THE Honorable Mrs. Harrington was thirty-two years old, and had been a widow for ten years. Her chief characteristic was romance; therein lay the source of her principal merits and defects; thence had arisen the decisive mistakes of her life; thereon rests the groundwork of the following story. As Laura Winton, only child and heiress of a rich fox-hunting squire, the master of the Tintara hounds, she had been noted for nothing but her silence, her shyness, and her horsemanship. She had been brought up with unusual strictness even for an English girl; she was the last of many children, who had all died in infancy, and at her birth her mother died. Her training was confided to a maiden sister of Mr. Winton’s, older than himself, an epitome of all the old-fashioned principles and prejudices of half a century ago. The V intons were genuine’ country people of the bygone sort: they never had a house " in town” (ie., London); they never crossed the Channel; to the squire and his two sisters, one of whom, rather late in life, had married a clergyman, a Frenchman was a synonym for levity of manners, depravity of morals, insanity in politics, and uncleanliness in personal habits; Italians and Spaniards were confusedly regarded as a distant and improbable race who wore round cloaks and played on the guitar; if they thought of Americans at all, it was as of a semicivilized nation of fourth-rate importance, who all carried bowie-knives down their backs, picked their teeth with a fork, and were constantly fighting Indians and flogging negroes. Miss Winton provided a governess after her own heart for her niece, and Laura’s education was all of a piece, and flawless, unless the squire’s one point of difference from his sister on the subject of female education may be said to have caused a flaw: he approved of his daughter riding, nay, of her hunting, and took her with him after the hounds on her pony, to the grave annoyance of Miss Winton, who was sure that harm would come of it. And harm did come of it, to her melancholy satisfaction. Riding was the one vent this romantic and solitary young girl found to whatever of youthful longing and repressed inner life stirred unquietly in her nature. The exhilarating exercise; the occasional glimpses of wild and open country, captivating by contrast with the trim formality amid which lay her daily walks; the striking groups which dogs, horses, and men in scarlet sometimes formed against a background of russet wood or blue moorland or gray sky, ministering to an unconscious love of the picturesque; and the presence of a number of good-looking young men, made the hunting-field a realm of delight to Laura, and hunting-days the red-letter days of her life.
Laura liked good-looking young men extremely, though she gave no outward sign and was inwardly ashamed of it. Even the vainest of the Tintara hunt, never suspected the flutter which arose in Miss Laura Winton’s innocent breast when he reined up his horse to say a few words to her at the meet or the death, or rode beside her for a mile or two on the long run. Laura was not one of those women for whom every man has a certain attraction, nor was she a coquette; but all good-looking young men who rode well were to her possible heroes of a romance of which she naturally was the heroine, and for which what fitter scene could there be than the hunting-field with its perilous pleasures? But beyond the hearty admiration which her perfect riding never failed to excite, the young men found her most uninteresting, and wondered whether there was another girl in the United Kingdoms whose presence would add so little charm to the hunt. Not that she was plain; she had a kind and degree of good looks very common in her class and country: a well-shaped, well-set head, a fresh complexion, clear eyes, with dark brows and lashes, sunny fair hair, of which she had a great wealth peculiar to herself; her straight, slender figure and sloping shoulders looked very well in her dark habit. But there was nothing striking in this, and it was impossible to get more than a monosyllable from her. In short, she had no interest for them except as the richest heiress of the county, and that was neutralized by the well-known understanding between her father and the Earl of Westover that she should marry Lord Foxhaugh, the earl’s eldest son. The squire was neither a snob nor a worldly man, and his blood was as good as the earl’s, if not better; but he had an orthodox English respect for rank, and a sound English faith in the benefits of settling one’s children well in life, especially the girls; he had no intention of forcing Laura to marry against her inclinations, but no idea that her inclinations would not dutifully take the path he chose for them when the proper time should come, which was not yet, as she was not seventeen. The future husband, indeed, was thirty-five, but a year or two would not make him less fit for such a marriage, while it might make her fitter.
Not a word had ever been said to Laura by her natural guardians on this subject, yet she was as well instructed about it as if it had been part of her catechism. Neither Miss Winton nor the governess, Miss Wright, would have so transgressed the rules of propriety as to touch upon such a topic with a girl not out of the school-room. Possibly Laura’s old nurse or one of the maidservants might have told her that she was to be a countess some day; perhaps there is a subtle instinct which warns the simplest girl when schemes of this sort are in the air; at any rate she knew all about it as well as the gentleman did, and he and his father had talked the matter over long before, in that plain, practical way which does honor to English common-sense. Lord
Foxhaugh had frankly come into the plan, sowing his wild oats in season, and afterwards going into Parliament in a satisfactory way, while waiting until his future bride should be of age to be wooed. Now the bridegroom elect was thick-set and red of face, with blunt features and buff hair and whiskers; he looked ten years older than he was, being one of those men who become middle-aged very early. The second brother was in orders and had the family living; the third was in the navy; the youngest in the guards. This last, Ralph Harrington, was as handsome as man can be; tall, slender, and perfectly proportioned, with large, limpid blue eyes full of calm, patrician insolence, chestnut curls, chiseled features, and an infrequent smile of singular sweetness, which showed a set of even, narrow teeth, as unlike his eldest brother’s double row of ivory squares as possible. He was twenty-three, not boyish, but with a grace as of perpetual youth about him; he would not seem as old at fifty as Lord Foxhaugh did at thirty-five. Nobody rode better than his lordship, but he sat his horse like a bag of beans, as the farmers said, and grew redder every minute. Ralph seldom came to the Tintara hunt, but he rode like a knight at a tournament, Laura thought. In short, — for it is not with this part of her history that we are concerned save by way of needful introduction,— just when the squire, the earl, and his heir began to think that it would soon be time to open the matrimonial discussion, while Miss Winton protested against anticipating Laura’s seventeenth birthday and her coming out at the county ball, the young lady herself was falling so violently in love with the guardsman that even Ralph, with his head full of gambling - debts and other women, could not help being struck by it. He suddenly perceived a way out of many difficulties, and without loss of time persuaded her to run away with him. Without loss of time, but not without trouble, for he had to conquer first her shyness and then her conscience; she did not feel bound to marry Lord Foxhaugh to please her father, but she did feel herself to be a wicked and undutiful girl to marry against his will, without his knowledge, when he had always been so good to her, and she loved him better than anybody in the world save one; it was shameful, shocking, and she wept many hot tears on the sleepless night which decided her fate. The next morning, however, she rode to the meet with a beating heart but her mind made up, and galloped off with her handsome lover in the confusion of the first run.
There was a great row, of course, but the squire forgave her, and Lord Foxhaugh married the daughter of a man who had a patent for shoe - blacking, three times as rich as Laura; Ralph’s father-in-law paid his debts, and the young fellow kept clear of entanglements thenceforward, and was rather fond of his wife, especially when she gave him a boy, although one might suppose that a younger son would take no more pride in a boy than a girl; and for five years all went well enough. Then the child fell ill and died of scarlet fever, and the father caught it from him and died also. Laura went home to her father’s, where, indeed, she had spent much of her married life; but in a year or two the squire died, and she was left alone with her aunt.
The days which followed were so like one another that in looking back to the few events which occurred in her neighbors’ lives, — in her own there were none,—Laura found it impossible to remember in what year one had married, another sold his house, a third succeeded to a title. She had few resources to fill the time; the ordinary old - school education knew nothing of music, painting, or modeling; she had been taught French and Italian, but had no knowledge of either literature beyond the dreary selection known to drawing-room culture of fifty years ago as “ the classics; ” her reading in English had been exceedingly restricted in her girlhood, and during her married life it had been desultory and without thought; once more in her old home, she
was out of the way of new books altogether. Her husband had objected to her hunting, and their unsettled life had broken up the habit of riding; during her early widowhood she had resumed it with her father, but after his death the association became painful and she gave it up. She looked after the place, she visited the parish-school, read to poor old sick women, saw her bailiff and gamekeeper, received letters from her agent and solicitor, went to county dinners where she always met the same people, exchanged an annual visit of about a week with her aunt, the clergyman’s widow, and paid one apiece of about the same length to her married brothers-in-law, Lord Foxhaugli, —now Earl of Westover, — and the Hon, and Rev. Smythe Harrington, in different parts of England. All this was done in regular routine, by the hour of day or the day of the week or the time of year; for Miss Winton’s authority, though tacit, was still active, and the habit was too strong on both sides to be broken. In Laura’s many and long visits to her early home during her married life, site had always come as a guest; when site returned thither as a widow, she was too broken by recent grief to assume the charge of it; after her father’s death, when she became mistress, she was still too passive to make changes, and the old order continued unquestioned, the pressure of her aunt’s influcnce inducting her into the duties of lady of the manor as it had formerly regulated her study and exercises. She had no pleasure or interest in any of it, but she had nothing else to do, and felt a need of occupation consequent on the life-long habit of being occupied. During this period she received more than one offer of marriage, for a rich young widow with no child, well-born and well-favored, is more attractive to a cold-blooded man than a young girl. All Mrs. Harrington’s admirers were cold-blooded, and moreover commonplace, so that their addresses only gave her annoyance without the pleasing disturbance of refusing an agreeable man. Everybody had predicted that she would remarry; her father had taken it for granted and worded his will accordingly, and her aunt was in quiet but constant expectation of seeing her niece relax towards some one of the worthy gentlemen who wished to bestow their tediousness upon her; in fact, they all took it as a matter of course, as people do everywhere, especially in England. But Laura was protected by many outworks. She was as shy as ever, and quite as silent; she was incased in passive indifference and a morbid melancholy, resulting from her peculiar life and sudden and repeated losses. Marriage had brought her disappointment and disillusion, for her husband had never been in love with her for a quarter of an hour, which she had not been very long in discovering. Also, though more slowly, she found out how very different, the man she had married was from the paladin of her imagination. Her unworldliness saved her from suspecting his real motives in marrying her; she sadly and with shame set it down to compassion, as she had heard of men marrying women for pity, which was credible, while marrying for money was not. How much she had felt his death she did not know, for it was merged and identified with the profound grief she had suffered for her child, and she had mourned them as one loss which had destroyed her life. Withal she was as romantic as ever, and had sentimental notions about first love and second marriages which only events could put to rout. If she had only known it, she had a better chance of happiness in any of the later matches which presented themselves than in her first wild venture; not one of the men who sought her hand but was more interested in her than Ralph Harrington had been, and for herself, where there was no giddy height there could be no fall. But even had she been capable of such considerations, she was incapable of acting upon them.
