A Florentine Experiment
ONE afternoon, three years ago, two ladies were talking together on the
heights of Fiesole overlooking Florence. They occupied the stone bench
which bears the inscription of its donor, an appreciative Englishman,
who in a philanthropical spirit has had it placed there for the benefit
of the pilgrims from all nations who come to these heights to see the
enchanting view. The two ladies were not speaking of the view, however,
but of something more personal. It seemed to be interesting.
"He is certainly much in love with you," said one, who was taller and
darker than her companion. As she spoke, she gave back a letter which
she had been reading.
"Yes, I think he is," said the other, reflectively, replacing it in its
"I suppose you are so accustomed to it, Beatrice, that it does not make
much impression upon you," continued the first speaker, her glance as
she spoke resting not upon her companion, but upon the lovely levels
beneath, with the violet-hued mountains rising softly up round about
them, so softly that one forgot they were mountains until the eye caught
the gleam of snow on the summits towards the east. There was a pause
after this question, and it lasted so long that the questioner at
length removed her eyes from the landscape and turned them upon her
friend; to her surprise she saw that the friend was blushing.
"Why, Beatrice!" she exclaimed, "is it possible—"
"No," said Beatrice, "it is not possible. I know that I am blushing; but
you must not think too much of that. I am not as strong as I was, and
blush at everything; I am taking iron for it. In the present case, it
only means that—" She paused.
"That you like him," suggested the other, smiling.
"I like a number of persons," said Mrs. Lovell, tranquilly, gazing in
her turn down the broad, slightly winding valley, dotted with its little
white villages, and ending in a soft blue haze, through which the tawny
Arno, its course marked by a line of tall, slender, lightly foliaged,
seemingly branchless trees, like tall rods in leaf, went onward towards
"I know you do," said the first speaker. "And I really wish," she added,
with a slight touch of vehemence, "that your time would come—that I
should see you at last liking some one person really and deeply and
jealously, and to the exclusion of all the rest."
"I don't know why you should wish me unhappiness, Margaret. You have
beautiful theories, I know; but in my experience" (Mrs. Lovell
slightly underlined this word as if in opposition to the "theories" of
her friend) "the people who have those deeper sort of feelings you
describe are almost always very unhappy."
Margaret turned her head, and looked towards the waving line of the
Carrara mountains; in her eyes there was the reflection of a sudden
inward pain. But she knew that she could indulge in this momentary
expression of feeling; the mountains would not betray her, and the
friend by her side did not realize that anything especial could have
happened to "Margaret." In excuse for Mrs. Lovell it may be said that so
much that was very especial had always happened, and still continued to
happen, to her, that she had not much time for the more faintly colored
episodes of other people.
Beatrice Lovell was an unusually lovely woman. The adjective is here
used to signify that she inspired love. Not by an effort, word, action,
or hardly interest of her own; but simply because she was what she was.
Her beauty was not what is called striking; it touched the eye gently at
first, but always grew. People who liked to analyze said that the secret
lay in the fact that she had the sweetness, the tints, the surface
texture as it were, and even sometimes the expression, of childhood
still; and then, when you came to look deeper, you found underneath all
the richer bloom of the woman. Her golden hair, not thick or long, but
growing in little soft wavelets upon her small head; her delicate
rose-leaf skin, showing the blue veins; her little teeth and the shape
of her sweet mouth—all these were like childhood. In addition, she was
dimpled and round, with delicately cut features, and long-lashed violet
eyes, in whose soft depths lay always an expression of gentle trust.
This beautiful creature was robed to-day in widow's mourning-garb made
in the severest fashion, without one attempt to decorate or lighten it.
But the straight-skirted, untrimmed garments, the little close bonnet,
and the heavy veil pinned over it with straight crape-pins, only brought
out more vividly the tints of her beauty.
"No," she continued, as her companion did not speak, "I by no means wish
for the feelings you invoke for me. I am better off as I am; I keep my
self-possession. For instance, I told this Sicily person that it was in
very bad taste to speak to me in that way at such a time—so soon after
Mr. Lovell's death; and that I was much annoyed by it."
"It has not prevented his writing," said Margaret, coming back slowly
from the Carrara mountains, and letting her eyes rest upon the tower of
the Palazzo Vecchio below, springing above the city roofs like the stem
of a flower.
"They always write, I think," said Mrs. Lovell, simply.
"I know they do—to you," said Margaret. She turned as she spoke, and
looked at her friend with the same old affection and admiration which
she had felt for her from childhood, but now with a sort of speculative
curiosity added. How must it feel to live such a life—to be constantly
surrounded and accompanied by an atmosphere of devotion and enthralment
such as that letter had expressed? Beatrice seemed to divine something
of her friend's thought, and answered it after her fashion.
"It is such a comfort to be with you, Margaret," she said,
affectionately; "it has always been a comfort, ever since we were
children. I can talk freely to you, and as I can talk to no one else.
You understand; you do not misunderstand. But all the other women I meet
invariably do; or, at least, pretend to enough to excuse their being
Margaret took her hand. They had taken off their gloves, as the
afternoon was warm, and they had the heights to themselves; it was early
in March, and the crowd of tourists who come in the spring to Italy, and
those more loitering travellers who had spent the winter in Naples or
Rome, had not yet reached Florence, although it may be said that they
were at the door. Mrs. Lovell's hands, now destitute of ornament save
the plain band of the wedding-ring, were small, dimpled, very white; her
friend Miss Stowe had hands equally small, but darker and more slender.
"You have been happy all your life, have you not, Beatrice?" said
Margaret, not questioningly so much as assertively.
"Yes," answered Mrs. Lovell, "I think I have. Of course I was much
shocked by Mr. Lovell's death; he was very kind to me."
"Mr. Lovell," as his wife always called him, had died four months
previously. He was fifty-six years of age, and Beatrice had been his
wife for a little more than a year. He had been very happy with her, and
had left her his fortune and his blessing; with these, and his memory,
she had come abroad, and had been for six weeks in Sicily, with some
elderly friends. She had stopped in Florence to see Miss Stowe, who was
spending the winter there with an aunt; but she was not to remain. In
her present state of seclusion she was to visit Venice and the Lakes in
advance of the season, and spend the summer in "the most quiet village"
which could be discovered for her especial benefit on the Brittany
coast. The friends had not met for two years, and there had been much to
tell—that is, for Beatrice to tell. Her always personal narratives were
saved from tediousness, however, because they were not the usual
decorated feminine fancies, but plain masculine facts (oh, very plain!);
and because, also, the narrator was herself quite without the vanity
which might naturally have accompanied them. This last merit seemed to
her admirers a very remarkable one; in reality it was only that, having
no imagination, she took a simple, practical view of everything,
themselves included. This last, however, they never discovered, because
her unfailing tact and gentleness lay broadly and softly over all.
"And what shall you do about your Sicily person?" said Margaret, not in
the least, however, associating the remark, and knowing also that
Beatrice would not associate it, with "Mr. Lovell" and his "memory" (it
was quite well understood between them about "Mr. Lovell").
"Of course I shall not answer."
"And if he follows you?"
"He will hardly do that—now. Besides, he is going to America; he sails
to-morrow. Our having been together in Sicily was quite by chance, of
course; he knows that, and he knows also that I intend to pay, in every
way, the strictest respect to Mr. Lovell's memory. That will be fully
"Oh, I never plan. If things do not assert themselves, they are not
worth a plan."
"You certainly are the most delightful little piece of common-sense I
ever met," said Margaret, laughing, and kissing her. "I wish you would
give me a share of it! But come—it is late; we must go."
As they went down the slope together towards the village where their
carriage was waiting, they looked not unlike the two seventeen-year-old
school-girls of eight years before; Beatrice was smiling, and Margaret's
darker face was lighted by the old animation which had always charmed
her lovely but unanimated friend. It may here be remarked that the
greatest intellectual excitements which Beatrice Lee had known had been
when Margaret Stowe had let loose her imagination, and carried her
friend up with her, as on strong wings, to those regions of fancy which
she never attained alone; Beatrice had enjoyed it, wondered over it, and
then had remained passive until the next time.
"Ah well—poor Sicily person!" said Margaret, as they took their places
in the carriage. "I know just what you will do with him. You will write
down his name in a memorandum-book, so as not to forget it; you will
safely burn his poor letter, as you have safely burned so many others;
and you will go gently on to Brittany without even taking the ashes!"
"Keep it for me!" said Mrs. Lovell, suddenly, drawing the letter from
her pocket and placing it in Margaret's hand. "Yes," she repeated,
enjoying her idea and dwelling upon it, delighted to find that she
possessed a little fancy of her own, after all, "keep it for me, and
read it over once in a while. It is quite well written, and will do you
good, because it is not one of your theories, but a fact. There is
nothing disloyal in my giving it to you, because I always tell you
everything, and this Sicily person has no claim for exemption in that
regard. He has gone back to America, and you will not meet him.
No—positively, I will not take it. You must keep it for me."
"Very well," said Margaret, amused by this little unexpected flight.
"But as I may go back to America also, I want to be quite sure where I
stand. Did you happen to mention to this Sicily person my name, or
anything about me?"
"No," replied Mrs. Lovell, promptly. "We did not talk on such subjects,
"And he had no idea that you were to stop in Florence?"
"No; he supposed I was to take the steamer at Naples for Marseilles. You
need not be so scrupulous; everything is quite safe."
"And when shall I return the epistle?"
"When I ask for it," said Mrs. Lovell, laughing.
The next morning she went northward to Venice.
Two weeks later Miss Stowe formed one of the company at a reception, or,
rather, a musical party. She looked quite unlike the "Margaret" of
Fiesole as she sat on a small, faded purple satin sofa, listening,
rather frowningly, to the rippling movement that follows the march in
Beethoven's sonata, opus twenty-six; she had never liked that rippling
movement, she did not pretend to like it now. Her frown, however, was
slight—merely a little line between her dark eyebrows; it gave her the
appearance of attention rather than of disapprobation. The "Margaret" of
Fiesole had looked like an animated, almost merry, young girl; the "Miss
Stowe" of the reception appeared older than she really was, and her face
wore an expression of proud reserve, which, although veiled by all the
conventional graciousness required by society, was not on that account
any the less apparent. She was richly dressed; but the general effect of
her attire was that of simplicity. She fanned herself slowly with a
large fan, whose sticks were of carved amber, and the upper part of soft
gray ostrich plumes, curled; closed or open, as she used it or as it lay
beside her, this fan was an object of beauty. As the music ceased a lady
came fluttering across the room, and, with a whispered "Permit me,"
introduced a gentleman, whose name, in the hum of released
conversation, Miss Stowe did not hear.
