MRS. HUMPHRY WARD
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY ALBERT STERNER
TO ITALY THE BELOVED AND BEAUTIFUL, INSTRUCTRESS OF OUR PAST, DELIGHT OF OUR PRESENT, COMRADE OF OUR FUTURE:— THE HEART OF AN ENGLISHWOMAN OFFERS THIS BOOK.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
THE BEAUTIFYING OF LUCY
'I would that you were all to me, You that are just so much, no more. Nor yours nor mine, nor slave nor free! Where does the fault lie? What the core O' the wound, since wound must be?'
'Let us be quite clear, Aunt Pattie—when does this young woman arrive?'
'In about half an hour. But really, Edward, you need take no trouble! she is coming to visit me, and I will see that she doesn't get in your way. Neither you nor Eleanor need trouble your heads about her.'
Miss Manisty—a small elderly lady in a cap—looked at her nephew with a mild and deprecating air. The slight tremor of the hands, which were crossed over the knitting on her lap, betrayed a certain nervousness; but for all that she had the air of managing a familiar difficulty in familiar ways.
The gentleman addressed shook his head impatiently.
'One never prepares for these catastrophes till they actually arrive,' he muttered, taking up a magazine that lay on the table near him, and restlessly playing with the leaves.
'I warned you yesterday.'
'And I forgot—and was happy. Eleanor—what are we going to do with Miss Foster?'
A lady, who had been sitting at some little distance, rose and came forward.
'Well, I should have thought the answer was simple. Here we are fifteen miles from Rome. The trains might be better—still there are trains. Miss Foster has never been to Europe before. Either Aunt Pattie's maid or mine can take her to all the proper things—or there are plenty of people in Rome—the Westertons—the Borrows?—who at a word from Aunt Pattie would fly to look after her and take her about. I really don't see that you need be so miserable!'
Mrs. Burgoyne stood looking down in some amusement at the aunt and nephew. Edward Manisty, however, was not apparently consoled by her remarks. He began to pace up and down the salon in a disturbance out of all proportion to its cause. And as he walked he threw out phrases of ill-humour, so that at last Miss Manisty, driven to defend herself, put the irresistible question—
'Then why—why—my dear Edward, did you make me invite her? For it was really his doing—wasn't it, Eleanor?'
'Yes—I am witness!'
'One of those abominable flashes of conscience that have so much to answer for!' said Manisty, throwing up his hand in annoyance.—'If she had come to us in Rome, one could have provided for her. But here in this solitude—just at the most critical moment of one's work—and it's all very well—but one can't treat a young lady, when she is actually in one's house, as if she were the tongs!'
He stood beside the window, with his hands on his sides, moodily looking out. Thus strongly defined against the sunset light, he would have impressed himself on a stranger as a man no longer in his first youth, extraordinarily handsome so far as the head was concerned, but of a somewhat irregular and stunted figure; stunted, however, only in comparison with what it had to carry; for in fact he was of about middle height. But the head, face and shoulders were all remarkably large and powerful; the colouring—curly black hair, grey eyes, dark complexion—singularly vivid; and the lines of the brow, the long nose, the energetic mouth, in their mingled force and perfection, had made the stimulus of many an artist before now. For Edward Manisty was one of those men of note whose portraits the world likes to paint: and this 'Olympian head' of his was well known in many a French and English studio, through a fine drawing of it made by Legros when Manisty was still a youth at Oxford. 'Begun by David—and finished by Rembrandt': so a young French painter had once described Edward Manisty.
The final effect of this discord, however, was an effect of power—of personality—of something that claimed and held attention. So at least it was described by Manisty's friends. Manisty's enemies, of whom the world contained no small number, had other words for it. But women in general took the more complimentary view.
The two women now in his company were clearly much affected by the force—wilfulness—extravagance—for one might call it by any of these names—that breathed from the man before them. Miss Manisty, his aunt, followed his movements with her small blinking eyes, timidly uneasy, but yet visibly conscious all the time that she had done nothing that any reasonable man could rationally complain of; while in the manner towards him of his widowed cousin Mrs. Burgoyne, in the few words of banter or remonstrance that she threw him on the subject of his aunt's expected visitor, there was an indulgence, a deference even, that his irritation scarcely deserved.
'At least, give me some account of this girl'—he said, breaking in upon his aunt's explanations. 'I have really not given her a thought—and—good heavens!—she will be here, you say, in half an hour. Is she young—stupid—pretty? Has she any experience—any conversation?'
'I read you Adele's letter on Monday,' said Miss Manisty, in a tone of patience—'and I told you then all I knew—but I noticed you didn't listen. I only saw her myself for a few hours at Boston. I remember she was rather good-looking—but very shy, and not a bit like all the other girls one was seeing. Her clothes were odd, and dowdy, and too old for her altogether,—which struck me as curious, for the American girls, even the country ones, have such a natural turn for dressing themselves. Her Boston cousins didn't like it, and they tried to buy her things—but she was difficult to manage—and they had to give it up. Still they were very fond of her, I remember. Only she didn't let them show it much. Her manners were much stiffer than theirs. They said she was very countrified and simple—that she had been brought up quite alone by their old uncle, in a little country town—and hardly ever went away from home.'
'And Edward never saw her?' inquired Mrs. Burgoyne, with a motion of the head towards Manisty.
'No. He was at Chicago just those days. But you never saw anything like the kindness of the cousins! Luncheons and dinners!'—Miss Manisty raised her little gouty hands—'my dear—when we left Boston I never wanted to eat again. It would be simply indecent if we did nothing for this girl. English people are so ungrateful this side of the water. It makes me hot when I think of all they do for us.'
The small lady's blanched and wrinkled face reddened a little with a colour which became her. Manisty, lost in irritable reflection, apparently took no notice.
'But why did they send her out all alone?' said Mrs. Burgoyne. 'Couldn't they have found some family for her to travel with?'
'Well, it was a series of accidents. She did come over with some Boston people—the Porters—we knew very well. And they hadn't been three days in London before one of the daughters developed meningitis, and was at the point of death. And of course they could go nowhere and see nothing—and poor Lucy Foster felt herself in the way. Then she was to have joined some other people in Italy, and they changed their plans. And at last I got a letter from Mrs. Porter—in despair—asking me if I knew of anyone in Rome who would take her in and chaperon her. And then—well, then you know the rest.'
And the speaker nodded again, still more significantly, towards her nephew.
'No, not all,' said Mrs. Burgoyne, laughing. 'I remember he telegraphed.'
'Yes. He wouldn't even wait for me to write. No—"Of course we must have the girl!" he said. "She can join us at the villa. And they'll want to know, so I'll wire." And out he went. And then that evening I had to write and ask her to stay as long as she wished—and—well, there it is!'
'And hence these tears,' said Mrs. Burgoyne. 'What possessed him?'
'Well, I think it was conscience,' said the little spinster, plucking up spirit. 'I know it was with me. There had been some Americans calling on us that day—you remember—those charming Harvard people? And somehow it recalled to us both what a fuss they had made with us—and how kind everybody was. At least I suppose that was how Edward felt. I know I did.'
Manisty paused in his walk. For the first time his dark whimsical face was crossed by an unwilling smile—slight but agreeable.
'It is the old story,' he said. 'Life would be tolerable but for one's virtues. All this time, I beg to point out, Aunt Pattie, that you have still told us nothing about the young lady—except something about her clothes, which doesn't matter.'
Mrs. Burgoyne's amused gesture showed the woman's view of this remark. Miss Manisty looked puzzled.
'Well—I don't know. Yes—I have told you a great deal. The Lewinsons apparently thought her rather strange. Adele said she couldn't tell what to be at with her—you never knew what she would like or dislike. Tom Lewinson seems to have liked her better than Adele did. He said "there was no nonsense about her—and she never kept a fellow waiting." Adele says she is the oddest mixture of knowledge and ignorance. She would ask the most absurd elementary questions—and then one morning Tom found out that she was quite a Latin scholar, and had read Horace and Virgil, and all the rest.'
'Good God!' said Manisty under his breath, resuming his walk.
'And when they asked her to play, she played—quite respectably.'
'Of course:—two hours' practising in the morning,—I foresaw it,' said Manisty, stopping short. 'Eleanor, we have been like children sporting over the abyss!'
Mrs. Burgoyne rose with a laugh—a very soft and charming laugh—by no means the least among the various gifts with which nature had endowed her.
'Oh, civilisation has resources,' she said—'Aunt Pattie and I will take care of you. Now we have got a quarter of an hour to dress in. Only first—one must really pay one's respects to this sunset.'
And she stepped out through an open door upon a balcony beyond. Then turning, with a face of delight, she beckoned to Manisty, who followed.
'Every night more marvellous than the last'—she said, hanging over the balustrade—'and one seems to be here in the high box of a theatre, with the sun playing pageants for our particular benefit.'
Before them, beneath them indeed, stretched a scene, majestic, incomparable. The old villa in which they stood was built high on the ridge of the Alban Hills. Below it, olive-grounds and vineyards, plough-lands and pine plantations sank, slope after slope, fold after fold, to the Campagna. And beyond the Campagna, along the whole shining line of the west, the sea met the sunset; while to the north, a dim and scattered whiteness rising from the plain—was Rome.
