ANDOTHER ITALIAN STORIES
CONSTANCE FENIMORE WOOLSON
HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
CONSTANCE FENIMORE WOOLSON
HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
|BY CONSTANCE FENIMORE WOOLSON.|
|MENTONE, CAIRO, AND |
CORFU. Ill'd. $1 75.
|THE FRONT YARD, Etc. Illustrated. $1 25.|
|ANNE. Illustrated. $1 25.||HORACE CHASE. $1 25.|
|EAST ANGELS. $1 25.||CASTLE NOWHERE. $1 00.|
|JUPITER LIGHTS. $1 25.||RODMAN THE KEEPER. $1 00.|
|FOR THE MAJOR. Illustrated. $1 00.|
|PUBLISHED BY HARPER & BROTHERS, NEW YORK.|
Copyright, 1895, by HARPER & BROTHERS.
All rights reserved.
All rights reserved.
NOTEOF the stories contained in this volume, "A Florentine Experiment" was originally published in the Atlantic Monthly, and the others in HARPER'S MAGAZINE.
IAS it was Saturday, many visitors came to the villa, Giuseppe receiving them at the open door, and waving them across the court or up the stone stairway, according to their apparent inclination, murmuring as he did so: "To the garden; the Signora North!" "To the salon; the Signora Tracy!" with his most inviting smiles. Dorothy probably was with Mrs. North in the garden. And everybody knew that the tea and the comfortable chairs were up-stairs. The company therefore divided itself, the young people as far as possible, the men who like to appear young, and the mothers who have heavier cares than the effects of open-air light on a middle-aged complexion, crossing the paved quadrangle to the north hall, while the old ladies and the ladies (not so old) who detest gardens ascended the stairs, accompanied by, first, the contented husbands; second, the well-trained husbands; third, other men, bond or free, who cherish no fondness for damp belvederes, for grassy mounds, or for poising themselves on a parapet which has a yawning abyss below.
Giuseppe was the gardener; he became a footman once a week, that is, on Saturday afternoons, when the American ladies of the Villa Dorio received those of their friends who cared to come to their hill-top above the Roman Gate of Florence—a hill-top bearing the appropriate name of Bellosguardo. For fair indeed is the outlook from that supremely blessed plateau, whether towards the north, south, east, or west, with perhaps an especial loveliness towards the west, where the Arno winds down to the sea. Enchanting as is this Occidental landscape, Mrs. Tracy had ended by escaping from it.
"When each new person begins: 'Oh, what lovely shadows!' 'Oh, the Carrara Mountains!' we cannot look at each other, Laura and I," she explained; "it's like the two Roman what-do-you-call-ems—augurs. I'm incapable of saying another word about the Carrara Mountains, Laura; and so, after this, I shall leave them to you."
This was the cause of Giuseppe's indicating the drawing-room, and not the garden, as Mrs. Tracy's domain.
It was not difficult for Giuseppe to turn himself into a footman; Raffaello, the butler (or cameriere), could have turned himself into a coachman, a cook, a laundress, a gardener, or even a parlor-maid, if occasion had so required; for Italian servants can do anything. And if Mrs. Sebright sighed, "Ah, but so badly!" (which was partly true from the English point of view) the Americans at least could respond, "Yes, but so easily!" In truth, it was not precisely in accordance with the English standard to be welcomed by smiles of personal recognition from the footman at the door, nor to have the tea offered by the butler with an urgent hospitality which was almost tender. But Italy is not England; radiant smiles from the servants accord perhaps with radiant sunshine from the sky, both things being unknown at home. As for the American standard, it does not exist, save as a vacillating pennon.
The Villa Dorio is a large, ancient structure of pale yellow hue; as is often the case in Tuscany, its façade rises directly from the roadway, so that any one can drive to the door, and knock by simply leaning from the carriage. But privacy is preserved all the same by the massive thickness of the stone walls, by the stern iron cages over the lofty lower windows, and by an entrance portal which resembles the gateway of a fortress. The villa, which, in the shape of a parallelogram, extends round an open court within, is large enough for five or six families; for in the old days, according to the patriarchal Italian custom, the married sons of the house, with their wives and children, were all gathered under its roof. In these later years its tenants have been foreigners, for the most part people of English and American birth—members of that band of pilgrims from the land of fog and the land of haste, who, having once fallen under the spell of Italy, the sorcery of that loveliest of countries, return thither again and yet again, sometimes unconscious of their thraldom, sometimes calling it staying for the education of the children, but seldom pronouncing the frank word "living." Americans who have stayed in this way for twenty years or more are heard remarking, in solemn tones, "In case I die over here, I am to be taken home to my own country for burial; nothing less could content me." This post-mortem patriotism probably soothes the conscience.
