“THEY have come, babbo,” announced a young man, as he entered the great arched chamber in one corner of which Dr. Girolamo Berti was ensconced in the depths of an armchair, with his newspaper and his pipe. “They have come,” repeated he, as his father did not look up, or make any sign of having heard him.
“ Well, and what if they have ? ” said Dr. Berti slowly, laying down his paper, a twinge of pain contracting his face, as he moved his gouty foot upon its cushion. “I suppose they are not going away again to-night? And pray shut the door. I don’t like the hurried ways you have since you came from Paris.”
Paul Berti closed the door, and came forward into the small circle of light which two candles on the table made in the smoky darkness of the immense, sombre-tinted room. He lighted a cigarette, and sat quietly by his father, while the latter resumed his reading. Presently, however, having satisfied his sense of dignity by this deliberation, the old gentleman laid down his paper, and peered over his spectacles at his son, who seemed absorbed in meditation.
“ What sort of people are they ? ” said he. “ Mad English, I suppose, as usual.”
“ They are Americans, babbo. Very nice, quiet people. I am sure you will like them. And there are two children who are really angels ! ”
“ Humph ! “ejaculated the old doctor. “ Is the gentleman very ill ? ”
“ In consumption, evidently. He was too tired to talk, but madame his wife told me something of his case. She calls it bronchitis, and hopes much from relief from business and the air of Pisa. Ma— ” And the young doctor’s expressive shrug and gesture said the rest.
“ How old is he ? ” inquired the father.
“ About fifty, I should say. His wife is much younger; does not look over twenty-five. I thought at first that she was his daughter. They hope to see you in the morning, babbo.”
“ Very well,” growled Dr. Berti. “If I can go, I will; if not, you must attend to them. Per Bacco ! these forestieri have n’t any consideration: they think nobody ought to be ill but themselves.”
Dr. Berti’s week of seclusion, with gout for company, had not improved his always irascible temper, and he was never over-fond of Inglesi, in which term he was wont to include all who spoke the English tongue. He detested their hot fires and open windows ; he did not understand their aversion to his lancet; in short, he was as impatient of their “ outlandish ” ways as any Italian doctor of the old school could possibly be. His son had been in Paris for a part of his medical education, and had imbibed the progressive spirit of “young Italy ” at home ; so that between filial reverence, always strongly developed in an Italian, and the consciousness that his father’s system was an outgrown one, he sometimes had a hard time of it. But the old doctor’s reputation was established, and the Pisans looked with doubt and distrust on the new-fangled ways of Dr. Paul. True, some fever cases which he had undertaken had turned out wonderfully well; but it was doubtless the Madonna who had interfered to prevent harm from so much fresh air and bathing and beef-tea ; when all good nurses know that a fever patient ought to be kept closely shut up, and have no changes of linen or exciting diet. For all that, it was said in Pisa that Paul Berti was a fine young man; and it was a thousand pities that he could not be content to walk in the steps of his respected father.
Old Dr. Berti felt better the next morning, and about eleven he stepped out of his carriage at the door of the Hotel Vittoria, and caused himself to be announced to the American family. Dr. Paul was with him ; probably having come either to give the support of his arm, or to see those angels by daylight.
The invalid, too, felt refreshed by his night’s repose, and was enjoying the bright sunlight and soft air of the October morning. He was lying back in an easy-cbair by a window, looking upon the Arno ; his wife had her hands full of home letters, just brought her from the banker’s, and was reading to him bits here and there ; the children, two little girls of six and four years, were playing softly in a corner. As Paul Berti came in, he thought he had seen few pleasanter family pictures.
The room itself had already taken on a look of homelikeness from the few individual belongings scattered about it: there was a great bunch of roses in a vase, a few photographs, a work-basket, and a heap of books and newspapers on the table, and gay shawls on the sofa, which had been pulled towards the window. Mrs. Ashley came forward to greet the gentlemen with frank cordiality. Before the doctor could grumble out his formal phrases of courtesy, she had installed him in a delightful armchair at her husband’s side, and, on seeing his apprehensive glance at the open window, had closed it, without even asking if it inconvenienced him.
“ It is very kind of you,” she said, “ to come to us when you are yourself far from well. But I hope we shall not be very troublesome. Mr. Ashley already feels better for your soft Pisan air.” She spoke in French, which was another relief to the old gentleman, and the professional conversation which followed was also carried on in that language. Meanwhile, Paul had withdrawn to the end of the long salon, and was coaxing the children to come to him. The eldest was shy, and would not be tempted ; but little Alice was evidently attracted by the stranger, and was soon on his knee, listening to a wonderful tale, told in rather broken English, — a tale which all Italian children know by heart, but which proved quite new to the little American lady. Gradually curiosity got the better of timidity, and Minnie too approached and leaned against Paul’s chair.
