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surely one does n't live in a house like that!"
They had to laugh at the expression brought into his face by his sense of a mysterious incongruity.
"No," he went on with knitted brows to reject the idea; "a house like that—one does n't come all the way from America to live in a house which has no more atmosphere than that!"
"Ah, but that's the point, Gerald," said Mrs. Foss. "What you call atmosphere these people avoid as they would an unsanitary odor. Atmosphere! What would you say if you saw the things Leslie and I have been helping them to buy and put into it! I love to buy, you know, even when not for myself. I thought with joy, 'Now I shall at least go through the form of acquiring certain objects I have lusted after for years.' Delightful old things Jerome has discovered in antiquarians' places, and that we shall never be able to afford. Do you think I could persuade them to take one of these? represented that the worm-holes could be stopped up and varnished over, that the missing bits of inlay, precious crumbs of pearl and ivory, could be replaced, the tapestries renovated. In vain. They want everything new-hygienically new, fresh, and shining. And Gerald, prejudice apart, the idea is not without its good side. The result is not so bad as you may think. Why, after all, should my taste, your taste, prevail in their house, will you tell me?"
"For no reason in the world. This liberal view comes the easier to me that I do not expect ever to see the interesting treasures you may have collected from Peyron's and Janetti's."
"If it were no worse than that!" put in Leslie, and laughed a covered laugh. Mrs. Foss explained, after a like little laugh of her own.
"You see, things that we have seen till we have utterly ceased to see them, the things that nobody who really lives in Florence ever dreams of buying, are new to these people. They love them. As a result, you can guess. There will be in
their apartments alabaster plates with profiles of Dante and Michelangelo on a black center. There will be mosaic tables with magnolias and irises. There will be Pliny's doves. Think of it! There will be green bronze lamps and lizards—"
"And the fruit-tell about that, Mother!" Leslie prompted.
"There will be on the side-board in the dining-room a perpetual dish of magnificent fruit, marble, realistic to a degree. You know the kind."
"And you could stand by and let them. -you and Leslie!" spoke Brenda, in an astonishment almost seriously reproach
"My dear," Leslie took up their common defense, "one's feeling in this case is: What does it matter? A little more, a little less; it all goes together. When they have those curtains, they might as well have that fruit."
"At the same time, my dear children, let me tell you that the effect is not displeasing," insisted Mrs. Foss. "Such at least is my humble opinion. In its way it's all right. They are people of a certain kind, and they have bought what they like, not what they thought they ought to like."
"They are awfully good fun." Leslie started loyally in to make up for anything she had said which might seem to savor of mockery or dispraise. "One enjoys being with them, if they are n't our usual sort. They are in good spirits, really goodgood spirits with roots to them. And that 's such a treat these days!"
From which it was supposable that Leslie had been living in circles where the gaiety was hollow. The suggestion did not escape Gerald. But, then, Leslie, just turned twenty-four, was rather given to judging these days as if she remembered something less modern, an affectation found piquant by her friends in a particularly young-looking, blonde girl with a short nose. Gerald might have hoped that her sigh meant nothing had not Leslie, awake to the implication of her remark as soon as she had made it, gone hurriedly on to call attention away from it.
"Yes, it's pleasant to be with them. It's a change. The world seems simple and life easy. Life is easy, with all that money. Besides, Mrs. Hawthorne really is something of a dear. After all, if people make much of one, one is pretty sure to like them. Have n't you found it so, Gerald?"
"I don't know. I am trying to remember if there is anybody who has made much of me."
"We have made much of you."
"And don't think I temperately like you. I adore you all, as you well know. You 're the only people I do. By that sign there has been nobody else kind enough to make much of me.'
"You 're so bad lately, Gerald; that 's why," Mrs. Foss affectionately chid him. "You never go anywhere. You neglect your friends. What have you been doing with yourself? Is it work?"
"No; not more than usual. I work, but I'm not exactly absorbed-obsessed by it." "But it won't do, Gerald dear; it won't do at all," Mrs. Foss addressed him anxiously, between scolding and coaxing. "Shake yourself, boy! Force yourself a little; it will be good for you. Make yourself go to places till this mood is past. What is it? Bad humor, spleen, hypochondria? It does n't belong with one of your age, Gerald. We miss you terribly, dear. Here we have had two of our Fridays, and you have not been. And we have always counted on you. Oh, here 's Lily. Why did n't you tell us, Lily, that Gerald had come to see us when we were out?"