Thus many years went by. But Laura’s thirtieth birthday, a serious occasion with most women, marked a new epoch. She began to think over her life, how incomplete and fragmentary it had been; how she had married from the school-room without even enjoying the fullness of girlhood; how her married life had been a series of unpleasant surprises, and how she had hardly reached the calm and consciousness of womanhood before the loss of husband and child had seemed to end everything forever; for what was left? But the truth was she had begun to live again. Her sorrows had come so early and so close together that they had taken the first fruits but not the prime of her affections and powers, while the seclusion and monotony of her subsequent existence had kept in her a wonderful freshness and youth of feeling. She had drunk deep once of excitement and emotion, but the draught had left her unsatisfied, and now that she was reviving, and to a condition of completeness which she had never known before, a feverish thirst for the same springs made her restless, though she did not understand the cause. Yes, everything was ended, she said to herself many times; she was thirty, she was an old woman, but still with a great many years to live, probably, and were they all to be as dull, as monotonous, as dreary, as the last seven or eight? She did not see very well how she could change the order of things in which she moved, or make them better, but she gradually came to that state of mind when a change for the worse would be a relief. But the force of habit and of deference to her aunt was second nature; she had taken but one decisive step for herself in her life; she had none of what is called initiative. So she endured the growing disquiet and disgust for a long time before they became intolerable, and then the only thing she could think of to do was to take a house in London for the season.
In London she exchanged the quiet routine of her country home for the distracting whirl of town, which is routine too, after all. She had neither taste nor talent for society; she went to dinners where she did not speak a word, and to balls where nobody spoke to her; she was frightened to death daily when she liad to present herself alone amid a room full of gay folk, at five o’clock tea; after three months she was jaded and depressed, and glad to go back to the country. But she was not more contented than before, and having played her only card she did not know what to do next. She became moody and irritable for the first time in her life, lost her appetite, and could not sleep. Her aunt, in some distress of mind, persuaded her to send for a doctor. The doctor, not finding much amiss, ordered her to Brighton, whither she disconsolately went. Brighton answered no better than London; the symptoms increased, and Miss Win ton, in real anxiety, urged their consulting a London physician of great fame. Accordingly they went up
to town and saw Sir George T—, who ordered Mrs. Harrington abroad for six months. Whether he understood the case, or whether his prescription was the aristocratic equivalent for a country apothecary’s bread pills, we cannot say; Laura was instantly aware that the remedy had been found. The bustle, the alarm, which such a move occasioned, brought a host of active emotions with them, and the very trepidation she felt was agreeable. All sorts of necessary arrangements, which other people would have thought a bore and a nuisance, were delightful to her from their novelty. In short, she improved so rapidly before the time came to set out that Miss Winton suggested that the journey seemed unnecessary; but her niece had had a little foretaste of liberty, and, remembering that she was her own mistress, adhered to the scheme. Laura’s elopement had destroyed Miss Winton’s confidence in her once for all, and the idea of a journey in foreign lands where people do not speak English seemed fraught with risk for a young woman whose discretion could not be depended upon. That she should accompany her niece was unhappily not to he thought of; after seventy years of an orderly, decorous life, the unfitness of abandoning all her practices and proprieties to go to strange countries, where the English tongue and Protestant faith are unknown, was greater than that of allowing Laura to go without her. But neither was it to be thought of that the Hon. Mrs. Harrington should go abroad alone; the courier and two servants counted for nothing, and Miss Winton recommended her niece to take her former governess, Miss Wright. Laura was ready enough to consent to this arrangement, into which the poor old spinster, who was getting past her work, gladly entered. So, early in the autumn of 186—, she set out with a maid, a man-servant, a courier, and a companion, as ladies of quality used to take the “grand tour” after the downfall of Bony.
They were to spend the winter in Venice, whither by slow stages they repaired. Laura was full of wonder, enjoyment, excitement, and an indefinite sense of expectation. She had none of the difficulty in asserting herself against Miss Wright which she felt with her aunt. She was rather hampered and hindered in her sight-seeing by her ignorance of what was to be seen and her constant fears of doing something that she ought not to do; but they did not make her unhappy, and she looked forward in a vague way to greater freedom when she should he settled at Venice.
They reached their journey’s end after a long, dusty day in the railway, which had been warm, despite the lateness of the season. Issuing from the station they found themselves on the broad marble steps which descend to the wide canal, where a black squadron of gondolas lay waiting, and an army of beggars made pretense of being useful by keeping them moored with hooked sticks. A fresh salt breath rose from the clear, green water; the topmost towers burned in the ruby glow of the invisible sunset, while all below was slightly veiled in a pale lilac obscurity. The travelers stepped into a gondola, which was soon gliding through the narrow canals under overhanging balconies, beneath the dark arcs of numberless bridges, by mysterious archways, round sharp corners, where the boatman erect in the stern gave a strange, melancholy call of warning like the cry of a seabird (sometimes answered by another, and then the black form of a gondola would pass them close but noiselessly); then out again into broader ways where the silent stroke of the oar sent the tiny reflections of lights, that were already twinkling here and there, dancing along the glassy surface of the water. At length they arrived at one of the hotels on the south side of the Grand Canal, and saw opposite to them the domes and volutes of the church of the Salute, dark against the still red sky. As in a dream Laura stepped upon the little quay, and the old sense of romantic possibility of the hunting-field took instant and entire possession of her. A little later, when all light had vanished except the stars in the clear night-sky and the star-like gleams which glided or darted by on the darker heaven of the water, she opened one of the long windows of her drawing-room and went out upon the stone balcony. At that moment a chorus of men’s voices broke into song just below: leaning over, she saw several figures standing in an open boat, whose dark outline was decorated with strings of bright - colored lanterns like big, semilucent bubbles. The melody had a rocking rhythm which took the ear; the only words site could distinguish were voga, ond, beIIa, sospiri, and other sweet syllables; it was a cradle-song of the sea. And this was her first hearing of Italian front Italian lips.
The few following days all passed under the same spell; in thinking of those days she always remembered the trembling golden chain - work on her ceiling, thrown there by the stm from the water below, the first thing she saw on waking. Then Miss Wright suggested that they should see Venice systematically. So they set forth every morning with guide-books, and opera-glasses, and a courier, and broke their necks in trying to see the ceilings of the Doge’s palace, put their eyes out in looking at pictures in the darkest corners of dark churches, and fell victims to all the sextons, custodes, and cherones ; and their prudery suffered agonies. They also went to the Piazza San Marco, and saw the fluttering battalions of pigeons come flocking to he fed at the first stroke of the great, clock, and hovering eagerly above the hand which any stranger held out full of corn; and Mrs. Harrington bought armfuls of trash at the little shell and jewelry and coral shops under the colonnades, and was stared out of countenance by the loungers smoking before the cafés. The sightseeing soon became rather tiresome, for Miss Wright knew as little of art as her former pupil did, and although she had the requisite acquaintance with historical facts and dates, she could tell her nothing about Bianca Cappello or the Brides of Venice. Then came a week of rainy weather; the gorgeous colors vanished, and left poor, patched, ragged, bedrabbled Venice looking as shabby as Cinderella after twelve o’clock on the night of the ball. It is not to be denied that in bad weather the canals look muddy and the gondolas hearse-like, and that there is an excess of wet everywhere. Laura beheld this dismal metamorphose from her windows, and began to be as melancholy as though she were in Wiltshire. Miss Wright suggested that Mrs. Harrington felt the want of regular occupation and proposed her taking Italian lessons, to which site agreed rather despondently.
Just then the Countess of Westover came to Venice, on an autumn run through Europe. Nobody enjoyed playing the countess more than this lady; she also took so much satisfaction in patronizing, that she never went anywhere or did anything except with a touch of condescension, and for somebody’s alleged benefit. Thus, she was going to Venice “ to see Ralph’s widow, you know, poor thing, who won’t have done moping about him.” She had likewise a mania for knowing everybody, and appeared to travel with a circular letter of credit to all the noble bouses on the Continent. The two propensities led her to the studios of the principal artists wherever she went: “ Gives him a lift, you know,” she said, whether she ordered anything or not; and she would have said it of Schwanthaler and Meissonier.