Dr. Berti had seen at a glance the hopelessness of the patient’s condition, and, as usual in such cases, put on his most cheerful manner. “ We will leave an exact diagnosis to another day,” he concluded, after he had talked with the patient for some time. “ Meanwhile, my dear sir, make yourself as comfortable as you can; go out when the sun shines ; take nourishing food ; and as to sleep, I will send you a sedative this evening. A rivederla,” and he bowed himself out, followed by Mrs. Ashley, who detained him in an ante-room to beg for his real opinion of her husband’s state.
“ Impossible to say exactly at present, my dear madame,” replied Dr. Berti, in his brisk manner. “ He is fatigued with the journey; he needs rest. In a week or two we shall see, — we shall see. Let us hope that there may be an improvement. But he must be careful, madame, — very careful ; no exposure ; no excitement, above all,” said he, eying the pretty woman with a terrible frown.
“ Oh, I assure you,” answered the wife, smiling, in spite of her anxiety, at the idea of excitement in such a place as Pisa, “ we shall be very quiet, and shall observe your directions strictly.”
Paul noticed the smile, and divined the lady’s thought. To him, also, Pisa was not exactly an exhilarating locality. Could he do anything to render the winter before this fair young woman a little less tedious ? He thought about it, at intervals of leisure, all day.
It proved a mild and lovely winter. Every day the invalid seemed to gain healing from the tranquil life in this soft climate. He was able to walk slowly for a considerable distance ; he liked wandering about the Duomo, and amused himself with listening to the comments of tourists on the Leaning Tower; and still more, when he had the grassy piazza to himself, he enjoyed the beauty of this delicate architecture, relieved against the intense blue of the sky. At other times he sauntered by the river, and watched the lazy, good-humored street-life of Italy, or the mild gayety of the afternoon promenade, when all that little Pisa holds of fashion drives solemnly up and down the Lung’ Arno. He had made friends with one or two invalids, like himself, and had now and then a game of chess with the English clergyman. It was not life exactly, this kind of existence; but neither was it the suffering which had racked him for months previous. He strove not to look backwards or forwards, but to take thankfully this not unbearable present, which was sometimes shot by gleams of hope. Mrs. Ashley was entirely deceived by this rally ; she began to talk confidently about summer plans, and to set herself to make the most of these winter opportunities. She presented their letters to English and American residents, and exchanged calls with them ; but she did not accept evening invitations, and there was a good deal of sameness about the afternoon entertainments, where one always met the same people. She said so, one day, to Paul, who had dropped in for an hour, as he often did. Both husband and wife liked the young man, and got into the way of talking freely with him about all sorts of subjects. He was clever, and yet child-like in his simplicity ; devoid of bitterness, and yet with a certain delicate humor, quite different in quality from the Anglo-Saxon, which flashed out unexpectedly, like lightning from a summer cloud, and showed that, quiet as he was, he had observed and entered into every meaning.
“ I went yesterday,” Mrs. Ashley was saying, “ to Mrs. Parker’s kettledrum. Her rooms were lovely, and she had one or two old cabinets that I would have liked to sit and look at all the afternoon. They were so much more interesting than the people. But I had to listen to the dreadful discoveries about Mrs. Jameson. It appears that she has been supposed to be the niece of a duke, whereas she is from quite another family, and has actually been a governess. Lady Somebody, who employed her, has just been in Pisa, and of course told everybody.”
“ Did Mrs. Jameson herself pretend to such greatness?” asked Mr. Ashley.
“ Not that I could find out,” said his wife. “It seems she is a rich widow, and as people wanted to frequent her house they invented a social status for her which would permit them to do so. There was quite a council over her case, I assure you. Then there was an American family, just arrived, who were dreadfully disappointed in Italy: the olives were melancholy, the houses damp, and the streets dirty ; but their special grievance was the smallness and muddiness of the Arno. And then I was attacked about the new church scheme, and the High Church and Low Church ladies quarreled over me, until I told them that I was a Unitarian, and then they both let me severely alone. I don’t think I care to go to any more kettledrums,” she added, rather wearily.
“ But you have not delivered your Italian letters yet,” said Mr. Ashley.