Upon the Saturday already mentioned the Villa Dorio had but one tenant; for Mrs. Tracy had taken the entire place for a year—the year 1881. She could not occupy it all, even with the assistance of Mrs. North and Dorothy, for there were fifty rooms, besides five kitchens, a chapel, and an orange-house; she had selected, therefore, the range of apartments up-stairs which looked towards the south and west, and the long, frescoed, echoing spaces that remained were left to the ghosts. For there was a ghost, who clanked chains. The spectre of Belmonte, another villa near by, was more interesting; he was a monk in a brown gown, who glided at midnight up the great stairway without a sound, on his way to the tower. The American ladies had chosen for their use the northwestern garden. For the Villa Dorio has more than one garden; and it has also vineyards, olive groves, and the fields of the podere, or farm, in the valley below, with their two fountains, and the little chapel of the Holy Well. The northwestern garden is an enchanting spot. It is not large, and that adds to the charm, for its secluded nearness, so purely personal to the occupier, yet overhangs, or seems to, a full half of Tuscany; from the parapet the vast landscape below rolls towards the sunset as wide and far-stretching as the hidden shelf, one's standing-point, is private and small. When one ceases to look at the view—if one ever does cease—one perceives that the nook has no formal flower-beds; grass, dotted with the pink daisies of Italy, stretches from the house walls to the edge; here and there are rose-bushes, pomegranates, oleanders, and laurel, but all are half wild. The encircling parapet is breast-high; but, by leaning over, one sees that on the outside the ancient stones go plunging down, in course after course, to a second level far below, the parapet being in reality the top of a massive retaining-wall. At the corner where this rampart turns northward is perched a little belvedere, or arbor, with vines clambering over it. It was upon this parapet, with its dizzy outer descent, that the younger visitors were accustomed to perch themselves when they came to Villa Dorio. And Dorothy herself generally led them in the dangerous experiment. But one could never think of Dorothy as falling; her supple figure conveyed the idea that she could fly—almost—so lightly was it poised upon her little feet; in any case, one felt sure that even if she should take the fancy to throw herself off, she would float to the lower slope as lightly as thistle-down. The case was different regarding the Misses Sebright; they, too, were handsome girls, but they would certainly go down like rocks. And as for Rose Hatherbury, attenuated though she was, there would be, one felt certain, no floating; Rose would cut the air like a needle in her swift descent. Rose was thin (her aunts, the Misses Wood, called it slender); she was a tall girl of twenty-five, who ought to have been beautiful, for her features were well cut and her blue eyes lustrous, while her complexion was delicately fair. Yet somehow all this was without charm. People who liked her said that the charm would come. The Misses Wood, however, spent no time in anticipation; to them the charm was already there; they had always believed that their niece was without a fault. These ladies had come to Florence twenty years before from Providence, Rhode Island; and they had remained, as they said, "for art" (they copied as amateurs in the Uffizi Gallery). Of late they had begun to ask themselves whether art would be enough for Rose.
At five o'clock on this April afternoon the three Misses Sebright, Rose, Owen Charrington—a pink-cheeked young Englishman, long and strong—Wadsworth Brunetti, and Dorothy were all perched upon the parapet, while Miss Maria Wood hovered near, pretending to look for daisies, but in reality ready to catch Rose by the ankles in case she should lose her balance. Miss Jane Wood was sitting with Mrs. North in the aguish belvedere. With remarkable unanimity, the group of men near by had declared that, in order to see the view, one must stand.
"Your garden is like an opera-box, Mrs. North," said Stephen Lefevre; "you sit here at your ease, and see the whole play of morning, noon, and night sweeping over Tuscany."
"A view like this is such a humanizer!" remarked Julian Grimston, thoughtfully. "One might indeed call it a hauberk."
