ROGER’S quarrel with his young - companion, if quarrel it was, was never repaired. It had scattered its seed ; they were left lying, to be absorbed in the conscious soil or dispersed by some benignant breeze of accident, as destiny might appoint. But as a manner of clearing the air of its thunder, Roger, a week after Fenton’s departure, proposed she should go with him for a fortnight to town. Later, perhaps, they might arrange to remain for the winter. Nora had been longing vaguely for the relief of a change of circumstance ; she assented with great good-will. They lodged at a hotel, — not the establishment at which they had made acquaintance. Here, late in the afternoon, the day after their arrival, Nora sat by the window, waiting for Roger to come and take her to dinner, and watching with the intentness of country eyes the hurrying throng in the street; thinking too at moments of a certain blue bonnet she had bought that morning, and comparing it, not uncomplacently, with the transitory bonnets on the pavement. A gentleman was introduced ; Nora had not forgotten Hubert Lawrence. Hubert had occupied for more than a year past a pastoral office in the West, and had recently had little communication with his cousin. Nora he had seen but on a single occasion, that of his visit to Roger, six months after her advent. She had grown in the interval, from the little girl who slept with the “ Child’s Own Book ” under her pillow and dreamed of the Prince Avenant, into a stately maiden who read the “ Heir of Redcliffe,” and mused upon the loves of the clergy. Hubert, too, had changed in his own degree. He was now thirtyone years of age and his character had lost something of a certain boyish vagueness of outline, which formerly had not been without its grace. But his elder grace was scarcely less effective. Various possible half-shadows in his personality had melted into broad, shallow lights. He was now, distinctly, one of the light-armed troops of the army of the Lord. He fought the Devil as an irresponsible skirmisher, not as a sturdy gunsman planted beside a booming sixty-pounder. The clerical cloth, as Hubert wore it, was not unmitigated sable ; and in spite of his cloth, such as it was, humanity rather than divinity got the lion’s share of his attentions. He loved doubtless, in this world, the heavenward face of things, but he loved, as regards heaven, the earthward. He was rather an idler in the walks of theology and he was uncommitted to any very rigid convictions. He thought the old theological positions in very bad taste, but he thought the new theological negations in no taste at all. In fact, Hubert believed so vaguely and languidly in the Devil that there was but slender logic in his having undertaken the cure of souls. He administered his spiritual medicines in homœopathic doses. It had been maliciously said that he had turned parson because parsons enjoy peculiar advantages in approaching the fair sex. The presumption is in their favor. Our business, however, is not to pick up idle reports. Hubert was, on the whole, a decidedly light weight, and yet his want of spiritual passion was by no means in effect a want of motive or stimulus ; for the central pivot of his being continued to operate with the most noiseless precision and regularity, — the slim, erect, inflexible Ego. To the eyes of men, and especially to the eyes of women, whatever may have been the moving cause, the outer manifestation was supremely gracious. If Hubert had no great firmness of faith, he had a very pretty firmness of manner. He was gentle without timidity, frank without arrogance, clever without pedantry. The common measure of clerical disallowance was reduced in his hands to the tacit protest of a generous personal purity. His appearance bore various wholesome traces of the practical lessons of his Western pastorate. This had been disagreeable; he had had to apply himself, to devote himself, to compromise with a hundred aversions. His talents had been worth less to him than he expected, and he had been obliged, as the French say, to payer de sa personne, — that person for which he entertained so delicate a respect, — in a peculiarly unsympathetic medium. All this had given him a slightly jaded, overwearied look, certain to deepen his interest in female eyes. He had actually a couple of wrinkles in his fair seraphic forehead. He secretly rejoiced in his wrinkles. They were his crown of glory. He had suffered, he had worked, he had been bored. Now he believed in earthly compensations.
“ Dear me ! ” he said, “ can this be Nora Lambert ? ”
She had risen to meet him, and held out her hand with girlish frankness. She was dressed in a light silk dress ; she seemed altogether a young woman. “ I have been growing hard in all these years,” she said. “ I have had to overtake those pieds énormes.” The readers will not have forgotten that Hubert had thus qualified her lower members. Ignorant as she was, at the moment, of the French tongue, her memory had instinctively retained the words, and she had taken an early opportunity to look out pied in the dictionary. Énorme, of course, spoke for itself.
“ You must have caught up with them now,” Hubert said, laughing. “ You ’re an enormous young lady. I should never have known you.” He sat down, asked various questions about Roger, and adjured her to tell him, as he said, “all about herself.” The invitation was flattering, but it met only a partial compliance. Unconscious as yet of her own charm, Nora was oppressed by a secret admiration of her companion. His presence seemed to open a sudden vista in the narrow precinct of her young experience. She compared him with her cousin, and wondered that he should be at once so impressive and so different. She blushed a little, privately, for Fenton, and was not ill-pleased to think he was absent. In the light of Hubert’s good manners, his admission that he was no gentleman acquired an excessive force. By this thrilling intimation of the diversity of the male sex, the mental pinafore of childhood seemed finally dismissed. Hubert was so frank and friendly, so tenderly and gallantly patronizing, that more than once she felt herself drifting toward an answering freedom of confidence ; but on the verge of effusion, something absent in the tone of his assent, a vague fancy that, in the gathering dusk, he was looking at her all at his ease, rather than listening to her, converted her bravery into what she knew to be deplorable little-girlishness. On the whole, this interview may have passed for Nora’s first lesson in the art, indispensable to a young lady on the threshold of society, of talking for half an hour without saying anything. The lesson was interrupted by the arrival of Roger, who greeted his cousin with almost extravagant warmth, and insisted on his staying to dinner. Roger was to take Nora after dinner to a concert, for which he felt no great enthusiasm ; he proposed to Hubert, who was a musical man, to occupy his place. Hubert demurred awhile ; but in the mean time Nora, having gone to prepare herself, reappeared, looking extremely well in the blue crape bonnet before mentioned, with her tace bright with anticipated pleasure. For a moment Roger was vexed at having resigned his office : Hubert immediately stepped into it. They came home late, the blue bonnet nothing the worse for wear, and the young girl’s face illumined by a dozen intense impressions. She was in a fever of gayety ; she treated Roger to a representation of the concert, and made a great show of voice. Her departing childishness, her dawning tact, her freedom with Roger, her half-freedom with Hubert, made a charming mixture, and insured for her auditors the success of the entertainment. When she had retired, amid a mimic storm of applause from the two gentlemen, Roger solemnly addressed his cousin, “Well, what do you think of her ? I hope you have no fault to find with her feet.”
“ I have had no observation of her feet,” said Hubert; “ but she will have very handsome hands. She’s a very nice creature.” Roger sat lounging in his chair with his hands in his pockets, his chin on his breast, and a heavy gaze fixed on Hubert. The latter was struck with his deeply preoccupied aspect. “ But let us talk of you rather than of Nora,’ he said. “I have been waiting for a chance to tell you that you look very poorly.”