Laura, dull and solitary, was not sorry to see her sister-in-law, and willingly abandoned herself to be dragged the round of the churches and galleries and shops again. These exhausted, Lady We stover announced that she was going to the studio of Arnauld, a French painter of great promise, who she heard was in Venice. They started as usual in great state in Mrs. Harrington’s gondola, with the courier and two gondoliers, for whom the countess had persuaded their passive mistress to order a smart sailor’s dress, such as no real Venetians ever wear; the gondoliers and all the hotel people called her Miladi, which she secretly liked, not because it was a title but because it had a strange, unaccustomed sound, which suited her life in this strange place. They wound in and out among a labyrinth of narrow canals which might be called the slums of Venice, stopped at a door in a moldy wall, which let them into a dark, damp little court, and sending the courier on to announce them, began to grope and clamber up a steep and narrow staircase. Laura had rather rebelled at having her name scratched on Lady Westover’s card, but no heed was paid to her remonstrances. As they were breathlessly toiling up the fourth flight the courier came stumbling back to say that Monsieur Arnauld had nothing to show and begged to be excused. “ Stuff! ” said her ladyship, and finding herself upon the right landing she knocked sharply at the first door. It opened, and in the bright light streaming from within stood a man of singular and striking appearance: he was below middle height and strongly, squarely built, with unusual breadth and depth of chest; his features were rather small, but irregular and marked, the eyes very dark, deep-set, and overhung with thick, black brows; a mass of tangled black locks fell forward over his low forehead, and the lower part of his square, sallow face was almost hidden in a dark confusion of beard and mustache; he was dressed in a loose brown velvet suit, with a bloodcolored scarf of soft silk twisted carelessly round his throat below the limp roll of shirt collar. He stood with his palette and brushes in one hand and the other on the latch of the door, and bowed gravely.
“ There is a mistake, ladies, I fear,” he said quietly, in a low but deep-toned voice.
“Mistake? oli, no!” replied Lady Westover, who was not deterred from speaking French by her very bad accent. “ You are Monsieur Arnauld. ’ ’
“ That is my name; I sent word by tlie courier that I was desolate to be unable to receive the honor of Madame la Comtesse’s visit, but that I have nothing to show her.” All tins was said in the same voice, grave, quiet, cold, and he stood in the same attitude, as though expecting Ins unwelcome visitors to withdraw.
“ Monsieur,” replied the countess, undaunted, “ don’t tell fibs! I sec charming things everywhere;” and she brushed by into the studio towards the easel at which be was working.
Up to this point Laura had enjoyed the novelty and smack of adventure of such a visit; now her impulse was to retreat, but she was incapable of making the move herself, and mechanically followed her companion, until she stood for the first time amidst the captivating confusion of a studio. Wherever she turned her eyes she saw rich hangings of goldbrocaded stuff or mellow old Gobelin tapestry, bits of armor, curious old weapons and musical instruments, such as she had seen in pictures, flowershaped vases of Murano glass, great majolica dishes with splashes of warm color and pearly shell-like reflections, Eastern cushions and rugs, antique furniture with elaborate carving and wormeaten padding, and scattered everywhere the appurtenances of the artist’s craft, a litter of brushes, and oil-color flasks, rags, half-finished studies, fresh canvases, empty frames. Her eye rested finally upon a picture standing on another easel, a little aside, and she felt a sudden shock of pleasure such as music sometimes gives; her nerves thrilled, and the blood rose to her temples. The canvas contained three figures about half the size of life: one a woman, sitting on a rock beside the sea as on a throne, naked but for some loose folds of drapery drawn from beneath her carelessly across her lap; her beautiful body, in the shapely fullness of womanhood, nearly confronting the spectator, but the head, with its wavy golden locks wound in heavy plaits, turned away and giving the face in profile only: up from the waves rises a form of immortal, youthful beauty, crowned and cinctured with thicklywoven vine-leaves, in one hand a heavy bunch of grapes, in the other a ring which he holds towards the woman; as he bends forward, his beardless face, shadowed by clustering curls and leafage, glows with ardor, languor, and the passion of a god: floating above them a female figure of celestial lightness and grace, girt, with a transparent, sheeny scarf, leans to place a circlet of stars on the nymph’s head. The case, grace, and power of the figures, the wonderful, transparent warmth of the flesh-tints, subdued by the brown of leaves, branches, rock, shadow, and the cool glimpses of the sea, above all the expression of divine enthusiasm in the vine-wreathed countenance, filled J.aura’s perception like the birth of a new sense; she was entranced in the revelation of beauty, joy, and the poetry of Pagan myth; all the calm, happy irresponsibility of the immortals stole over her, unanalyzed, but pervading her semi - consciousness like a magic potion. Until this moment she had looked at paintings with the indifference of ignorance; none had given her the slightest pleasure: now she was in a glow and tremor of delight; she gazed as one watches and listens to running water, until she could not tell whether she had stood there minutes or hours.
Meanwhile Lady Westover was chatting with great glibness to the painter, who stood beside her, replying courteously but briefly and a little dryly. Not being to the manner born, her ladyship with all her assumption of ease was sometimes worsted in her attempts to get the upper hand, and this now befell her; she found herself growing uncomfortable, and to carry it off raised her eye-glass and walked over to where Mrs. Harrington stood rapt.
“ What has gorgonized you now, Laura? Oh! the Bacchus and Ariadne; what a charming copy! Dear me, that is capital, really, you know; I should like to have it myself; what will you let me have it for? ”
The countess’s first words had recalled Laura to herself. She started as if awaking; a crowd of confused sensations came upon her with such a rush as she had never known before; she felt that the man who had painted that picture had a power over her that no one had ever possessed; she looked at him with a quick, poignant interest, which was almost pain. His eyes were fixed on Lady Westover, and Laura could note the repressed force and fire in his steady but burning glance, and the lines of his rugged face, which looked as if they might be hardened lava. At the last question she thought that a dark gleam shot from under the shaggy brows, but he still answered coldly and composedly: —
Lady Westover insisted.
“It is sold,” he said, abruptly this time. Her ladyship was more uncomfortable than before, and though loath to beat a retreat, saw nothing else to do. “ Well, Laura, we must be off, we ’ve a thousand things to do; do come and see us; we’re at the Albergo della Salute, of course; good day.” The artist bowed; she held out her hand English fashion and shook his heartily. Laura, from mere inability to do differently, gave hers, for which, being the second, he was ready ; she felt it tremble within his; the blood rushed to her face and the tears to her eyes; she dropped her eyelids, courtesied slightly, and followed her companion out. as she had followed her in. She had not opened her lips during the whole interview. The painter looked after her with a little passing curiosity: “ Tiens, c'est drôle,” said he to himself. “ She was trembling. ” Then with an anathema on visitors, and women, and English people, he shut I the door and went back to his interrupted work.
The picture and the man possessed Laura’s imagination. Certainly a wonderful change had been wrought in her, for it was as if scales had fallen from her eyes, and she looked at all paintings as if she had been blind before. But none spoke to her as that had done; she was beset with the desire to see again the picture and the man who in a moment, had unwittingly gained such hold upon her. But although she devised a thousand plans for returning to the studio, she did not believe that she should ever see either again. He left two cards at the hotel the day after their visit, and that she supposed was the end of it. Lady Westover, however, was an involuntary ally; she could not bear to sit down under defeat; she had a private disinclination to leave Venice until she had in some way got the better of the man who had routed her. Accordingly slie proposed a second descent upon the studio, alleging as her excuse that she wished him to make a copy of a Paul Veronese to which she had taken a fancy. Mrs. Harrington was eager to go, but she felt so little mistress of herself that she tied a veil of heavy Spanish lace over her bonnet as a screen. Lady V estover would not send up her card this time, but presented herself boldly at the studio door, while Laura shrank behind her veil. Araauld opened with an exclamation of:
“ Ah! here you are, at last.”
“Yes, here I am again,” said her ladyship, entering; the painter fell back a step in evident surprise, and a look of extreme annoyance crossed his sedulously composed face. “ A thousand pardons,” he said; “ I am expecting a sitter.”
“ Then we are in luck to come first, for I want to have a little talk with you.”
“ I should be too happy and too much honored, but my sitter is already late and will be here in a moment.”
“ Very well, I ’ll go when she comes,” said Lady Westover, throwing herself into a chair. Laura was looking timidly for her picture. It was not to be seen, but in its place was another: a single figure this time, life size, seated in a high-backed, carved chair, a woman dressed in white satin, herself as white as ivory, with faint touches of color like a blush camellia; heavy bands of ebony black hair lay waving slightly across her forehead; large, dark, inscrutable eyes looked tranquilly forth from below slender penciled dark brows, and the chiseled mouth was close shut, telling no secret; from the transparent white lace of the sleeves the slight wrists and slender hands rested upon the knees in listless grace; a collar of .great pearls was clasped loosely round the slim white throat; from a jeweled coronet a veil of silvery gauze floated round the shoulders. The attitude and expression were of supreme repose; the face said nothing; the various whiteness of the different textures accorded marvelously, like manytoned voices singing in unison; the picture seemed all made up of mists and moonlight. Laura looked at it until it swam before her eyes; sometimes the face seemed vanishing, then it waxed clearer again; the evanescent rose-tints flushed and paled under her gaze; it was like a woman seen in a dream, yet she knew instinctively that it was a real woman. Nearly a quarter of an hour went by while she heard not a word of what the others were saying; at length Lady Westover rose with an angry rustle and Laura again awoke.
“I really congratulate you on being so very busy,” her ladyship began in a tone of irritation; but at the same moment the white lady of the picture caught her eye. “ Dear me! what is that? ” she exclaimed, going up to it.
“ A portrait.”
A sickening, jealous pang shot through Laura’s heart, though she had known it before; that beautiful vision was a real woman, and had sat to him.
“ Who is it ? ” she asked before she knew what she was saying; it was the first time she had spoken.
“ The Princess Ca’ Doro.”
Lady Westover eyed it for a moment, and then returned to the charge with an air of good-humored condescension. “ Well, then, since you will not sell me a picture, nor make me a copy, you shall paint me.”
“ Too much honor; I neither paint pictures to sell nor to show, and I do not make portraits to order,” replied Arnauld with a slight emphasis on the last words. Lady Westover reddened and left the room with a motion of the head which was as much a toss as a bow; the painter held the door open for them to pass; Laura made a slight inclination, which he gravely and silently returned.