“ No ; and that reminds me to ask what is the Countess Barbani’s day.”
“ It is Wednesday,” replied Paul. “ Has madame, then, the intention to honor our Italian society ? ”
“ I should like immensely to see something of it,” declared Mrs. Ashley. “ I am sure it will be more interesting than I have found the foreign element in Pisa to be.”
A curious expression crossed Paul’s face. “It is interesting — to a certain point,” he remarked. After a pause he continued: “If you would be so good as to give my aunt, the wife of Professor Feroni, the pleasure of seeing you, she would be delighted. She has heard me speak of you and is anxious to make your acquaintance. And,” he added, slightly hesitating, “ so is her daughter.”
“ I shall be most happy to know them,” answered Mrs. Ashley. “ When does Madame Feroni receive ? ”
“ On Monday evenings. May I tell her that you will come next week ? ”
“ I shall be glad to do so, if all is well at home. It is Mr. Ashley’s chess evening, so he will not miss me.”
In fact, on the next Monday it was possible for Mrs. Ashley to keep her promise. Dr. Paul called for her, and presented her to his aunt, a tall, fair, wellpreserved woman, who greeted her with much cordiality. The gentlemen were talking by themselves at one end of the salon, while the ladies were gathered at the other around the great fireplace, in which two tiny sticks of wood, standing on end, gave forth a smouldering, fitful blaze, as if they were afraid of being chidden for burning too rapidly. The marble floor sent a chill through Mrs. Ashley’s frame, and she was glad to reach the oasis of carpet in front of the fireplace, and devoutly wished that she had kept on her shawl. Madame Feroni presented her to the ladies, and there was a little stir to give the new-comer the place of honor on the sofa. Professor Feroni detached himself from the group of gentlemen, and came forward to pay his devoirs to the stranger. He was a fine-looking, white-haired old gentleman. While he talked with her she was conscious that his piercing eyes watched her with a curious intentness ; she thought that he was observing her as a new transatlantic specimen. The ladies gave her a formal welcome : she could not exactly determine whether it was a haughty or a timid one. They seemed to make a sort of mental reservation, in addressing her, and she could not divest herself of the thought that they would report the conversation to their spiritual directors. They appeared anxious to avoid expressing opinions, and confined themselves to personal topics, mostly in the form of direct questions, of which Mrs. Ashley had her share, and was evidently expected to reciprocate. Had she been married long ? What was her husband’s complaint ? Was she fond of children, and did she not greatly desire a son ? After half an hour of this innocent but hardly exhilarating entertainment, Mrs. Ashley began to grow rather weary. At this moment a young girl came into the room, and stopped, on her way to the ladies, to speak to Professor Feroni and Dr. Paul. “Who is that?” asked Mrs. Ashley of her neighbor on the sofa.
“ Oh, has she not been introduced to you ? That is Emilia, our hostess’ only child. She is to marry her cousin Paul, you know.”
“ No, I did not know it,” said Mrs. Ashley, “ Have they been long engaged? She looks so young.”
“ It was all arranged long ago; in fact, when they were children. The Berti and Feroni estates will thus be kept together. As each family has but a single child, it is so fortunate that one is a son and the other a daughter.”
“But,” suggested Mrs. Ashley, “the young people themselves, — they love each other, I suppose ? ”
The lady turned her large, sleepy eyes full upon Mrs. Ashley. “ They are both good, obedient children,” she said, “and I have no doubt they will get on well together, when they are married.”
“ Surely,” said Mrs. Ashley, “ their parents would not force them to marry unless they cared for each other ? ”
“ Oh, as to that, we do not look upon these matters as you do. I have even heard that in America the young man speaks to the young lady before consulting her parents.”
“ Certainly he does,” replied Mrs. Ashley, with some spirit.
“ It is not our custom,” said the other languidly, but as if from such an answer there could be no appeal.
Just then Madame Feroni brought up her daughter. Emilia was a girl of true Southern type, not in the least resembling her Piedmontese mother. Her dark skin glowed with rich color, her black eyes were large and set far apart, her hair was abundant, her teeth were small and perfect. She was sixteen, and just out of the convent, where she had passed the last eight years. She sat down by Mrs. Ashley, shyly glancing at her, and saying nothing. Mrs. Ashley’s manner, however, was so kind that the girl’s timidity quickly vanished, and she was beguiled into telling all about her life at the convent, and the dear mother abbess and sisters, whom she was going to visit at Easter. She was much interested, also, in the children, of whom Paul had spoken to her. “ He always calls them the ‘ due angeli,’” she said, smiling; and she promised to spend an afternoon with Mrs. Ashley soon, and get acquainted with them. Altogether, that talk with Emilia was the pleasantest part of the evening to Mrs. Ashley. She liked Madame Feroni’s gentle manner, and felt a real interest in watching the two lovers, if such they could be called. They had no special conversation together, during the evening; but when Emilia sang her little song, Paul duly stood at her side, and made her his compliment when it was finished.