“ Nora or I, — it ’s all one. Hubert, I live in that child ! ”
Hubert was startled by the sombre energy of his tone. The old polished placid Roger was in abeyance. “ My dear fellow,” he said, “you ’re altogether wrong. Live for yourself. You may be sure she ’ll do as much. You take it too hard.”
“Yes, I take it too hard. It wears upon me.”
“ What’s the matter ? Is she troublesome ? Is she more than you bargained for ? ” Roger sat gazing at him in silence, with the same grave eye. He began to suspect Nora had turned out a losing investment. “Is she — a — vicious?” he went on. “Surely not with that sweet face ! ”
Roger started to his feet impatiently. “ Don’t misunderstand me ! ” he cried. “ I’ve been longing to see some one — to talk — to get some advice — some sympathy. I ’m fretting myself away.”
“ Good heavens, man, give her a thousand dollars and send her back to her family. You ’ve educated her.”
“ Her family ! She has no family ! She’s the loneliest as well as the sweetest, wisest, best of creatures ! If she were only a tenth as good, I should be a happier man. I can’t think of parting with her ; not for all I possess ! ”
Hubert stared a moment. “Why, you ’re in love ! ”
“ Yes,” said Roger, blushing. “ I ’m in love.”
“ I’m not ashamed of it,” rejoined Roger, softly.
It was no business of Hubert’s certainly ; but he felt the least bit disappointed. “ Well,” he said, coolly, “ why don’t you marry her ? ”
“ It’s not so simple as that ! ”
“ She ’ll not have you ? ”
Roger frowned impatiently. “Reflect a moment. You pretend to be a man of delicacy.”
“ You mean she’s too young ? Nonsense. If you are sure of her, the younger the better.”
“Hubert,” cried Roger, “for my unutterable misery, I have a conscience. I wish to leave her free, and take the risk. I wish to be just, and let the matter work itself out. You may think me absurd, but I wish to be loved for myself, as other men are loved.”
It was a specialty of Hubert’s that in proportion as other people grew hot, he grew cool. To keep cool, morally, in a heated medium was, in fact, for Hubert a peculiar satisfaction. He broke into a long light laugh. “ Excuse me,” he said, “ but there is something ludicrous in your attitude. What business has a lover with a conscience ? None at all ! That’s why I keep out of it. It seems to me your prerogative to be downright. If you waste any more time in hair-splitting, you ’ll find your young lady has taken things in the lump ! ”
“ Do you really think there is danger ? ” Roger demanded, pitifully. “ Not yet awhile. She’s only a child. Tell me, rather, is she only a child? You’ve spent the evening beside her: how does she strike a stranger ? ”
While Hubert’s answer lingered on his lips, the door opened and Nora came in. Her errand was to demand the use of Roger’s watch-key, her own having mysteriously vanished. She had begun to take out her pins and had muffled herself for this excursion in a merino dressing-gown of sombre blue. Her hair was gathered for the night into a single massive coil, which had been loosened by the rapidity of her flight along the passage. Roger’s key proved a complete misfit, so that she had recourse to Hubert’s. It hung on the watch-chain which depended from his waistcoat, and some rather intimate fumbling was needed to adjust it to Nora’s diminutive timepiece. It worked admirably, and she stood looking at him with a little smile of caution as it creaked on the pivot. “ I would n’t have troubled you,” she said, “but that without my watch I should oversleep myself. You know Roger’s temper, and what I should suffer if I were late for breakfast! ”
Roger was ravished at this humorous sally, and when, on making her escape, she clasped one hand to her head to support her released tresses, and hurried along the corridor with the other confining the skirts of her inflated robe, he kissed his hand after her with more than jocular good-will.
“Ah! it’s as bad as that!” said Hubert, shaking his head.
“ I had no idea she had such hair,” cried Roger. “ You ’re right, it’s no case for shilly-shallying.”
“Take care!” said Hubert. “She ’s only a child.”
Roger looked at him a moment. “ My dear fellow, you ’re a hypocrite.”
Hubert colored the least bit, and then took up his hat and began to smooth it with his handkerchief. “ Not at all. See how frank I can be. I recommend you to marry the young lady and have done with it. If you wait, it will be at your own risk. I assure you I think she ’s charming, and if I’m not mistaken, this is only a hint of future possibilities. Don’t sow for others to reap. If you think the harvest is n’t ripe, let it ripen in milder sunbeams than these vigorous handkisses ! Lodge her with some proper person and go to Europe ; come home from Paris a year hence with her trousseau in your trunks, and I ’ll perform the ceremony without another fee than the prospect of having an adorable cousin.” With these words Hubert left his companion pensive.
His words reverberated in Roger’s mind ; I may almost say that they rankled. A couple of days later, in the hope of tenderer counsel, he called upon our friend Mrs. Keith. This lady had completely rounded the cape of matrimony, and was now buoyantly at anchor in the placid cove of well-dowered widowhood. I have heard many a young unmarried lady exclaim with a bold sweep of conception, “ Ah me ! I wish I were a widow ! ” Mrs. Keith was precisely the widow that young unmarried ladies wish to be. With her diamonds in her dressing-case and her carriage in her stable, and without a feather’s weight of encumbrance, she offered a finished example of satisfied ambition. Her wants had been definite ; these once gratified, she had not presumed further. She was a verymuch worthier woman than in those hungry virginal days when Roger had wooed her. Prosperity had agreed equally well with her beauty and her temper. The wrinkles on her brow had stood still, like Joshua’s sun, and a host of good intentions and fair promises seemed to irradiate her person. Roger, as he stood before her, not only felt that his passion was incurably defunct, but allowed himself to doubt that this veuve consolée would have made an ideal wife. The lady, mistaking his embarrassment for the forms of smouldering ardor, determined to transmute his devotion by the subtle chemistry of friendship. This she found easy work ; in ten minutes the echoes of the past were hushed in the small-talk of the present. Mrs. Keith was on the point of sailing for Europe, and had much to say of her plans and arrangements, — of the miserable rent she was to get for her house. “ Why should n’t one turn an honest penny?” she said. “And now,” she went on, when the field had been cleared, “ tell me about the young lady.” This was precisely what Roger wished ; but just as he was about to begin his story there came an irruption of visitors, fatal to the confidential. Mrs. Keith found means to take him aside. “ Seeing is better than hearing,” she said, “and I’m dying to see her. Bring her this evening to dinner, and we shall have her to ourselves.”