"He understands everything about old pictures, and you know how
ignorant I am!" said this lady, half closing her eyes, and shaking her
ringleted head with an air of abnegation. "I have but one
inspiration; there is room in me but for one. I bring him, therefore,
to you, who have so many! We all know your love for the early
masters—may I not say, the earliest?"
Madame Ferri was an American who had married a Florentine; she was now a
little widow of fifty, with gray ringlets and emotions regarding music
almost too ineffable to be expressed. I say "almost," because she did,
after all, express them, as her friends knew. She was a useful person in
Florence because she indefatigably knew everybody—the English and
Americans as well as the Florentines; and she spent her time
industriously at work mingling these elements, whether they would or no.
No one thanked her for this especially, or remembered it after it was
done; if republics are ungrateful, even more so is a society whose
component parts are transient, coming and departing day by day. But
Madame Ferri herself appreciated the importance of her social
combinations if no one else did; and, like many another chemist, lived
on content in the consciousness of it.
"I know very little about old pictures," said the stranger, with a
slight smile, finding himself left alone beside Miss Stowe.
"And I—do not like them," she replied.
"If, more than that, you dislike them, we shall have something to talk
about. Dislike can generally express itself very well."
"On the contrary, I think it is one of those feelings we do not
"You are thinking of persons, perhaps. I was speaking of things.
Pictures are things."
Miss Stowe felt herself slightly displeased; and the feeling was not
lessened when, with a "Will you allow me?" the stranger took a seat at
the end of her sofa, in the space left free by the gray silken sweep of
her dress. There was in reality an abundance of room for him; other men
were seated, and there was no chair near. Still, the sofa was a small
one; the three Italians and two Frenchmen who had succeeded each other
in the honor of standing beside her for eight or ten minutes'
conversation had not thought of asking for the place so calmly taken by
this new-comer. She looked at him as he began talking; he was quite
unlike the three Italians and two Frenchmen. He was not ruddy enough for
an Englishman of that complexion; he had a lethargic manner which was
un-American. She decided, however, that he was, like herself, an
American; but an American who had lived much abroad.
He was talking easily upon the various unimportant subjects in vogue at
a "small party;" she replied in the same strain.
Margaret Stowe was not beautiful; "pretty" was the last word that could
have been applied to her. Her features were irregular; she had a
well-shaped, well-poised head, and a quantity of dark hair which she
wore closely braided in a low knot behind. She was tall, slender, and
rather graceful; she had dark eyes. As has been said before, she was not
beautiful; but within the past two years she had acquired, her friends
thought, an air of what is called distinction. In reality this was but
a deep indifference, combined with the wish at the same time to maintain
her place unchanged in the society in which she moved. Indifference and
good manners taken together, in a tall and graceful person, will
generally give that air. Beatrice Lovell had not perceived this change
in her friend, but on that day at Fiesole Miss Stowe had been simply the
"Margaret" of old.
In accordance with what we have called her good manners, Miss Stowe now
gave to the stranger beside her easy replies, several smiles, and a fair
amount of intelligent attention. It was all he could have expected; but,
being a man of observation, he perceived her indifference lying broadly
underneath, like the white sand under a shallow river.
During the same week she met him at a dinner-party, and they had some
conversation. Later he was one of the guests at a reception which she
attended, and again they talked together awhile. She now mentioned him
to her aunt, Miss Harrison, to whom she generally gave, every few days,
a brief account of the little events in the circle to which they
belonged. She had learned his name by this time; it was Morgan.
"I wonder if he is a grandson of old Adam Morgan," said Miss Harrison,
who was genealogical and reminiscent. "If he is, I should like to see
him. Has he a Roman nose?"
"I think not," said her niece, smiling.
"Well, describe him, then."
"He is of medium height, neither slender nor stout; he is light, with
rather peculiar eyes because they are so blue—a deep, dull blue, like
old china; but they are not large, and he does not fully open them. He
has a long, light mustache, no beard, and very closely cut hair."
"He must be good-looking."
"No; he is not, especially. He may be anywhere between thirty and forty;
his hair in a cross-light shows a slight tinge of gray. He looks
fatigued; he looks cynical. I should not be surprised if he were
selfish. I do not like him."
"But if he should be the grandson of old Adam, I should have to invite
him to dinner," said Miss Harrison, reflectively. "I could not do less,
"I won't poison the soup. But Morgan is a common name, Aunt Ruth; this
is the fourth Morgan I have met here this spring. There isn't one chance
in a thousand that he belongs to the family you know." She was smiling
as she spoke, but did not explain her smile; she was thinking that
"Morgan" was also the name signed to that letter locked in her
writing-desk—a letter whose expressions she now knew quite well, having
obeyed Mrs. Lovell's injunction to "read it over" more than once. They
were ardent expressions; it might be said, indeed, that they were very
But now and then that one chance in a thousand, so often summarily
dismissed, asserts its existence and appears upon the scene. It turned
out in the present case that the stranger was the grandson of the old
Adam Morgan whom Miss Harrison remembered. Miss Stowe, in the meantime,
had continued to meet him; but now she was to meet him in a new
way—when he would be more upon her hands, as it were; for Miss Harrison
invited him to dinner.
Miss Ruth Harrison was an invalid of nearly sixty years of age; she had
been for ten years in Europe, but had only had her orphaned niece with
her during the past eighteen months. She had a large fortune, and she
gave Margaret every luxury; especially she liked to see her richly
dressed. But it was quite well understood between them that the bulk of
her wealth was to go to another relative in America who bore her family
name. It was understood between them, but it was not understood outside.
On the contrary, it was generally believed in Florence that Miss Stowe
would inherit the whole. It is just possible that this belief may have
had a remote influence in shaping the opinion which prevailed
there—namely, that this young lady was "handsome" and "gracious," when,
in truth, she was neither. But Mr. Morgan, the new-comer, exhibited so
far, at least, no disposition to fall in with this fiction. In his
estimation Miss Stowe was a conventionally agreeable, inwardly
indifferent young lady of twenty-six, who carried herself well, but was
too ironical as well as too dark. He came to dinner. And did not change
A few days after the dinner Miss Harrison invited her new acquaintance
to drive; she was able to go out for an hour or two in the afternoon,
and she had a luxurious carriage and fine horses. Miss Stowe did not
accompany them; she went off by herself to walk in the Boboli Garden.
Miss Harrison returned in good-humor. "I like him," she announced, as
the maid removed her bonnet. "Yes, I think I may hope that the grandson
of old Adam is not going to be a disappointment."
"The grandson of Adam—I suppose his name is Adam also—is a fortunate
person, Aunt Ruth, to have gained your liking so soon; you do not often
take likings to strangers."
"His name is not Adam," pursued Miss Harrison, "and that is a pity;
there is character as well as association in Adam. He has a family
name—Trafford. His mother was a Miss Trafford, of Virginia, it seems."
Miss Stowe was selecting flowers from a fragrant heap before her to fill
the wide-mouthed vases which stood on the floor by her side; but now she
stopped. "Trafford Morgan" was the name signed at the end of that
letter! It must be he; it was not probable that there were two names of
that special combination; it seemed a really remarkable chance. And
evidently he had not gone to America, in spite of Mrs. Lovell's belief.
She began to smile and almost to laugh, bending her head over a great
soft purple heap of Florence lilies in order that her aunt might not
observe it. But the large room was dusky, and Miss Harrison
near-sighted; she observed nothing. The two ladies occupied an apartment
in a house which, if it had not been so new, would have been called a
"palace." Although modern, the measurements had been after the old
Florentine pattern, and the result was that the occupants moved about in
rooms which could have contained entire, each one, a small American
house. But they liked the vastness. After a moment Miss Stowe went on
arranging her blossoms, but inwardly she was enjoying much
entertainment; she was going over in her own mind the expressions of
that letter, which now took on quite a new character, coming no longer
from some formless stranger, but from a gentleman with whom she had
spoken, a person she had met and would meet again. "I never should have
dreamed that he was capable of it," she said to herself. "He has seemed
indifferent, blasé. But it places me in a nice position! Especially
now that Aunt Ruth has taken a fancy to him. I must write to Beatrice
immediately, and ask her to take back the stupid letter." She wrote
during the same evening.
The next day she was attacked by a severe illness—severe, although
short. No one could tell what was the matter with her; even the
physician was at fault. She did not eat or sleep, she seemed hardly to
know what they said when they spoke to her. Her aunt was alarmed. But at
the end of the week, as suddenly as she had fallen ill, she came back to
life again, rose, ordered the maid to braid her hair, and appeared at
Miss Harrison's lonely little dinner-table quite herself, save that she
was tremulous and pale. But by the next day even these signs were no
longer very apparent. It was decided that she had had an attack of
"nervous prostration;" "although why in the world you should have been
seized by it just now, and here, I am at a loss, Margaret, to imagine,"
said her aunt.
On the day of her reappearance at the dinner-table there came a letter
from Beatrice which bore the postmark of a village on one of the Channel
islands. Mrs. Lovell had changed her plans, and gone yachting for a
month or two with a party of friends, a yacht probably being considered
to possess attributes of seclusion more total than even the most
soundless village on the Brittany shore. Of course she had not received
Margaret's letter, nor could she receive one—their route being
uncertain, but nevertheless to the southward—until her return.
Communication between them for the present was therefore at an end.
On the afternoon after Margaret's reappearance Madame Ferri was making a
visit of congratulation upon the recovery of "our dear girl." It was a
cool day, a heavy rain had fallen, and fresh snow gleamed on the summits
of the Apennines; our dear girl, very unresponsive and silent, was
dressed in black velvet, whose rich, plain folds brought out her
slenderness, and made more apparent than usual the graceful shape of her
head and hair. But the unrelieved black made her look extremely pale,
and it was her recent illness, probably, which made her look also tired
and languid. Madame Ferri, who kept constantly in practice her talent
for being charming (she was always spoken of as "charming"), looked at
her for a time while conversing; then she rose, took all the crimson
roses from a vase, and, going to her, placed one in her hair,
meditatively; another in a button-hole of the closely fitting high
corsage; and, after a moment's reflection, all the others in a bunch in
a velvet loop which was on the side of the skirt not quite half-way
down, rapidly denuding herself of pins for the purpose as she proceeded.
