The Greatest of These

YES, I think I may say that in general my portraits are rather well thought of. By “ my portraits ” I mean, not those that other people paint of me, but those that I paint of them. Stanhope, too, shares the common opinion, though what we artists think of an opinion that is purely literary everybody knows. He is constantly referring to my “ art.” I seldom refer to his. That piques him. But I do not acknowledge that literature is an art, except, perhaps, in some secondary, subsidiary sense; for of late, it is true, “ we others ” have rather favored that métier. But we must frame our pictures.

My portraits, yes. My Trois Vieilles Femmes received honorable mention at the last Salon ; my Woman of a Certain Age is just now causing considerable comment at Burlington House.

All accounts agree; all strike the same note: it is always and ever my “ eye for character.” The unified voice of appreciation never falls below “ penetration,” and often enough it rises even to “divination.” Stanhope, in his “ art,” tries for the same things, but he wastes a great many words, for his medium is wholly wrong. Sometimes I “ probe a complicated nature to its depths ; ” sometimes I “ throw a flood of light upon the ” — And so forth, and so forth.

Very well: let them keep it up; let them employ their “ art ” to glorify mine.

I became acquainted with Madame Skjelderup-Brandt rather suddenly. But that is the way things go in Sicily, especially at Girgenti, where people feel as if they had about reached the Ultima Thule of the South, and where there exists, therefore, something of a disposition to hang together. Perhaps this conies from those last few hours in the train, where everybody seems to carry a gun or a revolver as a matter of course ; perhaps from the necessity of huddling together through the evening in the hotel, from which no one thinks of issuing to the town on the hill above, or even to the humpy and betufted environs of the house itself; perhaps from the fact that there is a single well-established route through the island for travelers, one and all, and from the feeling that it is better to make one’s acquaintances near the beginning of it than near the end.

I made the acquaintance of Madame Skjelderup-Brandt near the beginning (not that I learned her name till I met her again, months afterward, at Florence). She came in to dinner, sat down beside me at table, and within three minutes we were on the best of terms. I saw at once that she had character ; my fingertips tingled for a pencil; I was almost for “getting” her on the table-cloth. Her prompt friendliness was most opportune, for the Dutch baron, across the table, had just turned me down. In response to my modest salutation he had dropped his cold eye to his plate, and I thought I saw him communicating to that chill and self-sufficing utensil a sulky, even a dogged determination not to let me know him. Yet how was I to have apprehended that he was Dutch, and a baron, and proud of his family, and away from home for the first time ?

“ Leave him alone,” mumbled Stanhope at my elbow.

“ I’m going to,” I responded. “ So are the rest,” I added, for there was a vacant seat on each side of him.

Madame Brandt leaned a little my way, as she busied herself in a review of her forks and spoons.

“ That young man has a good deal to learn,” she said to me under her voice. She crinkled up her dark eyes with a kind of suppressed joviality, and drew her mouth down at one corner by a sort of half-protestant grimace. Did her accent produce the grimace, or did her grimace produce the accent ? It was the slightest accent in the world. Was it Hungarian? I wondered. Then she said something — perhaps the same thing over again — to a pair of young girls on the other side of her.

“ He has indeed,” I rejoined expressively. Whereupon she crinkled those dusky eyes of hers for me once more, and I felt that we might easily become friends.

I put Madame Brandt down for about forty-three. She ran to the plump, the robust, the durable, and she was dressed in a way that achieved elegance with little sacrifice of individuality. Her dark hair was slightly grizzled; her shrewd eyes still twinkled merrily under their fine black brows at a discomfiture that I was unable altogether to conceal; and her sturdy little hands (they had ever so many rings, yet they contrived to express as few hands do a combination of good sense, good nature, and thoroughgoing competence) still busied themselves with the forks and the spoons, as her straight, decided lips made a second shadowy grimace, the comment of a wide traveler on provincial pride wandering abroad for the first time.

Our menu promised great things. The house was “ of the first rank,” and the dinner was to be of corresponding state. There were difficulties : the milk had to come sterilized from Palermo, and the meats were sent down all the way from Lombardy ; yet we got through the eight courses that our rank demanded. As the fish came on, our number was increased by one : a middle-aged lady entered and sat down on the baron’s right. She was a quiet little body, with a pale face and eyes of a timid and appealing blue. She seemed embarrassed, distressed, detached. Stanhope figured her (a little later on, after allowing himself a due margin of time to get his literary enginery into play) as some faded waterbloom, rudely uprooted, and floating away who could say whither? This poetical analogy made no great impression upon me ; her face was far from offering itself with any particular degree of usefulness. However, we both agreed that she did look detached.

“ Decidedly so,” affirmed Stanhope. “ And if nobody Speaks to her, I ’ll do it myself.”

But Madame Brandt greeted her very kindly, with a sort of unceremonious good nature, — as if for the tenth or twentieth time, — and yet with a delicate shade of consideration and concern.

“ Your turn, now,” I said to the baron, — inaudibly, it is true. “Don’t go on fussing over that fish-bone ; it’s only a pretense. Look up, I say.”

He must have heard me. He raised his eyes. His glance, though cool, was civil, and he gave her a word of conventional greeting.

“ That’s better,” I commented. The little lady appeared to become a trifle more self-assured, more animated.

“ Something might be done with her, after all,” I thought. My revolt against the jeune file has carried me to great lengths.

“ What is such a type doing in a hotel,” questioned Stanhope, “and in a hotel so far away from home at that? A domestic body, if ever I saw one; she does n’t even know how to take her place at a public table. She has cleared the entire distance between her own home and this hotel in a single jump. Did you ever see anybody so timid, so deprecatory, so propitiatory, so ” —

“ Your language ! ” I sighed. Then, “Why should she be frightened ? We are only a dozen all told.”

Stanhope ran his eye round the table.

“ She makes us thirteen.”

“ I am not superstitious,” I declared.

“Nor I. But what can have brought her so far, and have hurried her along so fast ? ” he proceeded.

“ So far ? So fast ? ” I repeated. “ Oh, you literati will never take a thing as it is ; you will never be satisfied with a moment of arrested motion. Action, movement, progression, — you must always have your little story going on.”

“ But you will agree that she is from the far North. Don’t you see the Baltic in her complexion ? Don’t you see the — h’m — the Teutonic sky in her eyes ? ”

“ What I see is that you are coming round to my way. Bravo ! It’s surprising how seldom you do get my point of view.”

“ Don’t think I’m trying to invade your province,” he rejoined. “ You won’t mind if I wonder whether she is an invalid ? ”

“ She hardly looks ill,” I replied. “Worried, if you like, anxious, under some severe strain.”

“ Undoubtedly. Now, there ; what did the lady on your right say to her ? ”

For Madame Brandt had addressed to the newcomer what seemed to be a few words of sympathetic inquiry, employing certain specific vocal lilts and inflections that she had already employed in addressing the two young girls just beyond.

“ How do I know ? ” I asked rather pettishly. “ Tell me what language the lady on my right was speaking in. Tell me what country the lady on my right is a native of. Tell me the name, country, rank, and title of the individual opposite who has undertaken to be silent in all the languages. Tell me the nationality of that high-shouldered youth behind the épergne, — the one with those saffron eyes and that shock of snuffbrown hair. Give me the origins of the elderly ringleted female up at the head who has staked out her poodle at the table-leg. I know abbés and lieutenants and curates, especially English ones ; there’s nothing else I’m sure of. Oh dear, what is that poor woman trying to tell the waiter? He speaks Italian, English, and French; won’t any of the three serve her ? ”

The little lady from the North was looking up from her plate of belated soup into the waiter’s face with an expression of perplexed appeal.

“ Can’t you help her ? ” growled Stanhope.

I made some advance in French, but uselessly. Madame Brandt came to her aid in her own special idiom, and then communicated with the waiter in German.

“ Ah, you speak everything ! ” I said to her, with an abrupt informality not unlike her own.

“ Oh, we who come from the little countries ! ” she returned, with a careless good humor. “ But there are greater linguists than I in the house,” and she pointed toward the chair opposite that still remained vacant.

Just before the removal of the entrée this chair came to be occupied.

“ Fourteen at last! ” breathed Stanhope.