After this, the two families saw a good deal of each other. Professor Feroni would drop in of an evening for a smoke and a chat with Mr. Ashley on geology, which was the business of the one and the recreation of the other. They differed delightfully, and never got to the end of their arguments. But every now and then Mrs. Ashley was surprised to find the piercing eyes of the professor fixed upon her, with the same inscrutable expression which she had noticed at their first meeting.
As the spring came on, and the snow melted from the Carrara Mountains, so that there was no longer the faintest breath of winter in the air, Mr. Ashley was able to extend his drives to the pine woods, and even to the sea-shore. The Feronis often accompanied the Ashleys in these drives, while Paul would attend them on horseback whenever his engagements permitted. He was a fine rider, and very fond of the exercise. He looked and talked his best at these times, and Emilia’s heart began to awaken as she glanced at him. Her face took on a more thoughtful, womanly expression, and her blushes came oftener when Paul spoke to her. Mrs. Ashley, too, was always happiest in the open air ; she loved sunshine, variety, motion. Mr. Ashley watched her with a tender, half-compassionate smile; he did not deceive himself as to the criticalness of his situation, but he could not bear to dampen his wife’s transient enjoyment. As lor Paul, he did not analyze his feelings. He basked in the sunshine of the hour ; he was happy and at ease in the atmosphere of kindliness by which he was surrounded, and he was more and more attracted by the fascination which Mrs. Ashley exercised over all who came within her influence. Clara Ashley was not beautiful, but she had that charm of expression and manner which, with men especially, is more powerful than beauty. Her dress was always perfect, — a little sober for her years ; but somebody has laid it down as one of the rules of beauty “ to dress so that the face shall be the most youthful thing about the person.” But I do not think Mrs. Ashley knew this ; she had taken to the habit of wearing sober colors during the early years of her married life, from annoyance at being so frequently taken for a daughter instead of a wife. She had married at seventeen a husband of forty. He was a man of splendid appearance, high position, and fine character. His choice of her first flattered the young girl, and then aroused in her a genuine, if not passionate affection. She was not made in a heroic mould; as his wife, she had had a life of calm happiness, with every wish forestalled and every care warded off. Upon this peaceful life Mr. Ashley’s illness broke, as the first inroad of sorrow. But Mrs. Ashley had had little experience of illness, and had never despaired of her husband’s eventual recovery. For Paul she came to entertain a sincere friendship, half sisterly, half motherly ; a married woman always feels herself older than an unmarried man of equal age, and Paul had been from the first so thoughtfully kind and helpful in every way that it was natural to make no arrangement without consulting him, both as a doctor and as a friend, especially as Dr. Berti’s gout laid him up for the greater part of the winter. Both Mr. and Mrs. Ashley felt that there was a great deal that was trying in Paul’s position, and admired the silent, courageous way in which he bore the disappointment to his hopes, in having to return to Pisa just when a coveted opportunity for hospital work in Paris had presented itself to him, and also his patience under his father’s criticisms and complaints. They used to talk to him about coming to America, and map out a career for him there, laughingly weighing its discomforts and its advantages, and giving him, as no books had ever done, glimpses of the wonderful opportunities for a man of energy in that great New World. These conversations, in contrast with the petty annoyances of his daily life, were to him like the opening of a window in a gloomy room, upon a wide prospect. Mrs. Ashley would also talk of Emilia, to whom she was becoming much attached. They were exchanging lessons in English and Italian, and one day, when a reference to Romeo and Juliet had caused Mrs. Ashley to repeat their story to Emilia, she was surprised to find the girl’s eyes full of tears. “ I ought not to have told you such a sad story,” said she. “ I suppose I have heard it so often that the impression has worn off. Besides, I have seen Juliet’s tomb at Verona, which is too absurd; and her house is now a dreadful little inn. On the whole, I am glad that we don’t live in those romantic days. Are not you ? ”
“ I don’t know,” said Emilia thoughtfully. “ A lover that would die for you, — no, I suppose that is not to be expected, in these days.”