"There!" she said, stepping back a few paces to survey her handiwork,
with her head critically on one side, "now you are a picture. Look,
dear Miss Harrison, pray look."
Miss Harrison put up her glass and approved. And then, while this climax
still lasted, Madame Ferri took her departure; she liked to depart in a
She had hardly gone when another card was brought in: "Mr. Trafford
Morgan." He, too, had come to pay his respects to Miss Harrison upon the
change for the better in her niece; he had not expected to see the
latter person, he had merely heard that there was "an improvement."
After he had been there twenty minutes he said to himself that there
was, and in more ways than one. She not only looked much better than
usual (this may have been owing to the roses), but there was a new
gentleness about her; and she listened with a perceptible increase of
attention to what he said. Not that he cared much for this; he had not
admired Miss Stowe; but any man (this he remarked to himself) likes to
be listened to when he is talking better than the contrary; and as the
minutes passed he became conscious that Miss Stowe was not only
listening, but bestowing upon him also what seemed an almost serious
attention. She did not say much—Miss Harrison said more; but she
listened to and looked at him. She had not looked at him previously;
people can turn their eyes upon one without really looking, and Miss
Stowe had excelled in this accomplishment.
During the next week he met her at a dinner-party; she went to these
entertainments with a friend of her aunt's, a lady who was delighted to
act as chaperon for the heiress. The spring season was now at its height
in Florence, and the members of the same circle perforce constantly met
each other; on each separate occasion during the two weeks that followed
Trafford Morgan was conscious that Miss Stowe was honoring him, although
in a studiously guarded and quiet way, with much of a very observant
attention. This, in the end, excited in him some curiosity. He had as
good an opinion of himself as most men have; but he did not think it
probable that the heiress had suddenly fallen in love with him without
rhyme or reason, as it were, the "rhyme" being that he was neither an
Apollo, an Endymion, nor a military man; the "reason," that he had
never in the least attempted to make himself agreeable to her. Of
course, if he had attempted—But he had not. She was not in need of
entertainment; she had enough of that, of all sorts, including
apparently the sort given by suitors. She showed no sign of having
troublesomely impulsive feelings; on the contrary, she seemed cold. "She
is playing some game," he thought; "she has some end in view. But if she
wishes to make use of me she must show her hand more. I may assist her,
and I may not; but, at any rate, I must understand what it is—I will
not be led." He made up his mind that her aim was to excite remark in
their circle; there was probably some one in that circle who was to be
stimulated by a little wholesome jealousy. It was an ancient and
commonplace method, and he had not thought her commonplace. But human
nature at heart is but a commonplace affair, after all, and the methods
and motives of the world have not altered much, in spite of the gray
lapse of ages.
Morgan was an idle man; at present he was remaining in Italy for a
purpose, and had nothing to do there. The next time he met Miss Stowe he
followed out his theory and took the lead; he began to pay her attention
which might, if pursued, have aroused observation. To his surprise she
drew back, and so completely that he was left stranded. He tried this
three times on three different occasions, and each time met the same
rebuff. It became evident, therefore, that Miss Stowe did not wish for
the kind of attention which he had supposed was her point; but as,
whenever she could do it unobserved, she continued to turn upon him the
same quiet scrutiny, he began to ask himself whether she wished for any
other. An opportunity occurred which made him think that she did.
It was in the Boboli Garden, where he had gone to walk off a fit of
weariness; here he came upon Miss Stowe. There seemed to be no one in
the garden save themselves—at least, no one whom they knew; only a few
stray tourists wandering about, with Baedeker, Horner, and Hare. The
world of fashion was at the Cascine that day, where races were going on.
Morgan did not feel like talking; he exchanged the usual phrases with
Miss Stowe, and then prepared to pass on. But she said, gently, "Are you
going now? If not, why not stroll awhile with me?"
After this, as he mentally observed, of course he was forced to stroll
awhile. But, on the whole, he found himself entertained, because his
companion gave him an attention which was almost devout. Its
seriousness, indeed, compelled him to be serious likewise, and made him
feel as though he were in an atmosphere combining the characteristics of
a church and a school; he was partly priest, partly pedagogue, and the
sensation was amusing. She asked him what he liked best in Florence; and
she called it, gravely, "enchanting Florence."
"Giotto and Botticelli," he answered.
"I wish you would be in earnest; I am in earnest."
"With all the earnestness in the world, Miss Stowe, I could only repeat
the same reply."
"What is it you find to like in them? Will you tell me?"
"It would take an age—a full half-hour; you would be quite tired out.
Women are so much quicker in their mental processes than we are that you
would apprehend what I was going to say before I could get it out; you
would ascend all the heights, scour all the plains, and arrive at the
goal before I came even in sight, where you would sit waiting, patiently
or impatiently, as I, slowly and with mortified perception, approached."
"Yes, we are quick; but we are superficial. I wish you would tell me."
He glanced at her; she was looking at him with an expression in her eyes
which was extremely earnest. "I cannot deliver a discourse while
walking," he said. "I require a seat."
"Let us go to the amphitheatre; I often sit there for a while on the
stone benches under the old statues. I like to see them standing around
the circle; they are so serenely indifferent to the modern
pencil-scrawlings on their robes, so calmly certain that their time will
"What you say is entirely charming. Still, I hardly think I can talk to
the statues. I must have something more—more secluded." He was aware
that he was verging upon a slight impertinence; but he wished to see
whether she would accede—what she would do. He made no effort to find
the seclusion of which he spoke; he left that to her.
She hesitated a moment; then, "We might go to a seat there is under a
tree at the top of the slope," she said. "It is a pleasant place."
He assented; and they went up the path by the side of the tall, stately
hedges, and past the fountain and the great statue of Abbondanza. The
stone bench was not one of those sought for; it was not in front, but on
the western side. It commanded a view of the city below, with the Duomo
and Giotto's lovely bell-tower; of the fruit-trees, all in flower on the
outskirts; of the treetops of the Cascine, now like a cloud of golden
smoke with their tender brown leaflets, tasselled blossoms, and winged
seeds; of the young grain, springing greenly down the valley; and the
soft, velvety mountains rising all around. "How beautiful it is!" she
said, leaning back, closing her parasol and folding her hands.
"Beautiful—yes; but barren of human interest save to those who are
going to sell the fruit, or who depend upon the growth of the grain. The
beauty of art is deeper; it is all human."
"I must be quite ignorant about art," she answered, "because it does not
impress me in that way; I wish it did. I wish you would instruct me a
little, Mr. Morgan."
"Good!" he thought. "What next?" But although he thought, he of course
was obliged to talk also, and so he began about the two art masters he
had mentioned. He delivered quite an epic upon Giotto's two little
frescos in the second cloister of Santa Maria Novella, and he openly
preferred the third there—the little Virgin going up the impossible
steps—to Titian's splendid picture of the same subject, in Venice. He
grew didactic and mystic over the round Botticelli of the Uffizi and the
one in the Prometheus room at the Pitti; he invented as he went along,
and amused himself not a little with his own unusual flow of language.
His companion listened, and now and then asked a question. But her
questions were directed more towards what he thought of the pictures
(after a while he noticed this), and what impressions they made upon
him, than to the pictures themselves or their claims to celebrity. As
he went on he made some slight attempts to diverge a little from the
subject in hand, and skirt, if ever so slightly, the borders of
flirtation; he was curious to see if she would follow him there. But she
remained unresponsive; and, while giving no sign of even perceiving his
digressions, she brought him back to his art atmosphere, each time he
left it, with a question or remark very well adapted for the purpose; so
well, indeed, that it could not have been by chance.
She declined his escort homeward, pretexting a visit she wished to pay;
but she said, of her own accord, that she would sing for him the next
time he came. He knew this was a favor she did not often grant; Madame
Ferri had so informed him.
He went, without much delay; and she sang several songs in the dusky
corner where her piano stood while he sat near. The light from the wax
candles at the other end of the large room, where Miss Harrison was
knitting, did not penetrate here; but she said she liked to sing in a
semi-darkness, as she had only a twilight voice. It was in truth not at
all powerful; but it was sweet and low, and she sang with much
expression. Trafford Morgan liked music; it was not necessary to make up
a conviction or theory about that; he simply had a natural love for it,
and he came more than once to hear Miss Stowe sing.
In the meantime Miss Harrison continued to like "the grandson of old
Adam," and again invited him to drive. A month went by, and, by the end
of it, he had seen in one way and another a good deal of these two
ladies. The "later manner" (as he mentally called it) of Miss Stowe
continued; when they were in company, she was as she had been
originally, but when they were unobserved, or by themselves, she gave
him the peculiar sober attention which he did not quite comprehend. He
had several theories about it, and varied between them. He was a man who
did not talk of persons, who never told much. If questioned, while
answering readily and apparently without reserve, it was noticed
afterwards that he had told nothing. He had never spoken of Sicily, for
instance, but had talked a good deal of Sweden. This reticence, so
exasperating to many women, seemed agreeable to Miss Stowe, who herself
did not tell much, or talk of persons—that is, generally. One person
she talked about, and with persistence. Morgan was hardly ever with her
that she did not, sooner or later, begin to talk to him about himself.
Sometimes he was responsive, sometimes not; but responsive or
unresponsive, in society or out of it, he had talked, all told, a goodly
number of hours with Miss Stowe when May attained its zenith and the
The tourists had gone to Venice; the red gleam of guide-books along the
streets and the conscientiousness of woollen travelling-dresses in the
galleries were no longer visible. Miss Stowe now stepped over the
boundary-line of her caution a little; many of the people she knew had
gone; she went with Trafford to the Academy and the Pitti; she took him
into cool, dim churches, and questioned him concerning his creed; she
strolled with him through the monastery of San Marco, and asked what his
idea was of the next world. She said she liked cloisters; she would like
to walk in one for an hour or two every day.
He replied that there were a number of cloisters in Florence; they might
visit them in succession and pace around quietly. The effect would be
heightened if she would read aloud, as they paced, short sentences from
some ancient, stiff-covered little book like De Contemptu Mundi.
