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- The Point of View - 1/18 -
The Author's Press Series of the Works of Elinor Glyn
THE POINT OF VIEW
The restaurant of the Grand Hotel in Rome was filling up. People were dining rather late--it was the end of May and the entertainments were lessening, so they could dawdle over their repasts and smoke their cigarettes in peace.
Stella Rawson came in with her uncle and aunt, Canon and the Honorable Mrs. Ebley, and they took their seats in a secluded corner. They looked a little out of place--and felt it--amid this more or less gay company. But the drains of the Grand Hotel were known to be beyond question, and, coming to Rome so late in the season, the Reverend Canon Ebley felt it was wiser to risk the contamination of the over-worldly-minded than a possible attack of typhoid fever. The belief in a divine protection did not give him or his lady wife that serenity it might have done, and they traveled fearfully, taking with them their own jaeger sheets among other precautions.
They realized they must put up with the restaurant for meals, but at least the women folk should not pander to the customs of the place and wear evening dress. Their subdued black gowns were fastened to the throat. Stella Rawson felt absolutely excited--she was twenty-one years old, but this was the first time she had ever dined in a fashionable restaurant, and it almost seemed like something deliciously wrong.
Life in the Cathedral Close where they lived in England was not highly exhilarating, and when its duties were over it contained only mild gossip and endless tea-parties and garden-parties by way of recreation.
Canon and the Honorable Mrs. Ebley were fairly rich people. The Uncle Erasmus' call to the church had been answered from inclination--not necessity. His heart was in his work. He was a good man and did his duty according to the width of the lights in which he had been brought up.
Mrs. Ebley did more than her duty--and had often too much momentum, which now and then upset other people's apple carts.
She had, in fact, been the moving spirit in the bringing about of her niece Stella's engagement to the Bishop's junior chaplain, a young gentleman of aesthetic aspirations and eight hundred a year of his own.
Stella herself had never been enthusiastic about the affair. As a man, Eustace Medlicott said absolutely nothing at all to her-- though to be sure she was quite unaware that he was inadequate in this respect. No man had meant anything different up to this period of her life. She had seen so few of them she was no judge.
Eustace Medlicott had higher collars than the other curates, and intoned in a wonderfully melodious voice in the cathedral. And quite a number of the young ladies of Exminster, including the Bishop's second daughter, had been setting their caps at him from the moment of his arrival, so that when, by the maneuvers of Aunt Caroline Ebley, Stella found him proposing to her, she somehow allowed herself to murmur some sort of consent.
Then it seemed quite stimulating to have a ring and to be congratulated upon being engaged. And the few weeks that followed while the thing was fresh and new had passed quite pleasantly. It was only when about a month had gone by that a gradual and growing weariness seemed to be falling upon her.
To be the wife of an aesthetic high church curate, who fasted severely during Lent and had rigid views upon most subjects, began to grow into a picture which held out less and less charm for her.
But Aunt Caroline was firm--and the habit of twenty-one years of obedience held.
Perhaps Fate was looking on in sympathy with her unrest. In any case, it appeared like the jade's hand and not chance which made Uncle Erasmus decide to take his holiday early in the year and to decide to spend it abroad--not in Scotland or Wales as was his custom.
Stella, he said, should see the eternal city and Florence before settling down in the autumn to her new existence.
Miss Rawson actually jumped with joy--and the knowledge that Eustace Medlicott would be unable to accompany them, but might join them later on, did not damp her enthusiasm.
Every bit of the journey was a pleasure, from the moment they landed on French soil. They had come straight through to Rome from Paris, where they had spent a week at a small hotel; because of the lateness of the year they must get to their southern point first of all and return northward in a more leisurely manner.
And now anyone who is reading this story can picture this respectable English family and understand their status and antecedents, so we can very well get back to them seated in the agreeable restaurant of the Grand Hotel at Rome--beginning to partake of a modest dinner.
Mrs. Ebley (I had almost written the Reverend Mrs. Ebley!) was secretly enjoying herself--she had that feeling that she was in a place where she ought not to be--through no fault of her own--and so was free to make the most of it, and certainly these well- dressed people were very interesting to glance at between mouthfuls of a particularly well-cooked fish.
Stella was thrilling all over and her soft brown eyes were sparkling and her dazzlingly pink and white complexion glowing with health and excitement, so that even in the Exminster confection of black grenadine she was an agreeable morsel for the male eye to dwell upon.
There were the usual company there: the younger diplomats from the Embassies; a sprinkling of trim Italian officers in their pretty uniforms; French and Austrian ladies; as well as the attractive- looking native and American representatives of the elite of Roman society.
The tables began to fill up before the Ebleys had finished their fish, and numbers of the parties seemed to know one another and nod and exchange words en passant.
But there was one table laid for a single person which remained empty until the entrees were being handed, and Stella, with her fresh interest in the whole scene, wondered for whom it was reserved.
He came in presently--and he really merits a descriptive paragraph all to himself.
He was a very tall man and well made, with broad shoulders and a small head. His evening clothes, though beautifully pressed, with that look which only a thoroughly good valet knows how to stamp upon his master's habiliments as a daily occurrence, were of foreign cut and hand, and his shirt, unstarched, was of the finest pleated cambric.
These trifles, however, were not what rendered him remarkable, but that his light brown hair was worn parted in the middle and waved back a la vierge with a rather saintly expression, and was apparently just cut off in a straight line at the back. This was quite peculiar-looking enough--and in conjunction with a young, silky beard, trimmed into a sharp point with the look of an archaic Greek statue, he presented a type not easily forgotten. The features were regular and his eyes were singularly calm and wise and blue.
It seemed incredible that such an almost grotesque arrangement of coiffure should adorn the head of a man in modern evening dress. It should have been on some Byzantine saint. However, there he was, and entirely unconcerned at the effect he was producing.
The waiters, who probably knew his name and station, precipitated themselves forward to serve him, and with leisurely mien he ordered a recherche dinner and a pint of champagne.
Stella Rawson was much interested and so were her uncle and aunt.
"What a very strange-looking person," Mrs. Ebley said. "Of what nation can he be? Erasmus, have you observed him?"
Canon Ebley put on his pince-nez and gave the newcomer the benefit of a keen scrutiny.
"I could not say with certainty, my dear. A northerner evidently-- but whether Swedish or Danish it would be difficult to determine," he announced.
"He does not appear to know he is funny-looking," Stella Rawson said, timidly. "Do you notice, Aunt Caroline, he does not look about him at all, he has never glanced in any direction; it is as if he were alone in the room."
"A very proper behavior," the Aunt Caroline replied severely, "but he cannot be an Englishman--no Englishman would enter a public place, having made himself remarkable like that, and then be able to sit there unaware of it; I am glad to say our young men have some sense of convention. You cannot imagine Eustace Medlicott perfectly indifferent to the remarks he would provoke if he were tricked out so."
Stella felt a sudden sympathy for the foreigner. She had heard so ceaselessly of her fiance's perfections!
"Perhaps they wear the hair like that in his country," she returned, with as much spirit as she dared to show. "And he may
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