The sunset was rushing to its height through every possible phase of violence and splendour. From the Mediterranean, storm-clouds were rising fast to the assault and conquest of the upper sky, which still above the hills shone blue and tranquil. But the north-west wind and the sea were leagued against it. They sent out threatening fingers and long spinning veils of cloud across it—skirmishers that foretold the black and serried lines, the torn and monstrous masses behind. Below these wild tempest shapes, again,—in long spaces resting on the sea—the heaven was at peace, shining in delicate greens and yellows, infinitely translucent and serene, above the dazzling lines of water. Over Rome itself there was a strange massing and curving of the clouds. Between their blackness and the deep purple of the Campagna, rose the city—pale phantom—upholding one great dome, and one only, to the view of night and the world. Round and above and behind, beneath the long flat arch of the storm, glowed a furnace of scarlet light. The buildings of the city were faint specks within its fierce intensity, dimly visible through a sea of fire. St. Peter's alone, without visible foundation or support, had consistence, form, identity.—And between the city and the hills, waves of blue and purple shade, forerunners of the night, stole over the Campagna towards the higher ground. But the hills themselves were still shining, still clad in rose and amethyst, caught in gentler repetition from the wildness of the west. Pale rose even the olive-gardens; rose the rich brown fallows, the emerging farms; while drawn across the Campagna from north to south, as though some mighty brush had just laid it there for sheer lust of colour, sheer joy in the mating it with the rose,—one long strip of sharpest, purest green.
Mrs. Burgoyne turned at last from the great spectacle to her companion.
'One has really no adjectives left,' she said. 'But I had used mine up within a week.'
'It still gives you so much pleasure?' he said, looking at her a little askance.
Her face changed at once.
'And you?—you are beginning to be tired of it?'
'One gets a sort of indigestion.—Oh! I shall be all right to-morrow.'
Both were silent for a moment. Then he resumed.—
'I met General Fenton in the Borgia rooms this morning.'
She turned, with a quick look of curiosity.
'I hadn't seen him since I met him at Simla three years ago. I always found him particularly agreeable then. We used to ride together and talk together,—and he put me in the way of seeing a good many things. This morning he received me with a change of manner—can't exactly describe it; but it was not flattering! So I presently left him to his own devices and went on into another room. Then he followed me, and seemed to wish to talk. Perhaps he perceived that he had been unfriendly, and thought he would make amends. But I was rather short with him. We had been real friends; we hadn't met for three years; and I thought he might have behaved differently. He asked me a number of questions, however, about last year, about my resignation, and so forth; and I answered as little as I could. So presently he looked at me and laughed—"You remind me," he said, "of what somebody said of Peel—that he was bad to go up to in the stable!—But what on earth are you in the stable for?—and not in the running?"'
Mrs. Burgoyne smiled.
'He was evidently bored with the pictures!' she said, dryly.
Manisty gave a shrug. 'Oh! I let him off. I wouldn't be drawn. I told him I had expressed myself so much in public there was nothing more to say. "H'm," he said, "they tell me at the Embassy you're writing a book!" You should have seen the little old fellow's wizened face—and the scorn of it! So I inquired whether there was any objection to the writing of books. "Yes!"—he said—"when a man can do a d——d sight better for himself—as you could! Everyone tells me that last year you had the ball at your feet." "Well,"—I said—"and I kicked it—and am still kicking it—in my own way. It mayn't be yours—or anybody else's—but wait and see." He shook his head. "A man with what were your prospects can't afford escapades. It's all very well for a Frenchman; it don't pay in England." So then I maintained that half the political reputations of the present day were based on escapades. "Whom do you mean?"—he said—"Randolph Churchill?—But Randolph's escapades were always just what the man in the street understood. As for your escapade, the man in the street can't make head or tail of it. That's just the, difference."'
Mrs. Burgoyne laughed—but rather impatiently.
'I should like to know when General Fenton ever considered the man in the street!'
'Not at Simla certainly. There you may despise him.—But the old man is right enough as to the part he plays in England.—I gathered that all my old Indian friends thought I had done for myself. There was no sympathy for me anywhere. Oh!—as to the cause I upheld—yes. But none as to the mode of doing it.'
'Well—there is plenty of sympathy elsewhere! What does it matter what dried-up officials like General Fenton choose to think about it?'
'Nothing—so long as there are no doubts inside to open the gates to the General Fentons outside!'
He looked at her oddly—half smiling, half frowning.
'The doubts are traitors. Send them to execution!' He shook his head.
'Do you remember that sentence we came across yesterday in Chateaubriand's letters "As to my career—I have gone from shipwreck to shipwreck." What if I am merely bound on the same charming voyage?'
'I accept the comparison,' she said with vivacity. 'End as he did in re-creating a church, and regenerating a literature—and see who will count the shipwrecks!'
Her hand's disdainful gesture completed the sally.
Manisty's face dismissed its shadow.
As she stood beside him, in the rosy light—so proudly confident—Eleanor Burgoyne was very delightful to see and hear. Manisty, one of the subtlest and most fastidious of observers, was abundantly conscious of it. Yet she was not beautiful, except in the judgment of a few exceptional people, to whom a certain kind of grace—very rare, and very complex in origin—is of more importance than other things. The eyes were, indeed, beautiful; so was the forehead, and the hair of a soft ashy brown folded and piled round it in a most skilful simplicity. But the rest of the face was too long; and its pallor, the singularly dark circles round the eyes, the great thinness of the temples and cheeks, together with the emaciation of the whole delicate frame, made a rather painful impression on a stranger. It was a face of experience, a face of grief; timid, yet with many strange capacities and suggestions both of vehemence and pride. It could still tremble into youth and delight. But in general it held the world aloof. Mrs. Burgoyne was not very far from thirty, and either physical weakness, or the presence of some enemy within more destructive still, had emphasised the loss of youth. At the same time she had still a voice, a hand, a carriage that lovelier women had often envied, discerning in them those subtleties of race and personality which are not to be rivalled for the asking.
To-night she brought all her charm to bear upon her companion's despondency, and succeeded as she had often succeeded before. She divined that he needed flattery, and she gave it; that he must be supported and endorsed, and she had soon pushed General Fenton out of sight behind a cloud of witness of another sort.
Manisty's mood yielded; and in a short time he was again no less ready to admire the sunset than she was.
'Heavens!' she said at last, holding out her watch.—'Just look at the time—and Miss Foster!'
Manisty struck his hand against the railing.
'How is one to be civil about this visit! Nothing could be more unfortunate. These last critical weeks—and each of us so dependent on the other—Really it is the most monstrous folly on all our parts that we should have brought this girl upon us.'
'Poor Miss Foster!' said Mrs. Burgoyne, raising her eyebrows. 'But of course you won't be civil!—Aunt Pattie and I know that. When I think of what I went through that first fortnight—'
'You are the only man I ever knew that could sit silent through a whole meal. By to-morrow Miss Foster will have added that experience to her collection. Well—I shall be prepared with my consolations—there's the carriage—and the bell!'
They fled indoors, escaping through the side entrances of the salon, before the visitor could be shown in.
* * * * *
'Must I change my dress?'
The voice that asked the question trembled with agitation and fatigue. But the girl who owned the voice stood up stiffly, looking at Miss Manisty with a frowning, almost a threatening shyness.
'Well, my dear,' said Miss Manisty, hesitating. 'Are you not rather dusty? We can easily keep dinner a quarter of an hour.'
She looked at the grey alpaca dress before her, in some perplexity.
'Oh, very well'—said the girl hurriedly.—'Of course I'll change. Only'—and the voice fluttered again evidently against her will—'I'm afraid I haven't anything very nice. I must get something in Rome. Mrs. Lewinson advised me. This is my afternoon dress,—I've been wearing it in Florence. But of course—I'll put on my other.—Oh! please don't send for a maid. I'd rather unpack for myself—so much rather!'
The speaker flushed crimson, as she saw Miss Manisty's maid enter the room in answer to her mistress's ring. She stood up indeed with her hand grasping her trunk, as though defending it from an assailant.
The maid looked at her mistress. 'Miss Foster will ring, Benson, if she wants you'—said Miss Manisty; and the black-robed elderly maid, breathing decorous fashion and the ways of 'the best people,' turned, gave a swift look at Miss Foster, and left the room.
'Are you sure, my dear? You know she would make you tidy in no time. She arranges hair beautifully.'
'Oh quite—quite sure!—thank you,' said the girl with the same eagerness. 'I will be ready,—right away.'
Then, left to herself, Miss Foster hastily opened her box and took out some of its contents. She unfolded one dress after another,—and looked at them unhappily.
'Perhaps I ought to have let cousin Izza give me those things in Boston,' she thought. 'Perhaps I was too proud. And that money of Uncle Ben's—it might have been kinder—after all he wanted me to look nice'—
She sat ruefully on the ground beside her trunk, turning the things over, in a misery of annoyance and mortification; half inclined to laugh too as she remembered the seamstress in the small New England country town, who had helped her own hands to manufacture them. 'Well, Miss Lucy, your uncle's done real handsome by you. I guess he's set you up, and no mistake. There's no meanness about him!'