"Ah," she said, "you are not in earnest. But I am!"
And she seemed to be; he said to himself that he had hardly had a look
or word from her which was not only earnest, but almost portentously so.
She now began to do whatever he asked her to do, whether it was to sing
Italian music or to read Dante's Vita Nuova, both of which she had
said she did not like. It is probable that he asked her to do a number
of things about this time which he did not especially care for, simply
to see if she would comply; she always did.
"If she goes on in this sort of way," he thought, "never showing the
least opposition, or personal moods different from mine, I really don't
know where we shall end!"
But at last she did show both. It was in the evening, and she was at the
piano; after one or two ballads he asked her to sing a little English
song he had found among her music, not printed, but in manuscript.
"Oh, that is nothing," she said, putting out her hand to take it from
him. "I will sing this of Schumann's instead; it is much prettier."
But he maintained his point. "I like this better," he said. "I like the
name—of course it is impossible, but it is pleasant—'Semper Fidelis.'"
She took it, looked at it in silence for a moment, and then, without
further reply, began to sing. There was nothing remarkable in the words
or the music; she did not sing as well as usual, either; she hurried the
|"Dumb and unchanged my thoughts still round thee hover,|
|Nor will be moved;|
|E'en though I strive, my heart remains thy lover,|
|Yet there is sad content in loyalty,|
|And, though the silent gift is naught to thee,|
|It changes never—|
This was the verse; but at the fifth line she faltered, stopped, and
then, rising abruptly, left the room.
"Margaret is very uneven at times," said Miss Harrison, apologetically,
from her easy-chair.
"All interesting persons are uneven," he replied. He went over and took
a seat beside his hostess, remaining half an hour longer; but as he went
back to his hotel he said to himself that Miss Stowe had been for many
weeks the most even woman he had ever known, showing neither variation
nor shadow of turning. She had been as even as a straight line.
On this account her sudden emotion made an impression upon him. The next
day he mentioned that he was going to Trieste.
"Not Venice?" said Miss Harrison. "I thought everybody went to Venice."
"Venice," he replied, "is pre-eminently the place where one needs either
an actual, tangible companionship of the dearest sort, or a memory like
it. I, who have neither, keep well away from Venice!"
"I rather think, Mr. Morgan, that you have had pretty much what you
wanted, in Venice or elsewhere," said Miss Harrison, with a dry humor
she sometimes showed. Here she was called from the room to see a poor
woman whom she befriended; Miss Stowe and Morgan were left alone.
He was looking at her; he was noting what effect, if any, the tidings of
his departure (he had named to-morrow) would have upon her. She had not
been conventional; would she resort to conventionality now?
Her gaze was bent upon the floor; after a while she looked up. "Where
shall you be this summer?" she said, slowly. "Perhaps we shall be there
too." Her eyes were fixed upon his face, her tone was hardly above a
Perhaps it was curiosity that made him do what he did; whether it was or
not, mingled with it there was certainly a good deal of audacity. He
rose, went to her, and took her hand. "Forgive me," he said; "I am in
love with some one else."
It implied much. But had not her manner implied the same, or more?
She rose; they were both standing now.
"What do you mean!" she demanded, a light coming into her eyes—eyes
usually abstracted, almost dull.
"Only what I have said."
"Why should you say it to me?"
"I thought you might be—interested."
"You are mistaken. I am not in the least interested. Why should I be?"
"Are you not a little unkind?"
"Not more unkind than you are insolent."
She was very angry. He began to be a little angry himself.
"I ask your pardon with the deepest humility, Miss Stowe. The insolence
of which you accuse me was as far as possible from my mind. If I thought
you might be somewhat interested in what I have told you, it was because
you have honored me with some small share of your attention during the
past week or two; probably it has spoiled me."
"I have; and for a month or two, not a week or two. But there was a
motive—It was an experiment."
"You have used me for experimental purposes, then?"
"I am immensely grateful to have been considered worthy of a part in an
experiment of yours, even although a passive one. May I ask if the
experiment is ended?"
"Since when? Since I made that confession about some one else?"
Miss Stowe's face was pale, her dark eyes were brilliant. "I knew all
the while that you were in love—hopelessly in love—with Mrs. Lovell,"
she said, with a proud smile. "That was the reason that, for my
experiment, I selected you."
A flush rose over his face as she spoke. "You thought you would have the
greater triumph?" he asked.
"I thought nothing of the kind. I thought that I should be safe, because
you would not respond."
"And you did not wish me to respond?"
"I did not."
"Excuse me—we are speaking frankly, are we not?—but do you not
contradict yourself somewhat? You say you did not wish me to respond;
yet, have you not tried to make me?"
"That was not my object. It was but a necessary accompaniment of the
"And if I had responded?" he said, looking at her.
"I knew you could not. I knew quite well—I mean I could imagine quite
well—how much you loved Beatrice. But it has all been a piece of folly
upon my part—I see it now." She turned away, and went across to the
piano. "I wish you would go now," she said, in a low voice, vaguely
turning over the music. "I cannot, because my aunt will think it
strange to find me gone."
Instead of obeying her, he crossed the room and stood beside her; and
then he saw in the twilight that her eyes were full of tears and her
lips quivering, in spite of her effort to prevent it.
"Margaret," he said, suddenly, and with a good deal of feeling in his
voice, "I am not worth it! Indeed I am not!" And again he touched her
But she drew it from him. "Are you by any chance imagining that my tears
are for you?" she said, in a low tone, but facing him like a creature
at bay. "Have you interpreted me in that way? I have a right to know;
"I am at a loss to interpret you," he said, after a moment's silence.
"I will tell you the whole, then—I must tell you; your mistake forces
it from me." She paused, drew a quick breath, and then went on, rapidly:
"I love some one else. I have been very unhappy. Just after you came I
received a letter which told me that he was soon to be married; he is
married now. I had an illness in consequence. You may remember my
illness? I made up my mind then that I would root out the feeling if
possible, no matter at what cost of pain and effort and long patience.
You came in my way. I knew you were deeply attached elsewhere—"
"How did you know it?" he said. He was leaning against the piano
watching her; she stood with her hands folded, and pressed so tightly
together that he could see the force of the pressure.
"Never mind how; but quite simply and naturally. I said to myself that I
would try to become interested in you, even if only to a small degree; I
would do everything in my power to forward it. It would be an acquired
interest; still, acquired interests can be deep. People can become
interested in music, in pictures, in sports, in that way; why not, then,
in persons also, since they are more human?"
"That is the very reason—because they are too human," he answered.
But she did not heed. "I have studied you; I have tried to find the good
in you; I have tried to believe in you, to idealize you. I have given
every thought that I could control to you, and to you alone, for two
long months," she said, passionately, unlocking her hands, reddened with
their pressure against each other, and turning away.
"It has been a failure?"
"And if you had succeeded?" he asked, folding his arms as he leaned
against the piano.
"I should have been glad and happy. I should never have seen you
again, of course; but at least the miserable old feeling would have been
laid at rest."
"And its place filled by another as miserable!"
"Oh no; it could never have been that," she said, with an emphasis of
"You tried a dangerous remedy, Margaret."
"Not so dangerous as the disease."
"A remedy may be worse than a disease. In spite of your scornful tone,
permit me to tell you that if you had succeeded at all, it would have
been in the end by loving me as you loved—I mean love—this other man.
While I, in the meantime, am in love (as you are kind enough to inform
me—hopelessly) with another woman! Is Beatrice a friend of yours?"
"My dearest friend."
"Has it never occurred to you that you were playing towards her rather a
"Supposing, during this experiment of yours, that I had fallen in love
"It would have been nothing to Beatrice if you had," responded Mrs.
Lovell's friend instantly and loyally, although remembering, at the same
moment, that Fiesole blush. Then, in a changed voice, and with a proud
humility which was touching, she added, "It would have been quite
impossible. Beatrice is the loveliest woman in the world; any one who
had loved her would never think of me."
At this moment Miss Harrison's voice was heard in the hall; she was
"Good-bye," said Morgan. "I shall go to-morrow. You would rather have me
go." He took her hand, held it an instant, and then raised it to his
lips. "Good-bye," he said, again. "Forgive me, Margaret. And do not
When Miss Harrison returned they were looking at the music on the piano.
A few moments later he took leave.
"I am sorry he has gone," said Miss Harrison. "What in the world is he
going to do at Trieste? Well, so goes life! nothing but partings! One
thing is a consolation, however—at least, to me; the grandson of old
Adam did not turn out a disappointment, after all."
"I do not think I am a judge," replied Miss Stowe.
In June Miss Harrison went northward to Paris, her niece accompanying
her. They spent the summer in Switzerland; in the autumn returned to
Paris; and in December went southward to Naples and Rome.
Mrs. Lovell had answered Margaret's letter in June. The six weeks of
yachting had been charming; the yacht belonged to an English gentleman,
who had a country-seat in Devonshire. She herself, by-the-way, might be
in Devonshire during the summer; it was so quiet there. Could not Miss
Harrison be induced to come to Devonshire? That would be so
delightful. It had been extremely difficult to wear deep mourning at
sea; but of course she had persisted in it. Much of it had been
completely ruined; she had been obliged to buy more. Yes—it was
amusing—her meeting Trafford Morgan. And so unexpected, of course. Did
she like him? No, the letter need not be returned. If it troubled her to
have it, she might destroy it; perhaps it was as well it should be
destroyed. There were some such pleasant qualities in English life;
there was not so much opportunity, perhaps, as in America—"That blush
meant nothing, then, after all," thought the reader, lifting her eyes
from the page, and looking musingly at a picture on the wall. "She said
it meant only a lack of iron; and, as Beatrice always tells the truth,
she did mean that, probably, and not irony, as I supposed." She sat
thinking for a few moments, and then went back to the letter: There was
not so much opportunity, perhaps, as in America; but there was more
stability, more certainty that things would continue to go on. There
were various occurrences which she would like to tell; but she never
wrote that sort of thing, as Margaret knew. If she would only come to
Devonshire for the summer—and so forth, and so forth.
But Beatrice did sometimes write "that sort of thing," after all. During
the next February, in Rome, after a long silence, Margaret received a
letter from her which brought the tidings of her engagement. He was an
Englishman. He had a country-seat in Devonshire. He owned a yacht.