Mrs. Keith had long been for Nora an object of mystical veneration. Roger had been in the habit of alluding to her, not freely nor frequently, but with a certain implicit homage which more than once had set Nora wondering. She entered the lady’s drawing-room that evening with an oppressive desire to please. The interest manifested by Roger in the question of what she should wear assured her that he had staked a nameless something on the impression she might make. She was not only reassured, however, but altogether captivated, by the lavish cordiality of her hostess. Mrs. Keith kissed her on both cheeks, held her at her two arms’ length, gave a twist to the fall of her sash, and made her feel very plainly that she was being inspected and appraised ; but all with a certain flattering light in the eye and a tender matronly smile, which rather increased than diminished the young girl’s composure. Mrs. Keith was herself so elegant, so finished, so fragrant of taste and sense, that before an hour was over Nora felt that she had borrowed the hint of a dozen indispensable graces. After dinner her hostess bade her sit down to the piano. Here, feeling sure of her ground, Nora surpassed herself. Mrs. Keith beckoned to Roger to come and sit beside her on the sofa, where, as she nodded time with her head, she softly conversed under cover of the music. Prosperity, as I have intimated, had acted on her moral nature very much as a medicinal tonic — quinine or iron — acts upon the physical. She was in a comfortable glow of charity. She itched gently, she hardly knew where, — was it in heart or brain ? — to render some one a service. She had on hand a small capital of sentimental patronage for which she desired a secure investment. Here was her chance. The project which Roger had imparted to her three years before seemed to her, now she had taken Nora’s measure, to contain such pretty elements of success that she deemed it a sovereign pity it should not be rounded into blissful symmetry. She determined to lend an artistic hand. “ Does she know it, that matter ? ” she asked in a whisper.
“ I have never told her.”
“ That’s right. I approve your delicacy. Of course you ’re sure of your case. She’s altogether lovely, —she’s one in a thousand. I really envy you ; upon my word, Mr. Lawrence, I’m jealous. She has a style of her own. It’s not quite beauty ; it’s not quite cleverness. It belongs neither altogether to her person, nor yet to her mind. It’s a sort of ‘tone.’ Time will bring it out. She has pretty things, too ; one of these days she may take it into her head to be a beauty of beauties. Nature never meant her to hold up her head so well for nothing. Ah, how wrinkled and becapped it makes one feel ! To be sixteen years old, with that head of hair, with health and good connections, with that amount of good-will at the piano, it’s the very best thing in the world, if they but knew it! But no ! they must leave it all behind them ; they must pull their hair to pieces, they must get rid of their complexions ; they must be twenty, they must have lovers, and go their own gait. Well, since it must come, we must attend to the profits ; they ’ll take care of the lovers. Give Nora to me for a year. She needs a woman, a wise woman, a woman like me. Men, when they undertake to meddle with a young girl’s education, are veriest old grandmothers. Let me take her to Europe and bring her out in Rome. Don’t be afraid ; I ’ll guard your interests. I ’ll bring you back the finest girl in America. I see her from here ! ” And describing a great curve in the air with her fan, Mrs. Keith inclined her head to one side in a manner suggestive of a milliner who descries in the bosom of futurity the ideal bonnet. Looking at Roger, she saw that her point was gained ; and Nora, having just finished her piece, was accordingly summoned to the sofa and made to sit down at Mrs. Keith’s feet. Roger went and stood before the fire. “ My dear Nora,” said Mrs. Keith, as if she had known her from childhood, “how would you like to go with me to Rome ?”
Nora started to her feet, and stood looking open-eyed from one to the other. “Really?” she said. “Does Roger — ”
“ Roger,” said Mrs. Keith, “ finds you so hard to manage that he has made you over to me. I forewarn you, I’m a terrible woman. But if you are not afraid, I shall scold you and pinch you no harder than I would a daughter of my own.”
“ I give you up for a year,” said Roger. “It’s hard, troublesome as you are.”
Nora stood wavering for a moment, hesitating where to deposit her excess of joy. Then graciously dropping on her knees before Mrs. Keith, she bent her young head and exhaled it in an ample kiss. “ I’m not afraid of you,” she said, simply. Roger turned round and began to poke the fire.
The next day Nora went forth to buy certain articles necessary in travelling. It was raining so heavily that, at Roger’s direction, she took a carriage. Coming out of a shop, in the course of her expedition, she encountered Hubert Lawrence, tramping along in the wet. He helped her back to her carriage, and stood for a moment talking to her through the window. As they were going in the same direction, she invited him to get in ; and on his hesitating, she added that she hoped their interview was not to end there, as she was going to Europe with Mrs. Keith. At this news Hubert jumped in and placed himself on the front seat. The knowledge that she was drifting away gave a sudden value to the present occasion. Add to this that in the light of Roger’s revelation after the concert, this passive, predestined figure of hers had acquired for the young man a certain rich interest. Nora found herself strangely at ease with her companion. From time to time she strove to check the headlong course of her girlish épanouissement; but Hubert evidently, with his broad superior gallantry, was not the person to note to a hair’s value the pitiful more or less of a school-girl’s primness. Her enjoyment of his presence, her elation in the prospect of departure, made her gayety reckless. They went together to half a dozen shops and talked and laughed so distractedly over her purchases, that she made them sadly at haphazard. At last their progress was arrested by a dead-lock of vehicles in front of them, caused by the breaking down of a horse-car. The carriage drew up near the sidewalk in front of a confectioner’s. On Nora’s regretting the delay, and saying she was ravenous for lunch, Hubert went into the shop, and returned with a bundle of tarts. The rain came down in sheeted torrents, so that they had to close both the windows. Circled about with this watery screen, they feasted on their tartswith extraordinary relish. In a short time Hubert made another excursion, and returned with a second course. His diving to and fro in the rain excited them to extravagant mirth. Nora had bought some pocket-handkerchiefs, which were in that cohesive state common to these articles in the shop. It seemed a very pretty joke to spread the piece across their knees as a tablecloth.
“ To think of picnicking in the midst of Washington Street! ” cried Nora, with her lips besprinkled with flakes of pastry.
“ For a young lady about to leave her native land, her home, and friends, and all that’s dear to her,” said Hubert, “you seem to me in very good spirits.”
“ Don’t speak of it,” said Nora. “ I shall cry to-night; I know I shall.”
“ You ’ll not be able to do this kind of thing abroad,” said Hubert. “Do you know we’re monstrously improper ? For a young girl it’s by no means pure gain, going to Europe. She comes into a very pretty heritage of prohibitions. You have no idea of the number of improper things a young girl can do. You ’re walking on the edge of a precipice. Don’t look over or you ’ll lose your head and never walk straight again. Here, you ’re all blindfold. Promise me not to lose this blessed bondage of American innocence. Promise me that, when you come back, we shall spend another morning together as free and delightful as this one ! ”
“ I promise you ! ” said Nora ; but Hubert’s words had potently foreshadowed the forfeiture of sweet possibilities. For the rest of the drive she was in a graver mood. They found Roger beneath the portico of the hotel, watch in hand, staring up and down the street. Preceding events having been explained to him, he offered to drive his cousin home.
“ I suppose Nora has told you,” he began, as they proceeded.
“ Yes ! Well, I ’m sorry. She’s a charming girl.”