Another woman entered, and the sorrowful little creature from the Northland, after a word passed with the newcomer in the only language of which she herself seemed to have a command, accomplished a depressed and inconspicuous exit.

“ Thirteen again ! ” sighed Stanhope.

“ Don’t twang that string any longer,” I remonstrated.

The new arrival, who had come on with much directness and self-assurance, and had seated herself with all the selfpossession in the world, gave the waiter a hint about the smoking lamp in Italian, favored the company with a brief but comprehensive salutation in French, unfolded her napkin, and achieved a swift and easy dominance of place, people, and occasion.

It was one more “ woman of a certain age.” I trod on Stanhope’s foot. “ What do you think of this ?” was my meaning. My pressure was full of implication, even of insinuation. He made no response,— he whose intuitions are his constant boast.

Of a certain age, yes. But what age? Thirty-five? Thirty-seven—thirtyeight ? Single ? Married ? Widowed ? Divorced ? A lady or — not ?

Once more I trod on Stanhope’s foot. This time his foot pushed mine away. “ Work it out for yourself,” — that was plainly what he meant.

Well, then, a woman of thirty-seven; rather tall than not; neither stout nor thin, yet noticeably big-boned; and dressed in black brocaded silk. Of robust constitution, perhaps, yet not in robust health. Her face pale, worn; not haggard, yet full of lines ; weathered, apparently, by a long and open exposure to the storms of life. Her hair (none too carefully arranged) already turning gray. Her cheek - bones high-set and wonderfully assertive,—what was her race ? Her eyes (of a bright, bold, hard blue) most markedly oblique, — what was her lineage ? Her wrists thick ; her hands large and rather bony, yet white (even blanched) and well kept; her nails carefully trimmed, but one or two of her finger-tips discolored as if by some liquid, not ink, — what were her interests, what was her occupation ? Her chin firm, decided, aggressive —

(Artichokes ? Stewed in something or other ? No, thank you. Artichokes have no raison d’être beyond the pleasure they give one in picking them apart leaf by leaf, and for that they must be dry. I will wait for the roast.)

— firm, decided, aggressive. Her mouth — if I may express myself so — open ; I mean large, frank, without pretense, guiltless of subterfuge. No difficulty there. But those eyes, those cheekbones ! They puzzled me, fascinated me. They threw my thoughts forward to some new country that I had never seen, to some new people that I had never mingled with, to some new life broadly, irreconcilably at variance with our own. The face they helped to form prompted me to the sketching out of some novel career altogether unique and individual, challenged me to reconstruct the chain of experiences that had led this singular woman over what rigors of unknown seas and mountains to the mild joys of this blooming Sicilian spring. “ She has lived,” I thought; “ she has looked out for herself; she has character, capacity. But she is so worn, so hard, so brusque, so bold. Is she — is she ” — and I said it to myself in a whisper’s whisper — “ is she — respectable ? ”

I appealed to the table ; how were my commensals receiving her ? Just as they would receive anybody else, apparently. Yet, was she accepted, or did she impose herself ? For she took the initiative from the start. She knew everybody. Stanhope and I were the only new arrivals of the day. She greeted Madame Skjelderup-Brandt, — well and good. She greeted the two gray doves by madame’s side, and they modestly responded, — better and better. She accosted the baron in German, and extracted a whole sentence from him in reply, — best of all. She had a word for Toto tied to the table-leg, and received acknowledgments in some unclassified jargon from Toto’s mistress, — highly satisfactory. But the English curate, he of the lank limbs and the underdone countenance ? Ah, he is not cordial. (How long has he been in the house ?) And the curate’s lady, with her desiccated physiognomy, is coldly mute. (How much does she know of the world ?) And the head waiter himself, — is his attitude that of friendly good will, or that of careless, open disrespect ?

I felt Stanhope’s foot against mine. I started. “I — I beg pardon ! ”

“ I was only saying,” said the voice of the object of my conjectures, with her look partly on my face and partly on the label of my wine-bottle, “ that you would have done better to select some local growth; our Tempij, for example. Marsala is generally fortified beyond all reason.”

I glanced at Stanhope. I decided that her advances must have begun with him, and have reached me by a subsequent stage. But I found them abrupt and irregular, all the same.

“ Marsala is a local growth, according to most people’s notions of Sicily, is n’t it ? ” I asked.

“ Poor Marsala, — after they have finished with it! ” she observed, taking her own bottle in hand.

I shall not say that her voice was harsh or rough, though her vocal chords must have had their own peculiar adjustment. I shall not insist that her English had an accent; least of all shall I insist upon what particular accent it may have been.

She pushed her bottle across toward me.

“ Try it, anyway. It is nothing remarkable, but you will see a difference.”

“ Dear me,” I thought, “ this is most singular. I never saw such directness; I never met such — h’m. She breaks down all barriers ; she dispenses with all conventions ; really, she lets in quite a different air; what quarter does it blow from ? ” I felt the eye of the curate’s wife upon me, and would rather have had things different.

“ It is better,” I acknowledged. “ My next bottle shall be the same as yours.” I am not sure that I should have put it just in that way with everybody.

“You stay long enough, then, for a second ? ” Why should she want to know ? Why should she make her want known so badly ?

“ A day or two,” responded Stanhope. “ We see the temples, and then move on —to other temples.”

“ Like all the rest,” she said.

“ Are they ? ” I asked. “ We hoped they might be different.”

You are like all the rest. Nobody stops long enough.”

“ You stay longer? ” I remembered her reference to “our tempij.”

She looked thoughtfully into her glass.

“ Yes,” she replied in an altered tone, a tone of great quietness and restraint; “ I have been here some time.” And she became silent.

After a short lapse the conversation became general, and she reëntered it. Travel-talk: we exchanged feeble nothings about routes and accommodations; we praised here, and we condemned there, — all from the strict standpoint of personal experience. My Enigma touched on the hotels at Corfu, on the steamer for Tunis, on the express for Constantinople. She seemed to have been everywhere, to have seen everything, to have met everybody. She evoked responses, more or less in kind, from every quarter. Madame Brandt grew restive under all this indifferent discourse ; I could see that she felt herself capable of handling better material. She veered off toward politics; she had her own ideas on everything and a policy for everybody. Her “ little country ” was evidently outside the circle of great things ; hers was a broad, external vision, and embraced all powers and potentates in its easy and masterful sweep. Politics was her hobby ; so she mounted her steed and swung round the track finely ; she kicked up a tremendous lot of dust, and took every hurdle without blinking an eyelash.

But this demonstration led to no counter-demonstration from our neighbor over the way. To all other leads she would respond, but not to the lead political. She who appeared to know so much on every other subject was dumb on the subject of statecraft. At the first opportunity she gave the talk a strong twist in the direction of art and literature. She was better acquainted with the new men in Paris than I was myself, and she made easy casual references to men of the North whose names I had never even heard. She had a good deal to say about the later lights in Italian literature, — especially some of the more dubious ones, whom she appeared to have met personally; and she commented with an unceremonious frankness on a few of the more fragrant practitioners of present-day French fiction. Stanhope became completely engrossed. She gave him intimate details about authors he was already familiar with ; she made suggestions for readings in new authors whose names he had barely heard ; she launched him bodily upon all the currents and cross-currents and counter-currents of Continental fiction, — she almost swamped him. She led him on from fact to theory, and from theory to practice, and from practice to ethics. Those strong white hands of hers took a firm grip upon the trunk of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and made a mighty rustle overhead among its leaves. There was one moment when I thought I almost saw things as they were, — all things save the speaker’s self. She involved the whole table : the baron warmed to life ; the curate flamed in protest; the saffron - eyed young man (who turned out to be a Croat) clamored against her assumptions and conclusions ; until Madame Brandt, who was as deeply involved as anybody (and whose expressions showed at once a wide tolerance and a generous idealism), became suddenly conscious of the presence of her offspring. These two young creatures sat there side by side, with downcast eyes and attentive ears, — rather disconcerted by an interchange of ideas that had never before come within their ken. Their mother, returning to herself, gave a shrug, laid her own hand upon the trunk of the tree, and quieted down its agitated foliage before too many leaves had detached themselves and come fluttering down in the wrong direction.

The situation had been most promising, most inspiring. Ah, these young girls, these tedious young girls, — how much they have to answer for !