Beatrice seemed very happy. "We shall not be married until next winter,"
she wrote. "I would not consent, of course, to anything earlier. I have
consistently endeavored to do what was right from the beginning, and
shall not waver now. But by next January there can be no criticism, and
I suppose that will be the time. How I wish you were here to advise me
about a hundred things! Besides, I want you to know him; you will be
sure to like him. He is"—and so forth, and so forth.
"She is following out her destiny," thought the reader in Rome.
In March Miss Harrison found the Eternal City too warm, and moved
northward as far as Florence. Madame Ferri was delighted to see them
again; she came five times during the first three days to say so.
"You will find so many whom you knew last year here again as well as
yourselves," she said, enthusiastically. "We shall have some of our
charming old reunions. Let me see—I think I can tell you." And she
ran over a list of names, among them that of "Mr. Morgan."
"What, not the grandson of Adam?" said Miss Harrison.
"He is not quite so old as that, is he?" said Madame Ferri, laughing.
"It is the one who dined with you several times last year, I
believe—Mr. Trafford Morgan. I shall have great pleasure in telling him
this very day that you are here."
"Do you know whether he is to remain long?" said Miss Stowe, who had not
"I am sorry to say he is not; Mr. Morgan is always an addition, I
think—don't you? But he told me only yesterday that he was going this
week to—to Tarascon, I think he said."
"Trieste and Tarascon—he selects the most extraordinary places!" said
Miss Harrison. "The next time it will be Tartarus."
Madame Ferri was overcome with mirth. "Dear Miss Harrison, you are
too droll! Isn't she, dear Miss Stowe?"
"He probably chooses his names at random," said Miss Stowe, with
The next day, at the Pitti, she met him. She was alone, and returned his
salutation coldly. He was with some ladies who were standing near,
looking at the "Madonna of the Chair." He merely asked how Miss Harrison
was, and said he should give himself the pleasure of coming to see her
very soon; then he bowed and returned to his friends. Not long
afterwards she saw them all leave the gallery together.
Half an hour later she was standing in front of one of Titian's
portraits, when a voice close beside her said, "Ah! the young man in
black. You are not admiring it?"
There had been almost a crowd in the gorgeous rooms that morning. She
had stood elbow to elbow with so many persons that she no longer noticed
them; Trafford Morgan had been able, therefore, to approach and stand
beside her for several minutes without attracting her recognition. As he
spoke she turned, and, in answer to his smile, gave an even slighter bow
than before; it was hardly more than a movement of the eyelids. Two
English girls, with large hats, sweet, shy eyes, and pink cheeks, who
were standing close beside them, turned away towards the left for a
minute to look at another picture.
"Do not treat me badly," he said. "I need kindness. I am not very
"I can understand that," she answered. Here the English girls came back
"I think you are wrong in admiring it," he said, looking at the
portrait; "it is a quite impossible picture. A youth with that small,
delicate head and face could never have had those shoulders; they are
the shoulders of quite another type of man. This is some boy whom Titian
wished to flatter; but he was artist enough to try and hide the flattery
by that overcoat. The face has no calm; you would not have admired it
"On the contrary, I should have admired it greatly," replied Miss Stowe.
"I should have adored it. I should have adored the eyes."
"Surely there is nothing in them but a sort of pugnacity."
"Whatever it is, it is delightful."
The English girls now turned away towards the right.
"You are quite changed," he said, looking at her.
"Yes, I think I am. I am much more agreeable. Every one will tell you
so; even Madame Ferri, who is obliged to reconcile it with my having
been always more agreeable than any one in the world, you know. I have
become lighter. I am no longer heavy."
"You mean you are no longer serious."
"That is it. I used to be absurdly serious. But it is an age since we
last met. You were going to Trieste, were you not? I hope you found it
"It is not an age; it is a year."
"Oh, a great deal can happen in a year," said Miss Stowe, turning away.
She was as richly dressed as ever, and not quite so plainly. Her hair
was arranged in little rippling waves low down upon her forehead, which
made her look, if not what might be called more worldly, at least more
fashionable, since previously she had worn it arranged with a simplicity
which was neither. Owing to this new arrangement of her hair, her eyes
looked larger and darker.
He continued to walk beside her for some moments, and then, as she came
upon a party of friends, he took leave.
In the evening he called upon Miss Harrison, and remained an hour. Miss
Stowe was not at home. The next day he sent to Miss Harrison a beautiful
basket of flowers.
"He knows we always keep the rooms full of them," remarked Miss Stowe,
"All the same, I like the attention," said Miss Harrison. And she sent
him an invitation to dinner. She liked to have one guest.
He came. During the evening he asked Miss Stowe to sing. "I have lost my
voice," she answered.
"Yes," said Miss Harrison, "it is really remarkable; Margaret, although
she seems so well, has not been able to sing for months—indeed, for a
full year. It is quite sad."
"I am not sad about it, Aunt Ruth; I am relieved. I never sang well—I
had not voice enough. There was really nothing in it but expression; and
that was all pretence."
"You are trying to make us think you very artificial," said Morgan.
"I can make you think what I please, probably. I can follow several
lines of conduct, one after the other, and make you believe them all."
She spoke lightly; her general tone was much lighter than formerly, as
she herself had said.
"Do you ever walk in the Boboli Garden now?" he asked, later.
"Occasionally; but it is a dull place. And I do not walk as much as I
did; I drive with my aunt."
"Yes, Margaret has grown indolent," said Miss Harrison; "and it seems to
agree with her. She has more color than formerly; she looks well."
"Wonderfully," said Morgan. "But you are thinner than you were," he
added, turning towards her.
"And darker!" she answered, laughing. "Mr. Morgan does not admire
arrangements in black and white, Aunt Ruth; do not embarrass him." She
wore that evening a white dress, unrelieved by any color.
"I see you are bent upon being unkind," he said. It was supposed to be a
"Not the least in the world," she answered, in the same tone.
He met her several times in company, and had short conversations with
her. Then, one afternoon, he came upon her unexpectedly in the Cascine;
she was strolling down the broad path alone.
"So you do walk sometimes, after all," he said.
"Never. I am only strolling. I drove here with Aunt Ruth, but, as she
came upon a party of American friends who are going to-morrow, I gave up
my place, and they are driving around together for a while, and no doubt
settling the entire affairs of Westchester County."
"I am glad she met them; I am glad to find you alone. I have something I
wish much to say to you."
"Such a beginning always frightens me. Pray postpone it."
"On the contrary, I shall hasten it. I must make the most of this rare
opportunity. Do you remember when you did me the honor, Miss Stowe, to
make me the subject of an experiment?"
"You insist upon recalling that piece of folly?" she said, opening her
parasol. Her tone was composed and indifferent.
"I recall it because I wish to base something upon it. I wish to ask
you—to allow yourself to be passively the subject of an experiment on
my part, an experiment of the same nature."
She glanced at him; he half smiled. "Did you imagine, then, that mine
was in earnest?" she said, with a fine, light scorn, light as air.
"I never imagine anything. Imaginations are useless."
"Not so useless as experiments. Let yours go, and tell me rather what
you found to like in—Trieste."
"I suppose you know that I went to England?"
"I know nothing. But yes—I do know that you are going to—Tarascon."
"I shall not go if you will permit what I have asked."
"Isn't it rather suddenly planned?" she said, ironically. "You did not
know we were coming."
"Very suddenly. I have thought of it only since yesterday."
They had strolled into a narrow path which led by one of those patches
of underwood of which there are several in the Cascine—little bosky
places carefully preserved in a tangled wildness which is so pretty and
amusing to American eyes, accustomed to the stretch of real forests.
"You don't know how I love these little patches," said Miss Stowe.
"There is such a good faith about them; they are charming."
"You were always fond of nature, I remember. I used to tell you that art
"Ah! did you?" she said, her eyes following the flight of a bird.
"You have forgotten very completely in one year."
"Yes, I think I have. I always forget, you know, what it is not
agreeable to remember. But I must go back; Aunt Ruth will be waiting."
"I will speak more plainly," said Morgan. "I went to England during July
last—that is, I followed Mrs. Lovell. She was in Devonshire. Quite
recently I have learned that she has become engaged in—Devonshire, and
is soon to be married there. I am naturally rather down about it. I am
seeking some other interest. I should like to try your plan for a while,
and build up an interest in—you."
Miss Stowe's lip curled. "The plans are not alike," she said. "Yours is
badly contrived. I did not tell you beforehand what I was
endeavoring to do!"
"I am obliged to tell you. You would have discovered it."
"Discovered what a pretence it was? That is true. A woman can act a part
better than a man. You did not discover! And what am I to do in this
little comedy of yours?"
"Nothing. It is, in truth, nothing to you; you have told me that, even
when you made a great effort towards that especial object, it was
impossible to get up the slightest interest in me. Do not take a violent
dislike to me; that is all."
"And if it is already taken?"
"I shall have to conquer that. What I meant was—do not take a fresh
"There is nothing like precedent, and therefore I repeat your question:
what if you should succeed—I mean as regards yourself?" she said,
looking at him with a satirical expression.
"It is my earnest wish to succeed."
"You do not add, as I did, that in case you do succeed you will of
course never see me again, but that at least the miserable old feeling
will be at rest?"
"I do not add it."
"And at the conclusion, when it has failed, shall you tell me that the
cause of failure was—the inevitable comparisons?"
"Beatrice is extremely lovely," he replied, turning his head and gazing
at the Arno, shining through an opening in the hedge. "I do not attempt
to pretend, even to myself, that she is not the loveliest woman I ever
"Since you do not pretend it to yourself you will not pretend it to me."
She spoke without interrogation; but he treated the words as a question.
"Why should I?" he said. And then he was silent.
"There is Aunt Ruth," said Miss Stowe; "I see the horses. She is
probably wondering what has become of me."
"You have not altogether denied me," he said, just before they reached
the carriage. "I assure you I will not be in the least importunate. Take
a day or two to consider. After all, if there is no one upon whom it can
really infringe (of course I know you have admirers; I have even heard
their names), why should you not find it even a little amusing?"
Miss Stowe turned towards him, and a peculiar expression came into her
eyes as they met his. "I am not sure but that I shall find it so," she
answered. And then they joined Miss Harrison.