“ But you have one who will live for you, which is better,” answered Mrs. Ashley, lightly. " Como, don’t let us go to moralizing. Paul is better than any Romeo.”
“ Paul is very good,” said Emilia, still serious. “ But he does not like Pisa,” she added, after a pause.
“ Well, would not you like to see something of the world? He is fitted to make his way in it, and it does seem a pity that his talents should be under a bushel here.”
“ It may be so,” replied Emilia, with a little sigh ; " but you who travel so much cannot know what it is to me to think of going away from home to live. Since I have known what our parents meant for us, — though you know we are not actually betrothed, and perhaps we shall not marry,” she said, with a little catch in her breath, — “ I have always supposed that Paul would settle down here with his father and my parents, and it would be almost as if 1 had not left mamma at all. But since he came back from Paris, I have seen that he is not happy here.” She wiped away the tears that were beginning to fall, and went on in a trembling voice : “ Dear signora, I have thought of a great many things this winter. I was just a child when I came home from the convent, last autumn ; and Paul was almost a child when I saw him last, before he went to Paris. Now, he is so old and so learned, and he talks of so many things that I do not understand, just as you do — and I — I feel so far away from him, sometimes.”
Mrs. Ashley took Emilia into her arms and kissed her. “ Don’t trouble your little head with thinking too much about these things,” she said. “ A wife gradually comes to be interested in what interests her husband, in a general way, and that is all he will want. I am sure you will make the dearest little wife in the world. But come, now, it is such a lovely day, and Mr. Ashley has not had his drive. We will go to the woods and get some violets, and you shall have a great bunch for the Countess Barbani’s party, this evening.”
One warm morning in April, trusting to the uncommon beauty of the day, Mr. and Mrs. Ashley thought that they might carry out a long-cherished wish to visit the Carthusian convent in the Val dei Calci, among the Pisan hills. It was the first long excursion that the invalid had attempted, and that he might not fatigue himself by talking they went alone. To both it seemed like an escape from the restraints of illness. Mrs. Ashley was in joyous spirits, and Mr. Ashley himself yielded to the influence of the sweet air and the brilliant sky. The road is very charming, with views of the Carrara peaks and occasional glimpses of the Mediterranean. The convent stands under the shelter of Lhe castle-crowned Monte Verruca, and is a fine old building still, in spite of restorations. After having lunched in the strangers’ parlor, Mr. Ashley was made comfortable for an hour’s repose, while his wife wandered about the cloisters and the church — the only parts of the convent which a woman’s foot would not desecrate — with a friendly and loquacious monk, whose duty it was to show the building to strangers. Suddenly she became aware that the light was growing dim, and in a moment a gust of wind shook the windows of the church and moaned about the building. With apprehension she perceived that the sky was becoming overcast.
“ Is it going to rain ?” she said to the monk.
“ Possibly, madame,” he replied; “ we have frequent showers among these mountains. But it will pass quickly, let us hope.”
“ At any rate, I must go back to Mr. Ashley,” she exclaimed, and hastening to the parlor, she found him pacing the room impatiently, and anxious to start at once for home. The coachman thought that the rain would not set in for an hour or two, and by fast driving they might escape it. They were politely offered such accommodations as the convent afforded, if they chose to remain there for the night ; but it was such a comfortless place, and Mr. Ashley was so averse to staying, that, with many misgivings, Mrs. Ashley consented to start.
The storm did not, in fact, come on until they were close to the gates of Pisa; but the strong sea wind which delayed it was damp and cold, and though the carriage was closed as tightly as possible it crept through the badly hung doors and windows, chilling them both severely. On arriving at their hotel, the invalid was at once put to bed, and every precaution taken. The exposure, however, had been too great: the cough returned with violence, a succession of hæmorrhages followed, and in a week Mr. Ashley had ceased to live.