Lady Westover’s letters of introduction had not been of much use, as the season had not begun, and but few of the great Venetians had come back to town. One invitation only had been the result, and that was for a conversazione, on the evening of their second visit to the studio. Her ladyship, very much out of humor, declared her intention of leaving Venice the next day, but would not miss the party. Laura, whose cards the countess had sent with her own, despite all protests, for the mere pleasure of having somebody in tow, had also received an invitation, which she was not allowed to decline. The incidents of the morning had depressed her, but as she stepped into the gondola between the two little crimson lamps, and lay back on the great cushions, her spirits rose a little with the unwonted charm of going to a party in such a strange fashion; the excitement increased as they swept up the broad marble staircase of the grand old Palazzo Dandolo, clinging to the massive balustrade. As the English servant announced “ The Countess of Westover and the Hon. Mrs. Harrington,” their handsome hostess came forward with eager cordiality, as if they were the very people she had been waiting for; with a profusion of expressions of pleasure at seeing them, she took each by the hand and led them to the upper end of the magnificent saloon, where she installed them in arm-chairs and left them.
Laura looked about with curiosity. The many - colored, inlaid marble floor was uncovered, although it was December; only a Turkish carpet was thrown over the end where they sat. Wherever she looked she saw marble, glass, and gilding; columns of porphyry and verde antique supported the gilt and sculptured beams and rosettes of the lofty ceiling; the frescoed walls were paneled with minors set in heavy elaborate frames, where gilded Cupids struggled with knots and fillets, and chaplets of fruit and flowers; tables of malachite and lapis lazuli, resting on graceful golden monsters of the Renaissance, stood in formal array between the columns; a row of chandeliers of old Venetian glass hung down the middle of the room, filled with wax candles, the light broken and refleeted by every beautiful, fanciful form of flower, shell, or crystal chain in all the vivid, delicate tints of that early lost art.
“Ugh! makes one all goose-flesh,” said Lady Westover. “ Fancy five o’clock tea in such a place! ”
But Laura, whose latent feeling for beauty had developed rapidly of late, thought that it was like an enchanted hall in the Arabian Nights, and continued to look about with satisfaction. As her eyes were measuring the length of the vast apartment, she saw advancing from the other end the most strangely beautiful woman she had ever beheld: she was dressed in black velvet, with no ornament but a diamond comb and a diamond clasp in the black velvet band round her throat, yet Laura instantly recognized the white lady of the picture; there was the same heavy ebon hair, the same creamy skin, the same elongated oval face, with its set, chiseled features and enigmatical eyes, the same slender, stately form. The hostess was not so near the door as when the English ladies had entered, and the newcomer walked slowly up the saloon trailing her train after her with negligent grace, her willowy yet commanding figure reflected by the mirrors on either side as she passed. Laura’s heart sank lower at each step that the beautiful woman made towards her; as she came nearer the lovely rose-tints were faintly visible; the dark eyes sought the hostess composedly. After their greetings the princess was moving towards a chair, when from an inner room, which Laura had not before perceived, but where she now saw a number of men, Arnauld came to meet the lady, pushed an ottoman a little out of the circle, and sat down beside her. Laura’s heart beat so violently that she feared she should lose her self-command and burst into hysterical crying; she clasped her hand tightly on her closed fan and looked round for help, which came in the shape of a servant with ices. At the same moment a welldressed young man emerged from the inner room and came up to Lady Westover. It was Arcy, a young diplomatist; he was delighted to find some one who could give him the last London gossip in exchange for ample information about everybody in the room. In the course of inquiry they came to the princess, whom her ladyship had not recognized in the black gown.
“ That’s the Ca’ Doro. Italian? Oh, no, Pole, widow of the Austrian governor; her own people dropped her for marrying an Austrian, and the Venetians dropped her present lord for marrying her; but since 1866 that don’t matter — too great a swell, too much tin, they can’t stand it.”
“ Does she go in for the literary and artistic style of thing? ”
“Lord, no; what made you think so? ”
“ That painter, Arnauld; they seem as thick as thieves.”
Arey laughed a little. “ Quite so.”
“ Ow ! ” ejaculated her ladyship.
“ It was a bargain, they say; he has painted her, you know; best thing he ever did, great hit, so he is paid in kind. ”
“Paid pretty openly,” observed the countess.
“ Yes, that’s the worst of it; that sort of thing is reduced to a system here, but there are ways of doing things: now Arnauld does qfficher the affair so, — regular bill-sticking; shocking low form, but that’s his* itching French vanity. He’s monstrous clever, though; he’s been studying the Venetians to get at their color, and by way of test has made a copy of that Tintoret in the AntiColiegio, as lie thinks it looked when fresh; it’s a wonderful thing, really, you know.”
“ Yes; I saw it at his studio and wanted it, but he said it was sold.”
“ Sold! Yes, like his soul, poor beggar; he ’s one of Goupil’s men.”
“ What in the world do you mean? ”
“ Oh, don't you know? Goupil, the picture dealer, buys up all the clever fellows for a year, or three years, or ninety-nine; everything they do belongs to him; he pays them well, I hear; then all their pictures go to Paris and he sells them for twice as much.”
“Really? ” said the countess, somewhat mollified at finding the key to Arnauld’s obduracy. “ But how did he manage about painting the princess, then ? ”
“ He calls that a present, you know.” “ Ow!”
Mrs. Harrington had been eating her ice by small spoonfuls and listening to these disclosures; her composure had returned, save for a slight shiver, which might be due in part to the chilly compound she was swallowing so perseveringly. Arey and Lady Westover went on talking about other people, and she ceaseT to listen, chewing the bitter cud of what she had heard. Suddenly she was addressed: —
“Laura, how can you freeze your insides with that stuff? it’s only fit for a Polar bear; I wish I had some toddy to thaw me, in the middle of all this stone and glass.”
Mrs. Harrington looked round and smiled, and then looked back at the couple who were absorbing her attention. Certainly the Frenchman’s manner was “ shocking low form; ” he leaned back on hisottoman with his head against a pillar, talking to the alabaster lady with an air of the utmost intimacy; she answered with rather an absent or indifferent expression, looking about the room at the people assembled and arriving.
“ 'Who is that?” asked Arcy in a low voice; he had not been aware before that Lady Westover had a companion.
“ Ralph’s widow, poor thing; ten years ago, you know, and she ’s not left off her weeds yet, you may say. She ’s here for the winter—health—and I stopped to cheer her a bit, it ’s so dull for her, you know.”
Arcy surveyed the poor thing with some approbation; Laura was at her best as to looks at this period: her figure was still slight but had grown rounder; her sedentary habits had cost her the bright color of early days, but there remained a clear, fresh paleness in which her gray eyes were singularly telling, while her beautiful, sunny hair was as rich as ever; the secluded life which had left her heart so fresh and foolish had fixed the youthful expression upon her face; she looked ten years under her actual age, and her countenance and aspect were almost girlish. Ralph had been hypercritical as to women’s dress and she had acquired the habit of paying great attention to her own; consequently she had far more elegance of appearance than is common in her countrywomen. She was too much taken up in watching the painter and his princess to know that she was herself being watched; Arcy’s practiced eye noted her good points, and he recollected that Ralph Harrington had married money and left no child.
“ She looks nice,” he said.
“ Oh, very nice, quite a dear, but nothing at all in her; so shy that whenever a man speaks to her I expect to see her suck her thumb.”
“ Do present me and see if she will,” said Arcy, laughing. Accordingly the presentation was made, and he began talking to Laura, much to her distraction. Just at this moment a tall, striking man, covered with orders and decorations, but with a bald, blonde head no larger than a snipe’s, advanced through the long, glittering room; after exchanging a few words with the hostess, he fixed a glass in one of his eyes and looked round the room with his nose in the air; as soon as he perceived Madame Ca’ Doro he went up to her with a profound bow, which embraced her companion. The Frenchman rose, almost started up, returned the salaam with a gravity which contrasted with the abruptness of his motions, and turned away.
“ Who is that? ” inquired Laura involuntarily, looking at the tall stranger.
“ The Duke of Kieff, Russian ambassador at Vienna. The Ca’ Doro has competitive examinations; the duke tried, but Arnauld’s portrait got him the place.” Lady Westover laughed, but Laura colored to the roots of her hair and dropped her eyes. Arcy thought it charming to see a woman of her age blush so easily. The Frenchman in passing exchanged a friendly nod with the diplomatist, then recognizing the women, made them a ceremonious bow; but her ladyship’s interest in him had doubled since she knew him to be the hero of a high scandal, and she addressed him and forced him to stop. Laura in vain tried to hear what they said. Arcy’s amusing chat was lost upon her save for the purpose of preventing her listening where she would. But the evening was over; Lady Westover remembered that she must start early the next day; indeed, the lateness of Venetian hours had left her but about four hours to sleep; so she departed. Arcy, who wished to keep near Mrs. Harrington, went away at the same time and put them into their gondola. The footman was waiting in the antechamber with their cloaks; but although the courier ran down the endless stairs to call the boatmen, it was some minutes before they could be reclaimed from the osteria where they were drinking, on the little quay at which the boat was moored. While Lady Westover was abusing them, and the English servants for allowing them to be out of the way, Arnauld came slowly down the palace stairs and called for his boat. The countess saw him and gave him one more challenge, which brought him unwillingly to her side; when the gondola came up, Arcy stepped in after her, the better to receive Mrs. Harrington; but Arnauld, mistaking (he action, instinctively offered his hand to her to help her into the unsteady bark; she had not put on her glove since taking it off to eat the ice, and her cold, trembling fingers again met his warm, firm palm, and gave him a slight shudder. So ended the evening which to Laura seemed so eventful.