“ Ah ! ” Roger cried ; “ I knew you thought so ! ”
“ You ’re as knowing as ever ! She sails, she tells me, on Wednesday next. And you, when do you sail?”
“ I don’t sail at all. I ’m going home.”
“ Are you sure of that? ”
Roger gazed for a moment out of the window. “ I mean for a year,” he said, “ to allow her perfect liberty.”
“ And to accept the consequences ?”
“ Absolutely.” And Roger folded his arms.
This conversation took place on a Friday. Nora was to sail from New York on the succeeding Wednesday; for which purpose she was to leave Boston with Mrs. Keith on the Monday. The two ladies were of course to be attended to the ship by Roger. Early Sunday morning Nora received a visit from her friend. The reader will perhaps remember that Mrs. Keith was a recent convert to the Roman Catholic faith ; as such, she performed her religious duties with peculiar assiduity. Her present errand was to propose that Nora should go with her to church and join in offering a mass for their safety at sea. “ I don’t want to undermine your faith, you know ; but I think it would be so nice,” said Mrs. Keith. Appealing to Roger, Nora received permission to do as she pleased ; she therefore lent herself with fervor to this pious enterprise. The two ladies spent an hour at the foot of the altar, — an hour of romantic delight to the younger one. On Sunday evening Roger, who, as the day of separation approached, became painfully anxious and reluctant, betook himself to Mrs. Keith, with the desire to enforce upon her mind a solemn sense of her responsibilities and of the value of the treasure he had confided to her. Nora, left alone, sat wondering whether Hubert might not come to bid her farewell. Wandering listlessly about the room, her eye fell on the Saturday-evening paper. She took it up and glanced down the columns. In one of them she perceived a list of the various church services of the morrow. Last in the line stood this announcement: “At the - - Church, the Rev. Hubert Lawrence,at eight o'clock.” It gave her a gentle shock ; it destroyed the vision of his coming in and their having, under the lamp, by the fire, the serious counterpart of their frolicsome tête-à-tête in the carriage. She longed to show him that she was not a giggling child, but a wise young lady. But no ; in a bright, crowded church, before a hundred eyes, he was speaking of divine things. How did he look in the pulpit? If she could only see him! And why not ? She looked at her watch ; it stood at ten minutes to eight. She made no pause to reflect ; she only felt that she must hurry. She rang the bell and ordered a carriage, and then, hastening to her room, put on her shawl and bonnet, — the blue crape bonnet of the concert. In a few moments she was on her way to the church. When she reached it, her heart was beating fast ; she was on the point of turning back. But the coachman opened the carriage door with such a flourish, that she was ashamed not to get out. She was late ; the church was full, the hymn had been sung, and the sermon was about to begin. The sexton with great solemnity conducted her up the aisle to a pew directly beneath the pulpit. She bent her eyes on the ground, but she knew that there was a deep expectant silence, and that Hubert, in a white cravat, was upright before the desk, looking at her. She sat down beside a verygrimvisaged old lady with bushy eyebrows, who stared at her so hard, that to hide her confusion she buried her head and improvised a prayer ; upon which the old lady seemed to stare more intently, as if she thought her very pretentious. When she raised her head, Hubert had begun to speak; he was looking above her and beyond her, and during the sermon his level glance never met her own. Of what did he speak and what was the moral of his discourse ? Nora could not have told you ; yet not a soul in the audience surely, not all those listening souls together, were more devoutly attentive than she. But it was not on what he said, but on what he was, or seemed to be, that her perception was centred. Hubert Lawrence had an excellent gift of oratory. His voice was full of penetrating sweetness, and in the bright warm air of the compact little church, modulated with singular refinement, it resounded and sank with the cadence of ringing silver. His speech was silver, though I doubt that his silence was ever golden. His utterance seemed to Nora the perfection of eloquence. She thought of her brief exaltation of the morning, in the incense-thickened air of the Catholic church ; but what a straighter flight to heaven was this ! Hubert’s week-day face was a summer cloud, with a lining of celestial brightness. Now, how the divine truth overlapped its relenting edges and seemed to transform it into a dazzling focus of light! He spoke for half an hour, but Nora took no note of time. As the service drew to a close, he gave her from the pulpit a rapid glance, which she interpreted as a request to remain. When the congregation began to disperse, a number of persons, chiefly ladies, waited for him near the pulpit, and, as he came down, met him with greetings and compliments. Nora watched him from her place, listening, smiling and passing his handkerchief over his forehead. At last they relieved him, and he came up to her. She remembered for years afterward the strange half-smile on his face. There was something in it like a pair of eyes peeping over a wall. It seemed to express so fine an acquiescence in what she had done, that, for the moment, she had a startled sense of having committed herself to something. He gave her his hand, without manifesting any surprise. “ How did you get here ? ”
“In a carriage. I saw it in the paper at the last moment.”
“ Does Roger know you came ? ”
“ No ; he had gone to Mrs. Keith’s.”
“ So you started off alone, at a moment’s notice ? ”
She nodded, blushing. He was still holding her hand ; he pressed it and dropped it. “ O Hubert,” cried Nora, suddenly, “ now I know you ! ”
Two ladies were lingering near, apparently mother and daughter. “ I must be civil to them,” he said ; “ they have come from New York to hear me.” He quickly rejoined them and conducted them toward their carriage. The younger one was extremely pretty, and looked a little like a Jewess. Nora observed that she wore a great diamond in each ear; she eyed our heroine rather severely as they passed. In a few minutes Hubert came back, and, before she knew it, she had taken his arm and he was beside her in her own carriage. They drove to the hotel in silence ; he went up stairs with her. Roger had not returned. “ Mrs. Keith is very agreeable,” said Hubert. “But Roger knew that long ago. I suppose you have heard,” he added ; “ but perhaps you’ve not heard.”
“ I ’ve not heard,” said Nora, ‘ but I've suspected — ”
“ What ? ”
“ No ; it’s for you to say.”
“Why, that Mrs. Keith might have been Mrs. Lawrence.”
“Ah, I was right,—I was right,” murmured Nora, with a little air of triumph. “She may be still. I wish she would ! ” Nora was removing her bonnet before the mirror over the chimneypiece ; as she spoke, she caught Hubert’s eye in the glass. He dropped it and took up his hat. “Won’t you wait?” she asked.
He said he thought he had better go, but he lingered without sitting down. Nora walked about the room, she hardly knew why, smoothing the table-covers and rearranging the chairs.
“ Did you cry about your departure, the other night, as you promised?” Hubert asked.
“ I confess that I was so tired with our adventures, that I went straight to sleep.”
