first time the seduction of books. From what unutterable weariness had she been saved when she assented to Eleanor's proposal and began to learn Italian! First there was the fear lest she should prove slow at acquiring, suffer yet another fall from her dignity; but this apprehension was soon removed. She had a brain, and could use it; Eleanor's praise fell upon her ears delightfully. Then there was that little volume of English verse which Eleanor left on the table; its name, "The Golden Treasury," made her imagine it of a religious tone; she was undeceived in glancing through it. Poetry had hitherto made no appeal to her; she did not care much for the little book. But one day Cecily caught it up in delight, and read to her for half an hour; she affected indifference, but had in reality learnt something, and thereafter read for herself.
The two large mirrors in her room had, oddly enough, no unimportant part among the agencies working for her development. It was almost inevitable that, in moving about, she should frequently regard her own figure. From being something of an annoyance, this necessity at length won attractiveness, till she gazed at herself far oftener than she need have done. As for her face she believed it pas sable, perhaps rather more than that; but the attire that had possessed distinction at Bartles looked very plain, to say the least, in the light of her new experience. One day she saw herself standing side by side with Cecily, and her eyes quickly turned away.
To what was she sinking!
But Dante lay unopened, together with the English books. Miriam had spent a day or two of alternate languor and irritableness, unable to attend to anything serious. Just now she had in her hand Cecily's letter, the letter which told of what had happened. There was no reason for referring to it again; this afternoon Cecily herself had been here. But Miriam read over the pages, and dwelt upon the
At dinner, no remark was made on the subject that occupied the minds of all three. Afterwards they sat together, as usual, and Eleanor played. In one of the silences, Miriam turned to Spence and asked him if he had seen Mr. Mallard.
"Yes; I found him after a good deal of going about," replied the other, glad to have done with artificial disregard of the subject.
"Does he know that they are going to Capri!"
"He evidently hadn't heard of it. I suppose he'll have a note from Mrs. Lessingham this evening or to-morrow."
Miriam waited a little, then asked:
"What is his own wish? What does he think ought to be arranged?"
"Just what Cecily told you," interposed Eleanor, before her husband could reply.
"I thought he might have spoken more freely to Edward."
"Well," answered Spence, "he is strongly of opinion that Reuben ought to go to England very soon. But I suppose Cecily told you that as well?"
"She seemed to be willing. But why doesn't Mr. Mallard speak to her himself?"
"Mallard isn't exactly the man for this delicate business," said Spence, smiling.
Miriam glanced from him to Eleanor. She would have said no more, had it been in her power to keep silence; but an involuntary persistence, the same in kind as that often manifested by questioning children -- an impulsive feeling that the next query must elicit something which would satisfy a vague desire, obliged her to speak again.
"Is it his intention not to see Cecily at all?"
"I think very likely it is, Miriam," answered Eleanor, when her husband showed that he left her to do so.
To which remark Eleanor, when Miriam was gone, attached the interrogative, "I wonder whether she does?" The Spences did not feel it incumbent upon them to direct her in the matter; it were just as well if she followed a mistaken clue.
Two days later, Mrs. Lessingham and her niece, accompanied by Reuben Elgar, departed for Capri. The day after that, Mr. and Mrs. Bradshaw in very deed said good-bye to Naples and travelled northwards. They purposed spending Christmas in Rome, and thence by quicker stages they would return to the land of civilization. Spence went to the station to see them off, and at lunch, after speaking of this and other things, he said to Miriam:
"Mallard wishes to see you. I told him I thought five o'clock this afternoon would be a convenient time."
Miriam assented, but not without betraying surprise and uneasiness. Subsequently she just mentioned to Eleanor that she would receive the visitor in her own sitting-room. There, as five o'clock drew near, she waited in painful agitation. What it was Mallard's purpose to say to her she could not with any degree of certainty conjecture. Had Reuben told him of the part she had played in connection with that eventful day at Pompeii? What would be his tone? Did he come to ask for particulars concerning her brother? Intend what he might, she dreaded the interview. And yet -- fact of which she made no secret to herself -- she had rather he came than not. When it was a few minutes past five, and no foot had yet sounded in the corridor, all other feeling was lost in the misgiving that he might have changed his mind. Perhaps he had decided to write instead, and her heart sank at the thought. She felt an overpowering curiosity as to the way in which this event had affected the strange man. Reports were no satisfaction to her; she desired to see him and hear him speak.
The footsteps at last! She trembled, went hot and cold, had a parched throat. Mallard entered, and she did not offer him her hand; perhaps he might reject it. In consequence there was an absurdly formal bow on both sides.
"Please sit down, Mr. Mallard."
She saw that he was looking at the "St. Cecilia," but with what countenance her eyes could not determine. To her astonishment, he spoke of the picture, and in an unembarrassed tone.
"An odd thing that this should be in your room."
"Yes. We spoke of it the first time Cecily came."
Her accents were not firm. At once he fixed his gaze on her, and did not remove it until her temples throbbed and she cast down her eyes in helpless abashment.
"I have had a long letter from your brother, Mrs. Baske. It seems he posted it just before they left for Capri. I can only reply to it in one way, and it gives me so much pain to do so that I am driven to ask your help. He writes begging me to take another view of this matter, and permit them to be married before very long. The letter is powerfully written; few men could plead their cause with such eloquence and force. But it cannot alter my determination. I must reply briefly and brutally. What I wish to ask you is, whether with sincerity you can urge my arguments upon your brother, and give me this assistance in the most obvious duty?"
"I have no influence with him, Mr. Mallard."
Again he looked at her persistently, and said with deliberation:
"I think you must have some. And this is one of the cases in which a number of voices may possibly prevail, though one or two are ineffectual. But -- if you will forgive me my direct words -- your voice is, of course, useless if you cannot speak in earnest."
She was able now to return his look, for her pride was being aroused. The face she examined bore such plain marks of suffering that with difficulty she removed her eyes from it. Nor could she make reply to him, so intensely were her thoughts occupied with what she saw.
"Perhaps," he said, "you had rather not undertake anything at once." Then, his voice changing slightly, "I have no wish to seem a suppliant, Mrs. Baske. My reasons for saying that this marriage shall not, if I can prevent it, take place till Miss Doran is of age, are surely simple and convincing enough; I can't suppose that it is necessary to insist upon them to you. But I feel I had no right to leave any means unused. By speaking to you, I might cause you to act more earnestly than you otherwise would. That was all."