Lady Westover left Venice the next day, but the good — or evil — she had done lived after her. Arey felt entitled to pursue the acquaintance with Mrs. Harrington, which he followed up with assiduity; as the Venetians gradually returned to town and reopened their salons, the letters of introduction and cards which the countess had scattered about among Byzantine palaces or musty fourth-story apartments bore fruit in the shape of invitations, which Laura, to Miss Wright’s unspoken amazement, accepted with alacrity. But this is anticipating, for the only immediate result of her ladyship’s passage was the affair with Arnauld, if so it may be called, which Laura pursued in a peculiar manner. Her first step was to go back to the Doge’s palace and look at the Bacchus and Ariadne; it had made no impression whatever upon her when she had been there before ; now she thought it, with its faded and discolored hues, far inferior to the copy, as indeed an ignorant person might be forgiven for doing; nor did it strike her that the merit of the conception and composition must entitle it to greater praise than a copy. Arey, whom by much innocent craft she led to speak of the painter, said that he was indefatigable in trying to fathom the secret of the Venetian coloring and atmosphere, and was constantly at work in the galleries or churches. As soon as she learned this she began her sight-seeing a third time, and as Arnauld was then copying a picture in the Academy of Fine Arts, she soon discovered where he had set up his easel, and began her own art studies at the same school. She was
horribly ashamed of herself, and afraid of his suspecting what brought her there, but comforted herself with the hope that among so many strangers she might not be noticed. He was at work in the great room where Titian’s Presentation of the Virgin hangs, with so many other masterpieces; Murray’s guide-book told her how much that was noteworthy was to be found there, and also recommended Ruskin and Crowe and Cavaleaselle as hand-books. So, muffled in her furs and velvet, and provided with a bulky volume, she stood on the stone floor of the vast, chilly hall day by day, before one great canvas after another, consulting her authorities, while poor Miss Wright caught nips of rheumatism and ceaseless colds in the head. As the Academy is almost deserted at that season, Arnauld did remark them, with an inward sneer at the inartistic English as he observed the big book of reference and slow, systematic progress through the room; he described them and their proceedings to his friends urjtil they became a standing joke, and he always spoke of them as mes rtnglaises. He soon recognized Laura as the companion of the woman who had made herself so odious to him. In her shyness and consciousness she never looked at him, and he set that down to British stiffness and superciliousness. Although she had begun her round in the very further corner of the room from that in which lie was painting, she at length inevitably reached his neighborhood, until as she examined the picture before her she heard the light stroke of his brush on the palette and canvas. She was in great hope and fear that he would remember her and speak to her, which indeed came about, and in this wise. One day poor Mi -s Wright’s cold was so very bad that Laura did not go to the Academy; she was restless and impatient all day, however, and at night felt that she had lost a day. On the morrow her companion was no better, and Laura boldly resolved to go alone. What terrors and tremors this cost her, nobody who is not naturally shy and accustomed to seclusion can possibly guess. It was the middle of January. The air in the Academy was deadly cold, the stone floor was like Solid ice beneath her feet; her frozen breath rose like a little column of cloud. There were two Germans in the room when she entered, bawling their æsthetic ideas to one another, and stamping to keep themselves warm; they soon loudly declared that they could stand it no longer, and stamped themselves off with steps that resounded far down the corridor, the bang of a door proclaiming their final exit. Then Laura found herself alone in the room, alone in the building with this stranger, this foreigner, who hardly knew her by sight, she supposed, and who was her one interest in life. She was standing very near him where he sat muffled to the chin in a fur coat, a round fur cap drawn down to his brows; a brazier of live charcoal stood beside the easel, and under his feet was one of those little scaldni which the Italians carry about with them like muffs.
He was surprised to see her there in such weather, and wondered for a moment if this Englishwoman with her buckram manners and hand like a frog could really care for art, but dismissed the idea with contempt, and set her coming down to routine. Laura was wondering how she could withdraw from this oppressive tête-à-têle, and whether it would be worse to cross that vast space alone, every step echoing through the stillness, or to stay until Arnauld should put up his painting and go away. Between cold and nervousness she shook so excessively that her dress rustled spasmodically, and attracted the painter’s attention; he saw that the woman was almost frozen, and leaving his little stool he raised his cap and begged her courteously to warm herself at the brazier. She was grateful, for her teeth were chattering; she assented by a bow, and drawing her numb fingers from her muff held them over the coals. He begged her to sit down upon his stool and put her feet on the scaldino, but this site declined by a shake of the head. She was dying to talk to him, but she could not open her lips. She hoped that he would speak to her, yet when presently he said, “ Madame is very fond of painting, then? ” she was more frightened than ever, and replied, “ No,” without knowing what she said. Arnauld was ready to laugh immoderately, and ask what brought her there; but as he ascribed her brevity to arrogance and resentment of the liberty he had taken in addressing her, he shrugged his shoulders undisguisedly and went back to his work with a mental imprecation on insular ill-breeding and ignorance of the world. Laura bit her lips with vexation. feeling that by her own stupidity she had made further words impossible; the tears rose to her eyes; she forced them hack, and bo wing to Arnauld moved away from the brazier. He lifted his little cap with almost military formality. She saw that he was offended, and biting her lips anew left the room. She did not return to the Academy until Miss Wright was well; by that time Arnauld had finished his copy and was no more to be seen.
Laura somehow drew from Arcy a fuller explanation of Arnauld’s obligations to Goupil, which she had not understood from the few words he had dropped to Lady Westover; on finding how matters stood, not being as inexperienced in business as in other things, she saw that she might be the possessor of the beautiful copy from Tintoretto. She made her bankers write to Paris, and in the course of a few weeks Arnauld received a note by virtue of which the picture was transferred from his studio to Mrs. Harrington’s rooms in the Albergo della Salute. She had made just sufficient impression upon him, with her stiff manner, her monosyllables, downcast eyes, and cold hands, for him to know who his purchaser was, when the order came. She was to him only one type of Englishwoman, the old-fashioned sort, prudish, cold, conventional, yet ignorant of the first principles of goodbreeding; Lady Westover was his type of the new style. He smiled a little in his black beard at the idea of that frigid image of propriety being the possessor of such a picture, and then sighed slightly at the thought of the thousands of francs which would go into Goupil’s pocket instead of his own; then with an Italian “ Ci vuol pazienza ” went on with his work, and told his comrades at the café as a good joke that one of mes anglaises had bought the Tintoretto.
His anglaise was deeply distressed by the thought of his slavery to the picturedealer; she did not know what proportion of the large sum she had paid for her fancy had gone to the painter, but from what Arcy said, she guessed that it was not much more than half. The diplomatist had seen the large canvas in her drawing-room not without surprise; Laura, flushing and conscious, felt as if he must see her secret at a glance; but so wild a notion did not enter his head.
“ Such a pity you can’t sit to him, you know,” said he.
“ I? ” replied Laura. “ I never sat in my life.”
“ All the more reason,” returned her admirer, for such Arcy now distinctly was, in his own mind at least. “ And this is just the nick of time; you never could have been such a good subject before. It’s a horrid pity Arnauld can’t do it.”
Laura thought it must be very disagreeable to sit and he looked at steadily, but as it was impossible that she should sit to Arnauld, her thoughts revolved round the notion incessantly. His obligations to Goupil continued to be a still greater preoccupation, and the desire to find some way in which he might be freed from this engagement, that his fame and gains might be all his own, always haunted her.
Although she no longer saw him copying in the galleries, they sometimes met in society. Mrs. Harrington went whithersoever she was asked, for the chance of meeting him, although he never spoke to her, not choosing to expose himself to a rebuff, as he considered her conduct at the Academy. Very few people spoke to her except Arcy and another fellowcountryman, an old antiquarian, who thought her an unusually sensible and agreeable young woman because she let him talk by the half-hour while she watched Arnauld or Madame Ca’ Doro, who was always at these assemblies whether he were or not. As the winter wore on Laura noticed that the Duke of Kieff was oftener about the fair Pole, that she treated him with more affability, that when Arnauld was beside her she sometimes looked absent-minded and inattentive, sometimes annoyed and out of temper; the reflection of these moods on her proud, impassive face was as breath on a mirror; but Laura’s eyes were keen under their white lids and long lashes. She felt that a drama was going on in which these three people were the actors, but she could not foresee the development. One evening the princess yawned twice while the Frenchman was talking to her; it was strange how much grace there was even in her way of doing that; she only half closed her eyes and rested her fan handle against her slightly parted lips for a second, yet it was a yawn. The second time a brown shadow spread over Arnauld’s pale face; it was as though he had blushed bistre instead of red; he stopped short in what he was saying, made a low bow, and walked slowly away, leaving her alone. The princess’s slender eyebrows arched and then contracted almost imperceptibly, while the delicate lines of her nostrils and upper lip took thinner curves. Laura had an instinct that this was a crisis; but how outside of the plot she was; how many scenes there must be that she did not see and could not guess at; how removed she was from them all! Yet the thought that a break between Madame Ca’ Doro and Arnauld would overthrow one of the innumerable, insurmountable barriers between him and herself darted through her brain like fire.