The day or two had passed. There had been no formal question asked, and
no formal reply given; but as Miss Stowe had not absolutely forbidden
it, the experiment may be said to have been begun. It was soon reported
in Florence that Trafford Morgan was one of the suitors for the hand of
the heiress; and, being a candidate, he was of course subjected to the
searching light of Public Inquiry. Public Inquiry discovered that he was
thirty-eight years of age; that he had but a small income; that he was
indolent, indifferent, and cynical. Not being able to find any open
vices, Public Inquiry considered that he was too blasé to have them;
he had probably exhausted them all long before. All this Madame Ferri
repeated to Miss Harrison, not because she was in the least opposed to
Mr. Morgan, but simply as part of her general task as gatherer and
"Trafford Morgan is not a saint, but he is well enough in his way,"
replied Miss Harrison. "I am not at all sure that a saint would be
agreeable in the family."
Madame Ferri was much amused by this; but she carried away the
impression also that Miss Harrison favored the suitor.
In the meantime nothing could be more quiet than the manner of the
supposed suitor when he was with Miss Stowe. He now asked questions of
her; when they went to the churches, he asked her impressions of the
architecture; when they visited the galleries, he asked her opinions of
the pictures. He inquired what books she liked, and why she liked them;
and sometimes he slowly repeated her replies.
This last habit annoyed her. "I wish you would not do that," she said,
with some irritation. "It is like being forced to look at one's self in
"I do it to analyze them," he answered. "I am so dense, you know, it
takes me a long time to understand. When you say, for instance, that
Romola is not a natural character because her love for Tito ceases, I,
who think that the unnatural part is that she should ever have loved
him, naturally dwell upon the remark."
"She would have continued to love him in life. Beauty is all powerful."
"I did not know that women cared much for it," he answered. Then, after
a moment, "Do not be too severe upon me," he added; "I am doing my
She made no reply.
"I thought certainly you would have answered, 'By contrast?'" he said,
smiling. "But you are not so satirical as you were. I cannot make you
angry with me."
"Have you tried?"
"Of course I have tried. It would be a step gained to move you—even in
"I thought your experiment was to be all on one side?" she said. They
were sitting in a shady corner of the cloisters of San Marco; she was
leaning back in her chair, following with the point of her parasol the
lines of the Latin inscription on the slab at her feet over an old
monk's last resting-place.
"I am not so consistent as I should be," he answered, rising and
sauntering off, with his hands in the pockets of his short morning-coat,
to look at St. Peter the Martyr.
At another time they were in the Michael Angelo chapel of San Lorenzo.
It was past the hour for closing, but Morgan had bribed the custode to
allow them to remain, and the old man had closed the door and gone away,
leaving them alone with the wondrous marbles.
"What do they mean?" he said. "Tell me."
"They mean fate, our sad human fate: the beautiful Dawn in all the pain
of waking; the stern determination of the Day; the recognition of
failure in Evening; and the lassitude of dreary, hopeless sleep in
Night. It is one way of looking at life."
"But not your way?"
"Oh, I have no way; I am too limited. But genius takes a broader view,
and genius, I suppose, must always be sad. People with that endowment, I
have noticed, are almost always very unhappy."
He was sitting beside her, and, as she spoke, he saw a little flush rise
in her cheeks; she was remembering when Mrs. Lovell had used the same
words, although in another connection.
"We have never spoken directly, or at any length, of Beatrice," she
said, suddenly. "I wish you would tell me about her."
"Yes, here and now; Lorenzo shall be your judge."
"I am not afraid of Lorenzo. He is not a god; on the contrary, he has
all our deepest humanity on his musing face; it is for this reason that
he impresses us so powerfully. As it is the first time you have
expressed any wish, Miss Stowe, I suppose I must obey it."
"Will it be difficult?"
"It is always difficult, is it not, for a man to speak of an unhappy
love?" he said, leaning his elbow on the back of the seat, and shading
his eyes with his hand as he looked at her.
"I will excuse you."
"I have not asked to be excused. I first met Mrs. Lovell in Sicily. I
was with her almost constantly during five weeks. She is as lovable as a
rose—as a peach—as a child." He paused.
"Your comparisons are rather remarkable," said Miss Stowe, her eyes
resting upon the grand massiveness of Day.
"They are truthful. I fell in love with her; and I told her so because
there was that fatal thing, an opportunity—that is, a garden-seat,
starlight, and the perfume of flowers. Of course these were
"Do not be contemptuous. It is possible that you may not have been
exposed to the force of the combination as yet. She rebuked me with that
lovely, gentle softness of hers, and then she went away; the Sicilian
days were over. I wrote to her—"
He was sitting in the same position, with his hand shading his eyes,
looking at her; as he spoke the last phrase he perceived that she
colored, and colored deeply.
"You knew the story generally," he said, dropping his arm and leaning
forward. "But it is not possible you saw that letter!"
She rose and walked across, as if to get a nearer view of Day. "I admire
it so much!" she said, after a moment. "If it should stretch out that
great right arm, it could crush us to atoms." And she turned towards him
As she did she saw that he had colored also; a deep, dark flush had
risen in his face, and covered even his forehead.
"I am safe—very safe!" he said. "After reading such a letter as that,
written to another woman, you are not likely to bestow much regard upon
the writer, try as he may!"
Miss Stowe looked at him. "You are overacting," she said, coldly. "It is
not in your part to pretend to care so soon. It was to be built up
"Lorenzo understands me," he said, recovering himself. "Shall I go on?"
"I think I must go now," she answered, declining a seat; "it is late."
"In a moment. Let me finish, now that I have begun. I had thought of
returning to America; indeed, Beatrice had advised it; she thought I was
becoming expatriated. But I gave it up and remained in Italy because I
did not wish to appear too much her slave (women do not like men who
obey them too well, you know). After this effort I was consistent enough
to follow her to England. I found her in—Devonshire, lovelier than
ever; and I was again fascinated; I was even ready to accept beforehand
all the rules and embargo of the strictest respect to the memory of Mr.
Miss Stowe's eyes were upon Day; but here, involuntarily, she glanced
towards her companion. His face remained unchanged.
"I was much in love with her. She allowed me no encouragement. But I did
not give up a sort of vague hope I had until this recent change. Then,
of course, I knew that it was all over for me."
"I am sorry for you," replied Miss Stowe after a pause, still looking at
"Of course I have counted upon that—upon your sympathy. I knew that you
"Spare me the quotation, 'A fellow-feeling,' and so forth," she said,
moving towards the door. "I am going; I feel as though we had already
desecrated too long this sacred place."
"It is no desecration. The highest heights of art, as well as of life,
belong to love," he said, as they went out into the cool, low hall,
paved with the gravestones of the Medici.
"Don't you always think of them lying down below?" she said. "Giovanni
in his armor, and Leonore of Toledo in her golden hair?"
"Since when have you become so historical? They were a wicked race."
"And since when have you become so virtuous?" she answered. "They were
at least successful."
Time passed. It has a way of passing rapidly in Florence; although each
day is long and slow and full and delightful, a month flies. Again the
season was waning. It was now believed that Mr. Morgan had been
successful, although nothing definite was known. It was remarked how
unusually well Miss Stowe looked: her eyes were so bright and she had so
much color that she really looked brilliant. Madame Ferri repeated this
to Miss Harrison.
"Margaret was always brilliant," said her aunt.
"Oh, extremely!" said Madame Ferri.
"Only people never found it out," added Miss Harrison.
She herself maintained a calm and uninquiring demeanor. Sometimes she
was with her niece and her niece's supposed suitor, and sometimes not.
She continued to receive him with the same affability which she had
bestowed upon him from the first, and occasionally she invited him to
dinner and to drive. She made no comment upon the frequency of his
visits, or the length of his conversations upon the little balcony in
the evening, where the plash of the fountain came faintly up from below.
In truth she had no cause for solicitude; nothing could be more tranquil
than the tone of the two talkers. Nothing more was said about Mrs.
Lovell; conversation had sunk back into the old impersonal channel.
"You are very even," Morgan said one evening. "You do not seem to have
any moods. I noticed it last year."
"One is even," she replied, "when one is—"
"Indifferent," he suggested.
She did not contradict him.
Two things she refused to do: she would not sing, and she would not go
to the Boboli Garden.
"As I am especially fond of those tall, ceremonious old hedges and
serene statues, you cut me off from a real pleasure," said Morgan.
It was on the evening of the 16th of May; they were sitting by the open
window; Miss Harrison was not present.
"You can go there after we have gone," she said, smiling. "We leave
"You leave to-morrow!" he repeated. Then, after an instant, "It is
immensely kind to tell me beforehand," he said, ironically. "I should
have thought you would have left it until after your departure!"
She made no reply, but fanned herself slowly with the beautiful gray
"I suppose you consider that the month is more than ended, and that you
"You have had all you asked for, Mr. Morgan."
"And therefore I have now only to thank you for your generosity, and let
"I think so."
"You do not care to know the result of my experiment—whether it has
been a failure or a success?" he said. "You told me the result of
"I did not mean to tell you. It was forced from me by your
"Misunderstandings, because so slight that one cannot attack them, are
horrible things. Let there be none between us now."
"There is none."
"I do not know." He leaned back in his chair and looked up at the soft
darkness of the Italian night. "I have one more favor to ask," he said,
presently. "You have granted me many; grant me this. At what hour do you
"In the afternoon."
"Give me a little time with you in the Boboli Garden in the morning."
"You are an accomplished workman, Mr. Morgan; you want to finish with a
polish; you do not like to leave rough ends. Be content; I will accept
the intention as carried out, and suppose that all the last words have
been beautifully and shiningly spoken. That will do quite as well."
"Put any construction upon it you please," he answered. "But consent."
But it was with great difficulty that he obtained that consent.
"There is really nothing you can say that I care to hear," she declared,
"The king is dead! My time is ended, evidently! But, as there is
something you can say which I care to hear, I again urge you to
Miss Stowe rose, and passed through the long window into the lighted
empty room, decked as usual with many flowers; here she stood, looking
at him, as he entered also.
"I have tried my best to prevent it," she said.
"And you still insist?"
"Very well; I consent. But you will not forget that I tried," she said.
The next morning at ten, as he entered the old amphitheatre, he saw her;
she was sitting on one of the upper stone seats, under a statue of
"I would rather go to our old place," he said, as he came up; "the seat
under the tree, you know."