To this mysterious comparison Miss Jane Wood responded, cheerfully, "Quite so." She did not ask for explanations (Julian's explanations were serious affairs); she spoke merely on general principles; for the Misses Wood considered Julian "such an earnest creature!" Julian, a wizened little American of uncertain age, was protected by a handsome mother, who possessed a firm eye and a man-like mouth; this lady had almost secured for her son an Italian countess of large circumference and ancient name. Julian so far held back; but he would yet go forward.
"Its most admirable quality, to my mind, is that it's here," Mr. Illingsworth remarked, after Julian's "hauberk." "Generally, when there is a noble view, one has to go noble miles to see it; one has to be out all day, and eat hard-boiled eggs on the grass. You can't think how I loathe hard-boiled eggs! Or else one has to sleep in some impossible place, and be routed out at dawn. Can any one admire anything at dawn?"
"And have you discovered that, Mr. Ashcraft, on your third day in Florence?" demanded Illingsworth, with admiration. "But it's only another instance of the quick intelligence of your wonderful nation. Now I have lived in the town for twenty-five years, and have never noticed that this Carrara view was an afternoon affair. Yet so it is—so it is!"
Daniel Ashcraft surveyed the Englishman for a moment. "Oh yes—our quick intelligence. It makes us feel as though we were being exhibited. Sixpence a head."
More visitors appeared; by half-past five there were forty persons in the garden. Mrs. North received them all very graciously without stirring from her belvedere. Dorothy, however, was everywhere, like a sprite; and wherever Dorothy was Owen Charrington soon appeared. As for Wadsworth Brunetti, his method was more direct—he never left her side.
"They are both her shadows," said Beatrice Sebright, in an undertone, to Rose Hatherbury, as they sat perched side by side on the parapet.
"She is welcome to them," answered Rose. "A burly creature like Owen; and that Waddy!"
"Waddy?" repeated Beatrice, inquiringly.
"A simpleton," pronounced Rose, with decision.
Honest Beatrice surveyed her companion with wonder, into which crept something almost like envy; if she, Beatrice, could only think that Owen was burly; and if it were but possible, by trying hard, to regard Wadsworth Brunetti as a simpleton, how much easier life would be! As it was, she was convinced that Owen was not burly at all, but only athletic. And as to Waddy Brunetti, he was simply Raphael's young St. John in the Tribune of the Uffizi—the St. John at twenty-two, and in the attire of to-day. Wadsworth Brunetti's American mother had done her best to make an American of her only child; Waddy could speak the language of New York (when he chose); but in all other respects—his ideas, his manner, his intonations, his hair arranged after the fashion of King Humbert's, his shoes, his collar and gloves—he was as much a Florentine as his father. The Misses Sebright were not mistaken in their estimation of his appearance; he was exceedingly handsome. And the adverb is used advisedly, for his beauty exceeded that degree of good looks which is, on the whole, the best for every-day use; one hardly knew what to do with young Brunetti in any company, for he was always so much handsomer than the other guests, whether women or men.
"Isn't it enough that he allows himself to be called Waddy?" Rose had demanded in the same contemptuous undertone. "Waddy—wadding. What a name!"
"But Madame Brunetti tells us that Wadsworth is one of the very best of American names?" objected Beatrice, timidly, still clinging to her idol.
"She's mad; there are no best American names—unless one cares for those attached to the Declaration of Independence. The thing is, the best American men; and do you call Waddy that?"
Beatrice did. But she dared not confess it.
"Dorothy, I have forgotten my shawl," said Mrs. North, as Dorothy happened to pass the arbor.
"I'll go for it," said Charrington.
"Is it in the drawing-room?" inquired Julian Grimston. "A blue and white, with knotted fringe?"
Dorothy, meanwhile, was crossing the grass towards the house; Lefevre followed her; Waddy accompanied her.
"Nobody can get it but Dorothy—thanks; it is in my own room," said Mrs. North.
Charrington and Julian paused; Lefevre came back. Mrs. North said to Lefevre, "Praise my prudence in sending for a shawl." Then she added, laughing, "You dare not; prudence is so elderly!"
She could afford to make a joke of age; tall, thin, with abundant drab-colored hair and a smooth complexion, she did not look more than thirty-five, though she was in reality ten years older. She was a widow; her husband, Richard North, had been an officer in the American navy, and Dorothy was her step-daughter.