A long-legged, limp-looking little girl with spectacles had come in. A minute before she had been passing the door on her way to walk, and catching the sound of a male voice in the drawing-room, insisted upon listening till she had made sure whose it was. At the name Gerald she had pulled away from her governess and burst into the drawing-room.
She stood still a moment after this impulsive entrance, and the turned governess toward Mrs. Foss a face that, benign and enlightened though it was, called up the
"Gerald," - Lily lowered her voice to make their conversation more private,"will you be the cuckoo?" As he gazed, she went earnestly on: "We can't find anybody to do the cuckoo. I am going to be the nightingale. Fräulein is going to be the drum. Leslie is going to be the Wachtel. Mother is going to be the triangle. Brenda will play the piano. Papa says that if he is to take part he must be the one who sings on the comb and tissuepaper. But I am afraid to let him. You know he has n't a good ear. That leaves the cuckoo, the comb, and the rattle still to find before we can have our Kindersinfonie. Which should you like to be, Gerald?"
"What an opening for musical talent! But, my dear little lady, I 'm not a bit of good. I can't follow music by note any more than a cuckoo. I am so sorry."
"But, Gerald, all you have to do is—” "I have told you, Lili," said the governess in German, "that we would take the gardener's boy and drill him for the cuckoo. Come now quickly, dear child; we must go for our walk."
The casual, unimportant talk of ordinary occasions went on after the interruption. Gerald left the Fosses, warmed by his renewed sense of their friendship, and believing that he should go very soon again to see them. But he did not, and his feeling of shame was more definite
than his gratitude when he in time received a note from Mrs. Foss, kind as ever, asking him to dine.
THERE was dancing at the Fosses' on two Fridays in the month. It was their contribution toward the gaiety of the winter. They did not often give a formal dinner, and when such an entertainment appeared to be called for from them, planned it with forethought to make it serve as many ends as it would. Every careful housewife will understand.
It was with Leslie that Mrs. Foss talked such matters over. The eldest daughter was so sufficient as adjutant that one did not inquire whether Brenda would have been useful if needed. The latter took no part in the domestic councils which had for object to decide who should be asked to dinner and of what the dinner should consist.
The question of whom to invite to meet Professor Longstreet had taken Mrs. Foss and Leslie time and reflection. The Fosses' only son had a great regard for this man, one of the faculty during his period at Harvard, and now that the travels of the professor's sabbatical year brought him to Florence, the family was anxious to entertain him as dear John, studying medicine in far-off Boston, would have wished.
The professor was engaged upon a new translation of the "Divine Comedy." The guests had therefore better be chosen among their literary acquaintance, thought Mrs. Foss. But Leslie was of the opinion that they would do better to make the requisite just any gift or grace, and keep an eye on having the company compose well and the table look beautiful.
When she reminded her mother that a dinner was owing the Balm de Brézés, and that this would be a chance to pay the debt, Mrs. Foss objected, "But I want to ask Gerald. I felt sorry for him last time he came. We must look after him a little
bit, you know."
Leslie did not show herself in any wise disposed to set aside Gerald's claim, but
expressed the idea that Gerald probably would not mind meeting the De Brézés now. After all, the memories sweet and sour associated with them had had time to lose their edge. And they could be seated at the opposite end of the table.
It was finally decided to ask the Balm de Brézés, Gerald, the Felixsons, Miss Cecilia Brown, and Gideon Hart, all intelligent, all people who could talk. It was further frugally resolved to have the dinner on a Friday and let it be followed by the usual evening party, thus making the same embellishment of the house do for two occasions, as well as augmenting their visitors' opportunity to make acquaintance with the Anglo-American colony in Florence.
ALL had been going so well, the guests were in such happy and talkative form, that the minor matter of taking food had dragged, and the diners were not ready to rise when a servant whispered to Mrs. Foss that the first evening guest had arrived.
Mrs. Foss's eyes found those of Leslie, who understood the words soundlessly framed, and excused herself from the table.
In the garnished and waiting drawingroom, lighted with candles, like a shrine, and looking vast, with the furniture taken out of the way, she found the Reverend Arthur Spottiswood, of whom it was not easy to think that eagerness to dance had driven him to come so sharply on time. He looked serious-minded, almost somber, and Leslie, though prepared to be vivacious with peer or pauper, found it all duty and little fun to make conversation with him until the next arrival should come to her relief. The gentleman was Brenda's adorer, but Brenda would never, if she could help it, let him have one moment with her.
The Satterlees were next to arrive, mother with son and daughter, and Leslie was warm as never before in her welcome to them. The hired pianist had come, he was unrolling his sheets of dance-music and rolling them the contrary way. Mr.
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. 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 bouquets 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