"I am very willing to help you," she replied, with carefully courteous voice.
"After all, I had rather we didn't put it in that way," Mallard resumed, with a curious doggedness, as if her tone were distasteful to him. "My own part in the business is accidental. Please tell me: is it, or not, your own belief that a delay is desirable?"
The reply was forced from her.
"I certainly think it is."
"May I ask you if you have reasoned with your brother about it?"
"I haven't had any communication with him since -- since we knew of this." She paused; but, before Mallard had shown an intention to speak, added abruptly, "I should have thought that Miss Doran might have been trusted to understand and respect your wishes."
"Miss Doran knows my wishes," he answered drily, "but I haven't insisted upon them to her, and am not disposed to do so."
"Would it not be very simple and natural if you did?"
The look he gave her was stern all but to anger.
"It wouldn't be a very pleasant task to me, Mrs. Baske, to lay before her my strongest arguments against her marrying Mr. Elgar. And if I don't do that, it seems to me that it is better to let her know my wishes through Mrs. Lessingham. As you say, it is to be hoped she will understand and respect them."
He rose from his chair. For some reason, Miriam could not utter the words that one part of her prompted. She wished to assure him that she would do her best with Reuben, but at the same time she resented his mode of addressing her, and the conflict made her tongue-tied.
"I won't occupy more of your time, Mrs. Baske."
She would have begged him to resume his seat. The conversation had been so short; she wanted to hear him speak more freely. But her request, she knew, would be disregarded With an effort, she succeeded in holding out her hand Mallard held it lightly for an instant.
"I will write to him," fell from her lips, when already he had turned to the door. "If necessary, I will go and see him."
"Thank you," he replied with civility, and left her.
"I cannot answer your long letter; to such correspondence there is no end. Come and spend a day here with us; I promise to listen patiently, and you shall hear how things are beginning to shape themselves in my mind, now I have had leisure to reflect. Cecily sends a line. Do come. Take the early boat on Monday; Spence will give you all particulars, and see you off at Santa Lucia. We really have some very sober plans, not unapproved by Mrs. Lessingham. Will meet you at the Marina."
Miriam received this on Sunday morning, and went to her own room to read it. The few lines of Cecily's writing which were enclosed, she glanced over with careless eye; yet not with mere carelessness either, but as if something of aversion disinclined her to peruse them attentively. That sheet she at once laid aside; Reuben's note she still held in her hand, and kept re-reading it.
She went to the window and looked over towards Capri. A slight mist softened its outlines this morning; it seemed very far away, on the dim borders of sea and sky. For a long time she had felt the luring charm of that island, always before her eyes, yet never more than a blue mountainous shape. Lately she had been reading of it, and her fancy, new to such picturings, was possessed by the mysterious dread of its history in old time, the grandeur of its cliffs, the loveliness of its green hollows, and the wonder of its sea-caves. Her childhood had known nothing of fairyland, and now, in this tardy awakening of the imaginative part of her nature, she thought sometimes of Capri much as a child is wont to think of the enchanted countries, nameless, regionless, in books of fable.
What thoughts for Sunday! But Miriam was far on the way of those who recognize themselves as overmastered by temptation, and grow almost reckless in the sins they cannot resist. So long it was since she had been able to attend the accustomed public worship, and now its substitute in the privacy of her room had become irksome. She blushed to be practising hypocrisy; the Spences were careful to refrain from interfering with her to-day, and here, withdrawn from their sight, she passed the hours in wearisome idleness -- in worse than that.
She could not look again at Cecily's letter. More; she could not let her eyes turn to Raphael's picture. But before the mirrors she paused often and long, losing herself in self regard.
Early on the morrow, she drove down with Spence to Santa Lucia, and went on board the Capri boat. There were few passengers, a handful of Germans and an English family -- father, mother, two daughters, and two sons Sitting apart, Miriam cast many glances at her country people, and not without envy. They were comely folk, in the best English health, refined in bearing, full of enjoyment. Now and then a few words of their talk fell upon her ears, and it was merry, kindly, intimate talk, the fruit of a lifetime of domestic happiness. It made her think again of what her own home-life had been. Such companionship of parents and children was inconceivable in her experience. The girls observed her, and, she believed, spoke of her. Must she not look strange in their eyes? Probably they felt sorry for her, as an invalid whose countenance was darkened by recent pain.
The boat made first of all for Sorrento, where a few more persons came on board. Miriam was by this time enjoying the view of the coast. From this point she kept her gaze fixed on Capri. One more delay on the voyage; the steamer stopped near the Blue Grotto, that such of the passengers as wished might visit it before landing. Miriam kept her place, and for the present was content to watch the little boats, as they rocked for a few moments at the foot of the huge cliff and then suddenly disappeared through the entrance to the cavern. When the English family returned, she listened to their eager, wondering conversation. A few minutes more, and she was landing at the Marina, where Reuben awaited her.
He had a carriage ready for the drive up the serpent road to the hotel where Mrs. Lessingham and her niece were staying. His own quarters were elsewhere -- at the Pagano, dear to artists.
"Well, have you enjoyed the voyage? What did you think of Sorrento? We watched the steamer across from there; we were up on the road to Anacapri, yonder. You don't look so well as when I saw you last -- nothing like."
He waited for no reply to his questions, and talked with nervous brokenness. Seated in the carriage, he could not keep still from one moment to the next. His eyes had the unquiet of long-continued agitation, the look that results from intense excitement when it has become the habit of day after day.
"Mallard has been talking to you," he said suddenly.
"Why do you say that?"
"I know he has, from your letter. -- Look at the views!"
"What plans did you speak of?"
"Oh, we'll talk about it afterwards. But Mallard has been talking you over?"