We were at the fruit. The disputantin-chief stopped the waiter, looked over his offerings with a leisurely yet critical eye, made her choice, called for an extra plate, arranged her pears and grapes upon it, rose unceremoniously, bade us all a brusque yet good-tempered bon soir, and walked out of the room.

I looked after her, — with a certain intentness, perhaps. Then, turning back, I detected Madame Brandt looking with a like intentness at me. I smiled; but she turned away without any change of expression. How long had her observations been going on ?

I followed Stanhope into the smokingroom. We had it to ourselves.

“ Well ? ” said I.

“ Well ? ” said he.

“ What is she ? ” I asked.

“ Make your own guess. I thought at the beginning that she might be one of those Baltic Germans.”

“ She is n’t.”

“ A Dane, then ? A Finn ? A Croat, — another of them ? Or a — a ” —

I did not wait for further conjecture. “ Time will show, perhaps. She is a ‘ linguist,’ remember ; she will lapse into her own tongue in due course. I’m sure she has n’t done so yet. When she does, may we be able to recognize it.”

“ She spoke to the dog,” submitted Stanhope.

“ Humph ! ” said I. Then, “ What is she doing here ? ” I added.

“ She is a companion,” he replied. “ That black figured silk — her one good gown.”

“ If you are going to be farcical ! ” I exclaimed. “ Companion ! Did you ever meet any one less secondary, less subordinate ? ”

“ She is a nurse, then ; or a female courier, — she knows everything.”

“ ' Female courier ’ ? ' Female free-

lance ’ would be better. Couriers and such have their own dining-room here. She is an adventuress.”

“ Don’t be too hasty,” said Stanhope.

“ Well, then, a grass widow, waiting for the husband — or the remittance — that never comes. She ’s been here some time, it seems.”

“ Don’t be so uncharitable,” said Stanhope.

“ How she talked before those children ! ”

“ She said what all thinking persons must believe.”

“ That does n’t help. Come, come, what is she, then ? ”

“ A political agent, perhaps. She followed every other lead.”

“Would politics lead her to Girgenti?”

“ This province is certainly a political factor ; those sulphur - mines, all these communal disturbances ” —

“ Nonsense.”

“ Well, then, she is a ” —

“ A what ? ” I demanded.

“ A cosmopolite.”

“ I see you are at the end of your string,” I said.

Girgenti sits whity-gray on its high hilltop and looks out upon two worlds: landward, into the Inferno of the sulphur-mines ; seaward, over the Paradiso of the almond-groves. The two worlds were before us, where to choose: should we take the miseries of the sulphurworkers, evidenced by the dismal piles of refuse that disfigured the stripped and glaring hillsides of the interior, or should we follow that long and suave slope waterward, where bands of singing peasantry ply their mattocks under the tangled shade of vine and almond and olive, and where, on the last crest of the descending terraces, the yellow and battered temples of the old Greek day look out upon the blueness of the sea and up into the blueness of the sky ? We chose as artists, not as philanthropists, not as humanitarians : we took the groves, the vineyards, the temples.

We were well into the latter half of February, — the spring had fully declared itself. We stepped from the coffee-room out upon the terrace, to take a comprehensive glance over the field of our coming labors. The morning was cloudless ; the air was fresh, yet mild ; groups of cypress-trees rose straight and dark through the pink cloud-blooms of the almond-trees; and the sea and the sky met in one high, clear, uncompromising line that ran from the tossing hilltops on our left to the long, heaving promontory on our right.

“ Here lies our day’s work before us ! ” I cried, — “ map and panorama all in one. There’s the first of our temples down on the ridge just behind that olive - grove, and over yonder are two or three more. Where is the one they make all those models and photographs of, I wonder, — the one with the three or four columns and the bit of entablature ? ”

“More to the right,” said Stanhope. “ Yes, everything is laid out before us, truly. And what have you ever seen more Greek than this landscape, —more marked by repose, moderation, symmetry, suavity ? And how can we see it better than by continuing to stand precisely where we are ? ”

“You are right,” I returned. “ This is one of the loveliest landscapes in the world, so that our duty toward it is perfectly clear : we must trample on it, we must jump into the midst of it, we must violate it; we must do everything but leave well enough alone. Come, the road down leads to the left.”

So, partly by means of the highroad, partly by following a rocky little footway that took its willful course between ragged old stone walls through bean-beds, barley-fields, and olive-groves, we passed down to the temple of Juno.

The temple stands on a sandstone ledge, close to the mossy ruins of the old town walls ; we seemed as high above the sea as ever. There was an empty carriage waiting under a gnarled old olive near one corner of the structure. Within the cella we saw the two daughters of Madame Brandt clambering over the vast broken blocks that strewed the pavement, and on the steps outside, with her back comfortably fitted into the fluting of one of the worn and weathered columns of yellow sandstone, sat Madame Brandt herself.

“ You are early,” she said, rising. “ But we are earlier. Let me welcome you, let me guide you, let me introduce you,” with a genial wave of the hand over the whole lovely prospect. Away above us was the Rock of Athena, which we might climb for the view ; away below us was Porto Empedocle with its shipping, best seen from a distance. In the midst of the landscape — the heart of the rose, she called it — was the old church of San Nicola with its gardens. “ Take everything,” she added ; " take even this beautiful air, if you have a page in your sketch-book for anything like that.” She became suddenly pensive. " Such a day, such an air,” she went on presently, " would make a sick man well, if anything could.” She seemed to look back toward the hotel.

“ Oh,” said I, fingering my sketchbook, as it stuck half out of my pocket, “ I don’t know that I shall do anything in particular. Landscape, architecture, all very nice, but no human interest. Good background, of course, but something more needed for the actual subject.”

“ There is human interest everywhere,” she replied in the same pensive tone.

“ What else has kept me here ? ” she added, half beneath her breath. Then she shook herself, and her old brusque gayety came uppermost again. “I’m human ; I’m interesting. So are my girls ; make something out of them.”

“ Nothing better, I’m sure,” said Stanhope. He began to climb up into the cella ; the two doves were to be summoned forthwith. The division of labor begun in the hotel drawing-room on the previous evening was to continue, then : he had entertained the daughters with the last battle of flowers at Palermo, while I had listened to the mother on the policy of Russia in Central Asia. Stanhope thinks the young girl indispensable ; he drags her into all his stories, and is always trying to force her into my pictures.

“ Don’t let me disturb your daughters,”I hastened to say. " You are here yourself; you ’re in the foreground; yon ’re practically posed already.”

“ But my girls are thought rather pretty,” insisted Madame Brandt stoutly, from the length of battered cornice on which she had seated herself.

“ H’m,” said I in return ; " the principal thing is n’t prettiness, nor even beauty. The principal interest is in expression ; and expression comes from experience, and experience follows on participation in life.”

“ Well, I have participated,” she rejoined ; “I ’m not insipid, if my poor girls do seem so. I have n’t vegetated; I have — I have — banged about considerable. Is that the way you say it, —

' banged about considerable ’ ? I am so fond of using those expressions, though I have n’t kept up my English as I should. But do you consider me very much battered and defaced ? ”

“ I would n’t have you the least changed, —unless you choose to change the slant of your head the merest shade to the left.”

“ Very well.” Then, “You needn’t come, children. Run and pick some flowers; let the gentleman help you. Only don’t go very far.”

“ There,” I said, " now I have everything I want, — you, and the temple, and a bit of the town wall, and some of the tombs in the wall (you said they were tombs, I think), and a stretch of the sea-line — No, it’s too much ; move back to your column, please; I shall take you just for yourself.”

“ Very well.” She moved back. " But I’m not sure,” she went on, with a little air of close scrutiny, " that I like to find a man under thirty preferring old women to younger ones.”

“ Character is the great thing,” I insisted. “You are to pass on me, not as a man, but as an artist.”

“ There is a difference,” she observed. “ You will go to Florence ? ” she asked presently, with an effect of absentness. “ It is full of pensions, and the pensions are full of dear old ladies.”

“ Life - histories, and all that,” I admitted. “ But I find the same thing here,” I said, with intention.

“ Here ? Ah, I see,” she replied, as she glanced upward at the weatherworn stretch of entablature that still bridged over spaces here and there between the columns ; “ one old ruin reposing in the shadow of another ! ” She gave a quizzical squeeze and twinkle to those dark eyes of hers.