"I like this better."
"As you prefer, of course. It will be more royal, more in state; but, to
be in accordance with it, you should have been clothed in something
majestic, instead of that soft, yielding hue."
"That is hardly necessary," she answered.
"By which you mean, I suppose, that your face is not yielding. And
indeed it is not."
She was dressed in cream color from head to foot; she held open, poised
on one shoulder, a large, heavily fringed, cream-colored parasol. Above
this soft drapery and under this soft shade the darkness of her hair and
eyes was doubly apparent.
He took a seat beside her, removed his hat, and let the breeze play over
his head and face; it was a warm summer morning, and they were in the
"I believe I was to tell you the result of my experiment," he said,
after a while, breaking the silence which she did not break.
"You wished it; I did not ask it."
If she was cool, he was calm; he was not at all as he had been the night
before; then he had seemed hurried and irritated, now he was quiet. "The
experiment has succeeded," he said, deliberately. "I find myself often
thinking of you; I like to be with you; I feel when with you a sort of
satisfied content. What I want to ask is—I may as well say it at
once—Will not this do as the basis of a better understanding between
She was gazing at the purple slopes of Monte Morello opposite. "It
might," she answered.
He turned; her profile was towards him, he could not see her eyes.
"I shall be quite frank," he continued; "under the circumstances it is
my only way. You have loved some one else. I have loved some one else.
We have both been unhappy. We should therefore, I think, have a peculiar
sympathy for and comprehension of each other. It has seemed to me that
these, combined with my real liking for you, might be a sufficient
foundation for—let us call it another experiment. I ask you to make
this experiment, Margaret; I ask you to marry me. If it fails—if you
are not happy—I promise not to hold you in the slightest degree. You
shall have your liberty untrammelled, and, at the same time, all shall
be arranged so as to escape comment. I will be with you enough to save
appearances; that is all. In reality you shall be entirely free. I think
you can trust my word."
"I shall have but little from my aunt," was her answer, her eyes still
fixed upon the mountain. "I am not her heiress, as you suppose."
"You mean that to be severe; but it falls harmless. It is true that I
did suppose you were her heiress; but the fact that you are not makes no
difference in my request. We shall not be rich, but we can live; it
shall be my pleasure to make you comfortable."
"I do not quite see why you ask this," she said, with the same slow
utterance and her eyes turned away. "You do not love me; I am not
beautiful; I have no fortune. What, then, do you gain?"
"I gain," he said—"I gain—" Then he paused. "You would not like me to
tell you," he added; and his voice was changed.
"I beg you to tell me." Her lips were slightly compressed, a tremor had
seized her; she seemed to be exerting all her powers of self-control.
He watched her a moment, and then, leaning towards her while a new and
beautiful expression of tenderness stole into his eyes, "I gain,
Margaret," he said, "the greatest gift that can be given to a man on
this earth, a gift I long for—a wife who really and deeply loves me."
The hot color flooded her face and throat; she rose, turning upon him
her blazing eyes. "I was but waiting for this," she said, her words
rushing forth, one upon the other, with the unheeding rapidity of
passion. "I felt sure that it would come. With the deeply-rooted egotism
of a man you believe that I love you; you have believed it from the
beginning. It was because I knew this that I allowed this experiment of
yours to go on. I resisted the temptation at first, but it was too
strong for me; you yourself made it so. It was a chance to make you
conscious of your supreme error; a chance to have my revenge. And I
yielded. You said, not long ago, that I was even. I answered that one
was even when one was— You said 'indifferent,' and I did not contradict
you. But the real sentence was that one was even when one was pursuing a
purpose. I have pursued a purpose. This was mine: to make you put into
words your egregious vanity, to make you stand convicted of your dense
and vast mistake. But towards the end a better impulse rose, and the
game did not seem worth the candle. I said to myself that I would go
away without giving you, after all, the chance to stultify yourself, the
chance to exhibit clearly your insufferable and amazing conceit. But you
insisted, and the impulse vanished; I allowed you to go on to the end. I
love you! You!"
He had risen also; they stood side by side under the statue of Diana;
some people had come into the amphitheatre below. He had turned slightly
pale as she uttered these bitter words, but he remained quite silent. He
still held his hat in his hand; his eyes were turned away.
"Have you nothing to say?" she asked, after some moments had passed.
"I think there is nothing," he answered, without turning.
Then again there was a silence.
"You probably wish to go," he said, breaking it; "do not let me detain
you." And he began to go down the steps, pausing, however, as the
descent was somewhat awkward, to give her his hand.
To the little Italian party below, looking at the Egyptian obelisk, he
seemed the picture of chivalry, as, with bared head, he assisted her
down; and as they passed the obelisk, these children of the country
looked upon them as two of the rich Americans, the lady dressed like a
picture, the gentleman distinguished, but both without a gesture or an
interest, and coldly silent and pale.
He did not accompany her home. "Shall I go with you?" he said, breaking
the silence as they reached the exit.
"No, thanks. Please call a carriage."
He signalled to a driver who was near, and assisted her into one of the
little rattling Florence phaetons.
"Good-bye," she said, when she was seated.
He lifted his hat. "Lung' Arno Nuovo," he said to the driver.
And the carriage rolled away.
Countries attract us in different ways. We are comfortable in England,
musical in Germany, amused in Paris (Paris is a country), and idyllic in
Switzerland; but when it comes to the affection, Italy holds the
heart—we keep going back to her. Miss Harrison, sitting in her carriage
on the heights of Bellosguardo, was thinking this as she gazed down upon
Florence and the valley below. It was early in the next autumn—the last
of September; and she was alone.
A phaeton passed her and turned down the hill; but she had recognized
its occupant as he passed, and called his name—"Mr. Morgan!"
He turned, saw her, bowed, and, after a moment's hesitation, ordered his
driver to stop, sprang out, and came back to speak to her.
"How in the world do you happen to be in Florence at this time of
year?" she said, cordially, giving him her hand. "There isn't a soul in
"That is the reason I came."
"And the reason we did, too," she said, laughing. "I am delighted to
have met you; one soul is very acceptable. You must come and see me
immediately. I hope you are going to stay."
"Thanks; you are very kind. But I leave to-morrow morning."
"Then you must come to-night; come to dinner at seven. It is impossible
you should have another engagement when there is no one to be engaged
to—unless it be the pictures; I believe they do not go away for the
"I really have an engagement, Miss Harrison; you are very kind, but I am
forced to decline."
"Dismiss your carriage, then, and drive back with me; I will set you
down at your hotel. It will be a visit of some sort."
He obeyed. Miss Harrison's fine horses started, and moved with slow
stateliness down the winding road, where the beggars had not yet begun
to congregate; it was not "the season" for beggars; they were still at
Miss Harrison talked on various subjects. They had been in Switzerland,
and it had rained continuously; they had seen nothing but fog. They had
come over the St. Gothard, and their carriage had broken down. They had
been in Venice, and had found malaria there. They had been in Padua,
Verona, and Bologna, and all three had become frightfully modern and
iconoclastic. Nothing was in the least satisfactory, and Margaret had
not been well; she was quite anxious about her.
Mr. Morgan "hoped" that it was nothing serious.
"I don't know whether it is or not," replied Miss Harrison. "Margaret is
rather a serious sort of a person, I think."
She looked at him as if for confirmation, but he did not pursue the
subject. Instead, he asked after her own health.
"Oh, I am as usual. It is only your real invalids who are always well;
they enjoy their poor health, you know. And what have you been doing
since I last saw you? I hope nothing out of the way. Let me see—Trieste
and Tarascon; you have probably been in—Transylvania?"
"That would be somewhat out of the way, wouldn't it? But I have not been
there; I have been in various nearer places, engaged rather
systematically in amusing myself."
"Did you succeed? If you did you are a man of genius. One must have a
rare genius, I think, to amuse one's self in that way at forty. Of
course I mean thirty-five, you know; but forty is a better
conversational word—it classifies. And you were amused?"
"So much so that you have to come to Florence in September to rest after
Miss Harrison talked on. He listened, and made the necessary replies.
The carriage entered the city, crossed the Carraja bridge, and turned
towards his hotel.
"Can you not come for half an hour this evening, after your engagement
is over?" she said. "I shall be all alone, for Margaret cannot be there
before midnight; she went into the country this morning with Madame
Ferri—some sort of a fête at a villa, a native Florentine affair. You
have not asked much about her, I think, considering how constantly you
were with her last spring," she added, looking at him calmly.
"I have been remiss; pardon it."
"It is only forgetfulness, of course. That is not a fault nowadays; it
is a virtue, and, what is more, highly fashionable. But there is one
little piece of news I must tell you about my niece: she is going to be
"That is not little; it is great. Please present to her my sincere good
wishes and congratulations."
"I am sorry you cannot present them yourself. But at least you can come
and see me for a little while this evening—say about ten. The
grandson of your grandfather should be very civil to old Ruth Harrison
for old times' sake." Here the carriage stopped at his door. "Remember,
I shall expect you," she said, as he took leave.
At about the hour she had named he went to see her; he found her alone,
knitting. It was one of her idiosyncrasies to knit stockings "for the
poor." No doubt there were "poor" enough to wear them; but as she made a
great many, and as they were always of children's size and black, her
friends sometimes thought, with a kind of amused dismay, of the regiment
of little funereal legs running about for which she was responsible.
He had nothing especial to say; his intention was to remain the shortest
time possible; he could see the hands of the clock, and he noted their
progress every now and then through the twenty minutes he had set for
Miss Harrison talked on various subjects, but said nothing more
concerning her niece; nor did he, on his side, ask a question. After a
while she came to fashions in art. "It is the most curious thing," she
said, "how people obediently follow each other along a particular road,
like a flock of sheep, no matter what roads, equally good and possibly
better, open to the right and the left. Now there are the wonderfully
spirited frescos of Masaccio at the Carmine, frescos which were studied
and copied by Raphael himself and Michael Angelo. Yet that church has no
vogue; it is not fashionable to go there; Ruskin has not written a
maroon-colored pamphlet about it, and Baedeker gives it but a scant
quarter-page, while the other churches have three and four. Now it seems
to me that—"
But what it seemed Morgan never knew, because here she paused as the
door opened. "Ah, there is Margaret, after all," she said. "I did not
expect her for three hours."