“ Keep your tears for a better cause. One of the greatest pleasures in life is in store for you. There are a hundred things I should like to say to you about Rome. How I only wish I were going to show it you ! Let me beg you to go some day to a little place in the Via Felice, on the Pincian, — a house with a terrace adjoining the fourth floor. There is a plasterer’s shop in the basement. You can reach the terrace by the common staircase. I occupied the rooms adjoining it, and it was my peculiar property. I remember I used often to share it with a poor little American sculptress who lived below. She made my bust; the Apollo Belvedere was nothing to it. I wonder what has become of her ! Take a look at the view, — the view I woke up to every morning, read by, studied by, lived by. I used to alternate my periods of sightseeing with fits of passionate study. In another winter I think I might have learned something. Your real lover of Rome oscillates with a kind of delicious pain between the city in itself and the city in literature. They keep forever referring you to each other and bandying you to and fro. If we had eyes for metaphysical things, Nora, you might see a hundred odd bits of old ambitions and day-dreams strewing that little terrace. Ah, as I sat there, how the Campagna used to take up the tale and respond to my printed page! If I know anything of the lesson of history (a man of my profession is supposed to), I learned it in that empurpled air! I should like to know who’s sitting in the same school now. Perhaps you ’ll write me a word.”
“ I ’ll piously gather up the crumbs of your feasts and make a meal of them,” said Nora. “ I ’ll let you know how they taste.”
“ Pray do. And one more request. Don’t let Mrs. Keith make a Catholic of you.” And he put out his hand.
She shook her head slowly, as she took it. “I ’ll have no Pope but you,” she said.
The next moment he was gone.
Roger had assured his cousin that he meant to return home, and indeed, after Nora’s departure, he spent a fortnight in the country. But finding he had no patience left for solitude, he again came to town and established himself for the winter. A restless need of getting rid of time caused him to resume his earlier social habits. It began to be said of him that now he had disposed of that queer little girl whom he had picked up heaven knew where (whom it was certainly very good-natured of Mrs. Keith to take off his hands), he was going to look about him for a young person whom he might take to his home in earnest. Roger felt as if he were now establishing himself in society in behalf of that larger personality into which his narrow singleness was destined to expand. He was paving the way for Nora. It seemed to him that she might find it an easy way to tread. He compared her attentively with every young girl he met ; many were prettier, some possessed in larger degree the air of “brightness”; but none revealed that deep-shrined natural force, lurking in the shadow of modesty like a statue in a recess, which you hardly know whether to denominate humility or pride.
One evening, at a large party, Roger found himself approached by an elderly lady who had known him from his boyhood and for whom he had a vague traditional regard, but with whom of late years he had relaxed his intercourse, from a feeling that, being a very worldly old woman, her influence on Nora might be pernicious. She had never smiled on the episode of which Nora was the heroine, and she hailed Roger’s reappearance as a sign that this episode was at an end, and that he meant to begin to live as a man of taste. She was somewhat cynical in her shrewdness, and, so far as she might, she handled matters without gloves.
“ I’m glad to see you have found your wits again,” she said, “and that that forlorn little orphan — Dora, Flora, what’s her name ? — has n’t altogether made a fool of you. You want to marry; come, don’t deny it. You can no more remain unmarried than I can remain standing here. Go ask that little man for his chair. With your means and your disposition and all the rest of it, you ought by this time to be setting a good example. But it’s never too late to mend. J’ai votre affaire. Have you been introduced to Miss Sandys ? Who is Miss Sandys ? There you are to the life! Miss Sandys is Miss Sandys, the young lady in whose honor we are here convened. She is staying with my sister. You must have heard of her. New York, but good New York; so pretty that she might be as silly as you please, yet as clever and good as if she were as plain as I. She’s everything a man can want. If you’ve not seen her it’s providential. Come; don’t protest for the sake of protesting. I have thought it all out. Allow me ! in this matter I have a real sixth sense. I know at a glance what will do and what won’t. You ’re made for each other. Come and be presented. You have just time to settle down to it before supper.”
Then came into Roger’s honest visage a sort of Mephistophelian glee,— the momentary intoxication of duplicity. “Well, well,” he said, “let us see all that s to be seen.” And he thought of his Peruvian Teresa. Miss Sandys, however, proved no Teresa, and Roger’s friend had not overstated her merits. Her beauty was remarkable ; and strangely, in spite of her blooming maturity, something in her expression, her smile, reminded him forcibly of Nora. So Nora might look after ten or twelve years of evening parties. There was a hint, just a hint, of customary triumph in the poise of her head, an air of serene success in her carriage ; but it was her especial charm that she seemed to melt downward and condescend from this altitude of loveliness with a benignant and considerate grace ; to drop, as it were, from the zenith of her favor, with a little shake of invitation, the silken cable of a long-drawn smile. Roger felt that there was so little to be feared from her that he actually enjoyed the mere surface glow of his admiration ; the sense of floating unmelted in the genial zone of her presence, like a polar ice-block in a summer sea. The more he observed her, the more she seemed to foreshadow his prospective Nora ; so that at last, borrowing confidence from this phantasmal identity, he addressed her with unaffected friendliness. Miss Sandys, who was a woman of perceptions, seeing an obviously modest man swimming, as it were, in this mystical calm, became interested. She divined in Roger’s manner an unwonted force of admiration. She had feasted her fill on uttered flattery; but here was a good man whose appreciation left compliments far behind. At the end of ten minutes Roger frankly proclaimed that she reminded him singularly of a young girl he knew. “A young girl, forsooth,” thought Miss Sandys. “ Is he coming to his fadaises, like the rest of them ? ”
“ You ’re older than she,” Roger added, “ but I expect her to look like you some time hence.”
“ I gladly bequeath her my youth, as I come to give it up.”
“ You can never have been plain,” said Roger. “ My friend, just now, is no beauty. But I assure you, you encourage me.”
“Tell me about this young lady,” his companion rejoined. “ It’s interesting to hear about people one looks like.”
“ I should like to tell you,” said Roger, “ but you would laugh at me.”
“You do me injustice. Evidently this is a matter of sentiment. A bit of genuine sentiment is the best thing in the world ; and when I catch myself laughing at a mortal who confesses to one, I submit to being told that I have grown old only to grow silly.”
Roger smiled approval. “ I can only say,” he answered, “ that this young friend of mine is, to me, the most interesting object in the world.”
“ In other words, you ’re engaged to her.”
“ Not a bit of it.”
“Why, then, she is a deaf-mute whom you have rendered vocal, or a pretty heathen whom you have brought to Sunday school.”
Roger laughed exuberantly. “ You ’ve hit it,” he said ; “a deaf-mute whom I have taught to speak. Add to that, that she was a little blind, and that now she recognizes me with spectacles, and you 'll admit that I have reason to be proud of my work.” Then after a pause he pursued, seriously : “If anything were to happen to her — ”
“ If she were to lose her faculties—”
“ I should be in despair ; but I know what I should do. I should come to you.”
“ O, I should be a poor substitute ! ”
“ I should make love to you,” Roger went on.
“You would be in despair indeed. But you must bring me some supper.”