Miriam had no resolve by which to guide herself. She knew not distinctly why she had come to Capri. Her familiar self-reliance and cold disregard of anything but a few plain rules in regulating her conduct, were things of the past. She felt herself idly swayed by conflicting influences, unable even to debate what course she should take; the one emotion of which she was clearly conscious was of so strange and disturbing a kind that, so far from impelling her to act, it seemed merely to destroy all her customary motives and leave her subject to the will of others. It was the return of weakness such as had possessed her mind when she lay ill, when she was ceaselessly troubled with a desire for she knew not what, and, unable to utter it had no choice but to admit the suggestions and biddings of those who cared for her. She could not even resent this language of Reuben's, to which formerly she would have opposed her unyielding pride; his proximity infected her with nervousness, but at the same time made her flaccid before his energy.
"He came and spoke to me about you," she admitted. "But he left me to do as I saw fit."
"After putting the case against me as strongly as it could be put. I know; you needn't tell me anything about the conversation. Let us leave it till afterwards. -- You see how this road winds, so that the incline may be gentle enough for carriages. There are stony little paths, just like the beds of mountain streams, going straight down to the Marina. I lost myself again and again yesterday among the gardens and vineyards. Look back over the bay to Naples!"
But in a minute or two the other subject was resumed, again with a suddenness that told of inability to keep from speaking his thoughts.
"You understand, I dare say, why Mallard is making such a fuss?"
"How could I help understanding?"
"But do you understand?"
"What do you mean?" she asked irritably.
"Does he speak like a man who is disinterested?"
"It is not my business to discuss Mr. Mallard's motives."
"It certainly is mine -- and yours too, if you care anything for me."
They reached the hotel without further debate of this subject. It was not much after one o'clock; all lunched together in private, talking only of Capri. Later they walked to the villa of Tiberius. Elgar kept up an appearance of light-hearted enjoyment; Cecily was less able to disguise her preoccupation. Mrs. Lessingham seemed to have accepted the inevitable. Her first annoyance having passed, she was submitting to that personal charm in Elgar which all women sooner or later confessed; her behaviour to him was indulgent, and marked only with a very gentle reserve when he talked too much paradox.
E]gar went to his hotel for dinner, and left the others to themselves through the evening. The next day was given to. wandering about the island. On the return at sunset, Miriam and Reuben had a long talk together, in which it was made manifest that the "plans" were just as vague as ever. Reuben had revived the mention of literary work, that was all, and proposed to make his head-quarters in Paris, in order that he might not be too far from Cecily, who would, it was presumed, remain on the Continent. This evening he dined with the ladies. Afterwards Cecily played. When Miriam and Mrs. Lessingham chanced to be conversing together, Elgar stepped up to the piano, and murmured:
"Will you come out into the garden for a few minutes? There's a full moon; it's magnificent."
Cecily let her fingers idle upon the keys, then rose and went to where her aunt was sitting. There was an exchange of words in a low tone, and she left the room. Elgar at once approached Mrs. Lessingham to take leave of her.
"The Grotta Azzurra to-morrow," he said gaily. "Perhaps you won't care to go again? My grave sister will make a very proper chaperon."
"Let us discuss that when to-morrow comes. Please to limit your moon-gazing to five minutes."
"At the utmost."
From the hotel garden opened a clear prospect towards Naples, which lay as a long track of lights beyond the expanse of deep blue. The coast was distinctly outlined against the far sky glowed intermittently the fire of Vesuvius. Above the trees of the garden shone white crags, unsubstantial, unearthly in the divine moonlight. There was no sound, yet to intense listening the air became full of sea-music. It was the night of Homer, the island-charm of the Odyssey.
"Answer me quickly, Cecily; we have only a few minutes, and I want to say a great deal. You have talked with Miriam?"
"You know that she repeats what Mallard has instructed her to say? Their one object now is to get me at a distance from you. You see how your aunt has changed -- in appearance; her policy is to make me think that she will be my friend when I am away. I can speak with certainty after observing her for so long; in reality she is as firm against me as ever. Don't you notice, too, something strange in Miriam's behaviour?"
"She is not like herself."
"As unlike as could be. Mallard has influenced her strongly. Who knows what he told her?"
"Perhaps of himself."
"Dear, he could not speak to her in that way!"
"A man in love -- and in love with Cecily Doran -- can do anything. The Spences are his close friends; they too have been working on Miriam."
"But why, why do you return to this? We have spoken of the worst they can do. To fear anything from their' persuasions is to distrust me."
"Cecily, I don't distrust you, but I can't live away from you. I might have gone straight from Naples, but I can't go now; every hour with you has helped to make it impossible. In talking to your aunt and to Miriam, I have been consciously false. Come further this way, into the shadow. Who is over there?"
"Some one we don't know."
Her voice had sunk to a whisper. Elgar led her by the hand into a further recess of the garden; the hand was almost crushed between his own as he continued:
"You must come with me, Cecily. We will go away together, and be married at once."
She panted rather than breathed.
"You must! I can't leave you! I had rather throw myself from these Capri rocks than go away with more than two years of solitude before me."
Cecily made no answer.
"If you think, you will see this is best in every way. It will be kindest to poor Mallard, putting an end at once to any hopes he may have."
"We can't be married without his consent," Cecily whispered.
"Oh yes; I can manage that. I have already thought of everything. Be up early to-morrow morning, and leave the hotel at half-past seven, as if you were going for a walk. Neither your aunt nor Miriam will be stirring by then. Go down the road as far as beyond the next turning, and I will be there with a carriage. At the Marina I will have a boat ready to take us over to Sorrento; we will drive to Castellamare, and there take train direct for Caserta and onwards, so missing Naples altogether. You shall travel as my sister. We will go to London, and be married there. Of course you can't bring luggage, but what does that matter? We can stop anywhere and buy what things you need. I have quite enough money for the present."
"But think of the shock to them all!" she pleaded, trembling through her frame. "How ill I should seem to repay their long kindness! I can't do this, my dearest; oh, I can't do this! I will see Mr. Mallard, as I wished ----"
"You shall not see him!" he interrupted violently. "I couldn't bear it. How do I know ----"
"How cruel to speak like that to me!"
"Of your own cruelty you never think. You have made me mad with love of you, and have no right to refuse to marry me when I show you the way. If I didn't love you so much, I could bear well enough to let you speak with any one. Your love is very different from mine, or you couldn't hesitate a moment."
"Let me think! I can't answer you to-night."