And she saw the dress on the stand—the little blonde withered head of the dressmaker—the spectacled eyes dwelling proudly on the masterpiece before them.—
Alack! There rose up the memory of little Mrs. Lewinson at Florence—of her gently pursed lips—of the looks that were meant to be kind, and were in reality so critical.
No matter. The choice had to be made; and she chose at last a blue and white check that seemed to have borne its travels better than the rest. It had looked so fresh and striking in the window of the shop whence she had bought it. 'And you know, Miss Lucy, you're so tall, you can stand them chancy things'—her little friend had said to her, when she had wondered whether the check might not be too large.
And yet only with a passing wonder. She could not honestly say that her dress had cost her much thought then or at any other time. She had been content to be very simple, to admire other girls' cleverness. There had been influences upon her own childhood, however, that had somehow separated her from the girls around her, had made it difficult for her to think and plan as they did.
She rose with the dress in her hands, and as she did so, she caught the glory of the sunset through the open window.
She ran to look, all her senses flooded with the sudden beauty,—when she heard a man's voice as it seemed close beside her. Looking to the left, she distinguished a balcony, and a dark figure that had just emerged upon it.
Mr. Manisty—no doubt! She closed her window hurriedly, and began her dressing, trying at the time to collect her thoughts on the subject of these people whom she had come to visit.
Yet neither the talk of her Boston cousins, nor the gossip of the Lewinsons at Florence had left any very clear impression. She remembered well her first and only sight of Miss Manisty at Boston. The little spinster, so much a lady, so kind, cheerful and agreeable, had left a very favourable impression in America. Mr. Manisty had left an impression too—that was certain—for people talked of him perpetually. Not many persons, however, had liked him, it seemed. She could remember, as it were, a whole track of resentments, hostilities, left behind. 'He cares nothing about us'—an irate Boston lady had said in her hearing—but he will exploit us! He despises us,—but he'll make plenty of speeches and articles out of us—you'll see!'
As for Major Lewinson, the husband of Mr. Manisty's first cousin,—she had been conscious all the time of only half believing what he said, of holding out against it. He must be so different from Mr. Manisty—the little smart, quick-tempered soldier—with his contempt for the undisciplined civilian way of doing things. She did not mean to remember his remarks. For after all, she had her own ideas of what Mr. Manisty would be like. She had secretly formed her own opinion. He had been a man of letters and a traveller before he entered politics. She remembered—nay, she would never forget—a volume of letters from Palestine, written by him, which had reached her through the free library of the little town near her home. She who read slowly, but, when she admired, with a silent and worshipping ardour, had read this book, had hidden it under her pillow, had been haunted for days by its pliant sonorous sentences, by the colour, the perfume, the melancholy of pages that seemed to her dreaming youth marvellous, inimitable. There were descriptions of a dawn at Bethlehem—a night wandering at Jerusalem—a reverie by the sea of Galilee—the very thought of which made her shiver a little, so deeply had they touched her young and pure imagination.
And then—people talked so angrily of his quarrel with the Government—and his resigning. They said he had been foolish, arrogant, unwise. Perhaps. But after all it had been to his own hurt—it must have been for principle. So far the girl's secret instinct was all on his side.
Meanwhile, as she dressed, there floated through her mind fragments of what she had been told as to his strange personal beauty; but these she only entertained shyly and in passing. She had been brought up to think little of such matters, or rather to avoid thinking of them.
She went through her toilette as neatly and rapidly as she could, her mind all the time so full of speculation and a deep restrained excitement that she ceased to trouble herself in the least about her gown, As for her hair, she arranged it almost mechanically, caring only that its black masses should be smooth and in order. She fastened at her throat a small turquoise brooch that had been her mother's; she clasped the two little chain bracelets that were the only ornaments of the kind she possessed, and then without a single backward look towards the reflection in the glass, she left her room—her heart beating fast with timidity and expectation.
* * * * *
'Oh! poor child—poor child!—what a frock!'
Such was the inward ejaculation of Mrs. Burgoyne, as the door of the salon was thrown open by the Italian butler, and a very tall girl came abruptly through, edging to one side as though she were trying to escape the servant, and looking anxiously round the vast room.
Manisty also turned as the door opened. Miss Manisty caught his momentary expression of wonder, as she herself hurried forward to meet the new-comer.
'You have been very quick, my dear, and I am sure you must be hungry.—This is an old friend of ours—Mrs. Burgoyne—my nephew—Edward Manisty. He knows all your Boston cousins, if not you. Edward, will you take Miss Foster?—she's the stranger.'
Mrs. Burgoyne pressed the girl's hand with a friendly effusion. Beyond her was a dark-haired man, who bowed in silence. Lucy Foster took his arm, and he led her through a large intervening room, in which were many tables and many books, to the dining-room.
On the way he muttered a few embarrassed words as to the weather and the lateness of dinner, walking meanwhile so fast that she had to hurry after him. 'Good heavens, why she is a perfect chess-board!' he thought to himself, looking askance at her dress, in a sudden and passionate dislike—'one could play draughts upon her. What has my Aunt been about?'
The girl looked round her in bewilderment as they sat down. What a strange place! The salon in her momentary glance round it had seemed to her all splendour. She had been dimly aware of pictures, fine hangings, luxurious carpets. Here on the other hand all was rude and bare. The stained walls were covered with a series of tattered daubs, that seemed to be meant for family portraits—of the Malestrini family perhaps, to whom the villa belonged? And between the portraits there were rough modern doors everywhere of the commonest wood and manufacture which let in all the draughts, and made the room not a room, but a passage. The uneven brick floor was covered in the centre with some thin and torn matting; many of the chairs ranged against the wall were broken; and the old lamp that swung above the table gave hardly any light.
Miss Manisty watched her guest's face with a look of amusement.
'Well, what do you think of our dining-room, my dear? I wanted to clean it and put it in order. But my nephew there wouldn't have a thing touched.'
She looked at Manisty, with a movement of the lips and head that seemed to implore him to make some efforts.
Manisty frowned a little, lifted his great brow and looked, not at Miss Foster, but at Mrs. Burgoyne—
'The room, as it happens, gives me more pleasure than any other in the villa.'
Mrs. Burgoyne laughed.
'Because it's hideous?'
'If you like. I should only call it the natural, untouched thing.'
Then while his Aunt and Mrs. Burgoyne made mock of him, he fell silent again, nervously crumbling his bread with a large wasteful hand. Lucy Foster stole a look at him, at the strong curls of black hair piled above the brow, the moody embarrassment of the eyes, the energy of the lips and chin.
Then she turned to her companions. Suddenly the girl's clear brown skin flushed rosily, and she abruptly took her eyes from Mrs. Burgoyne.
Miss Manisty, however—in despair of her nephew—was bent upon doing her own duty. She asked all the proper questions about the girl's journey, about the cousins at Florence, about her last letters from home. Miss Foster answered quickly, a little breathlessly, as though each question were an ordeal that had to be got through. And once or twice, in the course of the conversation, she looked again at Mrs. Burgoyne, more lingeringly each time. That lady wore a thin dress gleaming with jet. The long white arms showed under the transparent stuff. The slender neck and delicate bosom were bare,—too bare surely,—that was the trouble. To look at her filled the girl's shrinking Puritan sense with discomfort. But what small and graceful hands!—and how she used them!—how she turned her neck!—how delicious her voice was! It made the new-comer think of some sweet plashing stream in her own Vermont valleys. And then, every now and again, how subtle and startling was the change of look!—the gaiety passing in a moment, with the drooping of eye and mouth, into something sad and harsh, like a cloud dropping round a goddess. In her elegance and self-possession indeed, she seemed to the girl a kind of goddess—heathenishly divine, because of that mixture of unseemliness, but still divine.
Several times Mrs. Burgoyne addressed her—with a gentle courtesy—and Miss Foster answered. She was shy, but not at all awkward or conscious. Her manner had the essential self-possession which is the birthright of the American woman. But it suggested reserve, and a curious absence of any young desire to make an effect.
As for Mrs. Burgoyne, long before dinner was over, she had divined a great many things about the new-comer, and amongst them the girl's disapproval of herself. 'After all'—she thought—'if she only knew it, she is a beauty. What a trouble it must have been first to find, and then to make that dress!—Ill luck!—And her hair! Who on earth taught her to drag it back like that? If one could only loosen it, how beautiful it would be! What is it? Is it Puritanism? Has she been brought up to go to meetings and sit under a minister? Were her forbears married in drawing-rooms and under trees? The Fates were certainly frolicking when they brought her here! How am I to keep Edward in order?'
And suddenly, with a little signalling of eye and brow, she too conveyed to Manisty, who was looking listlessly towards her, that he was behaving as badly as even she could have expected. He made a little face that only she saw, but he turned to Miss Foster and began to talk,—all the time adding to the mountain of crumbs beside him, and scarcely waiting to listen to the girl's answers.
'You came by Pisa?'
'Yes. Mrs. Lewinson found me an escort—'
'It was a mistake—' he said, hurrying his words like a schoolboy. 'You should have come by Perugia and Spoleto. Do you know Spello?'
Miss Foster stared.
'Edward!' said Miss Manisty, 'how could she have heard of Spello? It is the first time she has ever been in Italy.'