During these trying days Paul Berti was indefatigable, not only as a physician, but also as nurse and friend. He spent every night in the sick-room, and it was in his arms that Mr. Ashley breathed his last. At the beginning of the attack, Mrs. Ashley’s brother had been telegraphed for, but he could not reach Italy till all was over ; and the last sad arrangements fell upon Paul. Mrs. Ashley herself was ill from a cold taken on the day of that fatal drive, as well as from sorrow and watching. She seemed like a child deprived of a parent’s love and care, and in her helplessness she involuntarily leaned upon Paul for advice in every particular. It was easy to see that even in the weakness of declining health her husband’s mental strength and firmness of will had kept their grasp of all that concerned the comfort of his wife and children. The Feronis had taken the children home as soon as the sick man’s case had become hopeless, and they were much with the widow, who came to regard this little group of friends with a sense of intimacy and gratitude which only strangers’ kindnesses awaken. Emilia’s gentle sympathy was specially soothing to her : the girl was so reverent to her sorrow ; she touched it with such a tender hand, and without a trace of that critical curiosity which is apt to mingle with the condolences of even the best intentioned people. She did not feel curiosity; she had not yet learned to apportion either grief or sympathy according to worldly weights and measures.
Mrs. Ashley’s brother at length arrived, and in a few days all was in readiness for her departure with him. Madame Feroni, Emilia, and Paul spent the last evening with them; Emilia busying herself in some small preparations for the journey, and crying a little over them. The whole party were very silent. Paul looked pale and ill, as well he might, after the fatigue he had undergone. The children drew him apart for one more story, but they complained that it was a dull one, and had a bad ending. Mrs. Ashley was still weak, and they left her at an early hour, all feeling a sense of relief when the good-bys were over. Paul, however, had insisted on seeing his friends off in the morning, and was at the station when they arrived. It was rather late ; they went directly to the coupé which had been reserved for them ; and a few medical directions, with a silent handshake, were all that Paul had time for, before the train moved off, and they were gone.
Paul had not slept all night. He had begun, in these last few days, to understand what this winter had been to him, and what would be left him when the dream was past. As long as her husband lived, he had striven to blind himself to the nature of his feelings towards Mrs. Ashley ; but during the last weeks, when he had temporarily found himself in the place of her nearest friend, he had abandoned himself to the sweetness of imagining what life might be in her companionship. Now, the future stretched out before him like a gloomy plain, monotonous and dreary, and he longed to break all the bonds that held him to the present, and pursue his dream, even if it were but a mirage, to delude and escape him at last.
When the train was out of sight, Paul slowly gathered himself together, and walked towards home. He felt benumbed ; he was astonished that this moment, which for days he had been dreading, should have passed without the rush of some emotion impossible to conceal. He had betrayed nothing of his suffering, — of that he was sure; nay, he had erred on the other side, and his farewell must have seemed cold and indifferent.
Dr. Berti Was this morning in one of his worst tempers. “ Here you are at last! ” he cried,as Paul came in. “The Marchesa C–has just sent for me, and you know I am not fit to go out. Where have you been, pray ? ”
“ I have been seeing the Ashleys off, babbo.”
“ I don’t see what need there was of your going to the station. You are not a facchino. Are they really gone ? ”
“ Yes,” said Paul, wearily sinking into a chair ; “ they are gone.”
“ Well, I am glad of it. Here I have been working myself ill to leave you free for these Inglesi, who are as helpless as babies and as exacting as kings. Now I am going to rest, and you can attend to the patients.” And here followed a long list of cases and directions, Dr. Berti never seeming to observe his son’s looks, or to imagine that he too might need rest after his vigils. It was better, perhaps, for Paul that weeks of incessant employment were before him ; so, at least, he put away reflection, and deadened feeling for the time. But as months passed on, and his father’s health grew stronger than it had been for many years, Pisa became intolerable to Paul, He felt that he was living a lie in regard to his relations with the Feroni family. True, there had been no formal betrothal between him and Emilia, nor any private interchange of vows, as in lands more favorable to love-making; therefore there seemed to be no possibility of his making any explanation as to his aversion to a marriage with Emilia. And if he did make it, what reason could he give ? He had no definite hope for himself, — nothing but an ideal, a longing, stood in his way ; but that ideal so completely filled his heart as to shut out all else. One thing he could do : he could go away. He resolved on going to Vienna to study for a year; beyond that he would not look.
Mrs. Ashley had written to Emilia several times since her arrival in America, and once to Paul, — a few cordial words of thanks, in her own name and that of her family, for his great kindness. Paul knew that she was living in her father’s house in New York, and that her health was reëstablished ; but Emilia never showed him her letters, and he was too self-conscious to dare to ask questions. Mrs. Ashley had, in fact, settled gratefully into the shelter afforded her. Protected and cherished still, she mourned her husband, indeed, but she had not the intensity of feeling to suffer deeply. Her children gave her employment, her friends flocked around her ; she led a life as different from that which Paul’s fancy had endowed her with as it is possible to conceive.