"To-night, or never! -- Oh yes, I understand well enough, all your reasons for hesitating. It would mean relinquishing the wedding-dress and the carriages and all the rest of the show that delights women. You are afraid of Mrs. Grundy crying shame when it is known that you have travelled across Europe with me. You feel it will be difficult to resume your friendships afterwards. I grant all these things, but I didn't think they would have meant so much to Cecily."
"You know well that none of these reasons have any weight with me. It is only in joking that you can speak of them. But the unkindness to them all, dear! Think of it!"
"Why say 'to them all'? Wouldn't it be simpler to say 'the unkindness to Mallard'?"
She looked up into his face.
"Why does love make a man speak so bitterly and untruthfully? Nothing could make me do you such a wrong."
"Because you are so pure of heart and mind that nothing but truth can be upon your lips. If I were not very near madness, I could never speak so to you. My own dear love, think only of what I suffer day after day! And what folly is it that would keep us apart! Suppose they had none but conscientious motives; in that case, these people take upon themselves to say what is good for us, what we may be allowed and what not; they treat us as children. Of course, it is all for your protection. I am not fit to be your husband, my beautiful girl! Tell me -- who knows me better, Mallard or yourself?"
"No one knows you as I do, dearest, nor ever will."
"And do you think me too vile a creature to call you my wife?"
"I need not answer that. You are as much nobler than I am as your strength is greater than mine."
"But they would remind you that you are an heiress. I have not made so good a use of my own money as I might have done, and the likelihood is that I shall squander yours, bring you to beggary. Do you believe that?"
"I know it is not true."
"Then what else can they oppose to our wish? Here are all the objections, and all seem to be worthless. Yet there might be one more. You are very young -- how I rejoice in knowing it, sweet flower! -- perhaps your love of me is a mere illusion. It ought to be tested by time; very likely it may die away, and give place to something truer."
"If so let me die myself sooner than survive such happiness!"
"Why, then what have they to say for themselves? Their opposition is mistake, stubborn error. And are we to sacrifice two whole years, the best time of our lives, to such obstinacy? Either of us may die, Cecily. Suppose it to be my lot, what would be your thoughts then?"
His head bent to hers, and their faces touched.
"Dare you risk that, my love?"
"I dare not."
Her answer trembled upon his hearing as though it came upon the night air from the sea.
"You will come with me to-morrow?"
He sought her offered lips, and for a few instants their whispering in the shadow ceased. Then he repeated rapidly the directions he had already given her.
"Put on your warmest cloak; it will be cold on the water. Now I can say good-night. Kiss me once more, and once more promise."
She pressed her arms about him.
"I am giving you my life. If I had more, I would give it. Be faithful to me!"
"Then, you do doubt me?"
"Never! But say it to-night, to give me strength."
"I will be faithful to you whilst I have life."
She issued from shadows into broad moonlight, looked once round, once at the gleaming crags, and passed again into gloom.
"I think it very unlikely," Mrs. Lessingham was saying to Miriam, in her pleasantest voice of confidence, "that Mr. Mallard will insist on the whole term."
"No doubt that will much depend on the next year," Miriam replied, trying to seem impartial.
"No doubt whatever. I am glad we came here. They are both much quieter and more sensible. In a few days I think your brother will have made up his mind."
"I hope so."
"Cecily lost her head a little at first, but I see that her influence is now in the sober direction, as one would have anticipated. When Mr. Elgar has left us, no doubt Mr. Mallard will come over, and we shall have quiet talk, What an odd man he is! How distinctly I could have foreseen his action in these circumstances! And I know just how it will be, as soon as things have got into a regular course again. Mr. Mallard hates disturbance and agitation. Of course he has avoided seeing Cecily as yet; imagine his exasperated face if he became involved in a 'scene'!"
And Mrs. Lessingham laughed urbanely.
A short and troubled sleep at night's heaviest; then long waiting for the first glimmer of dawn. Row unreal the world seemed to her! She tried to link this present morning with the former days, but her life had lost its continuity; the past was past in a sense she had never known; and as for the future, it was like gazing into darkness that throbbed and flashed. It meant nothing to her to say that this was Capri -- that the blue waves and the wind of morning would presently bear her to Sorrento; the familiar had no longer a significance; her consciousness was but a point in space and eternity. She had no regret of her undertaking, no fear of what lay before her, but a profound sadness, as though the burden of all mortal sorrows were laid upon her soul.
At seven o'clock she was ready. A very few things that could be easily carried she would take with her; her cloak would hide them. Now she must wait for the appointed moment. It seemed to be very cold; she shivered.
A minute or two before the half-hour, she left her room silently. On the stairs a servant passed her, and looked surprised in giving the "Buon giorno." She walked quickly through the garden, and was on the firm road. At the place indicated stood E]gar beside the carriage, and without exchanging a word they took their seats.
At the Marina, they had but to step from the carriage to the boat. Elgar's luggage was thrown on board, and the men pushed off from the quay.
Bitterly cold, but what a glorious sunrise! Against the flushed sky, those limestone heights of Capri caught the golden radiance and shone wondrously. The green water, gently swelling but unbroken, was like some rarer element, too limpid for this world's shores. With laughter and merry talk between themselves, the boatmen hoisted their sail.
And the gods sent a fair breeze from the west, and it smote upon the sail, and the prow cleft its track of foam, and on they sped over the back of the barren sea.
It was a case of between two stools, and Clifford Marsh did not like the bump. From that dinner with Elgar he came home hilariously dismayed; when his hilarity had evaporated with the wine that was its cause, dismay possessed him wholly. Miss Doran was not for him, and in the meantime he had offended Madeline beyond forgiveness. With what countenance could he now turn to her again? Her mother would welcome his surrender -- and it was drawing on towards the day when submission even to his stepfather could no longer be postponed -- but he suspected that Madeline's resolve to have done with him was strengthened by resentment of her mother's importunities. To be sure, it was some sort of consolation to know that if indeed he went his way for good, bitterness and regrets would be the result to the Denyer family, who had no great facility in making alliances of this kind; in a few years time, Madeline would be wishing that she had not let her pride interfere with a chance of marriage. But, on the other hand, there was the awkward certainty that he too would lament making a fool of himself. He by no means liked the thought of relinquishing Madeline; he had not done so, even when heating his brain with contemplation of Cecily Doran. In what manner could he bring about between her and himself a drama which might result in tears and mutual pardon?
