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queen. And the fatal thing happened at very first sight of her. It is a repetition of Romeo and Juliet, as you see. These things he told me with actual tears in the finest dark eyes I have perhaps ever seen, and without seeming any the less manly for them. He told me, and I believed him. He came to me, poor fellow, because it was the nearest he could come to Brenda, and he trusted, I suppose, that I would tell her he had been."
Mrs. Hawthorne looked soft and sympathetic, but far away, and when he stopped, did not speak, engrossed, it was to be hoped, by the story just told.
He continued, though discouraged: "He wanted to know if I thought he would be guilty of an unpardonable breach should he ask permission to write her one letter before she left. This parting without farewell is the last bitter touch to his tragedy. Brenda, when it had been decided that she should leave, sent word to him by that little pianist who comes here. Again through the same channel he received word that the day of departure was fixed. Can you think what it means, Mrs. Hawthorne? Have you in your experience or imagination the wherewith to form any conception, dear Mrs. Hawthorne, of what it means?"
"All right, Mr. Fane; bring him!" she said in haste. "You 've made me want to cry. I must n't let myself cry; it makes my nose red. What did you say his name is?" "Giglioli."
"Spell it. Gig-no, it 's no use. What's the other part of his name?"
"That's a little better. I guess he 'll have to be Manlio to me. Bring him along, whatever happens, and then let 's pray hard to have everything happen right."
Not much later on the same day Mrs. Hawthorne's brougham might have been seen climbing Viale dei Colli, with the lady inside, alone, engaged in meditation.
"It would be a pity," she was thinking, as she alighted before Villa Foss, "that a little matter of eight thousand dollars should stand in the way of perfect bliss!"
So many forces had been enlisted, into so many hands the white card given, to make Mrs. Hawthorne's ball a success, that it could hardly fail to be somewhat splendid. On a platform raised in one corner of the ball-room sat the little orchestra assembled and conducted by Signor Ceccherelli, who, from his mien, might have been the creator of these musicians and originator of all music.
Charlie Hunt was floor-master, and busy enough. Another might perhaps have done as much and not appeared so busy. The cotillion especially gave him a great deal to do. Everybody understood that he had planned all the figures and bought the favors. Some received an impression that the ball was entirely managed by him, who was such a very great friend of the hostess. Some even carried home an idea that the hostess never did anything without consulting him, and more often than not besought him to do it for her.
Mrs. Foss stood near the central door with Mrs. Hawthorne, receiving. She had not omitted from her list one acquaintance in Florence of the suitable class. Everybody was there; the style of invitation-card sent had suggested a grand occasion.
All the persons she had seen at the Fosses' on the first Friday evening at their house Mrs. Hawthorne saw again, and many more. Balm de Brézé, with a gallantry of old style, bent his black-lacquer mustache over her glove. The dark Landini pressed her hand with a pinch the warmth of which pricked her attention, and she found his eyes fixed on her with more the air of seeing her than is common at a first meeting.
Suddenly her heart thumped like a school-girl's. Gerald was coming, and with him an officer who must surely be Manlio. She tried to keep down her emotion, but the pink of her face deepened, a trembling seized her smile.
The Italian was as white as paper, his mustache and brows made spots of ink on
it; his eyes were as deep and still as wells in the night. She could hardly doubt that his heart was in a tumult, but he spoke without disaster to his voice, thanking her in a formal phrase. She perceived, from a distinct advantage over him in height, how faultlessly handsome he was in a quiet, unmagnetic way. Never had she seen anything to equal the whiteness of his teeth except her pearls in their black velvet case.
After having paid his duty to her, he remained for some minutes speaking with Mrs. Foss, who appeared as kind, while he appeared as calm and natural, as if time had moved back, and they were still at last spring and the beginning of his visits. Of all concerned Aurora was the least collected.
"I can't help it!" she murmured to Gerald, while the other two were talking together. "I'm all of a tremble. I feel as if I were Brenda; and at the same time I feel as if I were him—or he."
Mrs. Foss turned to them to say she believed everybody had arrived, and with Giglioli moved away from the door. Gerald asked Mrs. Hawthorne if they should waltz, but she refused, because she ought to be looking after the people who were not dancing and seeing that every one had a good time. She should dance only once that evening, she told him, and it should. be with Mr. Foss, who had promised to dance at her party if she would promise to dance with him.
Gerald sent his eyes around the room to see if any one was free whom it would be a sort of duty to ask to dance. In a doorway, and not quite as festive in looks as the majority, which gave to the room the effect of an animated flower-bed, he perceived a figure in snuff-brown silk, just in front of which, soberly watching the dancers, was a little girl in a short dress of embroidered white, a blue hair-ribbon, and blue enamel locket. At once dropping his search for a partner, Gerald went to join this pair.
"O Gerald!"-the little girl snatched his hand without ceasing for more than a second to watch the ball-room floor,-"I
have promised to go home willingly at ten o'clock!" It was spoken in a gentle wail.
"My child," said Fräulein, "you must begin to prepare, for I fear it cannot be far from ten."