The disappointment of Dr. Berti, when his son announced his resolve, may be imagined. He did not divine its true cause, but attributed it to the restless spirit of the times, which he was forever deprecating. Professor Feroni’s sharp eyes, however, had long ago surprised Paul’s secret; but he was also keen enough to see that nothing was to be gained by thwarting the young man.
“ Let him go, — let him go,” he said to Dr. Berti. “ Have patience. He will come back to us, and when he comes he will stay.”
Towards the end of Paul’s second winter in Vienna, he was seized by a fever that was raging in the hospitals, and though he had it in its lightest form he did not recover strength, as he had hoped. During his convalescence, in the long hours of weakness and weariness, when the leisure which in health he had shunned was forced upon him, his thoughts, escaping from his control, would continually revert to Clara Ashley. He saw her, not as she had sometimes passed before him in the delirium of fever, mocking at his sufferings, and refusing him a touch of her cool white hand, nor even as when she had been bright and hopeful, during the first months at Pisa, but as in those last days, when in her sorrow and weakness she had leaned on his manly strength. Suddenly an irresistible desire to see her once more awakened in him.
“ What would a sea-voyage do for me ? ” he asked one day of his physician, who had been scolding him for not getting well more rapidly.
“ It would be the best thing possible for you,” replied his friend. “ Your suggesting it encourages me about you. Hitherto you have not helped us to cure you. But you must not go to a warmer climate.”
“ I should go to America, if anywhere,” returned Paul.
“ Very well,” assented the doctor. “ You can go by the Bremen line with little fatigue. I can’t allow you to take the long overland journey to Liverpool, nor to go to Pisa for good-bys.”
“ I should not like to go without seeing my father,” said Paul.
“ Why can he not come to you ? ” suggested his friend. “ It would do him good to have a little change of scene. I will write to him myself.”
Thoroughly alarmed by the doctor’s representations as to Paul’s state, Dr. Berti lost no time in setting off for Vienna, though with many lamentations at being obliged to take such a journey. Once arrived, however, Paul’s friends gave the old gentleman such a cordial welcome, and the professors under whom Paul had worked were so enthusiastic in their praises of him, that Dr. Berti forgot to grumble, and really enjoyed his visit. He accompanied Paul to Bremen, yielding to, rather than approving of, his voyage, and urging him to make as short a stay as possible in America. He had several times attempted to introduce the subject of marriage. Emilia’s good qualities were his favorite theme. She had been spending a year in England with a sister of her mother’s, and the old doctor had had a dreadful fear that it would spoil her, or that she would get into some foolish love-affair there ; but on the contrary, she had come back, as far as he could see, without harm to heart or mind, “ for which the saints be praised,” devoutly added the doctor, evidently considering that she had run a terrible risk. If he had known human nature better, Dr. Berti would not have been encouraged by the calm assent which Paul gave to all that was said of Emilia’s goodness ; but to every proposition that concerned his marriage the young man turned a deaf ear, and his father was fain to be content with his son’s reputation among his Viennese comrades as a confirmed old bachelor. “ At any rate,” he said to himself, on his way home, after seeing Paul off, “ no foreign hussy has turned his head. I shall tell Feroni that.”
It was a bright morning in May when Paul drew near the end of his voyage, and gazed with delight on the beautiful bay of New York, alive with ships of all nations, and the city rising grandly from its waters. The steamer came to her moorings amid a crowd of boats, and unfamiliar shouts, and deafening clatter on the quay. It was a new and strange sight to Paul, —the hurrying, jostling, pushing throng which filled the streets as he drove to his hotel. He had a sense of uselessness, among so many serious-looking faces, intent on their own affairs, and almost expected to be questioned as to his business in a place where work seemed to be the law of life. The very wind was sharp with suggestions of having traveled a long way from snowy hills, and the air was keen and electric. In his state of invalidism Paul was sensitive to all these influences, and they made him feel curiously despondent, and almost regretful for having come. Recognizing this as a morbid feeling, he resolved to counteract it by a stroll in the streets. He wandered up Broadway, still meeting the same down-pouring currents of humanity, and much struck by the sharp, fresh look of the buildings, clearly defined against the cold blue sky. He found his way back, at length, tired and excited, and feeling more than ever a stranger in a strange land. He did not try to see Mrs. Ashley on that day, nor on the next. An undefined prophecy of change and disappointment lay heavy on his heart; he dreaded to break the spell that had brought him over the sea. At last, on the third day, he drove to the address which had been on her letter. It was a long way from his hotel, but finally the carriage stopped, at the door of a large and handsome house. A servant in livery replied, to his inquiry, that Mrs. Ashley was out, but would be at home in an hour. The glimpse of her home had given another shock to Paul : she had lived so quietly in Pisa that he had never thought of her as surrounded by fashionable appointments and the ostentation of wealth.