Half an hour later, as the ladies were cloaking themselves, Mrs. Middleton, who had undertaken Roger’s case, asked Miss Sandys for her impressions. These seemed to have been highly propitious. “ He is not a shining light perhaps,” the young lady said, “ but he lias the real moral heat that one so seldom meets. He’s in earnest; after what I have been through, that’s very pleasant. And by the way, what is this little deaf and dumb girl in whom he is interested ? ”
Mrs. Middleton stared. “ I never heard she was deaf and dumb. Very likely. He adopted her and brought her up. He has sent her abroad — to learn the languages ! ”
Miss Sandys mused as they descended the stairs. “ He’s a good man,” she said. “ I like him.”
It was in consequence, doubtless, of this last remark that Roger, the next morning, received a note from his friend. “You have made a hit; I shall never forgive you, if you don’t follow it up. You have only to be decently civil and then propose. Come and dine with me on Wednesday. I shall have only one guest. You know I always take a nap after dinner.”
The same post that brought Mrs. Middleton’s note brought him a letter from Nora. It was dated from Rome, and ran as follows : —
“ I hardly know, dearest Roger, whether to begin with an apology or a scolding. We have each something to forgive, but you have certainly least. I have before me your two poor little notes, which I have been reading over for the twentieth time ; trying, in this city of miracles, to work upon them the miracle of the loaves and fishes. But the miracle won’t come ; they remain only two very much bethumbed epistles. Dear Roger, I have been extremely vexed and uneasy. I have fancied you were ill, or, worse, — that out of sight is out of mind. It’s not with me, I assure you. I have written you twelve little letters. They have been short only cause I have been horribly busy. To-day I declined an invitation to drive on the Campagna, on purpose to write to you. The Campagna,— do you hear ? I can hardly believe that, five months ago, I was watching the ripe apples drop in the orchard at C-. We are always on our second floor on the Pincian, with plenty of sun, which you know is the great necessity here. Close at hand are the great steps of the Piazza di Spagna, where the beggars and models sit at the receipt of custom. Some of them are so handsome, sunning themselves there in their picturesqueness, that I can’t help wishing I knew how to paint or draw. I wish I had been a good girl three years ago and done as you wished, and taken drawing-lessons in earnest. Dear Roger, I never neglected your advice but to my cost. Mrs. Keith is extremely kind and determined I shall have not come abroad to ‘ mope,’ as she says. She does n’t care much for sight-seeing, having done it all before ; though she keeps pretty well au courant of the various church festivals. She very often talks of you and is very fond of you. She is full of good points, but that is her best one. My own sight-seeing habits don’t at all incommode her, owing to my having made the acquaintance of a little old German lady who lives at the top of our house. She is a queer wizened oddity of a woman, but she is very clever and friendly, and she has the things of Rome on her fingers’ ends. The reason of her being here is very sad and beautiful. Twelve years ago her younger sister, a beautiful girl (she has shown me her miniature), was deceived and abandoned by her betrothed. She fled away from her home, and after many weary wanderings found her way to Rome, and gained admission to the convent with the dreadful name, — the Sepolte Vive. Here, ever since, she has been immured. The inmates are literally buried alive ; they are dead to the outer world. My poor little Mademoiselle Stamm followed her and look up her dwelling here, to be near her, though with a dead stone wall between them. For twelve years she has never seen her. Her only communication with Lisa — her conventual name she does n’t even know — is once a week to deposit a bouquet of flowers, with her name attached, in the little blind wicket of the conventwall. To do this with her own hands, she lives in Rome. She composes her bouquet with a kind of passion ; I have seen her and helped her. Fortunately flowers in Rome are very cheap, for my friend is deplorably poor. I have had a little pleasure, a great pleasure rather, I confess it has been. For the past two months I have furnished the flowers, and I assure you we have had the best. I go each time with Mademoiselle Stamm to the wicket, and we put in our bouquet and see it gobbled up into the speechless maw of the cloister. It’s a dismal amusement, but I confess it interests me. I feel as if I knew this poor Lisa ; though, after all, she may be dead, and we may be worshipping a shadow. But in this city of shadows and memories, what is one shadow the more ? Don’t think, however, that we spend all our time in this grim fashion. We go everywhere, we see everything ; I could n't be in better hands. Mrs. Keith has doubts about my friend’s moral influence ; she accuses her of being a German philosopher in petticoats. She is a German, she wears petticoats ; and having known poverty and unhappiness, she is obliged to be something of a philosopher. As for her metaphysics, they may be very wicked, but I should be too stupid to understand them, and it’s less trouble to abide by my own — and Mrs. Keith’s ! At all events, I have told her all about you, and she says you are the one good man she ever heard of: so it’s not for you to disapprove of her ! My mornings I spend with her ; after lunch I go out with Mrs. Keith. We drive to the various villas, make visits upon all kinds of people, go to studios and churches and palaces. In the evenings we hold high revel. Mrs. Keith knows every one ; she receives a great many people, and we go out in proportion. It’s a most amusing world. I have seen more people in the last six weeks than I ever expected to in a lifetime. I feel so old — you would n’t know me ! One grows more in a month in this wonderful Rome than in a year at home. Mrs. Keith is very much liked and admired. She has lightened her mourning and looks much better ; but, as she says, she will never be herself till she gets back to pink. As for me, I wear pink and blue and every color of the rainbow. It appears that everything suits me; there’s no spoiling me. You see it’s an advantage not to have a complexion. Of course, I ’m out, — a thousand miles out. I came out six weeks ago at the great ball of the Princess X. How the Princess X. — poor lady ! — came to serve my turn, is more than I can say; but Mrs. Keith is a fairy godmother ; she shod me in glass slippers and we went. I fortunately came home with my slippers on my feet. I was very much frightened when we went in. I curtesied to the Princess ; and the Princess stared good-naturedly; while I heard Mrs. Keith behind me whispering, ‘Lower, lower ! ’ But I have yet to learn how to curtesy to condescending princesses. Now I can drop a little bow to a good old cardinal as smartly as you please. Mrs. Keith has presented me to half a dozen, with whom I pass, I suppose, for an interesting convert. Alas, I ’m only a convert to worldly vanities, which I confess I vastly enjoy. Dear Roger, I am hopelessly frivolous. The shrinking diffidence of childhood I have utterly cast away. I speak up at people as bold as brass. I like having them introduced to me, and having to be interested and interesting at a moment’s notice. I like listening and watching ; I like sitting up to the small hours ; I like talking myself. But I need hardly to tell you this, at the end of my ten pages of chatter. I have talked about my own affairs, because I know they will interest you. Profit by my good example, and tell me all about yours. Do you miss me ? I have read over and over your two little notes, to find some little hint that you do ; but not a word ! I confess I would n’t have you too unhappy. I am so glad to hear you are in town, and not at that dreary, wintry C-. Is our old Clife at an end, I wonder? Nothing can ever be the same after a winter in Rome. Sometimes I ’m half frightened at having had it in my youth. It leaves such a chance for a contrasted future ! But I shall come back some day with you. And not even the Princess X. shall make me forget my winter seat by the library fire at C-, my summer seat under the great appletree.”