'No matter!' he said, and in a moment his moroseness was lit up, chased away by the little pleasure of his own whim—'Some day Miss Foster must hear of Spello. May I not be the first person to tell her that she should see Spello?'
'Really, Edward!' cried Miss Manisty, looking at him in a mild exasperation.
'But there was so much to see at Florence!' said Lucy Foster, wondering.
'No—pardon me!—there is nothing to be seen at Florence—or nothing that one ought to wish to see—till the destroyers of the town have been hung in their own new Piazza!'
'Oh yes!—that is a real disfigurement!' said the girl eagerly. 'And yet—can't one understand?—they must use their towns for themselves. They can't always be thinking of them as museums—as we do.'
'The argument would be good if the towns were theirs,' he said, flashing round upon her. 'One can stand a great deal from lawful owners.'
Miss Foster looked in bewilderment at Mrs. Burgoyne. That lady laughed and bent across the table.
'Let me warn you, Miss Foster, this gentleman here must be taken with a grain of salt when he talks about poor Italy—and the Italians.'
'But I thought'—said Lucy Foster, staring at her host—
'You thought he was writing a book on Italy? That doesn't matter. It's the new Italy of course that he hates—the poor King and Queen—the Government and the officials.'
'He wants the old times back?'—said Miss Foster, wondering—'when the priests tyrannised over everybody? when the Italians had no country—and no unity?'
She spoke slowly, at last looking her host in the face. Her frown of nervousness had disappeared. Manisty laughed.
'Pio Nono pulled down nothing—not a brick—or scarcely. And it is a most excellent thing, Miss Foster, to be tyrannised over by priests.'
His great eyes shone—one might even say, glared upon her. His manner was not agreeable; and Miss Foster coloured.
'I don't think so'—she said, and then was too shy to say any more.
'Oh, but you will think so,'—he said, obstinately—'only you must stay long enough in the country. What people are pleased to call Papal tyranny puts a few people in prison—and tells them what books to read. Well!—what matter? Who knows what books they ought to read?'
'But all their long struggle!—and their heroes! They had to make themselves a nation—'
The words stumbled on the girl's tongue, but her effort, the hot feeling in her young face became her.—Miss Manisty thought to herself, 'Oh, we shall dress, and improve her—We shall see!'—
'One has first to settle whether it was worth while. What does a new nation matter? Theirs, anyway, was made too quick,' said Manisty, rising in answer to his aunt's signal.
'But liberty matters!' said the girl. She stood an instant with her hand on the back of her chair, unconsciously defiant.
'Ah! Liberty!' said Manisty—'Liberty!' He lifted his shoulders contemptuously.
Then backing to the wall, he made room for her to pass. The girl felt almost as though she had been struck. She moved hurriedly, appealingly towards Miss Manisty, who took her arm kindly as they left the room.
'Don't let my nephew frighten you, my dear'—she said—'He never thinks like anybody else.'
'I read so much at Florence—and on the journey'—said Lucy, while her hand trembled in Miss Manisty's—'Mrs. Browning—Mazzini—many things. I could not put that time out of my head!'
On the way back to the salon the ladies passed once more through the large book-room or library which lay between it and the dining-room. Lucy Foster looked round it, a little piteously, as though she were seeking for something to undo the impression—the disappointment—she had just received.
'Oh! my dear, you never saw such a place as it was when we arrived in March'—said Miss Manisty. 'It was the billiard-room—a ridiculous table—and ridiculous balls—and a tiled floor without a scrap of carpet—and the cold! In the whole apartment there were just two bedrooms with fireplaces. Eleanor went to bed in one; I went to bed in the other. No carpets—no stoves—no proper beds even. Edward of course said it was all charming, and the climate balmy. Ah, well!—now we are really quite comfortable—except in that odious dining-room, which Edward will have left in its sins.'
Miss Manisty surveyed her work with a mild satisfaction. The table indeed had been carried away. The floor was covered with soft carpets. The rough uneven walls painted everywhere with the interlaced M's of the Malestrini were almost hidden by well-filled bookcases; and, in addition, a profusion of new books, mostly French and Italian, was heaped on all the tables. On the mantelpiece a large recent photograph stood propped against a marble head. It represented a soldier in a striking dress; and Lucy stopped to look at it.
'One of the Swiss Guards—at the Vatican'—said Mrs. Burgoyne kindly. 'You know the famous uniform—it was designed by Michael Angelo.'
'No—I didn't know'—said the girl, flushing again.—'And this head?'
'Ah, that is a treasure! Mr. Manisty bought it a few months ago from a Roman noble who has come to grief. He sold this and a few bits of furniture first of all. Then he tried to sell his pictures. But the Government came down upon him—you know your pictures are not your own in Italy. So the poor man must keep his pictures and go bankrupt. But isn't she beautiful? She is far finer than most of the things in the Vatican—real primitive Greek—not a copy. Do you know'—Mrs. Burgoyne stepped back, looked first at the bust, then at Miss Poster—'do you know you are really very like her—curiously like her!'
'Oh!'—cried Miss Foster in confusion—'I wish—'
'But it is quite true. Except for the hair. And that's only arrangement. Do you think—would you let me?—would you forgive me?—It's just this band of hair here, yours waves precisely in the same way. Would you really allow me—I won't make you untidy?'
And before Miss Poster could resist, Mrs. Burgoyne had put up her deft hands, and in a moment, with a pull here, and the alteration of a hairpin there, she had loosened the girl's black and silky hair, till it showed the beautiful waves above the ear in which it did indeed resemble the marble head with a curious closeness.
'I can put it back in a moment. But oh—that is so charming! Aunt Pattie!'
Miss Manisty looked up from a newspaper which had just arrived.
'My dear!—that was bold of you I But indeed it is charming! I think I would forgive you if I were Miss Foster.
The girl felt herself gently turned towards the mirror that rose behind the Greek head. With pink cheeks she too looked at herself for a moment. Then in a shyness beyond speech, she lifted her hands.
'Must you'—said Mrs. Burgoyne appealingly. 'I know one doesn't like to be untidy. But it isn't really the least untidy—It is only delightful—perfectly delightful!'
Her voice, her manner charmed the girl's annoyance.
'If you like it'—she said, hesitating—'But it will come down!'
'I like it terribly—and it will not think of coming down! Let me show you Mr. Manisty's latest purchase.'
And, slipping her arm inside Miss Foster's, Mrs. Burgoyne dexterously turned her away from the glass, and brought her to the large central table, where a vivid charcoal sketch, supported on a small easel, rose among the litter of books.
It represented an old old man carried in a chair on the shoulders of a crowd of attendants and guards. Soldiers in curved helmets, courtiers in short velvet cloaks and ruffs, priests in floating vestments pressed about him—a dim vast multitude stretched into the distance. The old man wore a high cap with three lines about it; his thin and shrunken form was enveloped in a gorgeous robe. The face, infinitely old, was concentrated in the sharply smiling eyes, the long, straight, secret mouth. His arm, supporting with difficulty the weight of the robe, was raised,—the hand blessed. On either side of him rose great fans of white ostrich feathers, and the old man among them was whiter than they, spectrally white from head to foot, save for the triple cap, and the devices on his robe. But into his emaciation, his weakness, the artist had thrown a triumph, a force that thrilled the spectator. The small figure, hovering above the crowd, seemed in truth to have nothing to do with it, to be alone with the huge spaces—arch on arch—dome on dome—of the vast church through which it was being borne.—
'Do you know who it is?' asked Mrs. Burgoyne, smiling.
'The—the Pope?' said Miss Foster, wondering.
'Isn't it clever? It is by one of your compatriots, an American artist in Rome. Isn't it wonderful too, the way in which it shows you, not the Pope—but the Papacy—not the man but the Church?'
Miss Foster said nothing. Her puzzled eyes travelled from the drawing to Mrs. Burgoyne's face. Then she caught sight of another photograph on the table.
'And that also?'—she said—For again it was the face of Leo XIII.—feminine, priestly, indomitable—that looked out upon her from among the books.
'Oh, my dear, come away,' said Miss Manisty impatiently. 'In my days the Scarlet Lady was the Scarlet Lady, and we didn't flirt with her as all the world does now. Shrewd old gentleman! I should have thought one picture of him was enough.'
* * * * *
As they entered the old painted salon, Mrs. Burgoyne went to one of the tall windows opening to the floor and set it wide. Instantly the Campagna was in the room—the great moonlit plain, a thousand feet below, with the sea at its further edge, and the boundless sweep of starry sky above it. From the little balcony, one might, it seemed, have walked straight into Orion. The note of a nightingale bubbled up from the olives; and the scent of a bean-field in flower flooded the salon.
Miss Foster sprang to her feet and followed Mrs. Burgoyne. She hung over the balcony while her companion pointed here and there, to the line of the Appian Way,—to those faint streaks in the darkness that marked the distant city—to the dim blue of the Etrurian mountains.—
Presently, however, she drew herself erect, and Mrs. Burgoyne fancied that she shivered.
'Ah! this is a hill-air,' she said, and she took from her arm a light evening cloak, and threw it round Miss Foster.
'Oh, I am not cold!—It wasn't that!'
'What was it?' said Mrs. Burgoyne pleasantly. 'That you feel Italy too much for you? Ah! you must got used to that.'