But whilst he pondered this, fate was at work on behalf. On the day which saw the departure of the Bradshaws, there landed at Naples, from Alexandria, a certain lean, wiry man, with shoulders that stooped slightly, with grizzled head and parchment visage; a man who glanced about him in a keen, anxious way, and had other nervous habits. Having passed the custom-house, he hired a porter to take his luggage -- two leather bags and a heavy chest, all much the worse for wear -- to that same hotel at which Mallard was just now staying. There he refreshed himself, and, it being early in the afternoon, went forth again, as if on business; for decidedly he was no tourist. When he had occasion to speak, his Italian was fluent and to the point; he conducted himself as one to whom travel and intercourse with every variety of men were life-long habits.
His business conducted him to the Mergellina, to the house of Mrs. Gluck, where he inquired for Mrs. Denyer. He was led upstairs, and into the room where sit Mrs. Denyer and her daughters. The sight of him caused commotion. Barbara, Madeline, and Zillah pressed around him, with cries of "Papa!" Their mother rose and looked at him with concern.
When the greetings were over, Mr. Denyer seated himself and wiped his forehead with a silk handkerchief. He was ominously grave. His eyes avoided the faces before him, as if in shame. He looked at his boots, which had just been blacked, but were shabby, and then glanced at the elegant skirts of his wife and daughters; he looked at his shirt-cuffs, which were clean but frayed, and then gathered courage to lift his eyes as far as the dainty hands folded upon laps in show of patience.
"Madeline," he began, in a voice which was naturally harsh, but could express much tenderness, as now, "what news of Clifford?"
"He's still here, papa," was the answer, in a very low voice.
"I am glad of that. Girls, I've got something to tell you. I wish it was something pleasant."
His parchment cheek showed a distinct flush. The attempt to keep his eyes on the girls was a failure; he seemed to be about to confess a crime.
"I've brought you bad news, the worst I ever brought you yet. My dears, I can hold out no longer; I'm at the end of my means. If I could have kept this from you, Heaven knows I would have done, but it is better to tell you all plainly."
Mrs. Denyer's brows were knitted; her lips were compressed in angry obstinacy; she would not look up from the floor. The girls glanced at her, then at one another. Barbara tried to put on a sceptical expression, but failed; Madeline was sunk in trouble; Zillah showed signs of tearfulness.
"I can only hope," Mr. Denyer continued, "that you don't owe very much here. I thought, after my last letter" -- he seemed more abashed than ever -- "you might have looked round for something a little ----" He glanced at the ornaments of the room, but at the same time chanced to catch his wife's eye, and did not finish the sentence. "But never mind that; time enough now that the necessity has come. You know me well enough, Barbara, and you Maddy, and you, Zillah, my child, to be sure that I wouldn't deny you anything it was in my power to give. But fortune's gone against me this long time. I shall have to make a new start, new efforts. I'm going out to Vera Cruz again."
He once more wiped his forehead, and took the opportunity to look askance at Mrs. Denyer, dubiously, half reproachfully.
"And what are we to do?" asked his wife, with resentful helplessness.
"I am afraid you must go to England," Mr. Denyer replied apologetically, turning his look to the girls a gain. "After settling here, and paying the expenses of the journey, I shall have a little left, very little indeed. But I'm going to Vera Cruz on a distinct engagement, and I shall soon be able to send you something. I'm afraid you had better go to Aunt Dora's again; I've heard from her lately, and she has the usual spare rooms."
The girls exchanged looks of dismay. The terrible silence was broken by Zillah, who spoke in quavering accents.
"Papa dear, I have made up my mind to get a place as a nursery governess. I shall very soon be able to do so."
"And I shall do the same, papa -- or something of the kind," came abruptly from Madeline.
"You, Maddy?" exclaimed her father, who had received the youngest girl's announcement with a look of sorrowful resignation, but was shocked at the other's words.
"I am no longer engaged to Mr. Marsh," Madeline proceeded, casting down her eyes. "Please don't say anything, mamma. I have made up my mind. I shall look for employment."
Her father shook his head in distress. He had never enjoyed the control or direction of his daughters, and his long absences during late years had put him almost on terms of ceremony with them. In time gone by, their mother had been to him an object of veneration; it was his privilege to toil that she might live in luxury; but his illusions regarding her had received painful shocks, and it was to the girls that he now sacrificed himself. Their intellect, their attainments, at once filled him with pride and made him humble in their presence. But for his reluctance to impose restraints upon their mode of life, he might have avoided this present catastrophe; he had cried "Wolf!" indeed, in his mild way, but took no energetic measures when he found his cry disregarded -- all the worse for him now that he could postpone the evil day no longer.
"You are the best judge of your own affairs, Madeline," he replied despondently. "I'm very sorry, my girl."
"All I can say is," exclaimed Mrs. Denyer, as if with dignified reticence, "that I think we should have had longer warning of this!"
"My dear, I have warned you repeatedly for nearly a year."
"I mean serious warning. Who was to imagine that things would come to such a pass as this?"
"You never told us there was danger of absolute beggary, papa," remarked Barbara, in a tone not unlike her mother's.
"I ought to have spoken more plainly," was her father's meek answer. "You are quite right, Barbara. I feel that I am to blame."
"I don't think you are at all," said Madeline, with decision. "Your letters were plain enough, if we had chosen to pay any attention to them."
Her father looked up apprehensively, deprecating defence of himself at the cost of family discord. But he was powerless to prevent the gathering storm. Mrs. Denyer gazed sternly at her recalcitrant daughter, and at length discharged upon the girl's head all the wrath with which this situation inspired her. Barbara took her mother's side. Zillah wept and sobbed words of reconciliation. The unhappy cause of the tumult took refuge at the window, sunk in gloom.