“ Of course I don’t mean you! ”

“ Do you mean yourself ? Are you really so world-worn ? And I thought you seemed such a good young man! ”

I suppose I am a good young man, when you come to it; but why throw it in my face ? “ No, I don’t mean myself,”

I protested.

“ Oh, I know what you would say,” she went on, with a shrug. “ It is simply that you are fond of reading human documents, — is that the way you express it ? — fond of reading human documents, provided they have n’t come too lately from the press.”

“ Precisely. Gothic, black letter, uncials, hieroglyphs, — anything, in fact, with sufficient age and character to make it interesting.”

“ And you rather like to puzzle things out for yourself ? ”

“ I don’t like to be helped too much, of course.”

“ And you generally decipher your manuscript in the end ? ”

“ Why, yes, generally.”

She rubbed a forefinger over the face of her column, and detached a tiny seashell or two from its bed in the yellow mass. “ Well, the hotel library is full of old things ; some of them fall to pieces in your hands.”

“ And others are so strongly and stiffly bound that you can hardly force them to lie open. But I shall read them yet.”

“ Only don’t take hold of them upside down ; you would injure your own eyes and do injustice to the author’s text.” She fixed her eye on my pencil. “ How far have you got with me? ”

“I have finished. But I think I shall put in the water-line and a bit of the coast, after all, to remind you that you are four hundred feet above the sea. ”

“ What is four hundred ? I am used to four thousand,” she declared recklessly.

“Four thousand ? ”

“ Yes. I tramp over the mountains. I love them. They do me good.” Then, “ Well, if you have finished, I may move, I suppose. I must have those children back.”

“Here they come,” I said. “Their hands are full of flowers.”

So were Stanhope’s. The pains he is capable of taking with chits of sixteen and eighteen ! He makes himself absurd.

“ Come, girls,” cried Madame Brandt joyfully, “ come and see what has happened to your mother ! ”

The girls came up with shy smiles of decorous expectation.

“ Yes, here I am, true enough,” declared Madame Brandt, as she looked over the drawing. “ Only ’ — and she stopped.

Only what ? What did she find amiss, in Heaven’s name ? It was but a rapid impromptu, — not fifty strokes all told, — yet I had caught the woman unmistakably.

“ Only you have n’t exactly made a Norwegian of me, after all.”

She was a Norwegian, then? I should never have guessed it. It is easy enough now to descant upon Madame Skjelderup-Brandt’s out-of-door quality, to talk about the high, clear atmosphere of the North, to dwell on the fresh tang of the breezes from across the fjords. . . . Esprit d’escalier.

I must have seemed a bit crestfallen. I must have looked as if I expected to be told that I had simply worked my own nationality into the portrait, — most odious of all comments. I think she saw that she must make amends.

“ No, you have not made a good Norwegian of me ; but that may be because I am not a good Norwegian. You look into me and see me for what I am. You make me an American.”

There, she had said it, after all, and said it as bluntly as you please.

“ Why, really ” — I began protestingly.

“ You see more than the mere me,” she went on quickly. “ You see my hopes, my aspirations ; you detect my secret and cherished preferences ; you ” —

“ Why, really ” — I began again, puzzled.

“ It is a real piece of divination ! ” she cried, — her actual words, I assure you. " How could you know that I have a son in Milwaukee ? He has been over there two years, and he is making his everlasting fortune, — or so I hope. ‘ Everlasting fortune,’ — is that well said ? Ah, thanks. And how could you know that I have a sister-in-law in Minnesota ? She has been over there six. She likes it; she won’t come back, except every third summer for a few weeks. And how could you know that it has been the dream of my life to go over there, too ? I think of nothing else ; I read their papers ; I even allow my daughters to go picking flowers round ruined temples with new young men. . . . Oh, how you see through me, how you understand me, how you frighten me ! ”

“ Why, really ” — I began once more, half flattered ; while Stanhope gave me a curious glance as if to ask, “ What has been going on here ? What is the woman trying to bring about ? ”

“ But whatever in the world am I doing,” proceeded Madame Brandt, “with a Greek temple and a Mediterranean horizon behind me ? Your background should have been quite a different one. You should have stood me in front of an elevator,” — she threw out her plump arms to indicate a capacity of a million bushels, — " or else in front of a skyscraper. Ah, what a lovely, picturesque word, ‘ sky-scraper ’ ! I’m so glad to have a chance to use it! ”

I reached out for the drawing. “ I will change it,” I volunteered.

“ Yes,” said Stanhope ; “ change it from a souvenir to a prophecy.”

“No,” responded Madame Brandt; “ let it stay as it is, a souvenir and a prophecy combined.”

So Madame Brandt remained GræcoAmerican, to the exclusion of her native Norway, — that was the “ little country.” And if she were Norwegian, why might not the other two ladies be Norwegian as well ?

“ You are not without compatriots here ? ” I was feeble enough to remark.

“ By no means,” she assented.

“ The little lady who sat opposite us at dinner last night may be one of them ? ”

“ Yes.”

“ And the other lady who sat opposite us might be one of them, too ? ”

“ No.”

She concentrated her attention on the sketch. “ You are so clever,” she said, — her precise words : “ you see into everything ; there are no secrets from you ; everything is an open book to you, — or will be, in the end.” And, “ No help from me,” —were those the words she barely saved herself from saying ? “I shall value this,” she went on. “ I shall lay it at the top of my trunk ; it will be the first thing I unpack and put up in place at Syracuse.”

Stanhope and the two daughters were seated on a wrecked and prostrate column, busy with the innocent blooms of the springtide.

“ You go so soon ? ”

“ Almost at once. The carriage waiting there under the tree will take us straight to the station.”

“ Oh, fie! ” said I, myself casting about for some floral offering that would suitably grace this departure ; “one might tax you with seeing Girgenti between trains! ”

“Quite the contrary. We have been here a long time, — much longer than I could have foreseen. This is the last of my visits to the ruins, my farewell. But I think I may go now with a good conscience. My girls ” —

“ I see. Quite right. The question is whether you can stay with a good conscience. I am no more an advocate than you yourself of overplain speaking at a public dinner-table. You are right in wishing to remove your daughters beyond the range of — beyond the range of ” —

“ Beyond the range of Greek art. Precisely. They are almost too young for temples — after the first fortnight.”

“ The lady who is not Norwegian,” I began, — “ it may be that you do not altogether approve of her ? ”

Madame Brandt looked at me with quite a new expression ; was it a smile, was it a frown, or was it a combination of the two ?

“The question is whether she will altogether approve of me.”

“ What charming humility ! ” I cried. “ But I should never have charged you with affectation.”

“ Affectation is my sole fault,” she said dryly. " I must do the best I can to remedy it.” She summoned her girls. “ Yes, we must go, but I hope that you will be in no hurry to leave ; there is a great deal of interest here.”

“ There will be less,” I said gallantly.

“ Oh, youth, youth ! ” I thought I heard her murmur, “ how far is it to be depended upon ? ”

We saw Madame Brandt off for Catania and Syracuse, and then went on with our temples. We passed hither and thither, through lane and grove and field and orchard, and took those entrancing old ruins one after another in all their dispersedness and variety. Some of them still stood upright on their stocky old legs, and lifted their battered foreheads manfully into the blue ; others had frankly collapsed, and lay there, so many futile and mortifying heaps of loose bones, amidst the self - renewing and indomitable greenery of the spring. The last temple of all consisted, as Stanhope put it, of nothing but a pair of legs and a jaw-bone. We found this scanty relic in a farmyard that stood high up on the sheer edge of a deep watercourse, — a winding chasm, whose sides were densely muffled with almonds and shimmering olives, and whose bottom was paved with groves of orange-trees in the last glowing stages of fruition. Nothing was left of the temple but a pair of broken, stumpy columns, and a bit of sculptured cornice (in the egg-and-dart pattern) which lay buried in the ground before the farmhouse door, — that was the jaw-bone. Through the velvety cleft of the waterway we looked up to the town high above on its hilltop, and presently we began the ascent to the hotel, passing through one of those steep and rugged and curious sandstone channelings that so abound in the environs of Girgenti, and that might pass either as the work of the artificers of the old Greek days, or — equally well — as the work of Nature herself, the oldest artificer of all.

