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Hunt, the English banker, with his wife and daughters, now came; and Maestro Vannuccini with his signora on his arm; and several glittering young officers with stripes of various colors down their trouserlegs; and Landini, Hunt's partner; and Charlie Hunt, the banker's nephew.
Charlie, bold through long acquaintance, asked, "Where are the others?"
Leslie told him, whereupon the young man said "Oh!" and his "Oh!" sounded blank, whether because it was apparent to him through her answer that there had been indiscretion in his question, or because he wondered at there being a dinnerparty in this house and he not asked to it. Leslie paid no attention, for at that moment the diners were beginning to appear.
Mrs. Foss, coming into the drawingroom, felt a glow of pleasure at the scene meeting her eyes. The occasion, the success of it, had lifted life for her above its usual plane. She could feel how blessed. she was in ways she did not sufficiently consider on common days when common cares blinded her. It was a beautiful home, this of hers; here was a beautiful room, with its mirrors and flowers and candle-light and happy guests. She smiled at everybody and everything with a brooding sweetness.
The pianist had struck up a polka. One still danced the polka in those days, and the schottische and the dear old lancers, though the waltz was already the favorite.
The floor was at first sparsely, then ever more thickly, sown with hopping and revolving couples. Hunt, one arm curled around a young waist in pink muslin, had enough of his mind to spare from the amount of talk one has breath for while dancing to continue in a line of thought started by an annoying little smart where a shred of skin had been rubbed off his vanity when he saw Gerald come from the dining-room. He mentally looked at himself and looked at Gerald, and after comparing the pictures felt his astonishment increase. He could admit, as an excuse for inviting Gerald instead of himself, that Gerald was an artist, and this dinner had presumably been planned with the idea of
having it literary-artistic. But then-an artist! Gerald was so little of one. might, furthermore, grant that it did not. matter that a man should be agreeable in appearance. But Gerald was not even agreeable in disposition; he did not try to make himself agreeable. What did the Fosses see in him?
The music had worked through a mighty flourish to a banging final chord. Hunt escorted his lady to a chair, took the fan from her hand to fan her with,-himself a little, too, and while talking let his dark eye stray from her and go roving, as was the habit of his eye.
It plunged through an open door into the quietly lighted library, where the consul and his distinguished guest and a few more of the older or staider people had withdrawn from the tumult and were having smokes and conversation.
Bertie Bentivoglio came to ask the girl in pink to dance with him. From the chair she left empty Charlie moved nearer to the library door, of half a mind to join the group in there. But Gerald, upon whom Leslie had impressed it that he must do his duty and let there be no wall-flowers, came to the door. Whereupon Charlie changed his mind and after saying "Hello, Gerald!" turned again, and the young men stood looking over the scene side by side, two figures contrasting in reality nearly as much as they did in Charlie's mental image of them for purposes of comparison.
Any Rosina who sold buttonhole bou-. quets at the theater door could have seen that Charlie was handsome, with his pale, brown smoothness and regularity of feature, the pretty mustache accentuating and not concealing the neat and agreeable mould of his lip, the fine whiteness of his teeth, his civilized and silken look altogether. The defects of his face, if one could call them that, did not appear at first glance or even at second. His forehead had begun to gain on his hair, it ran up at the sides in two points; and his slightly prominent eyes were brown in the same sense as a horn button or a bit of chestnut-shell is brown,-while some eyes
that we remember were brown like woodland pools with autumn leaves at the bottom! He did not look English, yet did not look quite Italian either. He was in fact both, and the thing evenly balanced. The banker Hunt's brother had married an Italian, and Charlie had been born in Italy and hardly ever stirred out of it; on the other hand he had found his society largely among the English and Americans in Florence.
As he stood there, conforming gracefully to a recognized canon of manly beauty, his neighbor Gerald, who would not have been noticed one way or the other for his looks, yet from being beside him. took on an indescribable effect of eccentricity. The bone showed plainly around his eye-sockets and at the bridge of his nose. One eyebrow became different from the other the moment he regarded a thing analytically; and when he smiled, those who noticed such things could detect that nature had marked him for recognition: there showed beneath his mustache three of the broad front middle teeth whereof two are the common portion. For the remainder, a slight beard veiled the character of his chin and jaw and a little disguised the thinness of his throat. Above a large forehead his dark hair rose on end in a bristling bank, like that of most Italian men at the time. He looked solitary, unsociable, critical, but not altogether ungentle. His forehead was full of the suggestion of thoughts, his gray-blue eyes were full of the reflection of feelings, that you could be comfortably sure he would not trouble you with.