Dorothy and Waddy had gone on, and were now entering the north hall. This vacant stone-floored apartment, as large as a ball-room, with a vaulted ceiling twenty-four feet high, was the home of an energetic echo; spoken words were repeated with unexpected force, in accents musical but mocking. It was one thing for Waddy to murmur, "Give me but a grain of hope, only a grain," in pleading tones, and another to have the murmur come back like an opera chorus. Dorothy paused demurely, as if waiting for the conclusion of the sentence. But her picturesque suitor, still hearing his own roaring "grrrrain," bit his lips and tried to hasten their steps towards the other door.
"Oh, I thought you had something to say!" remarked Dorothy, innocently, when they reached the arcade within. "But you never have, have you."
And with this she crossed the quadrangle to welcome four new guests who were about to ascend the stairway in answer to Giuseppe's "The salon! Signora Tracy!" Waddy went up the stairs also. But he could not hope to follow to the remote region of Mrs. North's chamber, so he accompanied the new guests through the anterooms to the drawing-room at the end of the suite, where Mrs. Tracy, the second hostess, received them all with cordial greetings. Mrs. Tracy's years were fifty. She hoped that she was fine-looking, that epithet being sometimes applied to tall persons who hold up their heads, even if they are stout; even, too, if their noses are not long enough for classical requirements. She certainly held up her head. And she was always very well dressed; so well that it was too well. After saying a few words to Waddy, she passed him on to Miss Philipps, who stood near her. Felicia Philipps despised the beautiful youth. But she was willing to look at him for a few minutes as one looks at—a statue? Oh no, that would never have been Felicia's word; at wax-works, that was more like it; Felicia had a sharp tongue. She now chaffed the wax-works a little, pretending to compliment its voice; for Waddy could sing.
"As I sing too, Mr. Brunetti, we're companions in soul," she said. "But, unfortunately, when I sing, my soul does not come to my eyes, as yours does."
"The comfort of Waddy is that you can make mince-meat of him to his face, when you feel savage, and he never knows it," she had once remarked.
There was, however, another side to this: Waddy did not know, very possibly, but the reason was that he never paid sufficient heed to Miss Felicia Philipps to comprehend what she might be saying, good or bad; to his mind, Felicia was only "that old maid." Mrs. Tracy, for the moment not called upon to extend her tightly gloved hand to either arriving or departing guests, expanded her fingers furtively, in order to rest them, and glanced about her. Her rooms were full; there was a steady murmur of conversation; the air was filled with the perfume of flowers and the aroma of tea, and there were suggestions also of the petits fours, thebouchées aux confitures, and the delicate Italian sandwiches which Raffaello was carrying about with the air of an affectionate younger brother. Waddy, who cherished a vision of Dorothy coming to get a cup of tea for her mother (Waddy had noticed upon other Saturdays that "my shawl" meant tea), detached himself as soon as he could from Felicia, and made his way towards the tea-table in the opposite corner. Here Nora Sebright was standing behind a resplendent samovar. Mrs. Tracy had purchased this decorative steam-engine in Russia; but she had not dared to use it until Nora, seeing it at the villa one day, had offered to teach her its mysteries. Mrs. Tracy never learned them; but Nora came up every Saturday, and made the tea in her neat, exact way. She was number one of the Misses Sebright. Six sisters followed her. But this need not have meant that Nora was very mature, because hardly more than a year separated the majority of the Sebright girls (one could say the majority of them or the minority, there were so many). As it happened, however, Nora was twenty-nine, although Peggy, the next one, was barely twenty-five; for the six younger sisters were between that age and sixteen. These younger girls were tall, blooming, and handsome. Nora was small, insignificant, and pale; but her eyes were charming, if one took the trouble to look at them, and there was something pretty in her soft, dark hair, put back plainly and primly behind her ears, with a smooth parting in front; one felt sure that she did not arrange it in that way from a pious contentment with her own appearance, but rather from some shy little ideal of her own, which she would never tell.
"Do you think they have all had tea?" she was saying anxiously as Waddy came up. She addressed a gentleman by her side who had evidently been acting as her assistant.
"I think so," he answered, looking about the room with almost as much solicitude as her own.
Her face cleared; she laughed. "It's so kind of you! You have carried cups all the afternoon."