It was March, and the Carnival had come; the poor, deadly-dull Carnival, a sort of blind Belisarius of a festival, going about in beggarly wise where it had once stalked in splendid state. To a stranger, however, the first sight of so many people in fancy-dress and masks, accosting everybody right and left, the laughter, the pelting, the movements, are novel and amusing, and even exciting; and Laura, who had grown a little habituated to the charm of Venice, found all the ardor of her first days there reviving, and wished to spend the whole day on the Grand Canal in her gondola. She was rather afraid of the Piazza San Marco, with its crowd and contact, but in her floating castle she could go into the midst of the fray without anybody’s coming too near her. Miss Wright mildly protested against their doing what she called “ disguising themselves,” but a mask and domino were found to be indispensable protections against the confetti. Mrs. Harrington, for simplicity’s sake, ordered white ones, and of course the courier to whom the purchase was confided chose the most expensive that could be found. In society these ten days were the gayest of the winter, and there was a ball on every holiday night. Laura was invited to but one of these, for the eve of the Martedi yrasso, or last day of the Carnival. It was a fancyball. She had never worn a costume or figured in a tableau vivant, or appeared in any but her natural character in her life, and the idea of seeing herself as somebody else was as strange and stimulating as an actress’s first appearance on the boards. She chose the dress of Sophia Primrose, which was executed with some difficulty in Venice, chiefly by her own maid; it was very becoming, and as she surveyed herself in her glass she shyly thought herself looking very pretty, and hoped that Arnauld might see her. The masks were not laid aside until the German cotillon began, her usual time for withdrawing; so she told Arey, who had got into a way of hanging about her towards the end of the evening, that he might put her into her gondola, and she would stay a little longer and see them dance; she looked round eagerly for Arnauld, but he was not there. Madame Ca’ Doro was, however, dressed as Catarina Cornaro; not in the gorgeous robes of the Queen of Cyprus, but as she is seen in another picture by Titian, in a rich dress of white and lace and gold net. There could not be a greater contrast than the ebonhaired, pallid, slender Polish beauty, and the golden-tressed, fresh, fair embonpoint of the famous Venetian; but the dress was singularly becoming to the princess, and recalled that of Arnauld’s portrait. The Duke of Kieff was there in a magnificent uniform, a striking, showy figure, very marked in his devotion to the princess; he did not dance, but drew a seat close behind her chair in the circle of the cotillon.
“Ha!” said Arey to himself, in an “ I-thought-as-much ” tone, on perceiving this manoeuvre. A young Frenchman standing near, hearing the exclamation, nodded and observed: —
“ Oh, yes; un fait accompli; she lias planted her painter.”
“ Let us hope that he will come up laurels and not a weeping-willow,” responded Arey, whose conversation in foreign languages was different from the style he affected in the vulgar tongue.
“ He will console himself as soon as his vanity is healed,” continued the Frenchman; “ it has been an affair of vanity and not of the heart, on both sides. ”
“ So I should think,” returned Arcy. “ The Ca’ Doro must have done with affairs of the heart for some time past.”
They were standing within ear-shot of Laura, who heard and understood; he was free, then, free from that beautiful woman; was he any nearer her ? She rose like one in haste, and left the ball-room. She was wrapped in her ball-cloak, and descended the stairs so quickly that Arcy, who had some trouble in finding his hat and overcoat, did not overtake her until she was stepping into the gondola; he asked her in a low voice if he could see her the next day; past experience might have warned her what that meant, but absorbed in her own dreams she answered hurriedly that she expected to be out all day, and the boatmen pushed off. Something in her manner struck Arcy as strange, and he was in doubt for some time whether she had understood him and meant this as an answer; but he was too much bent upon marrying her to take it as such.
She, with but one idea, a new one, had felt guilty as she spoke, fancying as usual that he must have divined; but her idea was that somehow she would many the painter.
Marry a man with whom she had not exchanged twenty words, who hardly knew her by sight, whose language she could scarcely speak, a foreigner, an artist, a nobody, a man who but yesterday was in love with another woman, — worse, that woman’s lover: all these suggestions chased each other through her brain all that restless night; was not the notion mere insanity V Hut by morning she had a plan. She would go to Arnauld and beg him to paint her portrait, to arrange it with Goupil; or failing that., she would ask him to give her drawing-lessons; perhaps in time he would fall in love with her; then they would be married and her fortune would enable him to paint when and what lie liked; he would be his own man and could work his way to the highest honors of ins art without calling any one master. Such in all its crudity was her scheme, and having formed it she was in a fever until she could take the first step towards carrying it out.
The last day of the Carnival was a summing up of whatever gayety had had birth since it began. The weather made a holiday of itself, and the Grand Canal was so stirred by rapid strokes that its smooth sheet was lashed into a little sea, in which the boats rocked so gayly that Miss Wright was made very uncomfortable, and Laura mercifully took her back to tlie hotel. The courier told her that there was to be an illumination in the evening, and what is called in Venice a fresco, or promenade sur I’eau : a boat with music goes up the Grand Canal from the Royal Gardens to the Rialto, or even higher, and then down again, while all the other gondolas follow to listen to the serenade. Nothing is so difficult as to ascertain in Venice whether a thing will be done or not; the procession of boats, if it came off, would take place at Laura’s dinnerhour, and in the absence of positive information, when she set Miss Wright down she bade her not to wait if she were not there to dine at the usual time; she would have a cup of chocolate at Florian’s for lunch, and “high tea” whenever she should reach home. There was something so contrary to Mrs. Harrington’s habits in eating at odd hours and going out without a definite intention of returning, that Miss Wright was seized by a vague presentiment of coming evil, and wondered for a moment if her former pupil could be going to elope again. Whatever her fears, however, she could not venture to remonstrate, and she was too seasick to remain at her post; so, with a “ Do be careful of yourself, my dear,” which sounded unnecessarily plaintive, she went in, wondering what Miss Winton would think if she knew that her niece was not coming home for luncheon or dinner. It is odd how often our forndess fears point in the right direction, how we “ burn,” as the children say in their games, without knowing where to look for the hidden snare.
Laura drew a breath of relief as she felt herself for the first time in her life free and unaccountable for an entire day. She spent what remained of the fore-luncheon time amid the noise and movement, the shrill laughter and falsetto Carnival voices, the splash of water and collision of boats, and throwing of pellets and bouquets on the Grand Canal. She did not venture upon the Piazza, hut sent her courier to Florian’s to fetch her a cup of chocolate and some of the crisp, sweet biscuits called baicoli, which she ate as she sat in her boat. But as the afternoon advanced she grew weary of the incessant clamor, and possessed by her idea she dismissed the courier and ordered her gondoliers to pull towards the lonely little church beyond the town, St. George in the Sea-weed, where one sees the sun set behind the Euganean Hills. It was very difficult to extricate themselves from the tangle of boats meeting and crossing in every direction, jamming the issues of the rii or small canals, locking the steel hatchets at the prow until the gondola would rise from the water like a rearing horse, while the frantic gesticulations and objurgations of the gondoliers confounded confusion; by degrees, however, they made their way through narrower watery by-ways into the vast, deserted, lake-like canal of the Giudeeca, where the cries and calls of the babel they had left behind reached them more faintly every moment, and gradually died into silence. The boat shot through the water with a smooth, swift progress. On the right was the Zattere, or old lumber men’s quarter, with its row of little wine-shops and their vinetrellised porches opening on the wide sunny quay, broken by an occasional bit of blank garden wall, over which were seen the tender green of young fig leaves, the pink and white of almond and peach trees in bloom, mingled with the dark, burnished foliage of great magnolias and myrtles; and deep among their perfume and shade the pleasurehouse of some doge or senator of centuries long past — houses built for delight, with Hat, balustraded roofs and stucco fronts of pale pink, or blue, or yellow, fancifully frescoed, but discolored and peeling in great patches under generations of sun and storm, and given over to dilapidation and decay. On the left was the dreary and sordid Giudecca, or former Jews’ quarter, with mean, moldy houses, and rags and potsherds and old iron lying wherever there was room for a rubbish heap, and clumsy, shabby boats moored to rotting piles, beyond the ignobler buildings. All was silent and deserted; neither the cheerful wineshops of the Zattere nor their wretched neighbors across the wide canal showed any sign of life. Everybody was out keeping Carnival. As the gondola turned into a narrow canal which carried them into the Lagoon, Laura looked from her little window up and down the broad vista, and thought she had never seen Venice so beautiful. The afternoon sun streamed from a sky of the softest azure, and bathing the rough brick work and stained stucco, gave them magic hues of rose and ruby; a tattered red cloth, hanging from a window, took gorgeous tones like a kingly
mantle; far down towards the Molo clustered white domes, and slender, square bell-towers rose against the blue, and the saffron sails of a little fleet of Adriatic fishing-boats, drifting across below the custom-house, struck a new note in the marvelous, intricate harmony of color. It was but a glimpse, but it left an indelible picture on her memory. In a few minutes the city was left behind, and they were in the wide, melancholy Lagoon. The still waters were streaked with endless ropes of rich, bronze-brown sea-weed, matted together into floating islands here and there; the tall posts set to mark channels among the shoals threw long shadows, whose slight trembling heightened the dead calm. The marble causeway three miles long which joins Venice to the main land, with its broad parapets and hundreds of arches, looked like a bridge built for some royal progress to that city of palaces. Before them lay San Giorgio in Alga, a desolate church of a remote century, with its convent and cloisters and outer wall rising from the waters, sad and solitary as the temples of a forgotten faith; beyond, the Euganean Hills, like mountains of lapislazuli, closed the horizon with a serrate wall on whose peaks the snow still lay softly against the sky. There was not a sound, a breath, a ripple, a motion, save the faint quiver of the lengthening shadows across the languid ebb of the tide. The gondoliers, who knew their lady’s custom, stopped rowing and let the gondola rest on the water, giving their oars a single turn from time to time, to prevent her from drifting. The sunlight had gathered such intensity that the blue was merged in the gold which seemed to flood heaven’s utmost vault; flakes of transparent cloud like thin veils stole into the west and hung there, spreading insensibly, while the glow changed slowly into a flush which suffused heaven and earth, pervading the water, and deepening by degrees until sky and sea were fused into a sphere of glory in which the gondola floated like a dark bird in mid-air. The charm grew stronger every instant, until the rafts of sea-weed, the lonely church, the marble viaduct, the violet, snow - powdered range, took the universal sunset splendor and toned it to the color in which each looked most lovely. The lustre would have been intolerable but for its surpassing softness. One felt as if silently and without warning the last great change had come, the birth of a new heaven and a new earth, and that this was no light that would fade, but the dawn of an everlasting day.