However, there was no doubt about it this time; trunks must be packed, bills must he paid, indignities must be swallowed. The Aunt Dora of whom Mr. Denyer had spoken was his own sister, the wife of a hotel-keeper at Southampton. Some seven years ago, in a crisis of the Denyers' fate, she had hospitably housed them for several months, and was now willing to do as much again, notwithstanding the arrogance with which Mrs. Denyer had repaid her. To the girls it had formerly mattered little where they lived; at their present age, it was far otherwise. The hotel was of a very modest description; society would become out of the question in such a retreat. Madeline and Zillah might choose, as the less of two evils, the lot for which they declared themselves ready; but Barbara had no notion of turning governess. She shortly went to her bedroom, and spent a very black hour indeed.
They were to start to-morrow morning. With rage Barbara saw the interdiction of hopes which were just becoming serious. Another month of those after-dinner colloquies in the drawing-room, and who could say what point of intimacy Mr. Musselwhite might have reached. He was growing noticeably more articulate; he was less absentminded. Oh, for a month more!
This evening she took her usual place, and at length had the tormenting gratification of seeing Mr. Musselwhite approach in the usual way. Though sitting next to him at dinner, she had said nothing of what would happen on the morrow; the present was a better opportunity.
"You have no book this evening, Miss Denyer!"
"No headache, I hope?"
"Yes, I have a little headache."
He looked at her with gentlemanly sympathy.
"I have had to see to a lot of things in a hurry. Unexpectedly, we have to leave Naples to-morrow; we are going to England."
"Indeed? You don't say so! Really, I'm very sorry to hear that, Miss Denyer."
"I am sorry too -- to have to leave Italy for such a climate at this time of the year." She shuddered. "But my father has just arrived from Alexandria, and -- for family reasons -- wishes us to travel on with him."
Mr. Musselwhite seemed to reflect anxiously. He curled his moustaches, he plucked his whiskers, he looked about the room with wide eyes.
"How lonely it will be at the dinner-table!" he said at length. "So many have gone of late. But I hoped there was no danger of your going, Miss Denyer."
"We had no idea of it ourselves till to-day."
A long silence, during which Mr. Musselwhite's reflections grew intense.
"You are going to London?" he asked mechanically.
"Not at first. I hardly know. I think we shall be for some time with friends at Southampton."
"Indeed? How odd! I also have friends at Southampton. A son of Sir Edward Mull; he married a niece of mine."
Barbara could have cried with mortification. She muttered she knew not what. Then again came a blank in the dialogue.
"I trust we may meet again," was Mr. Musselwhite's next sentence. It cost him an effort; he reddened a little, and moved his feet about.
"There is no foreseeing. I -- we -- I am sorry to say my father has brought us rather unpleasant news."
She knew not whether it was a stroke of policy, or grossly imprudent, to make this confession. But it came to her lips, and she uttered it half in recklessness. It affected Mr. Musselwhite strangely. His countenance fell, and a twinge seemed to catch one of his legs; at the same time it made him fluent.
"I grieve to hear that, Miss Denyer; I grieve indeed. Your departure would have been bad enough, but I really grieve to think you should have cause of distress."
"Thank you for your sympathy, Mr. Musselwhite."
"But perhaps we may meet again in England, for all that? Will you permit me to give you my London address -- a -- a little club that I belong to, and where my friends often send letters? I mean that I should be so very glad if it were ever possible for me to serve you in any trifle. As you know, I don't keep any -- any establishment in England at present; but possibly -- as you say, there is no anticipating the future. I should be very happy indeed if we chanced to meet, there or abroad."
"You are very kind, Mr. Musselwhite."
"If I might ask you for your own probable address?"
"It is so uncertain. But I am sure mamma would have pleasure in sending it, when we arc settled."
"Thank you so very much." He looked up after long meditation. "I really do not know what I shall do when you are gone, Miss Denyer."
And then, without warning, he said good-night and walked away. Barbara, who had thought that the conversation was just about to become interesting, felt her heart sink into unfathomable depths. She went back to her bedroom and cried wretchedly for a long time.
In consequence of private talk with his wife, when the family conclave had broken up, Mr. Denyer went in search of Clifford Marsh. They had met only once hitherto, six months ago, when Mr. Denyer paid a flying visit to London, and had just time to make the acquaintance of his prospective son-in-law. This afternoon they walked together for an hour about the Chiaia, with the result that an understanding of some kind seemed to be arrived at between them,
Mr. Denyer returned to the pension, and, when dinnertime approached, surprised Madeline with the proposal that she should come out and dine with him at a restaurant.
"The fact is," he whispered to her, with a laugh, "my appearance is not quite up to the standard of your dinner-table. I'm rather too careless about these things; it's doubtful whether I possess a decent suit. Let us go and find a quiet corner somewhere -- if a fashionable young lady will do me so much honour."
Through Madeline's mind there passed a suspicion, but a restaurant-dinner hit her taste, and she accepted the invitation readily. Before long, they drove into the town. Perhaps in recognition of her having taken his part against idle reproaches, her father began, as soon as they were alone, to talk in a grave, earnest way about his affairs; and Madeline, who liked above all things to be respectfully treated, entered into the subject with dutiful consideration. He showed her exactly how his misfortunes had accumulated, how this and that project had been a failure, what unadvised steps he had taken in fear of impending calamity Snugly seated at the little marble table, they grew very confidential indeed. Mr. Denyer avowed his hope -- the hope ever-retreating, though sometimes it had seemed within reach -- of being able some day to find rest for the sole of his foot, to settle down with his family and enjoy a quiet close of life. Possibly this undertaking at Vera Cruz would be his last exile; he explained it in detail, and dwelt on its promising aspects. Madeline felt compassionate and remorseful.
Of her own intimate concerns no word was said, but it happened strangely enough, just as they had finished dinner, that Clifford Marsh came strolling into the restaurant. He saw them, and with expressions of surprise explained that he had just turned in for a cup of coffee. Mr. Denyer invited him to sit down with them, and they had coffee together. Clifford kept up a flow of characteristic talk, never directly addressing Madeline, nor encountering her look. He referred casually to his meeting with Mr. Denyer that afternoon.
"I shall be going back myself very shortly. It is probable that there will be something of a change in my circumstances; I may decide to give up a few hours each day to commercial pursuits. It all depends on -- on uncertain things."
"You won't come out with me to Vera Cruz?" said Mr. Denyer, jocosely.
"No; I am a man of the old world. I must live in the atmosphere of art, or I don't care to live at all."