At lunch we found the places of Madame Brandt and her two daughters occupied by a French marquis, an abbé (his companion), and a missionary bishop from Arizona. The Dutch baron was again in isolation, as neither of the two Norwegian ladies (so I called them for convenience’ sake) appeared at table. However, he conversed amicably with the marquis, — on the basis of the Almanach de Gotha, I suppose. But their talk had no interest for me ; the absence of the three ladies of the evening before (I am not referring in any way to the two girls) robbed the meal of all its flavor. Just before the arrival of the cheese the bishop began on the cowboys and the Chinese, but I am not at all sure that I gave him due attention. After lunch the bishop and the curate drew together for a confab, the marquis and his abbé settled down in the drawing-room for a game of piquet, and Stanhope and I tramped up to the town to get the cathedral off our minds.

The cathedral was dull, the townspeople were exasperating, and the views, however magnificent, no longer possessed complete novelty. We clattered through a good many streets and squares with a pack of dirty and mannerless little boys at our heels, until the homicidal spirit that is said to be in the air of the place began to stir dangerously in our own breasts.

“This won’t do,” said Stanhope, at last. “ We ’ve seen about everything there is, and I don’t want to fill up the remaining hours with murder. What shall we do ? Where shall we go ? ”

“ That church we were told about,” I suggested, — “ the one with the gardens.”

“It must be down under that group of stone-pines. Come, it ’s only half a mile ; let’s try it.”

We descended toward the church—• the old church of San Nicola — that had been so pointedly commended by Madame Brandt. Behind the church there is a little old disused monastery, with bits of dog-tooth and zigzag mouldings about its Norman doors and windows ; below the monastery there is a garden with an orange-grove and a long pillared walk under grapevines ; above the garden there is a mossy and neglected terrace that lies under the shadow of a spreading pine-tree; and seated upon the terrace, with a book in her hand, we encountered the amazon of yester-eve’s dinner-table.

“ Dear me ! ” said Stanhope, — rather blankly, as I felt. I thought, too, that I detected displeasure in his tone, — repugnance, possibly.

The lady sat in a rude wooden chair; she had a drooping and dejected aspect. The book looked like a volume of poetry, and she held it with a peculiar twist of her thick, peasant-like wrist, upon which she wore a silver chain bracelet, whose links were larger and clumsier than they need have been. She was still in black, and if her face had seemed lined and worn in the tempered light of the dinnertable lamp, how much more so did it seem in the searching light of day!

“ She is absolutely haggard,” I murmured, “ and as pale as you please. This is sad, sad indeed.”

She looked up with the complete selfpossession that I had already assigned to her as her special attribute, and gave us a kind of wan smile that had, however, its own tinge of the informal and the familiar. It really amounted to a summons to approach, or — if I may use another law term — to a piece of special pleading.

So I shall state it, at least. — though, to tell the truth, her peculiar physiognomy complicated the problem considerably. Her prominent cheek-bones quite brought confusion into any established scheme of values ; and the singular obliquity of her eyes added another difficulty to the precise reading and rendering of her expression. Above all, she called for a background of her own. She was not the woman of the night before, but that cry was just as acute and insistent now as then. No Sicilian garden, no still and shimmering sea, could fill in the frame ; she called for something broader, bleaker, ruggeder, than either imagination or memory was able to supply.

“ They set out this chair whenever they see me coming,” she said. “ I will ask them to bring two more.”

“ You come here frequently, then ? ” asked Stanhope.

“ I have come here three or four times a week for the last month or more.”

The woman who had admitted us appeared again from the range of disused convent offices on the far side of the church. They seemed to serve at once as homestead, stableyard, storehouse, and playground for an abundant progeny. She held her baby on one arm, and with the other she worked a second heavy chair across the jolting irregularities of the terrace. She made some apologetic remark in her native Sicilian.

“ This is the other one,” said our selfappointed hostess, interpreting, “ the last one. There is no third. One of you must stand. ”

“ I will,” said Stanhope promptly. “ Never mind me, anyway ; I will move about a bit. There seems to be plenty to see.” I made no doubt of his willingness to escape from such a milieu.

The woman retired with her baby, and Stanhope followed her to see the rarities of the place.

“ You are fond of this spot? ” I said to my companion.

“ Very,” she acquiesced. " This is the part of Girgenti that wears the best and the longest. And I have made friends with the people. What companionship is there in all those cold, empty temples ? ”

Not an archæological student, evidently, nor one of those trifling sketchers.

“The longest,” —I carried these words over and lingered on them with a marked emphasis. " You count time by the month here.”

“ To me a month is a month, — yes. There are others to whom each month is a year.”

I was not ready yet to ask her in so many words what kept her here ; that would come later. " And you are fond of poetry, too,” I observed, with an eye on her book.

She placed the volume on the balustrade of the terrace: it was Leopardi. Stanhope himself might easily have found a place there, had he but chosen. Sometimes I think him overchoice, overcareful. His very profession should demand, if not more tolerance, at least a greater catholicity of taste.

She turned the book over, so that it lay face downward. “I should have brought something different,” she said.

“You are sad enough as it is?” I ventured.

“ This is not the world that it was meant to be,” she returned,

“ Things do go awry,” I admitted.

“ We ourselves are warped, wronged, twisted. Our natural rights ” —

I paused. It was on the subject of natural rights that she had been most vehement the evening before : the discussion had involved the right to die, the right to live, even the right to slay.

I was hoping for a fuller utterance from her.

“I am afraid I am thinking, not of natural rights,” she replied, " but of unnatural wrongs. I have been down into the sulphur-mines once more.”

Was Stanhope right ? Was she a political agitator ? She was clever, I saw, and might be dangerous, I felt certain.

“ Yes,” said I, " things are desperately bad hereabouts, I know. Could it be in any other land than Italy that such ” —

She glanced at me with a new expression. It was covert, it was fleeting ; but I had never seen it before, either on her face or on another’s.

“ In my country,” I went on, " something would be done. But the Italian — when it comes to practical affairs, you know. Can you imagine that we in America would for a moment allow " —

“ I am not sure of the utility or of the justice of international comparisons,” she broke in. " There is always the tendency to compare the foreign reality, not with our own reality, but with our own local ideal.”

“ But in your country ? ” I urged.

She was silent for a moment. A shadow of that strange new expression stole over her face. “ I have no country. Or, better, all countries are my country, now.”

I was to learn little, I saw. “ They are the most wretched of the wretched,” I said, turning back.

“ I should be glad to help them.”

Can nothing be done ? ” I asked.

“ By me? By one poor alien woman, when government, when the collective intelligence of the race, fails to solve the problem ? No, I have renounced general beneficence, along with general ideas. I have one or two families that I help,” she added simply.

This, then, was her cue: she was turning from rights to duties. A more obtuse observer than I would not have failed to perceive penitence in her attitude, regret, even remorse, in her voice. Instinctively I put a bit of drapery about her, and made her the genius of Reparation, of Expiation.

I determined not to make my disapproval of her too manifest, but I had no idea of permitting the duties of to-day to crowd out the rights of yesterday.

“ You give the poor creatures the right to die,” I suggested. “ You do not deny the right of suicide to the wretched, the downtrodden, any more than to the indelibly disgraced, the hopelessly crippled, the mortally ill, the ” —

It was this doctrine that had brought the curate to his feet in protest. Do not consider me over-insistent ; I am sure that I was but justifiably interested.

“ The mortally ill ! ” she sighed. She looked across the garden, and through the high flat tufts of the pines, and up the hill slope beyond; I fancied for a moment that her eye rested on the terrace of the hotel. " They have only to wait! ” she breathed.

She half rose, and as she settled back into her chair she shook out the folds of her skirt. I was conscious of some faint perfume — was it sweet, was it pungent? — that seemed to emanate from her. I instantly figured her as less of a culprit and more of a victim, — though a victim to herself, indeed. A varied catalogue of drugs; stimulants, anodynes, passed through my mind. For two or three moments I saw her own course of life as one long, slow suicide.

Stanhope passed below us, personally conducted through the garden. He paused over three or four children who were engaged in weeding out a vegetable bed, and I saw him stop for a moment before a donkey tethered to a medlar-tree. He took out his notebook, — for the children’s aprons and the donkey’s ears, I suppose : such details appear necessary, to him.