"Well, Gerald, what are you doing with yourself these days?" asked Charlie as they stood looking on, delaying to seek partners for the dance. "Immortal masterpieces?"
This innocuous playfulness somehow jarred. Gerald looked down at Charlie from the side of his eye,-he was by a couple of inches or so the taller, - then asked in his turn, a little crustily: "Do really want to know?" "Why, no, my dear fellow, I don't, if that's your reply. It was not curiosity. I
was only showing an amiable interest." His tone conveyed that he had intended no offense and refused to take any; the disagreeableness should be all on the same
"Thank you for the interest. doing much as usual," Gerald answered, placated.
"Who is this professor from America whom the very select are invited to meet?" Charlie asked after an interval, as if they had been on the best of terms again.
The playfulness again was innocent, again might have been regarded as almost an attempt to flatter; nevertheless it again jarred upon Gerald. It was by an effort that he answered, soberly and literally, without betraying that the point of irony had irritated him, as, he did not doubt, it was meant to irritate.
"Another translation of Dante?" Charlie made merry, when Gerald had finished telling as much as he knew about the professor. "I tell you what I will set myself to translating the 'Divine Comedy'! It will give me distinction, and then-it's very simple-I will never show my translation!"
There was surely no harm in this. It was just stupid. Charlie's esprit was never of any fineness. He and Gerald had known each other from the days when both went to M. Demonget's school, whence, without having been friends, they had emerged intimates. Charlie was right in thinking of himself as standing in a relation to Gerald that made him free to expose ideas in their undress. And yet it was on this evening and this occasion that Gerald said to himself for the first time definitely that he did not like Charlie Hunt. An antipathy existing perhaps from the beginning had risen to the point where it crossed the threshold of consciousness. No, he neither liked nor thought well of him.
Gerald cast his eyes more particularly about him in search of a partner. Charlie's eyes too were wandering over the small and scattered number of ladies still available to late comers.
Both of them knew every one present.
She was bowing to the altar, making an obeisance so deep, so beautifully reverent, that the priest could never have guessed she was not a Catholic. After it she still stood a moment, looking toward the sanctuary, like one with last fond words to say after the farewell, and this excess of either regard for the priest's feelings or else a devoutness he had not suspected in her quickened Gerald's attention. And there in the dimness he saw, what he had not seen in the broad light of day, that his friend's little face, which had presented the effect of a house with all the blinds drawn down, was lighted up behind the blinds-oh, lighted as if for a feast!
He felt himself at sea. He had thought he knew the circumstances. Some part, of course, nobody could know unless Brenda chose to tell them. But what reason there should be for positive joy
A suspicion flashed across his mind. He looked at her more closely, and put it away.
She might have been the wisest of the virgins, the one who before any other heard the music of the bridegroom and was first to light her lamp. She stood as if listening to his footsteps.
Gerald, who had the power to detach himself and at will see persons as if he looked at them for the first time, saw Brenda for a moment as a thing solely of form and color, a white shape against a ground of gloom, and took new account of the fact that the little girl who had had pigtails when he first knew her, and gone to the Diaconesse with lunch-basket and satchel of books, had from one season to the next, stealthily, as it were, and while his back was turned, become beautiful.
More than that. He was looking at Brenda-he recognized it with a pulse of exquisite interest-in her exact and particular hour. He had surprised a rose at its moment of transition from bud to bloom, that delicate and perfect moment when the natural beauty which women and fruits and flowers have in common, reaching its height, hangs poised for such a pitifully short time, alas!-before
it changes, if not declines, to something less dewily fresh, less heart-movingly untouched, less complete.
The artist could not long in this case be regarding the girl as part of a picture; his human relation to the owner of that lifted profile brought him back to wondering in what the quiet ecstasy it breathed could have its source. He was touched by it, by the whole character of her face at that moment, with its strength so nullified by gentleness.