Lucy Foster drew a long breath—a breath of emotion. She was grateful for being understood. But she could not express herself.
Mrs. Burgoyne looked at her curiously.
'Did you read a good deal about it before you came?'
'Well, I read some—we have a good town library—and Uncle Ben gave me two or three books—but of course it wasn't like Boston. Ours is a little place.'
'And you were pleased to come?'
The girl hesitated.
'Yes'—she said simply. 'I wanted to come.—But I didn't want to leave my uncle. He is getting quite an old man.'
'And you have lived with him a long time?'
'Since I was a little thing. Mother and I came to live with him after Father died. Then Mother died, five years ago.'
'And you have been alone—and very good friends?'
Mrs. Burgoyne smiled kindly. She had a manner of questioning that seemed to Miss Foster the height of courtesy. But the girl did not find it easy to answer.
'I have no one else—' she said at last, and then stopped abruptly.
'She is home-sick'—said Mrs. Burgoyne inwardly—'I wonder whether the Lewinsons treated her nicely at Florence?'
Indeed as Lucy Foster leant over the balcony, the olive-gardens and vineyards faded before her. She saw in their stead, the snow-covered farms and fields of a New England valley—the elms in along village street, bare and wintry—a rambling wooden house—a glowing fire, in a simple parlour—an old man sitting beside it.—
It is chilly'—said Mrs. Burgoyne—'Let us go in. But we will keep the window open. Don't take that off.'
She laid a restraining hand on the girl's arm. Miss Foster sat down absently not far from the window. The mingled lights of lamp and moon fell upon her, upon the noble rounding of the face, which was grave, a little austere even, but still sensitive and delicate. Her black hair, thanks to Mrs. Burgoyne's devices, rippled against the brow and cheek, almost hiding the small ear. The graceful cloak, with its touches of sable on a main fabric of soft white, hid the ugly dress; its ample folds heightened the natural dignity of the young form and long limbs, lent them a stately and muse-like charm. Mrs. Burgoyne and Miss Manisty looked at each other, then at Miss Foster. Both of them had the same curious feeling, as though a veil were being drawn away from something they were just beginning to see.
'You must be very tired, my dear'—said Miss Manisty at last, when she and Mrs. Burgoyne had chatted a good deal, and the new-comer still sat silent—'I wonder what you are thinking about so intently?'
Miss Foster woke up at once.
'Oh, I'm not a bit tired—not a bit! I was thinking—I was thinking of that photograph in the next room—and a line of poetry.'
She spoke with the naivete of one who had not known how to avoid the confession. 'What line?' said Mrs. Burgoyne.
'It's Milton. I learnt it at school. You will know it, of course,' she said timidly. 'It's the line about "the triple tyrant" and "the Babylonian woe"'—
Mrs. Burgoyne laughed.
'Their martyred blood and ashes sow O'er all the Italian fields, where still doth sway The triple tyrant—
Was that what you were thinking of?'
Miss Foster had coloured deeply.
'It was the cap—the tiara, isn't it?—that reminded me,' she said faintly; and then she looked away, as though not wishing to continue the subject.
'She wonders whether I am a Catholic,' thought Mrs. Burgoyne, amused, 'and whether she has hurt my feelings.'—Aloud, she said—'Are you very, very Puritan still in your part of America? Excuse me, but I am dreadfully ignorant about America.'
'We are Methodists in our little town mostly'—said Miss Foster. 'There is a Presbyterian church—and the best families go there. But my father's people were always Methodists. My mother was a Universalist.'
Mrs. Burgoyne frowned with perplexity. 'I'm afraid I don't know what that is?' she said.
'They think everybody will be saved,' said Miss Foster in her shy deep voice. 'They don't despair of anybody.'
And suddenly Mrs. Burgoyne saw a very soft and tender expression pass across the girl's grave features, like the rising of an inward light.
'A mystic—and a beauty both?' she thought to herself, a little scornfully this time. In all her politeness to the new-comer so far, she had been like a person stealthily searching for something foreseen and desired. If she had found it, it would have been quite easy to go on being kind to Miss Foster. But she had not found it.
At that moment the door between the library and the salon was thrown open, and Manisty appeared, cigarette in hand.
'Aunt Pattie—Eleanor—how many tickets do you want for this function next Sunday?'
'Four tribune tickets—we three'—Miss Manisty pointed to the other two ladies—'and yourself. If we can't get so many, leave me at home.'
'Of course we shall have tribune tickets—as many as we want,' said Manisty a little impatiently.—'Have you explained to Miss Foster?'
'No, but I will. Miss Foster, next Sunday fortnight the Pope celebrates his 'Capella Papale'—the eighteenth anniversary of his coronation—in St. Peter's. Rome is very full, and there will be a great demonstration—fifty thousand people or more. Would you like to come?'
Miss Foster looked up, hesitating. Manisty, who had turned to go back to his room, paused, struck by the momentary silence. He listened with curiosity for the girl's reply.
'One just goes to see it like a spectacle?' she said at last, slowly. 'One needn't do anything oneself?'
Miss Manisty stared—and then laughed. 'Nobody will see what you do in such a crowd—I should think,' she said. 'But you know one can't be rude—to an old old man. If others kneel, I suppose we must kneel. Does it do anyone harm to be blessed by an old man?'
'Oh no!—no!' cried Miss Foster, flushing deeply. Then, after a moment, she added decidedly—'Please—I should like to go very much.'
Manisty grinned unseen, and closed the door behind him.
Then Miss Foster, after an instant's restlessness, moved nearer to her hostess.
'I am afraid—you thought I was rude just now? It's so lovely of you to plan things for me. But—I can't ever be sure whether it's right to go into other people's churches and look at their services—like a show. I should just hate it myself—and I felt it once or twice at Florence. And so—you understand—don't you?'—she said imploringly.
Miss Manisty's small eyes examined her with anxiety. 'What an extraordinary girl!' she thought. 'Is she going to be a great bore?'
At the same time the girl's look—so open, sweet and modest—disarmed and attracted her. She shrugged her shoulders with a smile.
'Well, my dear—I don't know. All I can say is, the Catholics don't mind! They walk in and out of their own churches all the time mass is going on—the children run about—the sacristans take you round. You certainly needn't feel it on their account.'
'But then, too, if I am not a Catholic—how far ought one to be taking part—in—in what—'
'In what one disapproves?' said Mrs. Burgoyne, smiling. 'You would make the world a little difficult, wouldn't you, if you were to arrange it on that principle?'
She spoke in a dry, rather sharp voice, unlike that in which she had hitherto addressed the new-comer. Lucy Foster looked at her with a shrinking perplexity.
'It's best if we're all straightforward, isn't it?'—she said in a low voice, and then, drawing towards her an illustrated magazine that lay on the table near her she hurriedly buried herself in its pages.
* * * * *
Silence had fallen on the three ladies. Eleanor Burgoyne sat lost in reverie, her fair head thrown back against her low chair.
She was thinking of her conversation with Edward Manisty on the balcony—and of his book. That book indeed had for her a deep personal significance. To think of it at all, was to be carried to the past, to feel for the hundredth time the thrill of change and new birth.
When she joined them in Rome, in mid-winter, she had found Manisty struggling with the first drafts of it,—full of yeasty ideas, full also of doubts, confusions and discouragements. He had not been at all glad to see his half-forgotten cousin—quite the contrary. As she had reminded him, she had suffered much the same things at his hands that Miss Foster was likely to suffer now. It made her laugh to think of his languid reception of her, the moods, the silences, the weeks of just civil acquaintanceship; and then gradually, the snatches of talk—and those great black brows of his lifted in a surprise which a tardy politeness would try to mask:—and at last, the good, long, brain-filling, heart-filling talks, the break-down of reserves—the man's whole mind, its remorses, ambitions, misgivings, poured at her feet—ending in the growth of that sweet daily habit of common work—side by side, head close to head—hand close to hand.—
Eleanor Burgoyne lay still and motionless in the soft dusk of the old room, her white lids shut—Lucy Foster thought her asleep.—
He had said to her once, quoting some Frenchman, that she was 'good to consult about ideas.' Ah well!—at a great price had she won that praise. And with an unconscious stiffening of the frail hands lying on the arms of the chair, she thought of those bygone hours in which she had asked herself—'what remains?' Religious faith?—No!—Life was too horrible! Could such things have happened to her in a world ruled by a God?—that was her question, day and night for years. But books, facts, ideas—all the riddle of this various nature—that one might still amuse oneself with a little, till one's own light went out in the same darkness that had already engulfed mother—husband—child.
So that 'cleverness,' of which father and husband had taken so little account, which had been of so little profit to her so far in her course through circumstance, had come to her aid. The names and lists of the books that had passed through her hands, during those silent years of her widowhood, lived beside her stern old father, would astonish even Manisty were she to try and give some account of them. And first she had read merely to fill the hours, to dull memory. But gradually there had sprung up in her that inner sweetness, that gentle restoring flame that comes from the life of ideas, the life of knowledge, even as a poor untrained woman may approach it. She had shared it with no one, revealed it to no one. Her nature dreaded rebuffs; and her father had no words sharp enough for any feminine ambition beyond the household and the nursery.