"I only hope I haven't broken any," responded her companion, still with a trace of responsibility in his tone.
"It is terribly dangerous, with so many people pushing against one. How you can do it so cleverly, I can't think. But indeed, Mr. Mackenzie, I do not believe you could let anything drop," Nora went on, paying him her highest compliment. "This is the fourth Saturday you have given to these teacups; I am afraid it has been tiresome. Raffaello ought to do it all; but Italian servants—"
"They are not like yours in England; I can understand that. But Raffaello, now— Raffaello has seemed to me rather a good fellow," said Mackenzie.
At this moment Dorothy, carrying a shawl, appeared at the door; she made her way to the table. "May I have some tea, Miss Sebright, please, for mamma?"
"I will carry it for you," said Waddy, eagerly.
"Won't you take some tea yourself, Miss Dorothy, before you go back to the garden?" suggested Mackenzie, in his deferential tones.
"I? Do you think I take tea? And how can you like it, Mr. Mackenzie? You're not an Englishman."
Waddy thanked fate that his mother had entered human existence in New York. Charrington, who was now near the table also, only laughed good-naturedly. On the whole he was of the opinion that Dorothy liked him. Her ideas about tea, or about other English customs, were not important; he could alter them.
"I am afraid I must acknowledge that I do like it," Mackenzie had answered.
"Do you take it in the morning—for breakfast?" inquired Dorothy, with the air of a judge.
Mackenzie confessed that he did.
"Then you are lost. Oh, coffee, lovely coffee of home!" Dorothy went on. "Coffee that fills the house at breakfast-time with its delicious fragrance. Not black, as the Italians make it. Not drowned in boiled milk, as the French drink it. As for the English beverage— But ours, the American—brown, strong, and with real cream! I wish I had a cup of it now—three cups—and six buckwheat cakes with maple syrup!"
The contrast between this evoked repast and the girl herself was so comical that the Americans who heard her broke into a laugh. Dorothy was very slight; there was something ethereal in her appearance, although the color in her cheeks, the brilliancy of her hazel eyes, and the bright hue of her chestnut hair indicated a vivid vitality. As a whole, she was charmingly pretty. The Americans who had laughed were but two—Mackenzie himself and Stephen Lefevre, who had now joined the group. Lefevre wished that his adorable little countrywoman would not say "lovely coffee." But Lefevre was, no doubt, a purist.
Felicia Philipps now came to the table with out-stretched hands. "PoorNora, I have only just observed how tired you are! You must have one of your fearful headaches?"
"Oh dear, no," answered Nora, surprised. "I haven't a headache in the least."
"Fancy! But you are overtired without knowing it; you must be, or you would not look so pale. I am sure Mr. Mackenzie sees it. Don't you think, Mr. Mackenzie, that Miss Sebright has been here quite long enough? I'm so anxious to relieve her."
"It's very good of you, I'm sure," replied Mackenzie.
And then Felicia, pulling off her gloves, came round behind the table and took possession of the place with an amiability and a rearrangement of the cups that defied opposition.
"I am afraid this tea will be cold," Waddy meanwhile had suggested to Dorothy.
"Yes, do take it down to mamma, Mr. Brunetti. And take this shawl too, won't you?"
"Aren't you coming?" said Waddy, in a discomfited voice, as, shawl in one hand and teacup in the other, he stood waiting.
"In five minutes; I have taken a fancy for spending just five minutes in that big yellow chair."
"That is wise; I'm very pleased to hear you say it," remarked Nora, who, though dispossessed, still lingered near. "We come up here, stay awhile, and then go away; but you are kept on your feet for three or four hours at a time."
"You don't go away, do you, Nora?" said Felicia. "You are so kind. I dare say you have been here since noon?"
"The samovar—" began Nora.
"Dear samovar!" commented Felicia, smiling.
And then Nora, at last understanding the sarcasm of the tone, left the table and crossed the room, her cheeks no longer colorless. Alan Mackenzie, who had heard this little dialogue, thought that the two ladies had been very kind to each other.
Mrs. Tracy, on her way back from the anteroom, whither she had gone to escort Julian Grimston's mother, who was taking leave, now stopped at the tea-table. She drew Felicia aside. "Stay and dine with us, won't you? We are always tired on Saturday evenings, and it will be delightful to hear you sing. The carriage shall take you home."