He dismissed the carriage, and walked on without any other plan than to pass away the hour as best he might. Suddenly he found himself at the gate of a great park, and, feeling tired, went in and sat down upon a bench, to watch the throng, who seemed as seriously intent on pleasure as they had been on business in the morning. Streams of carriages passed him; lovely children, with their nurses, were playing about him. He gazed abstractedly at the procession, in which nothing had an individual interest for him, and whose gay colors and noisy sounds fell with a bewildering confusion upon his eye and ear. He had risen to seek a more secluded spot, when, just as he was watching his opportunity to cross the drive, a carriage came dashing along, from which a familiar face — the face he had been longing for so many weary months to behold — looked out. For a moment her gaze rested upon him as on a stranger ; then a sudden flash of recognition in his eyes quickened her remembrance. She gave the signal to stop the carriage ; and almost before he knew it Paul was standing by her, listening to her ejaculations of wonder and inquiries as to when he had arrived in America. She presented him to her mother, Mrs. Embury, a stately old lady, and made him enter the carriage and drive on with them.
She was looking very lovely ; but as Paul gazed at her from his seat opposite, he seemed to himself to be in a dream. Was this bright, girlish-looking creature the pale, sad-eyed woman to whom he had bidden farewell at Pisa only two years before ? She was dressed in some fabric of misty gray, with creamy lace about her throat and wrists and a bunch of violets in her belt. How well he remembered the violets in the Pisan woods, which they had found together ! He felt, as he sat there, farther away from her than when the ocean had divided them ; and he knew that the distance would increase.
Mrs. Ashley was unfeignedly glad to see Paul, and spoke with a shade of tender sadness overcasting her bright face of his kindness to her during “ those dark days at Pisa.”
“ But I want to hear all about yourself,” continued she, in a more cheerful tone. “ Where have you been all this time, and have you come to America to remain ? Is Emilia with you ? ”
Thus she poured forth her questions upon the young man, who was obliged to summon back his wandering thoughts to meet them, and to give her in a few words the outline of his life since they parted.
“ But Emilia,” she persisted, as he did not mention her. “You are not married yet, then ? ”
“ No, madame,” said Paul, gravely ; and something in his manner warned her to change the subject.
“You will come and dine with us? Must he not, mamma ? ”
“ We shall be delighted,” said Mrs. Embury. “ Dr. Paul Berti seems to us all like an old friend.” Her smile was very sweet as she spoke, and Paul felt more at home with her than with Mrs. Ashley. He attempted to excuse himself from accepting the invitation, but both the ladies overruled his plea of being in morning dress, and he was obliged to yield.
“ The children have grown so much,” said Mrs. Ashley. “You would not know them.”
“ They would not care for my stories now,” declared Paul, smiling. “ All the children here look so wise and critical that I feel quite in awe of them.”
“ Then they shall tell you stories,” said Mrs. Ashley, as they drew up at Mr. Embury’s.
It was a strange evening to Paul. He was made welcome in the frankest manner ; the children were charmed to see their old playfellow, and were clamorous for a repetition of The White Cat of Pisa and other favorite tales. Indeed, they were a help to Paul, seeming the only realities in the present, and by their chatter recalling him from the reverie into which he felt himself continually falling.
He excused himself early, on the ground of invalid habits. As he walked away from the house to which he had come with such a beating heart a few hours before, there came over him a great longing for home. He saw how his life had been blighted for two years by a dream, an illusion ; how he had cherished hopes which were built on an ideal foundation. Why the reality had dispelled them, why the brilliant, charming woman who had welcomed him so cordially had revealed to him that he had been in love with a vision merely, he could not tell then, nor could he ever. He only knew that the dream had passed away.
During the weeks which he spent in New York he saw Mrs. Ashley often, and after the first embarrassment of his self-consciousness had worn off he met her with pleasure ; but it was rather like a new friendship than any rebinding of old ties.
He spent with her his last evening before sailing for home; and as he was bidding her adieu, she suddenly looked up at him, saying, with a meaning smile, “ Next time, bring Emilia.” And Paul answered, “ I will.”
E. D. R. Bianciardi.