So she had kept it all to herself, till Miss Manisty, shocked as many other people had begun to be by her fragile looks, had bearded the General, and carried her off to Rome for the winter. And there she had been forced, as it were, into this daily contact with Edward Manisty, at what might well turn out to be the most critical moment of his life; when he was divided between fierce regrets for the immediate past, and fierce resolves to recover and assert himself in other ways; when he was taking up again his earlier function of man of letters in order to vindicate himself as a politician and a man of action. Strange and challenging personality!—did she yet know it fully?
Ah! that winter—what a healing in it all!—what a great human experience! Yet now, as always, when her thoughts turned to the past, she did not allow them to dwell upon it long. That past lay for her in a golden haze. To explore it too deeply, or too long,—that she shrank from. All that she prayed was to press no questions, force no issues. But at least she had found in it a new reason for living; she meant to live; whereas last year she had wished to die, and all the world—dear, kind Aunt Pattie first and foremost—had thought her on the road for death.
But the book?—she bent her brows over it, wrestling with various doubts and difficulties. Though it was supposed to represent the thoughts and fancies of an Englishman wandering through modern Italy, it was really Manisty's Apologia—Manisty's defence of certain acts which had made him for a time the scandal and offence of the English political party to which ancestrally he belonged, in whose interests he had entered Parliament and taken office. He had broken with his party on the ground that it had become a party of revolution, especially in matters connected with Religion and Education; and having come abroad to escape for a time from the personal frictions and agitations which his conduct had brought upon him, he had thrown himself into a passionate and most hostile study of Italy—Italy, the new country, made by revolution, fashioned, so far as laws and government can do it, by the lay modern spirit—as an object-lesson to England and the world. The book was in reality a party pamphlet, written by a man whose history and antecedents, independently of his literary ability, made his work certain of readers and of vogue.
That, however, was not what Mrs. Burgoyne was thinking of.—She was anxiously debating with herself certain points of detail, points of form.
These fragments of poetical prose which Manisty had interspersed amid a serious political argument—were they really an adornment of the book, or a blur upon it? He had a natural tendency towards colour and exuberance in writing; he loved to be leisurely, and a little sonorous; there was something old-fashioned and Byronic in his style and taste. His sentences, perhaps, were short; but his manner was not brief. The elliptical fashion of the day was not his. He liked to wander through his subject, dreaming, poetising, discussing at his will. It was like a return to vetturino after the summary haste of the railway. And so far the public had welcomed this manner of his. His earlier book (the 'Letters from Palestine'), with its warm, over-laden pages, had found many readers and much fame.
But here—in a strenuous political study, furnished with all the facts and figures that the student and the debater require—representing, too, another side of the man, just as vigorous and as real, were these intrusions of poetry wise or desirable? Were they in place? Was the note of them quite right? Was it not a little turbid—uncertain?
That prose poem of 'The Priest of Nemi,' for example?
Ah! Nemi!—the mere thought of it sent a thrill of pleasure through her. That blue lake in its green cup on the edge of the Campagna, with its ruins and its legends—what golden hours had she and Manisty spent there! It had caught their fancy from the beginning—the site of the great temple, the wild strawberry fields, the great cliffs of Nemi and Genzano, the bright-faced dark-eyed peasants with their classical names—Aristodemo, Oreste, Evandro.
And that strange legend of the murdered priest—
'The priest who slew the slayer, And shall himself be slain'—
—what modern could not find something in that—some stimulus to fancy—some hint for dreaming?
Yes—it had been very natural—very tempting. But!—
... So she pondered,—a number of acute, critical instincts coming into play. And presently her thoughts spread and became a vague reverie, covering a multitude of ideas and images that she and Manisty now had in common. How strange that she and he should be engaged in this work together!—this impassioned defence of tradition, of Catholicism and the Papacy, as the imperishable, indestructible things—'chastened and not killed—dying, and behold they live'—let the puny sons of modern Italy rage and struggle as they may. He—one of the most thorough sceptics of his day, as she had good reason to know—she, a woman who had at one time ceased to believe because of an intolerable anguish, and was now only creeping slowly back to faith, to hope, because—because—
Ah!—with a little shiver, she recalled her thought, as a falconer might his bird, before it struck. Oh! this old, old Europe, with its complexities, its manifold currents and impulses, every human being an embodied contradiction—no simplicity, no wholeness anywhere—none possible!
She opened her eyes languidly, and they rested on Lucy Foster's head and profile bent over her book. Mrs. Burgoyne's mind filled with a sudden amused pity for the girl's rawness and ignorance. She seemed the fitting type of a young crude race with all its lessons to learn; that saw nothing absurd in its Methodists and Universalists and the rest—confident, as a child is, in its cries and whims and prejudices. The American girl, fresh from her wilds, and doubtful whether she would go to see the Pope in St. Peter's, lest she should have to bow the knee to Antichrist—the image delighted the mind of the elder woman. She played with it, finding fresh mock at every turn.
* * * * *
'Eleanor!—now I have rewritten it. Tell me how it runs.'
Lucy Poster looked up. She saw that Mr. Manisty, carrying a sheaf of papers in his hand, had thrown himself into a chair behind Mrs. Burgoyne. His look was strenuous and absorbed, his tumbling black hair had fallen forward as though in a stress of composition; he spoke in a low, imperative voice, like one accustomed to command the time and the attention of those about him.
'Read!' said Mrs. Burgoyne, turning her slender neck that she might look at him and hear. He began to read at once in a deep, tremulous voice, and as though he were quite unconscious of any other presence in the room than hers. Miss Foster, who was sitting at a little distance, supposed she ought not to listen. She was about to close her book and rise, when Miss Manisty touched her on the arm.
'It disturbs him if we move about!' said the little spinster in a smiling whisper, her finger on her lip. And suddenly the girl was conscious of a lightning flash from lifted eyes—a look threatening and peremptory. She settled herself into her chair again as quietly as possible, and sat with head bent, a smile she could not repress playing round her lips. It was all she could do indeed not to laugh, so startling and passionate had been the monition conveyed in Mr. Manisty's signal. That the great man should take little notice of his aunt's guest was natural enough. But to be frowned upon the first evening, as though she were a troublesome child!—she did not resent it at all, but it tickled her sense of humour. She thought happily of her next letter to Uncle Ben; how she would describe these rather strange people.
And at first she hardly listened to what was being read. The voice displeased her. It was too emphatic—she disliked its tremolo, its deep bass vibrations. Surely one should read more simply!
Then the first impression passed away altogether. She looked up—her eyes fastened themselves on the reader—her lips parted—the smile changed.
* * * * *
What the full over-rich voice was calling up before her was a little morning scene, as Virgil might have described it, passing in the hut of a Latian peasant farmer, under Tiberius.
It opened with the waking at dawn of the herdsman Caeculus and his little son, in their round thatched cottage on the ridge of Aricia, beneath the Alban Mount. It showed the countryman stepping out of his bed into the darkness, groping for the embers on the hearth, re-lighting his lamp, and calling first to his boy asleep on his bed of leaves, then to their African servant, the negro slave-girl with her wide mouth, her tight woolly hair. One by one the rustic facts emerged, so old, so ever new:—Caeculus grinding his corn, and singing at his work—the baking of the flat wheaten cakes on the hot embers—the gathering of herbs from the garden—the kneading them with a little cheese and oil to make a relish for the day—the harnessing of the white steers under the thonged yoke—the man going forth to his ploughing, under the mounting dawn, clad in his goatskin tunic and his leathern hat,—the boy loosening the goats from their pen beside the hut, and sleepily driving them past the furrows where his father was at work, to the misty woods beyond.
With every touch, the earlier world revived, grew plainer in the sun, till the listener found herself walking with Manisty through paths that cut the Alban Hills in the days of Rome's first imperial glory, listening to his tale of the little goatherd, and of Nemi.
* * * * *
'So the boy—Quintus—left the ploughed lands, and climbed a hill above the sleeping town. And when he reached the summit, he paused and turned him to the west.
'The Latian plain spreads beneath him in the climbing sun; at its edge is the sea in a light of pearl; the white fishing-boats sparkle along the shore. Close at his feet runs a straight road high upon the hill. He can see the country folk on their laden mules and donkeys journeying along it, journeying northwards to the city in the plain that the spurs of the mountain hide from him. His fancy goes with them, along the Appian Way, trotting with the mules. When will his father take him again to Rome to see the shops, and the Forum, and the new white temples, and Caesar's great palace on the hill?
'Then carelessly his eyes pass southward, and there beneath him in its hollow is the lake—the round blue lake that Diana loves, where are her temple and her shadowy grove. The morning mists lie wreathed above it; the just-leafing trees stand close in the great cup; only a few patches of roof and column reveal the shrine.
'On he moves. His wheaten cake is done. He takes his pipe from his girdle, touches it, and sings.
'His bare feet as he moves tread down the wet flowers. Bound him throng the goats; suddenly he throws down his pipe; he runs to a goat heavy with milk; he presses the teats with his quick hands; the milk flows foaming into the wooden cup he has placed below; he drinks, his brown curls sweeping the cup; then he picks up his pipe and walks on proudly before his goats, his lithe body swaying from side to side as he moves, dancing to the music that he makes. The notes float up into the morning air; the echo of them runs round the shadowy hollow of the lake.