“ But there is the right to kill,” I insisted softly, — " the right of indigent and overburdened relatives to relieve at once the strain upon themselves and upon a hopeless and agonizing victim ; the right, too, of a deceived and outraged husband to ” —

I seemed to see the brown volume on the balustrade stamped with a new title : Tue-la!

It was this last right that she had most vigorously denied and combated the night before. The baron from Leyden had pleased himself by opposing her; he appeared to hold (or to have adopted forthe nonce) the old-established notion of woman as property, — a doctrine that struck sparks from her mind and from her eyes as instantaneously as a blow strikes sparks from a flint.

Would a spark be struck now ? Do not consider me indiscreet; I am sure that I was but properly curious.

But no further spark was struck. She looked at me a little doubtfully, I thought, and began to arrange a bit of ruching at her neck with one of those large, blanched, bony hands. And I noticed just behind her ear a very perceptible scar.

“ That is a literary question, after all,” she observed merely. But it was more than a literary question ; for I saw in a flash a woman at variance with her husband, and subject (perhaps justifiably) to his violence.

I had another glimpse of Stanhope, still following the mother and babe ; he was making the circuit of a vast tank that was half filled with brown water. He slipped along over its broad, smooth stone borders, and leaned over its unprotected edge to count the pipes that crossed its bottom and that were brought to sight by the slanting sunbeams. I wondered how many children had been drowned there. I saw him make another entry in his notebook,—the number, perhaps.

“The right to live and to love, — is that a literary question, too ? ” I insinuated smoothly ; “ the right of those to whom fortune never comes, yet from whom youth and spirit are day by day departing ; the right of her who has waited, waited, yet before whom no wooer has ever appeared ” —

I looked at the book once more ; it now seemed stamped with still another title, — Les Demi-Vierges, a work that my companion had herself cited the evening before.

Do not consider me indelicate ; I am sure that I was only — only— But I can trust to your kind discernment to find the word.

I shall not say that she had expressed too pointed an opinion on this last matter, which had been approached but remotely, of course, and indeed very largely by implication. Nobody had been too definite about it, except the saffron-eyed young Croat; though why should so very young a man have entered into the thing at all ?

My companion moved a little uneasily, and her glance, which had hitherto been bold and frank enough in all conscience, fell to the pavement with something that resembled modesty, — an offended modesty, if you will.

“ Whether it is a literary question or not,” she responded, “ it is a question that need not be discussed too freely.”

She rose, and reached out for her book, as if to move away. Yet I saw her as a woman who had taken much more than a mere book or so into her own hands.

She did move away, but at the head of the steps she paused. She gave me a perfectly inexplicable glance out of those slanting eyes of hers. “ Ah,” she said, “ you are a man, — a young man.”

“Yes,” I rejoined very steadily, “I am a young man. And you,” I hastened to add, “ you are a woman, and an unhappy woman.” I still felt a large measure of distaste for her, but distaste did not altogether bar the way to pity,

“ You are wrong,” she replied. “ I am seldom unhappy unless I stop to think, and I seldom stop to think unless I am idle. I have been idle, I acknowledge.”

She glanced back over the terrace: there, she made it plain, was the scene of her idleness. I was not sorry to have happened along and to have brought her idle hour to an end. Then she transferred her glance to me. Could she have meant to imply that the time passed in conversation with a clever young man of the world was simply — But, no ; no.

“ Yes, you are young,” she went on ; “ and the great gifts of the gods are yours to enjoy,—strength, youth, freedom.”

Freedom ? Was she viewing me as a bachelor or as an American ? No matter ; I was equally free from matrimonial entanglements and from social and political oppression.

We descended into the garden, and she began to walk toward the gate at the bottom of it.

“ I leave you here,” she said. “ I have a key to the gate ; I shall go up by a shorter path.”

“You will find it rough. I’m afraid.”

“ Most paths are rough.” She paused, and looked at me for the last time. “ Yes, you have youth and freedom.”

Declare ! She was insisting on my youth just as the other woman had insisted on my goodness. Why annoy one so ?

“ Youth and freedom,” she repeated. “ May you learn to use the one before you have outgrown the other,” and she walked rapidly away.

Of course I shall outgrow my youth. But had I misused my freedom ?

Stanhope returned, as I stood there in speculation. “ Come with me,” he said. “ I have found off there an old Roman sanctuary made over into a Norman chapel ; and I dare say there will be some good things to see in the church itself.”

He looked after the retreating figure on its way to the foot of the garden. The woman, though she was not moving slowly, seemed to have a thoughtful, even a mournful droop of the head.

“ What is the matter ? ” asked Stanhope. “ Is she hurt?”

“ Hurt ? ” I echoed. “ By what ? ”

“ Is she offended ? ”

“ Offended ? With whom ? ”

We passed through some beds of peas and radishes to the sanctuary. It was a square Roman erection to which an early Gothic vaulting had been added. Through the broken pavement we caught sight of a burial-chamber beneath, with some remains of bones.

“ Well,” said Stanhope, as we viewed together a few leg-bones and some thin broken segments of human skulls, “ I suppose you know now all that you wanted to know ; you have cracked the cocoanut and drained the milk. Certainly I gave you the opportunity, — almost made it ; openly, shamelessly, it might have been said.”

I was silent. He looked at me quizzically.

“ Come, what is her country ? Is she Finn, Swede, Servian, Icelandic, Montenegrin. Bashi-Bazouk ? ”

“ I — I don’t know,” I replied.

“ Then, what is she doing here ? ” he went on. “ Companion, governess, nurse, courier, student, author, reformer, exile ? ”

“I — I don’t think she said,” I murmured.

“ Well, then, what is her status ? ” he proceeded. “ Maid, wife, widow ? ”

“ I — I was just coming to that,” I responded, “ when — when she went away.”

“Well,” observed Stanhope, frilling the leaves of his notebook, “ I, at least, have something to show for the afternoon.”

He looked across over the back wall of the garden and up along the olive slopes that rose behind. A black figure, walking up to the hotel with little change in bearing, had just passed in front of the inclosing walls of a farmyard. Then he looked back suddenly at me.

“Yes, I left you alone with her,” he said, with an expression not easy to fathom, “ but perhaps I should have done better by staying there with you.”

We left Girgenti early the next morning. I had no further converse with the sphinx of the garden. She had come down to dinner the evening before, as had her companion ; and they might have sat together had they chosen, for the Dutch baron had slipped away during the afternoon. But they did not appear over-desirous of the public avowal of some hidden and secret tie ; for the lady who was Norwegian held her place and kept her eyes on her plate, while the lady who was not Norwegian moved down to the other end of the table — and kept her eyes on hers. A change had come, and other changes seemed impending.

We took our early coffee, and then stepped out on the terrace for one final look over the site of old Agrigentum, “ the most beautiful city of mortals.” The morning sun touched up our fountain, our flower-pots, and our box-hedges, and drove slantingly across the long, many-windowed front of the house itself.

I heard a slight cough overhead. I turned, and saw a young man at one of the upper windows. I started ; I shuddered. Never had I beheld such pallor, such emaciation. His light, long, thin, hair fell over temples absolutely colorless, and his bright blue eyes burned and stared with an unnatural largeness and brilliancy. He coughed once more, and again ; he caught at his breast with his slender, bony, bloodless hand. But another hand was clutching at him, — the very hand of Death.

Presently, at the window next beyond, appeared the figure of the little lady from the North. Her own eyes were as blue as his ; her own face was almost as colorless. She passed and repassed the window several times, and I saw the various objects that she carried in her hands, — flasks, brushes, slippers, pieces of underclothing. I found myself wondering whether the two windows belonged to the same room, and whether the window next beyond lighted the room of the other woman.

The head waiter came to tell us that the bus was ready to leave.

“There is more to know than ever,” I murmured, as I followed Stanhope through the house.

“You are entitled to know about her, at least,” he conceded. “ Ask the waiter.”

“As if I would!” I returned, with pride, and with some pique.

We were passing through the wide hallway that led across the middle of the house to the front.

“ Look at the register, then. I’ve seen a sort of guest-book lying about here somewhere, I believe.”