Madeline's slight suspicion was confirmed. When they were about to leave the restaurant, Mr. Denyer said that he must go to the railway-station, to make a few inquiries. There was no use in Madeline's going such a distance; would Clifford be so good as to see her safely home? Madeline made a few objections -- she would really prefer to accompany her father; she would not trouble Mr. Marsh -- but in the end she found herself seated by Clifford in a carriage, passing rapidly through the streets.
Now was Clifford's opportunity; he had prepared for it.
"Madeline -- vou must let me call you by that name again, even if it is for the last time -- I have heard what has happened."
"Happily it does not affect you, Mr. Marsh."
"Indeed it does. It affects me so far, that it alters the whole course of my life. In spite of everything that has seemed to come between us, I have never allowed myself to think of our engagement as at an end. The parcel you sent me the other day is unopened; if you do not open it yourself no one ever shall. Whatever you may do, I cannot break faith. You ought to know me better than to misinterpret a few foolish and hasty words, and appearances that had a meaning you should have understood. The time has come now for putting an end to those misconceptions."
"They no longer concern me. Please to speak of something else."
"You must, at all events, understand my position before we part. This morning I was as firmly resolved as ever to risk everything, to renounce the aid of my relatives if it must be and face poverty for the sake of art. Now all is changed. I shall accept my step-father's offer, and all its results becoming, if it can't be helped, a mere man of business. I do this because of my sacred duties to you. As an artist, there's no telling how long it might be before I could ask you again to be my wife; as a man of business, I may soon be in a position to do so. Don't interrupt me, I entreat! It is no matter to me if you repulse me now, in your anger. I consider the engagement as still existing between us, and, such being the ease, it is plainly my duty to take such steps as will enable me to offer you a home. By remaining an artist, I should satisfy one part of my conscience, but at the expense of all my better feelings; it might even he supposed -- though, I trust, not by you -- that I made my helplessness an excuse for forgetting you when most you needed kindness. I shall go back to England, and devote myself with energy to the new task, however repulsive it may prove. Whether you think of me or not, I do it for your sake; you cannot rob me of that satisfaction. Some day I shall again stand before you, and ask you for what you once promised. If then you refuse -- well, I must bear the loss of all my hopes."
"You may direct your life as you choose," Madeline replied scornfully, "but you will please to understand that I give you no encouragement to hope anything from me. I almost believe you capable of saying, some day, that you took this step because I urged you to it. I have no interest whatever in your future; our paths are separate. Let this be the end of it."
But it was very far from the end of it. When the carriage stopped at Mrs. Gluck's, mutual reproaches were at their height.
"You shall not leave me yet, Madeline," said Clifford, as he alighted. "Come to the other side of the road, and let us walk along for a few minutes. You shall not go in, if I have to hold you by force."
Madeline yielded, and in the light of the moon they walked side by side, continuing their dialogue.
"You are heartless! You have played with me from the first."
"If so, I only treated you as you thought to treat me."
"That you can attribute such baseness to me proves how incapable you are of distinguishing between truth and falsehood. How wretchedly I have been deceived in you!"
From upbraiding, he fell to lamentation. His life was wrecked; he had lost his ideals; and all through her unworthiness. Then, as Madeline was still unrelenting, he began to humble himself. He confessed his levity; he had not considered the risk he ran of losing her respect; all he had done was in pique at her treatment of him. And in the end he implored her forgiveness, besought her to restore him to life by accepting his unqualified submission. To part from her on such terms as these meant despair; the consequences would be tragic. And when he could go no further m amorous supplication, when she felt that her injured pride had exacted the uttermost from his penitence, Madeline at length relented.
"Still," she said, after his outburst of gratitude, "don't think that I ask you to become a man of business. You shall never charge me with that. It is your nature to reproach other people when anything goes wrong with you; I know you only too well. You must decide for yourself; I will take no responsibility."
Yes, he accepted that; it was purely his own choice. Rather than lose her, he would toil at any most ignoble pursuit, amply repaid by the hope she granted him.
They had walked some distance, and were out of sight of the Mergellina, on the ascending road of Posillipo, all the moonlit glory of the bay before them.
"It will be long before we see it again," said Madeline, sadly.
"We will spend our honeymoon here," was Clifford's hopeful reply.
On the thirteenth day after the flight from Capri, Edward Spence, leaving the villa for his afternoon walk, encountered the postman and received from him three letters. One was addressed to Ross Mallard, Esq., care of Edward Spence, Esq.; another, to Mrs. Spence; the third, to Mrs. Baske. As he reascended the stairs, somewhat more quickly than his wont, Spence gave narrow attention to the handwriting on the envelopes. He found Eleanor where he had left her a few minutes before, at the piano, busy with a difficult passage of Brahms. She looked round in surprise, and on seeing the letters started up eagerly.
"Do you know Elgar's hand?" Spence asked. "These two from London are his, I should imagine. This for you is from Mrs. Lessingham, isn't it?"
"Yes; I think this is the news, at last," said Eleanor, inspecting Mrs. Baske's letter, not without feminine emotion. "I'll take it to her. Shall you go over with the other?"
"He'll he here after dinner; the likelihood is that I shouldn't find him."
"Occasionally -- very occasionally -- you lack tact, my husband. He would hardly care to open this and read it in our presence."
"More than occasionally, my dear girl, you remind me of the woman whose price is above rubies. I'll go over and leave it for him at once. Just to show the male superiority, however, I shall be careful to make my walk a few minutes longer than usual -- a thing of which you would be quite incapable whilst the contents of Miriam's letter were unknown to you."
Alone again, Eleanor sent the letter to Miriam's room by a servant, and with uncertain fingers broke the envelope of that addressed to herself. Already she had heard once from Mrs. Lessingham, who ten days ago left Naples to join certain friends in Rome; the first hurried glance over the present missive showed that it contained no intelligence. She had scarcely begun to read it attentively, when the door opened and Miriam came in.
Her face was pale with agitation, and her eyes had the strangest light in them; to one who knew nothing of the circumstances, she would have appeared exultant. Eleanor could not but gaze at her intently.
"Yes." Miriam suppressed her voice, and held out the sheet of note-paper, which fluttered. "Read it."