This production seemed to Roger a marvel of intellectual promise and epistolary grace ; it filled his eyes with grateful tears ; he carried it in his pocket-book and read it to a dozen people. His tears, however, were partly those of penitence, as well as of delight. He had had a purpose in staying his own hand, though heaven knows it had ached to write. He wished to make Nora miss him and to let silence combine with absence to plead for him. Had he succeeded ? Not too well, it would seem; yet well enough to make him feel that he had been cruel. His letter occupied him so intensely that it was not till within an hour of Mrs. Middleton’s dinner that he remembered his engagement. In the drawing-room he found Miss Sandys, looking even more beautiiul in a dark high-necked dress than in the glory of gauze and flowers. During dinner he was in excellent spirits ; he uttered perhaps no epigrams, but he gave, by bis laughter, an epigrammatic turn to the ladyish gossip of his companions. Mrs. Middleton entertained the best hopes. When they had left the table she betook herself to her armchair, and erected a little hand-screen before her face, behind which she slept or not, as you please. Roger, suddenly bethinking himself that if Miss Sandys had been made a party to the old lady’s views, his alacrity of manner might compromise him, checked his vivacity, and asked his companion stiffly if she played the piano. On her confessing to this accomplishment, he of course proceeded to open the instrument, which stood in the adjoining room. Here Miss Sandys sat down and played with great resolution an exquisite composition of Schubert. As she struck the last note he uttered some superlative of praise. She was silent for a moment, and then, “ That ’s a thing I rarely play,” she said.
“ It’s very difficult, I suppose.”
“ It’s not only difficult, but it’s too sad.”
“ Sad ! ” cried Roger, “ I should call it very joyous.”
“You must be in very good spirits ! I take it to have been meant for pure sadness. This is what should suit your mood ! ” and she attacked with great animation one of Strauss’s waltzes. But she had played but a dozen chords when he interrupted her. “ Spare me,” he said. “ I may be glad, but not with that gladness. I confess that I am in spirits. I have just had a letter from that young friend of whom I spoke to you.”
“ Your adopted daughter ? Mrs. Middleton told me about her.”
“Mrs. Middleton,” said Roger, in downright fashion, “ knows nothing about her. Mrs. Middleton,” and he lowered his voice and laughed, “ is not an oracle of wisdom.” He glanced into the other room at their hostess and her complaisant screen. He felt with peculiar intensity that, whether she was napping or no, she was a sadly superficial — in fact a positively immoral — old woman. It seemed absurd to believe that this fair wise creature before him had lent herself to a scheme of such a one’s making. He looked awhile at her deep clear eyes and the firm sweetness of her lips. It would be a satisfaction to smile with her over Mrs. Middleton’s machinations. “ Do you know what she wants to do with us ? ” he went on. “ She wants to make a match between us.”
He waited for her smile, but it was heralded by a blush, — a blush portentous, formidable, tragical. Like a sudden glow of sunset in a noonday sky, it covered her fair face and burned on her cloudless brow. “ The deuce ! ” thought Roger. “Can it be,—can it be ? ” The smile he had invoked followed fast; but this was not the order of nature.
“ A match between us ! ” said Miss Sandys. “ What a brilliant idea ! ”
“ Not that I can’t easily imagine falling in love with you,” Roger rejoined ; “ but — but — ”
“ But you ’re in love with some one else.” Her eyes, for a moment, rested on him intently. “ With your protégée ! ”
Roger hesitated. It seemed odd to be making this sacred confidence to a stranger ; but with this matter of Mrs. Middleton’s little arrangement between them, she was hardly a stranger. If he had offended her, too, the part of gallantry was to avow everything. “ Yes, I’m in love ! ” he said. “ And with the young lady you so much resemble. She does n’t know it. Only one or two persons know it, save yourself. It’s the secret of my life, Miss Sandys. She is abroad. I have wished to do what I could for her. It’s an odd sort of position, you know. I have brought her up with the view of making her my wife, but I’ve never breathed a word of it to her. She must choose for herself. My hope is that she ’ll choose me. But heaven knows what turn she may take, what may happen to her over there in Rome. I hope for the best ; but I think of little else. Meanwhile I go about with a sober face, and eat and sleep and talk, like the rest of the world ; but all the while I’m counting the hours. Really, I don’t know what has started me up in this way. I don’t suppose you ’ll at all understand my situation ; but you are evidently so good that I feel as if I might count on your sympathies.”
Miss Sandys listened with her eyes bent downward, and with great gravity. When he had spoken, she gave him her hand with a certain passionate abruptness. “ You have them ! ” she said. “ Much good may they do you ! I know nothing of your friend, but it’s hard to fancy her disappointing you. I perhaps don’t altogether enter into your situation. It’s novel, but it’s extremely interesting. I hope before rejecting you she ’ll think twice. I don't bestow my esteem at random, but you have It, Mr. Lawrence, absolutely.” And with these words she rose. At the same moment their hostess suspended her siesta, and the conversation became general. It can hardly be said, however, to have prospered. Miss Sandys talked with a certain gracious zeal which was not unallied, I imagine, to a desire to efface the trace of that superb blush I have attempted to chronicle. Roger brooded and wondered ; and Mrs. Middleton, fancying that things were not going well, expressed her displeasure by abusing every one who was mentioned. She took heart again for the moment when, on the young lady’s carriage being announced, the latter, turning in farewell to Roger, asked him if he ever came to New York. “ When you are next there,” she said, “ you must make a point of coming to see me. You’ll have something to tell me.”
After she had gone Roger demanded of Mrs. Middleton whether she had imparted to Miss Sandys her scheme for their common felicity. “ Never mind what I said, or did n't say,” she replied. “ She knows enough not to be taken unawares. And now tell me — ” But Roger would tell her nothing. He made his escape, and as he walked home in the frosty star-light, his face wore a broad smile of the most shameless elation. He had gone up in the market. Nora might do worse ! There stood that beautiful woman knocking at his door.
A few evenings after this Roger called upon Hubert. Not immediately, but on what may be called the second line of conversation, Hubert asked him what news he had from Nora. Roger replied by reading her letter aloud. For some moments after he had finished Hubert was silent. “ ‘One grows more in a month in this wonderful Rome,’ ” he said at last, quoting, “ than in a year at home. ”
“ Grow, grow, grow, and heaven speed it! ” said Roger.
“ She’s growing, you may depend upon it.”
“ Of course she is ; and yet,” said Roger, discriminatingly, “ there is a kind of girlish freshness, a childish simplicity, in her style.”
“ Strongly marked,” said Hubert, laughing. “ I have just got a letter from her you’d take to be written by a child of ten.”