'Down trips the boy, parting the dewy branches with his brown shoulders. Around him the mountain side is golden with the broom; at his feet the white cistus covers the rock. The shrubs of the scattered wood send out their scents; and the goats browse upon their shoots.
'But the path sinks gently downward—winding along the basin of the lake. And now the boy emerges from the wood; he stands upon a knoll to rest.
'Ah! sudden and fierce comes the sun!—and there below him in the rich hollow it strikes the temple—Diana's temple and her grove. Out flame the white columns, the bronze roof, the white enclosing walls. Piercingly white the holy and famous place shines among the olives and the fallows; the sun burns upon the marble; Phoebus salutes his great sister. And in the waters of the lake reappear the white columns; the blue waves dance around the shimmering lines; the mists part above them; they rise from the lake, lingering awhile upon the woods.
'The boy lays his hands to his eyes and looks eagerly towards the temple. Nothing. No living creature stirs.
'Often has he been warned by his father not to venture alone within the grove of the goddess. Twice, indeed, on the great June festivals has he witnessed the solemn sacrifices, and the crowds of worshippers, and the torches mirrored in the lake. But without his father, fear has hitherto stayed his steps far from the temple.
'To-day, however, as the sun mounts, and the fresh breeze breaks from the sea, his youth and the wildness of it dance within his blood. He and his goats pass into an olive garden. The red-brown earth has been freshly turned amid the twisted trunks; the goats scatter, searching for the patches of daisied grass still left by the plough. Guiltily the boy looks round him—peers through the olives and their silvery foam of leaves, as they fall past him down the steep. Then like one of his own kids he lowers his head and runs; he leaves his flock under the olives; he slips into a dense ilex-wood, still chill with the morning; he presses towards its edge; panting he climbs a huge and ancient tree that flings its boughs forward above the temple wall; he creeps along a branch among the thick small leaves,—he lifts his head.
'The temple is before him, and the sacred grove. He sees the great terrace, stretching to the lake; he hears the little waves plashing on its buttressed wall.
'Close beneath him, towards the rising and the midday sun there stretches a great niched wall girdling the temple on two sides, each niche a shrine, and in each shrine a cold white form that waits the sun—Apollo the Far-Darter, and the spear-bearing Pallas, and among them that golden Caesar, of whom the country talks, who has given great gifts to the temple—he and his grandson, the young Gaius.
'The boy strains his eye to see, and as the light strikes into the niche, flames on the gleaming breastplate, and the uplifted hand, he trembles on his branch for fear. Hurriedly he turns his look on the dwellings of the priestesses, where all still sleeps; on the rows of shining pillars that stand round about the temple; on the close-set trees of the grove that stands between it and the lake.
'Hark!—a clanging of metal—of great doors upon their hinges. From the inner temple—from the shrine of the goddess, there comes a man. His head is bound with the priest's fillet; sharply the sun touches his white pointed cap; in his hand he carries a sword.
'Between the temple and the grove there is a space of dazzling light. The man passes into it, turns himself to the east, and raises his hand to his mouth; drawing his robe over his head, he sinks upon the ground, and prostrate there, adores the coming god.
'His prayer lasts but an instant. Rising in haste, he stands looking around him, his sword gathered in his hand. He is a man still young; his stature is more than the ordinary height of men; his limbs are strong and supple. His rich dress, moreover, shows him to be both priest and king. But again the boy among his leaves draws his trembling body close, hiding, like a lizard, when some passing step has startled it from the sun. For on this haggard face the gods have written strange and terrible things; the priest's eyes deep sunk under his shaggy hair dart from side to side in a horrible unrest; he seems a creature separate from his kind—possessed of evil—dedicate to fear.
'In the midst of the temple grove stands one vast ilex,—the tree of trees, sacred to Trivia. The other trees fall back from it in homage; and round it paces the priest, alone in the morning light.
'But his is no holy meditation. His head is thrown back; his ear listens for every sound; the bared sword glitters as he moves ...
'There is a rustle among the further trees. Quickly the boy stretches his brown neck; for at the sound the priest crouches on himself; he throws the robe from his right arm; and so waits, ready to strike. The light falls on his pale features, the torment of his brow, the anguish of his drawn lips. Beside the lapping lake, and under the golden morning, he stands as Terror in the midst of Peace.
'Silence again:—only the questing birds call from the olive-woods. Panting, the priest moves onward, racked with sick tremors, prescient of doom.
'But hark! a cry!—and yet another answering—a dark form bursting from the grove—a fierce locked struggle under the sacred tree. The boy crawls to the furthest end of the branch, his eyes starting from his head.
'From the temple enclosure, from the further trees, from the hill around, a crowd comes running; men and white-robed priestesses, women, children even—gathering in haste. But they pause afar off. Not a living soul approaches the place of combat; not a hand gives aid. The boy can see the faces of the virgins who serve the temple. They are pale, but very still. Not a sound of pity escapes their white lips; their ambiguous eyes watch calmly for the issue of the strife.
'And on the further side, at the edge of the grove stand country folk, men in goatskin tunics and leathern hats like the boy's father. And the little goatherd, not knowing what he does, calls to them for help in his shrill voice. But no one heeds; and the priest himself calls no one, entreats no one.
'Ah! The priest wavers—he falls—his white robes are in the dust. The bright steel rises—descends:—the last groan speeds to heaven.
* * * * *
'The victor raised himself from the dead, all stained with the blood and soil of the battle. Quintus gazed upon him astonished. For here was no rude soldier, nor swollen boxer, but a youth merely—a youth, slender and beautiful, fair-haired, and of a fair complexion. His loins were girt with a slave's tunic. Pallid were his young features; his limbs wasted with hunger and toil; his eyes blood-streaked as those of the deer when the dogs close upon its tender life.
'And looking down upon the huddled priest, fallen in his blood upon the dust, he peered long into the dead face, as though he beheld it for the first time. Shudders ran through him; Quintus listened to hear him weep or moan. But at the last, he lifted his head, fiercely straightening his limbs like one who reminds himself of black fate, and things not to be undone. And turning to the multitude, he made a sign. With shouting and wild cries they came upon him; they snatched the purple-striped robe from the murdered priest, and with it they clothed his murderer. They put on him the priest's fillet, and the priest's cap; they hung garlands upon his neck; and with rejoicing and obeisance they led him to the sacred temple....
'And for many hours more the boy remained hidden in the tree, held there by the spell of his terror. He saw the temple ministers take up the body of the dead, and carelessly drag it from the grove. All day long was there crowd and festival within the sacred precinct. But when the shadows began to fall from the ridge of Aricia across the lake; when the new-made priest had offered on Trivia's altar a white steer, nourished on the Alban grass; when he had fed the fire of Vesta; and poured offerings to Virbius the immortal, whom in ancient days great Diana had snatched from the gods' wrath, and hidden here, safe within the Arician wood,—when these were done, the crowd departed and the Grove-King came forth alone from the temple.
'The boy watched what he would do. In his hand he carried the sword, which at the sunrise he had taken from the dead. And he came to the sacred tree that was in the middle of the grove, and he too began to pace about it, glancing from side to side, as that other had done before him. And once when he was near the place where the caked blood still lay upon the ground, the sword fell clashing from his hand, and he flung his two arms to heaven with a hoarse and piercing cry—the cry of him who accuses and arraigns the gods.
'And the boy, shivering, slipped from the tree, with that cry in his ear, and hastily sought for his goats. And when he had found them he drove them home, not staying even to quench his thirst from their swollen udders. And in the shepherd's hut he found his father Caeculus; and sinking down beside him with tears and sobs he told his tale.
'And Caeculus pondered long. And without chiding, he laid his hand upon the boy's head and bade him be comforted. "For," said he, as though he spake with himself—"such is the will of the goddess. And from the furthest times it has happened thus, before the Roman fathers journeyed from the Alban Mount and made them dwellings on the seven hills—before Romulus gave laws,—or any white-robed priest had climbed the Capitol. From blood springs up the sacred office; and to blood it goes! No natural death must waste the priest of Trivia's tree. The earth is hungry for the blood in its strength—nor shall it be withheld! Thus only do the trees bear, and the fields bring forth."
'Astonished, the boy looked at his father, and saw upon his face, as he turned it upon the ploughed lands and the vineyards, a secret and a savage joy. And the little goatherd's mind was filled with terror—nor would his father tell him further what the mystery meant. But when he went to his bed of dried leaves at night, and the moon rose upon the lake, and the great woods murmured in the hollow far beneath him, he tossed restlessly from side to side, thinking of the new priest who kept watch there—of his young limbs and miserable eyes—of that voice which he had flung to heaven. And the child tried to believe that he might yet escape.—But already in his dreams he saw the grove part once more and the slayer leap forth. He saw the watching crowd—and their fierce, steady eyes, waiting thirstily for the spilt blood. And it was as though a mighty hand crushed the boy's heart, and for the first time he shrank from the gods, and from his father,—so that the joy of his youth was darkened within him.'
* * * * *
As he read the last word, Manisty flung the sheets down upon the table beside him, and rising, he began to pace the room with his hands upon his sides, frowning and downcast. When he came to Mrs. Burgoyne's chair he paused beside her—
'I don't see what it has to do with the book. It is time lost'—he said to her abruptly, almost angrily.