"O Fräulein, don't keep talking about it! Please!"
"When you leave this pleasure, Lili, remember there will be still that other pleasure of the long ride home in the night and the moonlight."
"Yes." Lily, glad again, turned wholly to Gerald, the music having stopped. "Mrs. Hawthorne told mother that if she would let me come I should be taken home in her own carriage, with all the furs around us and a hot water-box for our feet, so that we never could catch cold. Was n't it sweet of her? And we 've both already had ices and cakes, before anybody else, because she said we must. Don't you think she 's sweet, Gerald?"
"Sweet as honey," he said.
"O Gerald,"-Lily's tone was fairly lamentable,-"have you seen the baskets of favors that are going to be given away by and by? And I have to go home willingly, cheerfully, promptly, at ten o'clock!"
"Lily, if any lady is so good and so misguided as to honor me with a favor, I will bring it to you in my pocket to-morrow or soon after, I promise."
"What hour is it, Herr Fane?" asked Fräulein over Lily's head.
Gerald drew out his watch and hesitated, sincerely sorry.
"To be exact, it is three minutes and three quarters to ten," he said.
Lily's mouth dropped open, and out of the small dark hollow one could fear for a second that a cry of protest or revolt might come; but the very next moment it was seen that Lily had returned to be the best child in the world and the most honorable.
"Good night, Gerald!" she said, with a wistfully willing, cheerful, ready face. "You won't forget?"
The ball had been raging, if one may so express it, for several hours, the feast was at its height, when Aurora, confused
with the richness and multiplicity of her impressions, and aware of a happy fatigue, withdrew from her guests to be for a few minutes just a quiet looker-on.
She could see a little way into the ballroom, where certain younger couples, mad for dancing, were making the most of the time when the floor was relatively empty, the supper-room being proportionately full. Supper over, the cotillion would begin. She could hear the merry sound of spoons and glasses, and knew what good things were being consumed. the house was involved in festivity, and resounding with it. In the up-stairs sitting-room were card-tables. In the improvised conservatory opposite to it one large dim lantern glowed softly amid palms and flowers.
All evening it had seemed to her rather as if she walked in a dream. More than ever now, as she stopped to, take account of all the wonderfulness surrounding her, it felt to her like a dream; so that she said to herself, "This is I, Nell-is it possible? Is it possible that this is I-Nell?"
And no doubt because she had been too excitedly happy and was tired, and the time had come for some degree of reaction, her joy fell, withered like a child's collapsing balloon, when, contrasting the present with the past for the sake of seeing the things before her as more rarely full of wonder and charm, she saw those other things. Memories she did not willingly call up rose of themselves, and forced her to give them her attention in the midst of that scene of flowers, light, music. The brightness, the flavor, went out of these as if under an unkind magic.
"It's a wonder," she thought, "that I can ever be as happy as I am. I do wonder at myself how I can do it to rejoice."
But the next minute she was smiling again, sweetly, heart-wholly, forgetfully. She had caught sight of Gerald looking at her as if about to approach.
"Who are you going to dance the cotillion with?" she asked gaily.
"You, Mrs. Hawthorne, with your kind consent."
"No, I could n't do it. I only dance a
little bit, just what Estelle has taught me since we 've been here. I don't keep step very well; I walk all over my partner's feet. Besides, it would n't do, because I've already refused to dance with Mr. Landini."
"Sit it out with me, then, I beg you will, if you positively do not wish to dance."
"Oh, but you must dance! I want you to. I want to behold you all stuck over with favors."
"It's true that I must have a few favors for Lily; but could n't a good fairy arrange it, and then we let the others heat themselves while we keep cool and rest? I feared a moment ago that you were feeling tired, Mrs. Hawthorne."
"Look!" she whispered, interrupting him.
He imperceptibly turned in the direction of her stolen glance. Two figures. were ascending the opposite flight of stairs, looking at each other while they inaudibly talked: Brenda, in filmy white diversified by a thread of silver; Manlio, carrying over his arm, and in his absorption letting trail a little, a white scarf beautiful with silver embroideries, in his hand a white pearl fan. Slowly the pair mounted and were lost to sight.
Neither Gerald nor Mrs. Hawthorne made any comment. Gerald, after a silence, spoke of Lily's increasing resemblance to her sister. Mrs. Hawthorne was reminded that they must go and select some favors for Lily, and led the way.
They sat together through the cotillion, and Gerald more than usual tried to be a sympathetic companion, easy to talk to, easy to get on with. Because he had seen the shadow of sadness on Mrs. Hawthorne's face. He was always quick to see such things.
No trace of it remained. Her dimples were in full play, but he found it according to his humor to continue uncritical, inexpressively tender, toward this big, bonny child who never curbed the expression of a complete kindness toward himself.
More interesting to them than any
other dancers were naturally Brenda and Manlio, partners for the cotillion. Certainly the plot for giving those two a few beautiful last hours together was proving Brenda was calmly, collectedly luminous; Manlio, uplifted to the point of not quite knowing what he did. Radiant and desperate, he looked to Gerald, who found his state explained by the facts as he knew them.