Miss Stowe came across the large room, throwing back her white shawl and
taking off her little plumed hat as she came. She did not perceive that
any one was present save her aunt; the light was not bright, and the
visitor sat in the shadow.
"It was very stupid," she said. "Do not urge me to go again." And then
she saw him.
He rose, and bowed. After an instant's delay she spoke his name, and put
out her hand, which he took as formally as she gave it. Miss Harrison
was voluble. She was "so pleased" that Margaret had returned earlier
than was expected; she was "so pleased" that the visitor happened to be
still there. She seemed indeed to be pleased with everything, and talked
for them both; in truth, save for replies to her questions, they were
quite silent. The visitor remained but a short quarter of an hour, and
then took leave, saying good-bye at the same time, since he was to go
early in the morning.
"To Trent?" said Miss Harrison.
"To Tadmor, I think, this time," he answered, smiling.
The next morning opened with a dull gray rain. Morgan was late in
rising, missed his train, and was obliged to wait until the afternoon.
About eleven he went out, under an umbrella, and, after a while, tired
of the constant signals and clattering followings of the hackmen, who
could not comprehend why a rich foreigner should walk, he went into the
Duomo. The vast church, never light even on a bright day, was now
sombre, almost dark, the few little twinkling tapers, like stars, on an
altar at the upper end, only serving to make the darkness more visible.
He walked down to the closed western entrance, across whose wall outside
rises slowly, day by day, the new façade under its straw-work screen.
Here he stood still, looking up the dim expanse, with the dusky shadows,
like great winged, formless ghosts, hovering over him.
One of the south doors, the one near the choir, was open, and through it
a slender ray of gray daylight came in, and tried to cross the floor.
But its courage soon failed in that breadth and gloom, and it died away
before it had gone ten feet. A blind beggar sat in a chair at this
entrance, his patient face faintly outlined against the ray; there
seemed to be no one else in the church save the sacristan, whose form
could be dimly seen moving about, renewing the lights burning before the
The solitary visitor strolled back and forth in the shadow. After a
while he noted a figure entering through the ray. It was that of a
woman; it had not the outlines of the usual church beggar; it did not
stoop or cringe; it was erect and slender, and stepped lightly; it was
coming down towards the western end, where he was pacing to and fro. He
stopped and stood still, watching it. It continued to approach—and at
last brushed against him. Coming in from the daylight, it could see
nothing in the heavy shadow.
"Excuse me, Miss Stowe," he said; "I should have spoken. My eyes are
accustomed to this light, and I recognized you; but of course you could
not see me."
She had started back as she touched him; now she moved away still
"It is grandly solitary here on a rainy day, isn't it?" he continued. "I
used often to come here during a storm. It makes one feel as if already
disembodied—as if he were a shade, wandering on the gray, unknown
outskirts of another world."
She had now recovered herself, and, turning, began to walk back towards
the ray at the upper door. He accompanied her. But the Duomo is vast,
and cannot be crossed in a minute. He went on talking about the shadows;
"I am glad of this opportunity to give you my good wishes, Miss Stowe,"
he said, as they went onward. "I hope you will be quite happy."
"I hope the same, certainly," she answered. "Yet I fail to see any
especially new reason for good wishes from you just at present."
"Ah, you do not know that I know. But Miss Harrison told me
yesterday—told me that you were soon to be married. If you have never
forgiven me, in the light of your present happiness I think you should
do so now."
She had stopped. "My aunt told you?" she said, while he was still
speaking. But now, as he paused, she walked on. He could not see her
face; although approaching the ray, they were still in the shadow, and
her head was turned from him.
"As to forgiveness, it is I who should ask forgiveness from you," she
said, after some delay, during which there was no sound but their
footsteps on the mosaic pavement.
"Yes, you were very harsh. But I forgave you long ago. I was a dolt, and
deserved your sharp words. But I want very much to hear you say that
you forgive me."
"There is nothing to forgive."
"That is gently spoken. It is your marriage present to me, and I feel
the better for it."
A minute later they had reached the ray and the door. He could see her
face now. "How ill you look!" he said, involuntarily. "I noticed it last
evening. It is not conventional to say so, but it is at least a real
regret. He should take better care of you."
The blind beggar, hearing their footsteps, had put out his hand. "Do not
go yet," said Morgan, giving him a franc. "See how it is raining
outside. Walk with me once around the whole interior for the sake of the
pleasant part of our Florentine days—for there was a pleasant part;
it will be our last walk together."
She assented silently, and they turned into the shadow again.
"I am going to make a confession," he said, as they passed the choir;
"it can make no difference now, and I prefer that you should know it. I
did not realize it myself at the time, but I see now—that is, I have
discovered since yesterday—that I was in love with you, more or less,
from the beginning."
She made no answer, and they passed under Michael Angelo's grand,
unfinished statue, and came around on the other side.
"Of course I was fascinated with Beatrice; in one way I was her slave.
Still, when I said to you, 'Forgive me; I am in love with some one
else,' I really think it was more to see what you would say or do than
any feeling of loyalty to her."
Again she said nothing. They went down the north aisle.
"I wish you would tell me," he said, leaving the subject of himself and
turning to her, "that you are fully and really happy in this marriage of
yours. I hope you are, with all my heart; but I should like to hear it
from your own lips."
She made a gesture as if of refusal; but he went on. "Of course I know I
have no right; I ask it as a favor."
They were now in deep obscurity, almost darkness; but something seemed
to tell him that she was suffering.
"You are not going to do that wretched thing—marry without love?" he
said, stopping abruptly. "Do not, Margaret, do not! I know you better
than you know yourself, and you will not be able to bear it. Some women
can; but you could not. You have too deep feelings—too—"
He did not finish the sentence, for she had turned from him suddenly,
and was walking across the dusky space in the centre of the great
temple whose foundations were so grandly laid six centuries ago.
But he followed her and stopped her, almost by force, taking both her
hands in his. "You must not do this," he said; "you must not marry in
that way. It is dangerous; it is horrible; for you, it is a crime."
Then, as he stood close to her and saw two tears well over and drop from
her averted eyes, "Margaret! Margaret!" he said, "rather than that, it
would have been better to have married even me."
She drew her hands from his, and covered her face; she was weeping.
"Is it too late?" he whispered. "Is there a possibility—I love you very
deeply," he added. And, cold and indifferent as Florence considered him,
his voice was broken.
When they came round to the ray again, he gave the blind beggar all the
small change he had about him; the old man thought it was a paper
"You owe me another circuit," he said; "you did not speak through fully
half of the last one."
So they went around a second time.
"Tell me when you first began to think about me," he said, as they
passed the choir. "Was it when you read that letter?"
"It was an absurd letter."
"On the contrary, it was a very good one, and you know it. You have kept
"No; I burned it long ago."
"Not so very long! However, never fear; I will write you plenty more,
and even better ones. I will go away on purpose."
They crossed the east end, under the great dome, and came around on the
"You said some bitter things to me in that old amphitheatre, Margaret; I
shall always hate the place. But after all—for a person who was quite
indifferent—were you not just a little too angry?"
"It is easy to say that now," she answered.
They went down the north aisle.
"Why did you stop and leave the room so abruptly when you were singing
that song I asked for—you know, the 'Semper Fidelis?'"
"My voice failed."
"No; it was your courage. You knew then that you were no longer
'fidelis' to that former love of yours, and you were frightened by the
They reached the dark south end.
"And now, as to that former love," he said, pausing. "I will never ask
you again; but here and now, Margaret, tell me what it was."
"It was not 'a fascination'—like yours," she answered.
"Do not be impertinent, especially in a church. Mrs. Lovell was not my
only fascination, I beg to assure you; remember, I am thirty-six years
old. But now—what was it?"
"Good; but I want more."
"It was a will-o'-the-wisp that I thought was real."
"Better; but not enough."
"You ask too much, I think."
"I shall always ask it; I am horribly selfish; I warn you beforehand
that I expect everything, in the most relentless way."
"Well, then, it was a fancy, Trafford, that I mistook for—" And the
Duomo alone knows how the sentence was ended.
As they passed, for the third time, on their way towards the door, the
mural tablet to Giotto, Morgan paused. "I have a sort of feeling that I
owe it to the old fellow," he said. "I have always been his faithful
disciple, and now he has rewarded me with a benediction. On the next
high-festival his tablet shall be wreathed with the reddest of roses and
a thick bank of heliotrope, as an acknowledgment of my gratitude."
It was; and no one ever knew why. If it had been in "the season," the
inquiring tourists would have been rendered distracted by the
impossibility of finding out; but to the native Florentines attending
mass at the cathedral, to whom the Latin inscription, "I am he through
whom the lost Art of Painting was revived," remains a blank, it was only
a tribute to some "departed friend."
"And he is as much my friend as though he had not departed something
over five centuries ago," said Trafford; "of that I feel convinced."
"I wonder if he knows any better, now, how to paint an angel leaning
from the sky," replied Margaret.
"Have you any idea why Miss Harrison invented that enormous fiction
about you?" he said, as they drove homeward.
"Not the least. We must ask her."
They found her in her easy-chair, beginning a new stocking. "I thought
you were in Tadmor," she said, as Trafford came in.
"I started; but came back to ask a question. Why did you tell me that
this young lady was going to be married?"
"Well, isn't she?" said Miss Harrison, laughing. "Sit down, you two, and
confess your folly. Margaret has been ill all summer with absolute
pining—yes, you have, child, and it is a woman's place to be humble.
And you, Trafford, did not look especially jubilant, either, for a man
who has been immensely amused during the same space of time. I did what
I could for you by inventing a sort of neutral ground upon which you
could meet and speak. It is very neutral for the other man, you know,
when the girl is going to be married; he can speak to her then as well
as not! I was afraid last night that you were not going to take
advantage of my invention; but I see that it has succeeded (in some
mysterious way out in all this rain) better than I knew. It was, I
think," she concluded, as she commenced on a new needle, "a sort of
experiment of mine—a Florentine experiment."
Trafford burst into a tremendous laugh, in which, after a moment,
"I don't know what you two are laughing at," said Miss Harrison,
surveying them. "I should think you ought to be more sentimental, you
"To confess all the truth, Aunt Ruth," said Trafford, going across and
sitting down beside her, "Margaret and I have tried one or two of those