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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
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. listening, and learning a lot."
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?"
"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 Les
"I don't know,"-he hesitated,—“but
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 at 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
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.