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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. 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, after a more 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?
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? I 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 reproachful.
"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 governess turned toward Mrs. Foss a face that, benign and enlightened though it was, called up the
memory of faces seen in good-humored German comic papers. The expression of her smile said to the company that she was guiltless in the matter of this invasion. Could one use severity toward a little girl who suffered from asthma and weak eyes?
Lily, after her pause, went half shyly, half boldly to Gerald. He did not kiss her, she was ten years old,-but placed an arm loosely around her as she stood near his knee.
"Did you forget it, Lily?"
"No, Mother, I did n't forget, but I never thought to speak of it. You did n't tell me to, did you, Gerald?"
"No; we had so much else to talk about."
"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
not followed the Lungarno for more than ten yards before it was with him as when, looking out of the window in despair at the weather, we see a break in the clouds. His step took on alertness; his face lighted in the very nicest way.
The young lady on whom his eyes were fastened from afar did not see him. She came at her usual step, a happy mean between quick and slow, accompanied by a hatless serving-woman carrying a musicroll. She looked rather shut in herself, rather silent; not really proud and cold, but proud and cold as the feeling and modest and young have to look if they are to keep their sacred precincts from the intrusions of curiosity.
She did not recognize the young man till he was almost near enough to touch her, and she had heard her name called, "Brenda!"
Then her face showed a genuine, if moderate, pleasure.
"What are you doing?" he asked, with the freedom of a familiarity reaching back over long years. He shortened his step to keep time with hers, which she at the same moment lengthened.
"I have been for my singing-lesson."
"I have n't seen you for ages."
"You have n't come. One never sees you, one never meets you anywhere any more."
Her English was different from the ordinary in having occasional Italian turns and intonations. His partook of the same defect, but in a lesser degree.
"But I have come," he stood up for himself, "and you were all out except Lily. Did n't she tell you I was there? We had a long talk. How are they all?" "Well, thank you. At least, I suppose they are well." She gave a slight laugh at the humor of this. "You could hardly imagine how little I see of them."
"What has happened?"
"They have been going around with some new people, some Americans. They have been helping them to shop, and
showing them the way one does things over here. Mother, you know, is always so ready."
"Your mother is a dear."
"Leslie is just like her. But I am sure they both enjoy it, too. They have not been home to lunch for a week." "And you?"
"Oh, I am not needed where there are already two who do the thing so much better than I could. I have not even seen the people. My day is very full, you know. Piano- and singing-lessons, and I am painting again this winter, with Galletti, and I am going to a course of conferenze on Italian literature. That involves a lot of reading. There are, besides, the other, the usual things, the—” Her voice stuck; then, as she went on, deepened with the depth of a suppressed impatience. "I wish one might be allowed not to do what is meant for pleasure unless one takes pleasure in it. But going to teas and parties is apparently as much a duty as school or church. Mother and Leslie at least seem to think it so for me."
"I see their point, Brenda dear, don't you?" He was not looking at her as with a gentle brotherliness he spoke this.
"You don't go to many parties yourself, Gerald."
"I am afraid nothing I do is fit to be an example to anybody. But it does n't matter about me. About you it does. With the life that lies before you—”
"Who can possibly know what my life will be?" the girl asked quickly, almost roughly.
"True, Brenda. I dare say I am talking like a fool." He left off, wondering that for a moment he should actually have been speaking on the side of convention.
They walked a few rods in silence. They had crossed the bridge, and were headed for Porta Romana, the handmaiden trotting in their tracks, when at a corner Gerald stopped, and, as if to change the subject, or to regain favor by a felicitous suggestion, said:
"Do you remember my telling you of
an old painting I came upon in a little old church on this street? Scuola di Giotto, they call it, but the thing is undoubtedly Sienese. Have you the time? Shall we take a moment to see it?"
"I should be glad. If you will walk home with me afterward, Gerald, I might tell Gemma she can go."
There was an exchange of Italian between the young lady and the maid, after which the latter turned, and with a busy, delighted effect about the rear view of her walked back across the bridge to spend her gift of an hour in what divertisements. we shall never know.
The church was closed. Gerald pulled the bell-handle of the next door. A priest opened to them, and, seeing at a glance what was wanted, guided them through at whitewashed corridor to a living-room where a crucifix hung on the wall and the table had a red cloth; by this into a dim and stony sacristy, whence they emerged into the back of a darkling little church, with shadowy candlesticks and kneelingbenches, the whole full of a cold, complex odor of old incense and old humanity and, one could fancy, old prayers.
The priest brought a lighted taper and, crossing to one of the side altars, held it near the painting, which was all that welldressed people ever came for outside of hours.
The reddish light trembled over the figure of a majestic virgin, in the veil and mantle of a princess, bearing the palm of martyrs in her hand. It was a very simple and noble face, beautiful in a separate way, which not every one would perceive, so little in common had it with the present-day fair ladies whose photographs are sold.
Gerald had taken the light from the priest's hands and was lifting, lowering, shading it, experimenting, to bring out all that might still be seen of the withdrawn image on its faintly glinting field of gold. His face was keen with interest; the love of beautiful things in this moment of satisfaction smoothed away from it every line of dejection and irritability.
Brenda was examining the picture with
an attention equal to his, but, if one might so describe it, of a different color. Her admiration got its life largely from Gerald's, whose tastes in art she was in the habit of adopting blindfold. Of this, however, she was not aware, and gazed, doing good to her soul by the conscious and deliberate contemplation of a masterpiece.
"Do you remember a great calm, white figure in the communal palace at Siena," Gerald asked, "with other figures of Virtues on the same wall? Does n't this remind you of them?"
Brenda answered abstractedly: "Yes," and continued to look. amazing they are!" she fervently exclaimed. He supposed she meant the saint's hands or eyes, but she explained, "The Italians."
He did not take up the idea either to agree or to dispute; his mind was busy with one Italian only, the painter of the picture before him.
The young girl's interest flagged sooner than his own; he felt her melt from his side while he continued seeking proof in this detail and that of the painter's identity.
When he turned to find her and to follow, she was kneeling on one of the wooden forms, her gloved hands joined, her face toward the high altar.
He approved the courtesy of it, done, as he knew, in order that the priest, who stood aside, waiting for them to finish, should not think these barbarians who came into his church to see a work of art had no respect for his shrines and holies. Having returned the light to the priest, Gerald himself, while waiting for Brenda, took a melancholy religious attitude, his hat and cane held against his breast, and sent his thoughts gropingly upward, where the solitary thing they encountered was his poor mother in heaven. Heaven and the changes undergone by those who enter there he could never make very real to himself. He thought of her as she used to be, affectionate and ill.
At the stir of Brenda rising from her knees he, too, stirred, ready to depart.