The body of the letter was as follows: --
"I hope we have caused you no anxiety; from the first moment when our departure was known, you must have understood that we had resolved to put an end to useless delay. We travelled to London as brother and sister, and to-day have become man and wife. The above will be our address for a short time; we have not yet decided where we shall ultimately live.
"By this same post I write to Mallard, addressed to him at the villa. I hope he has had the good sense to wait quietly for news.
"Cecily sends her love to you -- though she half fears that you will reject it. I cannot see why you should. We have done the only sensible thing, and of course in a month or two it will he just the same, to everybody concerned, as if we had been married in the most foolish way that respectability can contrive. Let us hear from you very soon, dear sister. We talk much of you, and hope to have many a bright day with you yet -- more genuinely happy than that we spent in tracking out old Tiberius."
Eleanor looked up, and again was struck with the singular light in her cousin's eyes.
"Well, it only tells us what we anticipated. Of course he made false declarations. If Mr. Mallard were really as grim as he sometimes looks, the result to both of them might be unpleasant."
"But the marriage could not be undone?" Miriam asked quickly.
"Oh no. Scarcely desirable that it should be."
Miriam took the letter, and in a few minutes went back again to her room.
At nine o'clock in the evening, the Spences, who sat alone, received the foreseen visit from Mallard. They welcomed him silently. As he sat down, he had a smile on his face; he drew a letter deliberately from his pocket, and, without preface, began to read it aloud, still in a deliberate manner.
"Let me first of all make a formal announcement. We have this morning been married by registrar's licence. We intend to live for a few weeks at this present address, where we have taken some furnished rooms until better arrangements can be made. I lose no time in writing to you, for of course there is business between us that you will desire to transact as soon as may be.
"In obtaining the licence, I naturally gave false information regarding Cecily's age; this was an inevitable consequence of the step we had taken. You know my opinions on laws and customs: for the multitude they are necessary, and an infraction of them by the average man is, logically enough, called a sin against society; for Cecily and myself, in relation to such a matter as our becoming man and wife, the law is idle form. Personally, I could have wished to dispense with the absurdity altogether, but, as things are, this involves an injustice to a woman. I told my falsehoods placidly, for they were meaningless in my eyes. I have the satisfaction of knowing that you cannot, without inconsistency, find fault with me.
"And now I speak as one who would gladly be on terms of kindness with you. You know me, Mallard; you must be aware how impossible it was for me to wait two years. As for Cecily, her one word, again and again repeated on the journey, was, 'How unkind I shall seem to them!' and I know that it was the seeming disrespect to you which most of all distressed her. For her sake, I make it my petition that you will let the past be past. She cannot yet write to you, but is sad in the thought of having incurred your displeasure. Whatever you say to me, let it be said privately; do not hurt Cecily. I mentioned 'business; the word and the thing are equally hateful to me. I most sincerely wish Cecily had nothing, that the vile question of money might never arise. Herein, at all events, you will do me justice; I am no fortune-hunter.
"If you come to London, send a line and appoint a place of meeting. But could not everything be done through lawyers? You must judge; but, again I ask it, do not give Cecily more pain."
The listeners were smiling gravely. After a silence, the letter was discussed, especially its second paragraph. Mallard was informed of the note which Miriam had received.
"I shall go to-morrow," he said, "and 'transact my business.' On the whole, it might as well be done through lawyers, but I had better be in London."
"And then?" asked Eleanor.
"I shall perhaps go and spend a week with the people at Sowerby Bridge. But you shall hear from me."
"Will you speak to Mrs. Baske?"
"I don't think it is necessary. She has expressed no wish that I should?"
"No; but she might like to be assured that her brother won't be prosecuted for perjury."
"Oh, set her mind at ease!"
"Show Mallard the. letter from Mrs. Lessingham," said Spence, with a twinkle of the eyes.
"I will read it to him."
She did so. And the letter ran thus:
"Still no news? I am uneasy, though there can be no rational doubt as to what form the news will take when it comes. The material interests in question are enough to relieve us from anxiety. But I wish they would be quick and communicate with us.
"One reconciles one's self to the inevitable, and, for my own part, the result of my own reflections is that I am something more than acquiescent. After all, granted that these two must make choice of each other, was it not in the fitness of things that they should act as they have done? For us comfortable folk, life is too humdrum; ought we not to be grateful to those who supply us with a strong emotion, and who remind us that there is yet poetry in the world? I should apologize for addressing such thoughts to you, dear Eleanor, for you have still the blessing of a young heart, and certainly do not lack poetry. I speak for myself, and after all I am much disposed to praise these young people for their unconventional behaviour.
"What if our darkest anticipations were fulfilled? Beyond all doubt they are now sincerely devoted to each other, and will remain so for at least twelve months. Those twelve months will be worth a life-time of level satisfaction. We shall be poor creatures in comparison when we utter our 'Didn't I tell you so?'
"Whilst in a confessing mood, I will admit that I had formed rather a different idea of Cecily; I was disposed to think of her as the modern woman who has put unreasoning passion under her feet, and therefore this revelation was at first a little annoying to me. But I see now that my view of her failed by incompleteness. The modern woman need by no means be a mere embodied intellect; she will choose to enjoy as well as to understand, and to enjoy greatly she will sacrifice all sorts of things that women have regarded as supremely important. Indeed, I cannot say that I am disappointed in Cecily; rightly seen, she has justified the system on which I educated her. My object was to teach her to think for herself, to be self-reliant. The jeune fille, according to society's pattern, is my abhorrence: an ignorant, deceitful, vain, immoral creature. Cecily is as unlike that as possible; she has behaved independently and with sincerity. I really admire her very much, and hope that her life may not fall below its beginning.
"Let me hear as soon as a word reaches you. I am with charming people, and yet I think longingly of the delightful evenings at Villa Sannazaro, your music and your talk. You and your husband have a great place in my heart; you are of the salt of the earth. Spare me a little affection, for I am again a lonely woman."
This letter also was discussed, and its philosophy appreciated. Mallard spoke little; he had clasped his hands behind his head, and listened musingly.
There was no effusion in the leave-taking, though it might be for a long time. Warm clasping of hands, but little said.
"A good-bye for me to Mrs. Baske," was Mallard's last word.
And his haggard but composed face turned from Villa Sannazaro.
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