"You're awfully good," Felicia answered. "But don't trouble to send out the carriage. Ask Mr. Mackenzie too. He will be enchanted to stay, and then we can go down together on foot, and nobody need be bothered."
"You don't mind?"
"At my age!" answered Felicia, smiling. Felicia's smile always had a slightly hungry look.
"We shouldn't think of it. But then we're Americans," responded Mrs. Tracy. "Over here no woman seems to be safely old."
"Is that why so many of you come over?" demanded Felicia, who at heart detested all American women, especially those who, like the tenants of Villa Dorio, had plenty of money at their disposal. Then curbing her tongue, she added, "What you say is true of wives and widows. But I assure you that old maids are shelved over here as soon and as completely as they are with you in Oregon."
"In Oregon!" repeated Mrs. Tracy. "You English are too extraordinary." And she went away, laughing.
During this conversation Dorothy was leaning back in the gold-colored easy-chair; Charrington and Stephen Lefevre were standing beside her, and presently Julian Grimston joined the group, rubbing his dry little hands together gleefully, and murmuring to himself something that sounded like "Aha! aha!"
"Is it the pure joy of living, Mr. Grimston?" Dorothy inquired. For this was said to have been Julian's answer when an acquaintance, upon passing him in the street one day and overhearing him ahaing, had asked what it meant.
At this moment Waddy came from the anteroom. "And mamma's tea?" Dorothy asked.
"Raffaello was just going down; I gave it to him."
"Oh, thanks. I'm thinking how little mamma will like that." And Dorothy played thoughtfully a soundless tune with her right hand upon the arm of the easy-chair.
Waddy pursed up his lips in an inaudible whistle. Then with swift step he left the room.
Five minutes later he was back again. "It's all right. I caught up with him," he said, briefly.
"Now mark that," began Charrington. "This impostor gave those things to Mrs. North, I'll warrant, with rolling eyes that seemed to say that even to have touched them had been a huge joy." Waddy did not defend himself. "I wouldn't be a cherub, as you are, even if I could," went on Charrington. "You belong to Christmas-cards—your chin on your clasped hands. What is a cherub out of business—a cherub going about clothed, and with an umbrella? It's ghastly."
Mrs. Tracy to Miss Jane Wood: "How do you do, Miss Wood?"
To Miss Maria: "How do you do?"
Behind the Misses Wood came Rose Hatherbury and three of the Misses Sebright, who were tired of sitting on the wall. Felicia, very busy, sent tea to them all, Mackenzie carrying the cups. Raffaello presented himself at the table to assist. Felicia did not know much Italian, but she did know her own mind, and she wished for no second assistant; she therefore said to Raffaello, in an undertone, but with decision, "Andate via!" Raffaello, astounded by this unexpected "Clear out!" gazed at her for a moment with wild eyes, and then escaped from the room.
The tea was not good—so the Misses Wood thought as they tried to sip it; Nora Sebright, who was now walking with quick steps through the Via Romana on her way home, would have been distressed to see how bad it was.
"I wonder if there is any one in the garden now?" said Dorothy.
"There are fifty-seven persons," answered Rose, who had seated herself on a sofa near. "I know, because I counted them."
"Then I must go down," said Dorothy, rising.
She nodded to Rose and to the others and left the room, Waddy following as usual. Two minutes later, Charrington, Julian Grimston, and Stephen Lefevre had also disappeared.
Miss Jane Wood (having given up the tea) now began, graciously, "Did you get your ride this morning, Mr. Charrington?"
"Aunt Jane, Mr. Charrington is not here now," said Rose, in her distinct tones.
"Oh," said Miss Jane, bewildered, and fumbling quickly for her eye-glasses, which she had removed when she took her teacup. "He was here a moment ago; I saw him."
"What wonderful elocutionary powers Miss Hatherbury has!" said Felicia, in an aside, to Mackenzie. "I really think she could be heard in the largest hall."
"Upon my word, now that you mention it, I believe she could," answered Mackenzie, admiringly.
Rose divined that she was the subject of Felicia's aside. She said to her aunt, in an interested tone, "How well one sees the Belmonte tower from here!"