“ Here it is, now,” I rejoined, stepping toward a small table. “ Bah ! it’s only a fortnight old ! ”

“ Fatality ! ” commented Stanhope. “ Have you got the sticks and umbrellas ? Come along, then.”

We left the problem unsolved, and joined the general stream of travel eastward. New types presented themselves at new places, and Girgenti and its denizens ceased to occupy my thoughts. At Syracuse, for example, we met an interesting group from New Orleans, who added their Southern accent to the soft and melting tones of Sicily ; and we studied the four officers who came in to dinner every evening, and made more noise at their own little table than the whole forty tourists did at their big one ; and we took a solid pleasure in the head waiter, who looked like a brigand, if anybody ever did, but who was as goodnatured and painstaking as you please. At Catania we came across the baron from Leyden, as sepulchrally silent as ever ; and we parleyed through one long dinner with a large family group from England, all brothers and sisters, all bachelors and spinsters, who were doing the island amicably in a body, — a compact and sturdy little English hamlet on the move. Perhaps their thatch was more or less out of repair, and their chimney-pots were a bit broken and battered, and their windows stuffed here and there with wisps of old straw; but they were one and all keeping wind and weather out most gallantly, and all seemed capable of holding together for many years to come. At Taormina we became rather ecclesiastical again. We met the missionary bishop in the Greek theatre, and we grazed the curate and his wife in one of the Gothic palaces. But principally we delighted in our own Hungarian prince, a tall, slender, ethereal person, who submitted to the crude wines of the house with a touching patience, and who kept a bald-headed valet busy half the day in brushing trousers on the promenade below our windows.

But we did not meet Madame Skjelderup-Brandt and those two inevitable daughters ; we did not meet the pathetic little lady from the North ; we did not meet the problematical person from Everywhere and Nowhere; nor did we receive the slightest sign or token of that hopeless young consumptive upon whom the hand of Death was already laid.

Nothing occurred to bring this group to mind — it was a group, I felt perfectly convinced—until we reached Messina.

The clientèle at the Hotel Trinacria, there, is largely native — professional and commercial—and largely masculine. The guests dine at two long tables. Ours had a sprinkling of ladies; the other was filled with lawyers and merchants, for a guess ; only one vacant seat was left there. I sat facing the door at the nearer of the tables. My vis-à-vis was a Calabrian marquis, they told me, who had come over from the mainland to spend his substance in riotous living, and whose manipulation of macaroni was riotous enough, in all conscience. But never mind him : the lady from Everywhere came in, passed us by, went on to the other table, and took that one vacant seat.

She was her earlier self once more. She wore the figured black silk dress and the silver bracelet. She made her entrée with easy self-possession, and sat down among all those men with as much assurance as you please. As she passed by she recognized us. She gave us a bow and a faint, tired smile.

“ She has forgiven you,” said Stanhope.

“ Forgiven me ? For what ? ”

“ She is a noble, generous, broadminded creature, I am sure,” said he.

“ Humph ! ” said I.

Though I could not keep her in view, because I sat with my back to the other table, I was conscious enough of her presence among that incongruous crowd of nondescripts. “‘Group!’ I should think it was a group ! ”

She was conversing freely in Italian with her neighbors, right and left. But the room was crowded and noisy, and her talk was difficult to overhear. I could see her face only now and then, by turning. But what I did see and hear in that room was the last of her. I left in the morning for Naples. I never met her again. I did not even think of her until months afterward in Florence.

We followed the spring northward. It was a spring of springs: the spring of Sicily in February ; the spring of the Bay of Naples in March; the spring of Rome in April; and the spring of the Val d’ Arno in May, — the last of them the loveliest and best.

The heart of the Florentine spring discloses itself in the Cascine, — most noble and unaffected of parks, — with Monte Morello looming up big on one side, and the Arno slipping smoothly past its poplars on the other. And the heart of the Cascine is the wide Piazzale, where the band comes to play just before sunset, and where the carabiniere in blue and black sits stiff on his tall horse to turn the tide of landaus and cabs and victorias and four-in-hands backward to the city. On one side of the Piazzale people assemble under the arcades of the Casino to eat their ices and to gossip ; on the other side they sit on stone benches round the big fountain-basin to listen to the music and to watch the world pass by.

I had enjoyed a long and intimate acquaintance with the arcades, so this time I chose the fountain. Upon one of the benches, close by a bed of cineraria, a lady was seated, alone. I recognized at once the grizzled hair, the dark eyes that crinkled up in welcome, and the chubby little hand that motioned me to take the place beside her. It was Madame Skjelderup-Brandt.

I was heartily glad to see her. The intervening months dropped out instantly ; it was like the forcing together of the two ends of an accordion: Syracuse, Taormina, Sorrento, and Rome all issued forth in a single tumultuous, resounding concord, and nothing was left between Girgenti and Florence.

“ Well, I have decided to go.”

This she said without one syllable of introduction.

“What!” I cried. “Just as I come?”

She laughed. “ I mean that I have decided to go to America. Next month.”

“ Good ! ” I cried again. “ They will like you.”

“ I hope so,” she responded. “ I want to like America, and I want America to like me. I am qualifying for the trip, you see.”

She gave a sort of humorous pat to the blue stone slab on which we were seated, and cast an indulgent smile over such of the middle public as sat on other benches and surveyed the passing of the great.

“ I should have expected to see you on wheels,” I observed.

“ I think I do as well here on this bench as I should in one of those odious cabs with a big green umbrella strapped on behind, and a bundle of hay stowed away under the driver’s legs. Yes, I am mingling with the populace; I am catching the true spirit of democracy.”

“ Do you need to qualify for democracy ? Norway itself is democratic. You have no titled nobility.”

Madame Brandt drew herself up. “ We have our old families.”

And I saw that she herself belonged to one of the oldest and best of them. She let herself down again almost immediately.

“ My girls are qualifying, too.” She waved her hand in a general way toward the arcades of the Casino, where, through the lined-up carriages and above the heads of the crowd that hemmed in the band, we saw people busy over their ices and syrups at the little round iron tables. “ They have gone off with some young man or other.”

“Poor children! " I sighed. “You are putting them through a course that is fairly heroic ; it will be make or break, I fear. You compel them to eat ices with strange men in Florence ; you force them to overhear dubious table-talk at Girgenti ” —

Madame Brandt looked at me with a slow seriousness ; then, without further preamble, “ The poor young man died,” she said.

“Hein ?” said I.

“ That poor young consumptive in Sicily. He died, after all. His mother has gone back to Christiania.”

“ Ah! ” I exclaimed. “ His mother, to be sure ! Poor little woman ! ”

“ Yes, it was hard for her, and for all the rest of us. I knew what was coming, but there was no need of my remaining longer. There were others quite as willing and far more able.”

“ There was one other, perhaps you mean.” I threw out this in a fine burst of intuition.

“One other, then. You didn’t like her, " added Madame Brandt, eying me narrowly.

“ I never understood her.”

“ Yet you are clever; you claim a good deal for yourself. You understood me.”

“ Not at first. Even your nationality was a puzzle to me.”

“ Was hers ? ”

“ It is yet.”

“ Is there so much difference, then, between a Norwegian and a Russian?”

“ A Russian ! ” I jumped to my feet. “ A Russian ! — I see, I see ! A Russian, — a Calmuck, a Cossack, a Tartar ! Yes, yes ; it is as plain as day ! ”

Here was the key at last. I saw the woman now in the right light and with the proper background.

“ I see ! ” I cried again. “ I understand. I’ve got the landscape that she needs. There is a big plain behind her, one of those immense steppes,”— I threw out my arms to indicate the wide flat reaches of mid-Russia, — “ and it’s covered with snow breast-deep, and the wind goes raging across the ” —

Madame Brandt touched my arm. “ Sit down, please; people are beginning to notice you.”

I took my place once more on that cold blue slab. “ The wind goes raging across that bare, unbroken stretch; and upon the horizon there is a town with those bulbous domes on all its churchtowers ; and in the middle distance there is a forlorn wooden village, with peasants in boots and blouses, and their hair cut square just above their shoulders ; and through the village there is a train of sledges moving along on the way to Siberia ; and there is a company of soldiers with ” —

“ Siberia,” repeated Madame Brandt in a low, pitying tone. “ You may well say Siberia.”

Hein ? ” I ejaculated again.