When the will is strong and nature sensitive, what arms has youth with which to prevail? What but the power to keep still and hold on? Nothing was in Brenda's face so marked as that power, except, in this moment of undisguise, while she thought herself unwatched, its singular happiness, a mingling of tenderness, dedication, hope.
Now for the second time she curtseyed to the altar. The priest moved, Gerald moved, all three passed up the aisle, to a faint chink of coins in Gerald's pocket where he groped for a fee. At the main altar the priest dipped a rapid genuflexion.
As soon as they were outside Brenda began to talk about the picture, to ask questions, as if the art of the Italians had. been of all things nearest to her heart, and Gerald was drawn into holding in the street while they walked a sort of conferenza, or lecture, on the primitives.
Brenda was in the midst of an entirely pertinent remark when her voice softly died, like the flame of a candle sucked out by a draft or like a music-box run down. Gerald, looking round for the end of her sentence, saw that she had sighted an acquaintance on the other side of the street.
She nodded, without a smile, slowly. Just so must Beatrice have bowed in these same streets of Florence when she passed the dreamy, passionate youth through whom we are acquainted with her name.
Gerald's eyes traveled across the way to see who might be the recipient of the lady's most sweet salute, and hurriedly uncovered to an officer of the Italian army who, holding his hand to his cap, stood at attention till the two had passed.
Was the man pale or was it that Gerald had never before noticed, meeting him indoors and at evening, how strongly the black of his mustache and brows contrasted with his skin? The suspicion that had for a moment troubled Gerald in church returned as a stronger infection. Had Brenda expected this? Did they concert such meetings?
He might have said to himself that a tryst which consisted in crossing glances from opposite sides of the street was very innocent. In a moment he did see that as the villas fuori la porta must be reached through the porta, a lover whose lady lived on Viale dei Colli might without previous arrangement hope for a glimpse of her by walking in its neighborhood.
"Go on with the Sienese masters, Gerald," she bade him, collectedly. "I am listening, and learning a lot."
As they passed under the great arch of the Roman Gate, Gerald was saying modestly:
"I don't know anything about them, really. I've just been impressed by a thing. or two. This Lorenzetti, for instance—” And so on up the viale to the house.
In the drawing-room they found Mrs. Foss and Leslie, who, just home from town, tired and thirsty, had had tea brought to them, and were strengthening themselves before even taking off their hats.
Their welcome to Gerald was mingled with reproaches of the sort that flatters more than it hurts.
"It 's perfect ages since we saw you. We thought you had forgotten us. What have you been doing this long, long time?"
"It is you, who are never at home, my dear friends," Gerald took his turn. “I was here a fortnight or so ago. Did n't Lily tell you? Of course she told you, and you have forgotten, so it 's I, properly, who should be calling names. "Have you been quite well, Gerald?" Mrs. Foss asked in her maternal voice, careful look at him.
"I am glad you have come. I have been on the point more than once of send
ing for you, but the days fly so! We have been busy, too.”
She had poured cups of tea for Gerald and Brenda. All four were seated and refreshing themselves.
"Have you had a tiring day?" Brenda asked her mother, somewhat as if she were tired herself at the mere thought of such a day as she supposed her mother to have. had.
"No," Mrs. Foss answered briskly; "it's rather fun. I don't mean that one does n't get tired after a fashion. Has Brenda told you, Gerald, how we have lately been occupied?"
"Some new people, I think she said."
"I say it fondly, Gerald. Let me tell you a little about them, and you will see what I mean. They are going to spend the winter here and wanted a house. What house do you think they selected?" "You really must n't set me riddles, Mrs. Foss."
"For years we have seen it every time we drive to the Cascine, and seen it with a certain curiosity-always deserted, always with closed blinds, in its way the most beautiful house in Florence." "The most- I can't think what house you mean.'
"Of course not, with your tastes. But imagine some nice, rich Americans, without either art education or the smallest affectation of such a thing, and ask yourself what they would like. Why, a big, square, clean-looking, new-looking, wealthy-looking house, of course, set in a nice garden, with, at the end of the garden, a nice stable. I was thankful to find the place had been kept up."
"But is there-on the Lungarno, did you say?"
"It is that house we have called the Haughty Hermitage, Gerald," Brenda helped him.
"Oh, that! But surely one does n't live in a house like that!"
"Your excellent reason?" inquired Leslie.
"I don't know,"-he hesitated, "but