Miss Jane came to look, and then (in order that she should see to advantage) her niece pulled the cord and rolled the window-shade up to the top, letting in a broad shaft of sunset light, which fell directly across the tea-table and the persons in attendance there. Rose took this moment to carry her aunt's cup back to the table; and, having put it down, she remained standing by Felicia's side while she began, composedly, a conversation with Alan Mackenzie. Mackenzie responded:his head immediately assumed the little bend which with him signified devoted listening; he stood, meanwhile, exactly where Rose had intended that he should stand—namely, in front of the two ladies, facing them. Felicia, even in her youth, had had no beauty; now all the faults of her sharp features were pitilessly magnified by the same clear light which brought out the fine-grained purity of Rose's complexion and turned her golden hair into glittering glory. Felicia was too intelligent to cherish illusions about her appearance; she quivered under the radiance in which the golden motes danced; she too had color now, but it was an ugly vermilion in spots and streaks. She glanced at Mackenzie; he was listening to Rose; now he was offering one of his civil little questions—those attentive, never-failing small interrogatories for which he was celebrated.
"I should like to strangle him!" thought the older woman, bitterly. "I believe he would keep up those everlasting little questions on his death-bed. In reality, he doesn't care the turn of his finger for that screaming popinjay. Yet he stands there and listens to her, and will do it unflinchingly as long as she talks, if it's all night."
The popinjay at this moment turned, and fired back at Felicia her own gun. "You are tired, Miss Philipps. Doesn't she look tired, Mr. Mackenzie?"
Mackenzie turned obediently; he inspected Felicia's flushed face. "Yes—ah, really, I am afraid you are tired," he said, kindly.
Felicia, unable to bear his gaze, seized her gloves and fled.
But the popinjay could not sing, and had no invitation to stay. Alan Mackenzie loved music. As he never spoke of the love, but few persons had discovered it; Felicia was one of the few.
It was nearly eleven o'clock before the song began. They had gone out, after dinner, to the small stone terrace that opened from the drawing-room, in order to look at the valley by the light of the moon. "For we really like our view when we don't have to talk about it," Mrs. Tracy explained. After a while, "Come, Felicia," she said.
Felicia went within and opened the piano; Mrs. Tracy, following, sank into the easiest chair; Mrs. North placed herself in the doorway, with her face towards the moonlight. Dorothy remained outside, using the hammock as a swing, pushing herself to and fro slowly by a touch on the parapet now and then. On the other side of the terrace, in a garden-chair, sat the second guest.
Felicia's voice was a contralto which had not a range of many notes, but each one of the notes was perfect. Her singing was for a room only; it was intimate, personal; perhaps too personal sometimes. The words were, for her, a part of it as much as the melody.
|"Through the long days and years|
|What will my loved one be,|
|Parted from me.|
|Through the long days and years?"|
|"Never on earth again|
|Shall I before her stand,|
|Touch lip or hand,|
|Never on earth again,"|
sang the voice, the strains floating out to the moonlight in a passion of sorrow. Dorothy was now looking at the tower of Belmonte, near by. "I wish our villa had a tower," was the thought in her mind. As her gaze turned, she saw that Mackenzie's eyes were resting upon her, and she smiled back at him, making a mute little gesture of applause.
|"But while my darling lives,|
|Peaceful I journey on,|
|Not quite alone,|
|Not while my darling lives."|
Dorothy made her little motion of applause again, save that this time the applause was audible; the words on her lips, ready to utter, were, "How pretty that is!" Perhaps Mackenzie divined what these words would be, for, with a quick movement, he rose and went to the end of the terrace, where he stood with his back towards her, looking down the valley. But Dorothy had accomplished her duty; she was perfectly willing to be silent; she sank lazily back in the hammock again, and resumed her swinging.
"Mr. Mackenzie, wasn't that exquisite?" said Mrs. Tracy's voice within.
Mackenzie, thus summoned, crossed the terrace and re-entered the drawing-room. Felicia kept her seat at the piano; as Mrs. Tracy was standing behind her, and as Mrs. North's head was turned away, she was freed for the moment from feminine observation, and she therefore gave herself the luxury of letting all the pathos and passion with which she had sung remain unsubdued in her eyes, which, met his as he came up.
"Lovely, wasn't it? But so sad," continued Mrs. Tracy.
"Yes," Mackenzie answered; "it is rather sad." Then, "What song is it, Miss Philipps?" he inquired. "I do not remember having heard it before."