Laura lay back on the cushions in an ecstasy which until a few months before had never expanded her straitened being. The scene might well have absorbed all emotion except the rapture of adoration, but her pulses were beating with that intense personal life which is stronger than death itself, and the wonder and beauty around her only uplifted her into higher and more concentrated consciousness. Like many persons who are at once timid and determined, she had a practice of bringing her faltering purposes to bay by some artificial limit. She had said to herself that before the Carnival ended she would take some decisive step towards bringing Arnauld and herself together. But what, what should it, be? She lay back in her gondola and gazed and thought, while the sunset glowed around and above her'.
Meanwhile the object of her thoughts, oblivious of her existence, was passing a stormy afternoon in his studio. He had not seen Madame Ca’ Doro for several days; a thing of not infrequent occurrence, but which took a peculiar significance from their recent interviews, and from a note which he found on coming in from his midday breakfast.
It handwriting be an indication of character, the fair lady’s bore most unfriendly testimony against her; it was small, thin, looked, and had something mean and cramped in its character; yet with the tinted note-paper, exhaling all the perfumes of Araby the blest, the fantastic monogram, and the coronet, it was an interesting-looking little document which rested on a ledge of the easel.
It was only a request, rather curtly worded, that Arnauld would send her portrait home. She had never written him a love-letter; her notes had always been so phrased that no harm could come of them; but Arnauld felt that this was quite unlike any other he had ever received from her. Perhaps it was because he had been aware of a coming change, that this now seemed like a straw showing which way the wind blew. He had never been in love with the princess, yet his connection with her had not been the result of mere vanity; apart from her singular beauty, she had ancient and noble lineage and high rank, both of which have an inexplicable charm for some imaginations, and everything which surrounded her heightened the effect, even to her hereditary jewels, her superb furs, and exquisite lace; she was the daughter of a nation which has contrived to inspire all other people with the romance it cherishes for itself. The best proof that his feeling for her had risen to enthusiasm was that she had inspired the finest picture he had produced. He could not think of giving her up without real emotion, and the idea of being supplanted roused a tempest of passion. He had been working on a large interior of the church of San Giovanni e Paolo, a new sort of subject for him, and had been out of the way of seeing or hearing what was going on for a couple of weeks. He had now brought the canvas home, meaning to put a group of figures into it, about which he was still undecided. He took a loose sheet and tried to sketch something that would answer — peasants and priests; but he could find nothing that satisfied him, and could not fix his mind to the work. If there was to be an end of everything, how would it come? A rupture, stormy scenes, or cold dignity and withering sarcasm? And afterwards? Venice would be very dull without this excitement, and his position there by no means so agreeable; the same houses would he open to him, it is true, but he would enter them on a very different footing. He would go to the East; he would go to Spain; he would go to Paris. So he went on to himself like the Frenchman that he was, making futile strokes on his paper and working himself up into a fury, until the light faded away. He had been sitting in the dark for some time when a friend burst in, a fellow-countryman, full of the national notions on the point of honor. He came in a high state of indignation to tell Arnauld what half Venice knew, — that the princess and the Duke of Kieff were at that moment in the Piazza San Marco together. Instantaneously the tempest in Arnauld’s breast rushed into a whirlwind; he caught up his slouch hat and thing himself down-stairs in his studio dress, and out to hail the nearest gondola. But it was not easy to find a gondola on the evening of Martedi Grasso; it was not till after dashing in and out of the narrow, paved passages, which even more than the canals make Venice a labyrinth to a stranger, and out upon a dozen gondola-stations, that he at last got a boat. His first flash of rage had burnt out, but his irritation had only increased in the vexation of delay; he was more master of himself, and therefore more fit for an encounter.
The Grand Canal showed a wonderful spectacle as his gondola emerged into it. The balconies and windows of the old Byzantine and Gothic palaces were outlined in light against the sombre mass of their façades, the fantastic and exquisite details of the architecture coming out as they never can by day; the arches of the gloomy bridges were traced in light, and there was an answering are of trembling brightness on the blackness below. A great barge, gilded and decorated like the famous Bucentaur, and hung with garlands of little lamps, passed majestically down the stream with a gay chorus of maskers in old Venetian costume on the deck, singing joyously: “ Bella Venezia, sposa del mar! ” while in its wake a flotilla of gondolas blocked the broad water-way from side to side; from some the heavy awning had been removed, disclosing glimmering groups of dominoes; others kept their hearse-like covers, but these had torches stuck at the prow, which flashed upon the steel prows and glared redly on the figure of the gondolier, like the light on the demons of the storm in Giorgione’s famous picture. The surface of the water was shivered into a thousand glittering lines; the reflection of a wavering, golden net-work was thrown upon the black palace fronts and bridges; yet the solid darkness held its own against the broken array of light which assaulted it on every side. Arnauld paid no heed, as he chafed at the difficulty in getting on, but his eye took note unconsciously, and the scene suggested more than one picture which he wrought out in calmer moments. As they passed the Royal Gardens the long unbroken mass of the Libreria Vecchia was in heavy shadow, but far above it the symmetrical shaft of the campanile lifted its arched crown against the dark blue night sky, all roseate with the reflection of some invisible radiance.
“ See, signore! ” cried the gondolier, pointing to the tower: " the campanile shows like a beacon! The Piazza is illuminated a giorno.”They reached the marble steps of the landing, and Arnauld, bidding his boatman wait for him, sprang ashore between the columns of St. Theodore and St. Mark, and strode through the Piazzetta, until the Piazza suddenly broke upon his sight, almost blinding him; it was illuminated “like day,” as the gondolier had said, with gas, lamps, candles, and lanterns, until the whole vast area between the colonnades—themselves as light as day — was like a great ball-room, where gay crowds in domino or fancy-dress stood and sat and strolled, almost drowning the music of the military band with the merry din of their voices. The background of this brilliant scene was the magnificent, mosque-like, dusky front of St. Mark’s, its gorgeous Oriental colors forced from their obscurity by the blaze which fell upon them, solemn depths of violet and tawny brown, relieved here and there by gleams of white and gold as the light struck a salient angle or boss, while the shadows of the porches looked like the mouths of a cavern.
As soon as Arnauld appeared in this picturesque bedlam, he was beset by maskers with every imaginable jest and question and challenge. He pushed through them as rudely as if he had been an Englishman, those whom he jostled most roughly saying “ Scusi ” in a gentle voice, as if they were the aggressors. As fast as he got free from one set, another surrounded him, until he was exasperated to sheer frenzy; but he gradually worked his way down the Piazza until he espied a tall couple in black silk dominoes and masks, at sight of whom he started and paused; they were walking up and down arm-in-arm among the crowd, and he recognized the Princess Ca’ Doro’s peculiar gait, careless, graceful, commanding. He broke through those who separated him from the pair, and stood before them. “ Two words with you, madame! ” he cried, his deep voice guttural with passion: a curious circle closed round them instantly and shut them in. “ You did me the honor to write me a note to-day telling me to send home your portrait. You remember that picture was not a purchase, hut a bargain. I wish to keep it, and I will send you a cheek for it. ” Here the Duke of Kieff made a sudden step towards him; he was taller by a head than the Frenchman; a stiletto instantly Hashed in Arnauld’s hand, and the Russian recoiled. “ I am at your orders always, Monsieur le Due; you know where to find me. Madame, I have the honor to bid you farewell. First an Austrian, then a Russian; it needs but a Prussian, and the new partition of Poland will he complete.”
He turned on his heel and burst through the by-standers, who,-released from the amazement which had kept them silent, broke into a chorus of exclamations and ejaculations, like a tribe of musical monkeys. He elbowed his way back to the Piazzetta, and, not finding his boat at once among the fleet which lay there, sprang into the nearest and ordered the gondolier to row him home. He had given vent to his rage and it was gone; he felt, that come what might he was even with Madame Ca’ Doro; he would probably have to fight the Duke of Kieff, but he would like nothing better; besides, he had given his Highness a stab which was worth several bullets and sword-cuts; it was an additional satisfaction to reflect that among the witnesses of the scene there must have been enough who understood French to give it publicity; by the morrow everybody in Venice would know that he had avenged himself. That his revenge was not a chivalrous one did not occur to him; it was complete, and he was content. Still the pain, the mortification, the jealousy, were not dead, and though full of morose exultation he was restless and agitated. His excitement gave him an impetuous power of work; he lighted all his lamps and candles, until his studio was almost as bright as the Piazza: lie turned to his canvas, certain of finding the idea which had eluded him all the afternoon, He began to draw rapidly and with a sort of fury, and soon had sketched a very striking group of priests. He was too much absorbed to hear the sound of footsteps on his stair, or the rustle of garments outside the door, but a knock roused him. He strode across the room to open, not doubting that one of his comrades had already come to congratulate him on his feat; but as lie threw back the door only a woman’s figure in a white domino was visible. His first thought was the princess, and he started back with his heart in his throat; but the stranger asked in Italian, with an unknown voice and strong foreign accent, if she might come in, and he saw his mistake, He supposed that it was some ordinary Carnival adventure, for which he was in no humor, and the interruption irritated him. The visitor sat down.
“ Can I be of any use to you, madame?” asked Arnauld, impatiently.
“I wish you to paint me,” replied the mask.