“The mines,” said Madame Brandt simply.

“ Was she in them ? ”

“ No, he was ; he died of consumption, too, poor young man.”

“ He ? Her lover ? ”

“ Her husband. He was young when they took him away. He was old enough when they brought him back.”

“ Her husband! ” I had another burst of insight. “ I know, I know; I have read their books. He was a student, and she was a student, and they made a student marriage. Then they conspired ; they were apprehended; they were put on trial; they were ” —

I was rising to my feet once more, but Madame Brandt held me down.

“ I do not know,” she said. “ He was a minor government official, I believe, and she was a merchant’s daughter from the far southeast. He was in the mines eight years. He died six months after his return, — less than a year ago. She did everything in the world to save his life, and went everywhere in the world with him ; and after his death she came back to the South for rest, change, study ” —

“ She went into the mines, too,” I suggested, “ at Girgenti. How could she bear to do it ? ”

“ She is a woman of rock, of iron,” replied Madame Brandt, “ and she has her own ideas of duty,”

Madame Brandt brought out this last word with a singular emphasis, and looked me long and steadily straight in the face.

“ Duty ? ”

“ Duty, I said, — duty, duty.”

“ I understand you, I think.”

“ You do not,” she ejaculated brusquely. “ You do not,” she repeated, in answer to my look of protesting surprise. “ You have densely, willfully misunderstood all along. Why do you suppose that woman spent six weeks in such a place as Girgenti ? To sketch the ruins ? To break blossoms from the almond-trees ? Not at all; she was there to help the young man’s mother keep her son alive.”

“ It was fortunate that his mother could bring so experienced a nurse.”

“Bring? Nurse?” Madame Brandt tapped her foot smartly on the gravel. “ They met in Sicily itself.”

“ It was fortunate, then, that she encountered so trustworthy an acquaintance.”

“ Acquaintance ? ” Madame Brandt’s eyes snapped, and she tugged viciously at the tips of her gloves. “ They met at Girgenti for the first time.”

“ It was fortunate, then, that ” —

“ Understand me,” said Madame Brandt sharply. “ They were total strangers ; they were thrown together by the mere chance of travel, and held together by that noble creature’s sympathetic heart and sense of duty. Why did she look so pale, so haggard ? Because she had yielded up ungrudgingly the last traces of her youthful good looks, because she had made herself live through all those dreadful days once more, in her efforts to spare another woman the sorrow that had been her own.”

I poked among the cineraria with my stick. “ But why was she so blunt, so bold ? ”

“ Why was I so blunt, so bold ? You were nonplused by my directness, I could see. I was simply a person of age and experience welcoming a person much younger, — an habituée giving greeting to a stranger just arrived.”

“ She was certainly a woman of experience,” I conceded, “ and as surely an habituée.”

“ Experience ! ” cried Madame Brandt in a strident tone. “ You have not heard the half. They had waited too long with that poor boy. At the last hour they hurried him south as fast as they could. He was doomed. I saw it; she saw it; the hotel - keepers saw it. Toward the end, no house would take him in for more than a night. At one place they were turned away from the very door, on the first sight of the poor boy’s dying face. She went with them, fought for them, took charge of everything, — for the young man was almost past speech, and his mother had nothing but her own native Norwegian ; until, at Messina — at Messina he had to be taken to the hospital. She went with him, nursed him, stayed with him till he died. She paid his doctors and attendants ; she saw his body prepared for the return home; she herself accompanied that poor mother as far back as Venice. She is an angel, if ever ” —

Madame Brandt sat there rigid on her seat. Her lips were trembling, but her words came out in a new tone, as if she had set her throat in a vise and did not dare to move it. A tear had started in each of her blinking eyes, her nostrils were inflated, and a tremor seemed to be running through the arms that she held tight against her sides. I remembered two or three other women who had reached this same effect before my eyes, — yet never except under the influence of some strong suppressed indignation. But what had Madame Brandt to be indignant about ?

She turned full on me, quite oblivious to the holiday crowd around.

“And you, you doubted her, you disparaged her, you disrespected her ! And I — I let you ; I was to blame, too ! But you seemed so clever, so experienced ; you claimed to read character and to know the world. I thought I could trust her to you ; I felt that nothing could assail her ” —

She gave a gurgling sob, twitched her handkerchief out of her pocket, and burst into tears.

By this time we had attracted the attention of the crowd most finely. I tried as best I might to quiet the poor woman down; but I was none too successful.

I was relieved to see the coming of her two daughters ; they cleared the last of the standing carriages, and came slowly across the intervening stretch of fine gravel. There was a man with them : it was Stanhope, as I might have divined. He came along with a new and peculiar air; if there had been only one girl, I should have said that he was approaching to ask the maternal blessing.

The sight of Madame Brandt in tears — or rather, the sight of that handkerchief before her face — made them quicken their steps. She did not lower her handkerchief to the solicitous inquiries of the girls ; she rose, pushed them along before her, felt round in the dark for Stanhope’s hand, which, when found, she gripped firmly and gave a long, vigorous shake, and then she walked away and took the girls with her. Her precise form of adieu to me — well, I am not quite sure that I determined it.

“ These Russians,” I said thoughtfully to Stanhope, as we passed through one of those avenues of lindens and beeches back to the city.

“ What about them ? ”

“ They are a study, —a study. For example, there was the young fellow we met last summer in Bedford Place : he had come over to London to learn English.”

“ I remember,” said Stanhope. “ He was so naif, so good-natured, so uncouth, so confiding, so disposed to assume a general friendliness on all sides, like a big Newfoundland puppy. He had the sweetest smile I ever saw, and the most appealing eyes. He was as frank and simple and direct as the frankest and simplest and most direct of our own people could have been ; and yet there was something more, something beyond ” —

“ Yes, there was something beyond ; we did n’t get it.”

“ And there was the Russian prince who — Have you been meeting any Russians to-day ? ” he asked suddenly.

“No, not to-day.”

— “ the Russian prince who was lecturing at Geneva on his country’s history and literature. He was as brilliant and polished as a Frenchman, as sympathetic and informal as an American ; but behind all that ” —

“ Behind all that there was the ‘something more ’ ? ”

“ Yes. I did n’t pay the best attention to his lecture, perhaps ; but he himself gave me the man-to-man feeling as no man ever did before.”

“ And there was the Russian lady,” I went on, “ whom we met last month in Rome at the Farnesina. I took her for an American at first, — she was so alert, so competent, so enthusiastic, so unconscious of self ; but ” —

“ The ‘ something more,’ again ? I know what it was in this case, at least; it was earnestness and solidity of temperament. Although she had the showy surface of a woman in society, her texture was altogether without the sleazy, flimsy ” —

“ Take care,” said I, dabbing at the shrubbery with my stick. “ There may be some Americans passing along behind this hedge.”

“ Let them pass,” he said ; “ there are other temperaments that I admire more.”

“ And there was even the pensionkeeper we met day before yesterday,” I went on, “ in the Via Landino ; what was that wonderful consonantal spree on her door-plate ? You remember her? — that great, broad, pink-and-white human cliff ; and with what a cosmic stare her old blue eyes blazed upon us from under those straight yellow brows ! An interview of two minutes, — she had no quarters for us, — but one of a striking intimacy and directness. She dismissed us with a sort of gruff, brusque kindness; but for that two minutes there seemed to be nothing between us, — she almost abolished the atmosphere ! ”

“ The Russians, yes,” said Stanhope. “ The breadth of life is theirs, and the belief in themselves, and all clearness of vision. They face the great realities, and see them for what they are ; they come up close to us and blow the fresh young breath of the near future into our faces. We are young, too; and our youth responds to theirs — or should.”

“‘Or should.’ we ought to visit them at home.”

“ So we ought.”

“ Will you go there with me this coming summer ? ”

“ I am going the other way.”

“ To America ? ” I inquired.

“ To America ; with Madame Brandt and her — her party.”

“ I understand she has a fondness for America.”

“ America will develop a fondness for her.”

I snatched a branch of laurel from the hedge, and stripped its leaves off one by one as we moved on.

“ H’m,” said I; “ T hope so, I am sure. She is something of a character in her way ; and character is the first of things, — except, you understand, the penetrative portrayal of it.”

Henry B. Fuller.