"'Through the long days,'" answered Felicia, who was now looking at the piano keys.
"Ah! And the composer?"
"Ah! Francis Boott, yes. And the words?" His head had now its attentive little bend.
"They are by John Hay." To herself she added: "You shall stop your little questions; you shall say something different!" And again she looked up at him, her eyes strangely lustrous.
And then at last he did say, "May I take the music home with me? You shall have it again to-morrow. It is a very beautiful song."
Felicia rolled up the sheet and gave it to him, her hand slightly rigid as she did so from repressed emotion.
At midnight the two guests took leave, Mrs. Tracy accompanying them down to the entrance portal. The irregular open space, or piazza, before the house had a weird appearance; the roadway looked like beaten silver; the short grass had the hue and gleam of new tin; the atmosphere all about was as visibly white as it is visibly black on a dark night.
"Oh no," said Felicia; "it's St. Mark's eve, so we're all under good protection. Hear the nightingales."
She was in high spirits; her words came out between little laughs like giggles. Mrs. Tracy watched the two figures cross the grass and turn down the narrow passage whence the road descends in zigzags to Florence.
"Poor Felicia," she said, when she had returned up the stairs to the drawing-room; "she is talking about St. Mark's eve, in order, I suppose, to bring up the idea of St. Agnes's. It's late, isn't it? They must want to walk!"
"They?" said Mrs. North. "She."
"Well, then, I wish she could," responded Mrs. Tracy. Going to the terrace door, she looked out. "Where is Dorothy?"
"I sent her to bed; she was almost asleep in the hammock. If there is one thing she likes better than another, it is to curl herself up in some impossible place and fall asleep. Would you mind closing the glass doors? The nightingales hoot so."
Mrs. Tracy closed and fastened the terrace entrance for the night.
"What do you mean by saying that you wish she could?" Mrs. North went on. "You wouldn't have Alan Mackenzie marry that plain-looking, ill-tempered old maid, would you?"
"Perhaps she is ill-tempered just because she is an old maid, Laura. And as to looks—if she were happy—"
"Mercy! Are the Mackenzie millions to be devoted to the public charity of making a Felicia Philipps happy?"
"Why, isn't it as good an object as a picture-gallery? Or even an orphan asylum? Felicia would be a great deal happier than all the happiness combined of the whole three hundred orphans out at St. Martin's at a Christmas dinner," suggested Charlotte Tracy, laughing.
"Absurd! Rose Hatherbury is the one—if it's any one in Florence."
"Oh, Rose is too young for him."
"In years, yes. But Rose's heart can be any age she pleases. Alan isn't really old in the least; but he was born middle-aged; he is the essence of middle-age and mediocrity; one always knows beforehand what he will say, for it will simply be, on every occasion, the most polite and the most commonplace thing that could possibly be devised under the circumstances. How came you to ask him to stay to dinner?"
"Felicia made me. Funny, wasn't it, to see Waddy hang on, hoping for an invitation too."
"You might have given him one. It would have entertained Dorothy."
"Well, to tell the truth, Laura, I am a little afraid of Waddy; he isso handsome!"
"She doesn't care for him."
"She likes him."
"Yes, as she likes a dozen more. If she has a fancy for one over another, it is, I think, for Owen Charrington," continued the mother. "She would have to live in England. But I dare say his people would take to her; they are very nice, you know—his people."
"How can you talk so! Dorothy is thoroughly American; she would be wretched in England. When she marries—which I hope won't be for five or six years more—she must marry one of our own countrymen, of course. The idea!"
"Very well; I've no objection. But in that case we must take her home again before long," said Laura North, rising. As she spoke she indulged in a stretch, with her long arms extended first horizontally, and then slowly raised until they were perpendicular above her head, the very finger-tips taking part in the satisfactory elongation.
"How I wish I could do that!" said Charlotte Tracy, enviously. "But you don't say 'Ye-ough' at the end, as you ought to."
They put out the wax-candles and left the room together, Mrs. Tracy lighting the way with a Tuscan lamp, its long chains dangling. "By this time Felicia, 'delicately treading the clear pellucid air,' is going through the Porta Romana," she suggested.
"Never in the world! She has taken him round by the Viale dei Colli; she won't let him off for two good hours yet," responded Mrs. North.
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