“ You have a letter ? ”
“It came an hour ago. Let me read it.”
“ Had you written to her ? ”
“ Not a word. But you ’ll see.” And Hubert in his dressing-gown, standing before the fire, with the same silversounding accents Nora had admired, distilled her own gentle prose into Roger’s attentive ear.
“‘I have not forgotten your asking me to write to you about your beloved Pincian view. Indeed, I have been daily reminded of it by having that same view continually before my eyes. From my own window I see the same dark Rome, the same blue Campagna. I have rigorously performed my promise, however, of ascending to your little terrace. I have an old German friend here, a perfect archæologist in petticoats, in whose company I think as little of climbing to terraces and towers as of diving into catacombs and crypts. We chose the finest day of the winter, and made the pilgrimage together. The plaster-merchant is still in the basement. We saw him in his doorway, standing to dry, whitened over as if he meant personally to be cast. We reached your terrace in safety. It was flooded with light, with that tempered Roman glow which seems to be compounded of molten gold and liquid amethyst. A young painter who occupies your rooms had set up his easel under an umbrella in the open air. A young contadina, imported I suppose from the Piazza di Spagna, was sitting to him in the brilliant light, which deepened splendidly her brown face, her blue-black hair, and her white head-cloth. He was flattering her to his heart’s content, and of course to hers. When I want my portrait painted, I shall know where to go. My friend explained to him that we had come to look at his terrace in behalf of an unhappy far-away American gentleman who had once been master of it. Hereupon he was charmingly polite. He showed us the little salonetta, the fragment of bas-relief inserted in the wall, — was it there in your day ? — and a dozen of his own pictures. One of them was a very pretty version of the view from the terrace. Does it betray an indecent greed for applause to let you know that I bought it, and that, if you are very good and write me a delightful long letter, you shall have it when I get home ? It seemed to me that you would be glad to learn that your little habitation had n’t fallen away from its high tradition, and that it still is consecrated to the sunny vigils of genius and ambition. Your vigils, I suppose, were not enlivened by dark-eyed contadine, though they were shared by that poor little American sculptres. I asked the young painter if she had left any memory behind her. Only a memory, it appears. She died a month after his arrival. I never was so bountifully thanked for anything as for buying our young man’s picture. As he poured out his lovely Italian gratulations, I felt like some patronizing duchess of the Renaissance. You will have to do your best, when I transfer it to your hands, to give as pretty a turn to your gratitude. This is only one specimen of a hundred delightful rambles I have had with Mlle. Stamm. We go a great deal to the churches ; I never tire of them. Not in the least that I’m turning Papist; though in Mrs. Keith’s society, if I chose to do so, I might treat myself to the luxury of being a nine days’ wonder, (admire my self-denial !) but because they are so picturesque and historic; so redolent of memories, so rich with traditions, so charged with atmosphere, so haunted with the past. I like to linger in them, — a barbarous Western maid, doubly a heretic, an alien social and religious, — and watch the people come and go on this eternal business of salvation, — take their ease between the fancy walls of the faith. To go into most of the churches is like reading some better novel than I find most novels. They are pitched, as it were, in various keys. On a fine day, if I have on my best bonnet, if I have been to a party the night before, I like to go to Sta. Maria Maggiore. Standing there, I dream, I dream, cugino mio; I should be ashamed to tell you the nonsense I do dream! On a rainy day, when I tramp out with Mlle. Stamm in my water-proof; when the evening before, instead of going to a party, I have sat quietly at home reading Rio’s “ Art Chrétien” (recommended by the Abbé Ledoux, Mrs. Keith’s confessor), I like to go to the Ara Cœbric-à-brac of Christian history. Something takes you at the throat, — but you will have felt it ; I need n’t try to define the indefinable. Nevertheless, in spite of M. Rio and the Abbé Ledoux (he’s a very charming old man too, and a keeper of ladies’ consciences, if there ever was one), there is small danger of my changing my present faith for one which will make it a sin to go and hear you preach. Of course, we don’t only haunt the churches. I know in a way the Vatican, the Capitol, and those entertaining galleries of the great palaces. You, of course, frequented them and held phantasmal revel there. I ’m stopped short on every side by my deplorable ignorance ; still, as far as may be given to a silly girl, I enjoy. I wish you were here, or that I knew some benevolent man of culture. My little German duenna is a marvel of learning and communicativeness, and when she fairly harangues me, I feel as if in my single person I were a young ladies’ boarding-school of fifty. But only a man can talk really to the point of this manliest of cities. Mrs. Keith sees a great many gentlemen of one sort and another ; but what do they know of Brutus and Augustus, of Emperors and Popes ? But I shall keep my impressions, such as they are, and we shall talk them over at our leisure. I shall bring home plenty of photographs ; we shall have charming times looking at them. Roger writes that he means next winter to take a furnished house in town. You must come often and see us. We are to spend the summer in England..... Do you often see Roger? I suppose so, — he wrote he was having a ‘capital winter.' By the way, I ’m ‘ out.’ I go to balls and wear Paris dresses. I toil not, neither do I spin. There is apparently no end to my banker’s account, and Mrs. Keith sets me a prodigious example of buying. Is Roger meanwhile going about in patched trousers ?”
At this point Hubert stopped, and on Roger’s asking him if there was nothing more, declared that the rest was private. “As you please,” said Roger. “ By Jove ! what a letter, — what a letter ! ”
Several months later, in September, Roger hired for the ensuing winter a small furnished house. Mrs. Keith and her companion were expected to reach home on the loth of October. On the 6th, Roger took possession of his house. Most of the rooms had been repainted, and on preparing to establish himself in one for the night, Roger found that the fresh paint emitted such an odor as to make his position untenable. Exploring the premises he discovered in the lower regions, in a kind of sub-basement, a small vacant apartment, destined to a servant, in which he had a bed erected. It was damp, but, as he thought, not too damp, the basement being dry, as basements go. For three nights he occupied this room. On the fourth morning he woke up with a chill and a headache. By noon he had a fever. The physician, being sent for, pronounced him seriously ill, and assured him that he had been guilty of a gross imprudence. He might as well have slept in a vault. It was the first sanitary indiscretion Roger had ever committed ; he had a dismal foreboding of its results. Towards evening the fever deepened and he began to lose his head. He was still distinctly conscious that Nora was to arrive on the morrow, and sadly disgusted that she was to find him in this sorry plight. It was a bitter disappointment that he might not meet her at the steamer. Still, Hubert might. He sent for Hubert accordingly, and had him brought to his bedside. “ I shall be all right in a day or two,” he said, “but meanwhile some one must receive Nora. I know you ’ll be glad to, you villain ! ”
Hubert declared that he was no villain, but that he would be happy to perform this service. As he looked at his poor fever-stricken cousin, however, he doubted strongly that Roger would be “ all right ” in a day or two. On the morrow he went down to the ship.
H. James Jr.