'I think not,' she said, smiling at him. But her tone wavered a little, and his look grew still more irritable.
'I shall destroy it!'—he said, with energy—'nothing more intolerable than ornament out of place!'
'Oh don't!—don't alter it at all!' said a quick imploring voice.
Manisty turned in astonishment.
Lucy Foster was looking at him steadily. A glow of pleasure was on her cheek, her beautiful eyes were warm and eager. Manisty for the first time observed her, took note also of the loosened hair and Eleanor's cloak.
'You liked it?' he said with some embarrassment. He had entirely forgotten that she was in the room.
She drew a long breath.
'Yes!'—she said softly, looking down.
He thought that she was too shy to express herself. In reality her feeling was divided between her old enthusiasm and her new disillusion. She would have liked to tell him that his reading had reminded her of the book she loved. But the man, standing beside her, chilled her. She wished she had not spoken. It began to seem to her a piece of forwardness.
'Well, you're very kind'—he said, rather formally—'But I'm afraid it won't do. That lady there won't pass it.'
'What have I said?'—cried Mrs. Burgoyne, protesting.
Manisty laughed. 'Nothing. But you'll agree with me.' Then he gathered up his papers under his arm in a ruthless confusion, and walked away into his study, leaving discomfort behind him.
Mrs. Burgoyne sat silent, a little tired and pale. She too would have liked to praise and to give pleasure. It was not wonderful indeed that the child's fancy had been touched. That thrilling, passionate voice—her own difficulty always was to resist it—to try and see straight in spite of it.
* * * * *
Later that evening, when Miss Foster had withdrawn, Manisty and Mrs. Burgoyne were lingering and talking on a stone balcony that ran along the eastern front of the villa. The Campagna and the sea were behind them. Here, beyond a stretch of formal garden, rose a curved front of wall with statues and plashing water showing dimly in the moonlight; and beyond the wall there was a space of blue and silver lake; and girdling the lake the forest-covered Monte Cavo rose towering into the moonlit sky, just showing on its topmost peak that white speck which once was the temple of the Latian Jupiter, and is now, alas! only the monument of an Englishman's crime against history, art, and Rome. The air was soft, and perfumed with scent from the roses in the side-alleys below. A monotonous bird-note came from the ilex darkness, like the note of a thin passing bell. It was the cry of a small owl, which, in its plaintiveness and changelessness, had often seemed to Manisty and Eleanor the very voice of the Roman night.
Suddenly Mrs. Burgoyne said—'I have a different version of your Nemi story running in my head!—more tragic than yours. My priest is no murderer. He found his predecessor dead under the tree; the place was empty; he took it. He won't escape his own doom, of course, but he has not deserved it. There is no blood on his hand—his heart is pure. There!—I imagine it so.'
There was a curious tremor in her voice, which Manisty, lost in his own thoughts, did not detect. He smiled.
'Well!—you'll compete with Renan. He made a satire out of it. His priest is a moral gentleman who won't kill anybody. But the populace soon settle that. They knock him on the head, as a disturber of religion.'
'I had forgotten—' said Mrs. Burgoyne absently.
'But you didn't like it, Eleanor—my little piece!' said Manisty, after a pause. 'So don't pretend!'
She roused herself at once, and began to talk with her usual eagerness and sympathy. It was a repetition of the scene before dinner. Only this time her effect was not so great. Manisty's depression did not yield.
Presently, however, he looked down upon her. In the kind, concealing moonlight she was all grace and charm. The man's easy tenderness awoke.
'Eleanor—this air is too keen for that thin dress.'
And stooping over her he took her cloak from her arm, and wrapped it about her.
'You lent it to Miss Foster'—he said, surveying her. 'It became her—but it knows its mistress!'
The colour mounted an instant in her cheek. Then she moved further away from him.
'Have you discovered yet'—she said—'that that girl is extraordinarily handsome?'
'Oh yes'—he said carelessly—'with a handsomeness that doesn't matter.'
'Wait till Aunt Pattie and I have dressed her and put her to rights.'
'Well, you can do most things no doubt—both with bad books, and raw girls,'—he said, with a shrug and a sigh.
They bade each other good-night, and Mrs. Burgoyne disappeared through the glass door behind them.
* * * * *
The moon was sailing gloriously above the stone-pines of the garden. Mrs. Burgoyne, half-undressed, sat dreaming in a corner room, with a high painted ceiling, and both its windows open to the night.
She had entered her room in a glow of something which had been half torment, half happiness. Now, after an hour's dreaming, she suddenly bent forward and, parting the cloud of fair hair that fell about her, she looked in the glass before her, at the worn, delicate face haloed within it—thinking all the time with a vague misery of Lucy Foster's untouched bloom.
Then her eyes fell upon two photographs that stood upon her table. One represented a man in yeomanry uniform; the other a tottering child of two.
'Oh! my boy—my darling!'—she cried in a stifled agony, and snatching up the picture, she bowed her head upon it, kissing it. The touch of it calmed her. But she could not part from it. She put it in her breast, and when she slept, it was still there.
'Eleanor—where are you off to?'
'Just to my house of Simmon,' said that lady, smiling. She was standing on the eastern balcony, buttoning a dainty grey glove, while Manisty a few paces from her was lounging in a deck-chair, with the English newspapers.
'What?—to mass? I protest. Look at the lake—look at the sky—look at that patch of broom on the lake side. Come and walk there before dejeuner—and make a round home by Aricia.'
Mrs. Burgoyne shook her head.
'No—I like my little idolatries,' she said, with decision. It was Sunday morning. The bells in Marinata were ringing merrily. Women and girls with black lace scarves upon their heads, handsome young men in short coats and soft peaked hats, were passing along the road between the villa and the lake, on their way to mass. It was a warm April day. The clouds of yellow banksia, hanging over the statued wall that girdled the fountain-basin, were breaking into bloom; and the nightingales were singing with a prodigality that was hardly worthy of their rank and dignity. Nature in truth is too lavish of nightingales on the Alban Hills in spring! She forgets, as it were, her own sweet arts, and all that rareness adds to beauty. One may hear a nightingale and not mark him; which is a lese majeste.
Mrs. Burgoyne's toilette matched the morning. The grey dress, so fresh and elegant, the broad black hat above the fair hair, the violets dewy from the garden that were fastened at her slender waist, and again at her throat beneath the pallor of the face,—these things were of a perfection quite evident to the critical sense of Edward Manisty. It was the perfection that was characteristic. So too was the faded fairness of hair and skin, the frail distinguished look. So, above all, was the contrast between the minute care for personal adornment implied in the finish of the dress, and the melancholy shrinking of the dark-rimmed eyes.
He watched her, through the smoke wreaths of his cigarette,—pleasantly and lazily conscious both of her charm and her inconsistencies.
'Are you going to take Miss Foster?' he asked her.
Mrs. Burgoyne laughed.
'I made the suggestion. She looked at me with amazement, coloured crimson, and went away. I have lost all my chances with her.'
'Then she must be an ungrateful minx'—said Manisty, lowering his voice and looking round him towards the villa, 'considering the pains you take.'
'Some of us must take pains,' said Mrs. Burgoyne, significantly.
'Some of us do'—he said, laughing. 'The others profit.—One goes on praying for the primitive,—but when it comes—No!—it is not permitted to be as typical as Miss Foster.'
'Typical of what?'
'The dissidence of Dissent, apparently—and the Protestantism of the Protestant religion. Confess:—it was an odd caprice on the part of high Jove to send her here?'
'I am sure she has a noble character—and an excellent intelligence!'
Manisty shrugged his shoulders.
'—Her grandfather'—continued the lady—'was a divinity professor and wrote a book on the Inquisition!'—
Manisty repeated his gesture.
'—And as I told you last night, she is almost as handsome as your Greek head—and very like her.'
'My dear lady—you have the wildest notions!'
Mrs. Burgoyne picked up her parasol.
'Quite true.—Your aunt tells me she was so disappointed, poor child, that there was no church of her own sort for her to go to this morning.'
'What!'—cried Manisty—'Did she expect a conventicle in the Pope's own town!'
For Marinata owned a Papal villa and had once been a favourite summer residence of the Popes.
'No—but she thought she might have gone into Rome, and she missed the trains. I found her wandering about the salon looking quite starved and restless.'
'Those are hungers that pass!—My heart is hard.—There—your bell is stopping. Eleanor!—I wonder why you go to these functions?'
He turned to look at her, his fine eye sharp and a little mocking.
'Because I like it.'
'You like the thought of it. But when you get there, the reality won't please you at all. There will be the dirty floor, and the bad music,—and the little priest intoning through his nose—and the scuffling boys,—and the abominable pictures—and the tawdry altars. Much better stay at home—and help me praise the Holy Roman Church from a safe distance!'
'What a hypocrite people would think you, if they could hear you talk like that!' she said, flushing.
'Then they would think it unjustly.—I don't mean to be my own dupe, that's all.'
'The dupes are the happiest,' she said in a low voice. 'There is something between them, and—Ah! well, never mind!'—
She stood still a moment, looking across the lake, her hands resting lightly on the stone balustrade of the terrace. Manisty watched her in silence, occasionally puffing at his cigarette.