He had been glad to find the Fosses sharing his point of view that to forbid Giglioli a sight of Brenda before the long parting would have been unnecessarily cruel. Mrs. Hawthorne, it seemed to him, had lost sight of what was to follow. She was exclusively delighted with their joy of the evening, she gave no thought to their misery next day. It was amazing to him, the extent to which she had forgot
So he said aloud, "Poor things! Poor dears!" and discovered that it was not forgetfulness exactly in Mrs. Hawthorne, but that general optimism which insists on believing in a loophole of possibility through which things can slip and somehow turn out right after all.
THE party was The last halfdozen people were standing and laughing with Mrs. Hawthorne and Miss Madison around Percy Lavin while he told a final good story, when one of the guests who had departed some time before returned.
Mrs. Hawthorne caught sight of the figure in closed coat, tall hat, and white. silk muffler as soon as it entered the house, for the group of laughers stood near the ball-room door, and this was only separated from the inner house door by the wide hall. Without waiting for the end of the comic story Mrs. Hawthorne hurried to the guest, whose reason for returning she naturally wished to know, though it easily might have been only his forgot
That it was nothing of the kind she at once perceived. He looked upset.
"May I speak with you a moment?" he asked at once.
They stepped into the nearest room, still brightly lighted, but deserted.
"What's the matter?" she inquired, prepared by his face for news of trouble.
"Mrs. Hawthorne, we 've done it!" said Gerald. "Giglioli tells me that he 's giving up the army, and Brenda has promised to marry him!" He was on the verge of laughing hysterically.
"Oh!" Mrs. Hawthorne paused to watch him, and wonder why they should not without further to-do rejoice and triumph. “Well? What's wrong with that?"
"O Mrs. Hawthorne, it 's deadly!" he exclaimed with conviction. "If it were a simple solution, why should n't it have been suggested before?"
"It did suggest itself to me, in the quiet of my inside, you know."
"But you, dear lady, can't be supposed to understand. Oh, it 's either too, too beautiful, or else too, too bad! And in this dear world of ours the probability is that it's too bad. He was taken off his feet by his emotion; he offered her what he will feel later he had no right to offer
a good deal more than his life. But it shows, does n't it, that he does immensely love her. To throw into the balance everything-his career, his family, his country-and offer them up! To cut his throat for a kiss."
"You 're quite right; I can't understand," she hurried in. "What makes you say 'cut his throat'? Could n't he go into some other business just as well as the army?"
"All in the world he 's fitted for is the army. Do you see that beautiful fellow going to America, for instance, and earning a living as a teacher of Italian, or as the representative of some tobacco intercst? There is no way of earning a proper living over here, you know. Oh, I'm afraid he will feel, when he wakes up, like a deserter toward his country and an ingrate toward his family and even toward Brenda like a misguider of her youth."
"But, look here, is n't there a chance that having each other will make up to them for everything else?"
"That of course was their sentiment at the moment of doing it. We did the work so well, Mrs. Hawthorne, that their passion, raised to a beautiful madness, would make them see anything as possible to be done so long as it gave them to each other, obviated the horrible necessity to part. Oh, it is touching, but dreadful! What were we dreaming? The thing I so greatly fear is that when he comes to himself he will feel dishonored, and Italians do not bear that easily, if at all." "Now see here, don't you go imagining things, and worry. And don't you let that young man worry. He is n't leaving the army to-morrow or the day after, is he?" "No. In the natural course of things, I suppose, it will take some time."
"Well, I don't at all relish, myself, the idea of seeing that beautiful fellow, as you say, in every-day clothes-the sort they wear over here-after seeing him all glorious in silver braid and stars. No, I just can't bear to think of him giving them up. At the same time I don't agree with you that he had better have given up his girl than them. And I don't believe she will mind about his clothes one way or the other."
"But there is his family, a thousand obligations he spoke of them himself."
"Perhaps the Fosses, now this has happened and they see how much in earnest the blessed creatures are, will sell some of
their stock in California gold-mines and afford the dowry you spoke of."
"But Giglioli will blush at this forcing of their hand."
"Now, see here, you keep that young man cool. He has n't done anything to be ashamed of. Brenda knows her own mind, and I don't believe her father and mother would stand in the way of her marrying a tramp if he was honest and her heart set on him. You tell that young man, in your own way, to sit tight and put his trust in the Lord."
Gerald's nervous laughter for a moment got the better of him. He covered his face to check it, then, tearing away his hands, made the gesture of releasing a pack of tugging hounds too strong for him to hold. Let them be off and at the devil!
"I did n't come here looking for comfort, dear Mrs. Hawthorne. Your optimism is constitutional, you know, rather than enlightened. I merely came to tell my accomplice the result of our meddling with destiny. 'Accomplice' is a manner of speaking. Don't suppose I forget that I alone am to blame. Good night. I must go back to him where I left him, with his head among the stars and clouds, and his feet perhaps beginning to burn already with the heat of the nether fire. As you say, let's be cheerful, let 's hope for the best! Ha!"