“ Paint you, fair lady! ” he said with a short laugh. “In your mask and domino? ”
“My faith!” he rejoined, laughing again with a cadence which his visitor thought very disagreeable. “ That is original, at least. But I really fear I can't obey you unless you take off your mask.”
“No, no!” she exclaimed in trepidation, and put her hand to her face. The tone and gesture struck the painter’s practiced eye and ear as belonging to a lady, and a slight interest began to struggle with his impatience.
“ Well, then, the domino, at least; otherwise it will be impossible.” She rose and reluctantly unloosed her domino, whose rich Eastern stuff was fastened by knots of white ribbon; she threw back the hood and dropped it from her shoulders. She was dressed in silvergray silk; her figure was very pretty, her whole appearance elegant, but there was nothing to make a picture of except for a genre painter.
“ Hum,” said Arnauld, surveying her from head to foot; his eye rested on the heavy knot of fair hair. “ Con permesso,” said he in a careless tone, and without waiting for the permission he drew out her comb, and the greater part of her hair fell, unrolling itself over her shoulders and far below her waist. She shrank back with a slight exclamation. “ Undo the rest yourself, then; I must have something to paint besides a gray gown.”
She drew out a few hair-pins; the wellshaped head was free and the whole bright mass loose, the waves catching the light. “ Hum,” said the painter again. “ Still I hardly see what I can do; sit down at that glass with your back to me, and I will paint you as a lady at her toilet. No, that will not do; suppose,” he went on in the same tone of careless impertinence, drawing aside a curtain, “ suppose you take off your dress; with bare neck and arms, and that white drapery, I could paint you as a Magdalen. You can arrange yourself in that recess.”
“ No,” she replied in a stifled voice.
“ Oh, reassure yourself. All my models — sitters, 1 mean — use it as a dressing-room. I dare say you know that lady,” pointing to the Princess Ca’ Doro’s picture, and despite himself his voice grew dull and hoarse. “ She has done so frequently; you conceive she could not go abroad in that attire.”
“ I will not be painted as the Magdalen.”
“ As you please; perhaps you will he good enough to say how you will be painted. Stop!” he cried, as she began to draw the domino about her shoulders. “ I see, I have it! I will put you in that group,” pointing to the rough sketch he had just finished, “ as a novice taking her vows; they are about to cut off her hair; I will make a separate study of you first. A novice, — it is old, it is insipid, — but what would you have? ” He hastily prepared an easel and canvas, put his lights in another position, and pushed forward a low platform on casters. “ Kneel on that, if you please.” She obeyed. “ Now I will arrange you.” He threw the domino over her, disposing the folds to his fancy; then he lifted the long, soft tresses of her hair and shook them out like a cloud. She drew back, but it was over. “ Now, turn a very little more this way; what shall we do with the hands? Oh, bury the face in them as if in deep prayer; so, very good.”
He began to sketch; her attitude was excellent, the effect of shadow very happy; he felt that the study would be successful, and worked with the rapidity and ardor which such a certainty inspires. He forgot that it was hours past his usual dinner-time, and that he had tasted nothing since noon; nervous excitement strung him to an extraordinary pitch. He was unusually pale; his sunken eyes burned like live coals from the black, shaggy tangle of hair and eyebrows; his face was aglow with creative fire, hut beneath it was the cynical expression of his worst mood; he looked dangerous. His visitor, meanwhile, began to feel that she had undertaken more than she could carry through. Now that it had come to be fact, her romantic scheme appeared to her only a vulgar escapade which could lead to nothing but shame and confusion for herself. How would all this bring her one step nearer her object ? If she remained masked, what had she gained? If she disclosed herself she could never look him in the face again. What must he think of her? His manner showed too plainly what he thought. How different from the gravity and reserve she had always found in him, when his very sarcasm was respectful. She had never dreamed of him like this, and she was frightened and repelled by his new aspect. If her coming there should be known she would be compromised, and twenty people might know of it. What would her father have thought of her? What did she think of herself? Tears which she could no longer restrain rushed to her eyes; tears more bitter than had ever scalded her eyelids before, even when her child died. She suddenly saw that she had been pursuing a phantom; she loved, she knew not what or whom, hut not the man before her. And how should she get away? She must offer some explanation, — what could she say? Poor Laura! she had planned it all beforehand, just what she would say and do, but things had turned out so differently from what she had fancied, that it all forsook her now. The fatigue of remaining so long in an unnatural position began to be felt; she trembled, slightly at first, then shook all over, and her tears thickened into sobs; she rose from her knees. Arnauld laid down his brush in astonishment.
“ Are you ill, madame? What is the matter ? ’ ’
“ I must go,” she said, stepping down from the platform.
“ Oh, impossible! The sketch is but well begun; give me at least another half-hour. Let me offer you a glass of wine.” He did not believe in her tears and agitation, and was more convinced than ever that it was a Carnival prank. He had strong reason for skepticism and ill-humor towards her sex, and his disgust for the woman who had just betrayed him tempered his curiosity about the woman before him; but he was making a fine study and he was bent on finishing it. She shook her head.
“ Will you have water, then? Is it too hot? I will open a window. Sit down and rest.” He drew forward a seat. It was the carved Gothic armchair of the princess’s picture; she shuddered convulsively and pushed it away.
“ No, I must go,” she repeated. Arnauld, convinced that she was trifling with him, besought, remonstrated, urged, but with so much familiarity and freedom that every word strengthened her desire to get away. She was disenchanted by this exhibition of the Bohemian, a species of the human family unknown to her even by name; she was not wholly disenthralled, however, for the man had a puissant individuality which was equally manifest in all his moods; she felt her will so unequal to his, his power over her so great, that only the force of fear could have carried her through the conflict. She gathered her hair up as well as she could, and fastened her domino, He saw that she meant to go, and could not understand it,
“ You 'll come back to-morrow then ? ”
She shook her head.
“ When ? ”
“ I cannot come back at all.”
“ Oh, Body of Bacchus, fair lady, this is too much! Then let me see your face before you go, that I may know whose portrait I have had the honor of beginning.” She shook her head again and turned towards the door; he intercepted her by one quick step and catching her by the arm raised his hand towards her mask.
“ Stop! ” cried Laura in English, and with a gesture full of dignity she raised it from her face and revealed her gray eyes dilated and shining, her cheeks deep pink and wet with tears, her mouth crimson and quivering. For a second the painter did not recognize her; the next he almost staggered backwards in his surprise. “ Madame Harrington!”
“ Yes,” she said, wrought up far beyond shyness, shame, or fear. “ I came here because I loved you — because I have loved you since the first day I saw you and your wonderful picture, which I have. But I did not come for myself; I had heard that you were not free, that you are too poor to run the risk of not selling your pictures at once, and so you paint them all for a man who gets much more for them than he gives you. I am rich, and I thought — I thought " ’ here her voice grew unsteady — “ if you
could love me I might help you, I might give you my life anti fortune in exchange for your name and talent, and you could work for fame alone. But there was some one else,” she went on, glancing towards Madame Ca' Doro’s portrait; “some one so far beyond me in everything that I could not hope, until” — and even in her intense passion of excitement she unconsciously lowered her voice, fearing to give pain “I heard that it was broken, ihen I came. I don’t know what I expected. I thought it might come about somehow; hut it is all over now. I am disgraced in my own eyes. I could never sec you again. Good-by.” She had spoken slowly, so that he had had time to collect himself, though more and more amazed at each word.
“ Madame,” he said in his grave voice, steadying himself against a table, for he felt that he too was trembling, “ can I believe what I hear? You love me? ”
“No,” said Laura, with a gush of tears. “ I loved you an hour ago, hut my own folly has cured me.
“I am very unfortunate,” he returned. “ And you would have been my wife?” She bowed her head. “And why is that impossible now? ”
“ Because I could never look at you without shame; and because you are not the man I fancied that you were, and it has given me a shock. Do not make excuses; I had no right to your respect when I came in such a way. I never could have it after this explanation, nor my own, which is worse, and that would make life intolerable; I felt it all as I knelt there, and so I said to myself it must end; and now good-by again.” There was something firm and final in her gentle voice, which notwithstanding all her agitation left no room for doubt or hope. There was a pause; at length he said: —
“You have done me infinite honor, and I am all too unworthy. Let me ask one only favor.”
“ Give me half an hour more for that sketch. It is not late; it is not ten o’clock, and the Carnival will last for three hours more; you can return to your hotel without exciting any remark.
I have seen a pure and noble-hearted woman for the first time since I left my mother, and I want a memento of her.
It is a small exchange,” he added, in a lower tone, “ for the happiness which might have been mine.”
Without a word Laura again loosened her domino, let down her hair, and knelt again; he arranged her as before. “ Yes, xnadame,” he said, “ my heart will always hold that hidden face, but no other mortal shall know whose it is.” She felt that she could trust him. He painted for about twenty minutes more, bringing the sketch to sufficient completeness; at length, seeing her form begin to sway slightly again from weariness, he laid down the brush.
“ That is enough, I will not tax you any more.” He was loath to let her go, but he watched her quietly as she made her preparations for departure; when they were finished, she was no longer flushed and tearful, but looked at him from her white hood with a sweet, serious face, like a nun’s, and held out her hand.
“ Stay one moment more,” he said; he took a palette knife from his easel, and walking over to the Princess Ca’ Doro’s picture cut it across twice. Laura uttered a faint cry. “ But for that woman this one might have been mine,”he said; “ both are lost to me now, but this will be my good angel forever.” He knelt and took her hand and kissed it with such gentleness and reverence that she did not withdraw it. “ The recollection of your goodness and graciousness will do more for me than all the benefits you meant. God has let me see the heart of a good woman, and I shall be a better man for it as long as I live.”