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- The Point of View - 2/18 -
think we all look funny, as we think he does. Only he seems to be much better mannered than we are, because he is quite sure of himself and quite unconscious or indifferent about our opinion."
Both her aunt and uncle looked at her with slightly shocked surprise--and she saw it at once and reddened a little.
But this incident caused the remarkable looking foreigner to crystallize in interest for her, especially when, in raising his glass of champagne, she saw that on his wrist there was a bracelet of platinum with a small watch set with very fine diamonds. She could hardly have been more surprised if he had worn a ring in his nose, so unaccustomed was she to any type but that of the curates and young gentlemen of Exminster.
Canon and Mrs. Ebley finished their dinner in disdainful silence and sailed from the room with chilling glances, but as Stella Rawson followed them demurely she raised her soft eyes when she came to the object of her relatives' contempt, and met his serene blue ones--and for some reason thrilled wildly.
There was a remarkable and powerful magnetism in his glance; it was as if a breath of some other world touched her, she seemed to see into possibilities she had never dreamed about. She resented being drawn into a far corner on the right hand of the hall, and there handed an English paper to read for half an hour before being told to go to bed. She was perfectly conscious that she was longing for the stranger to come out of the restaurant, that she might see him again.
But it was not until she was obediently following her aunt's black broche train to the lift up the steps again that the tall man passed them in the corridor. He never even glanced in their direction, and went on as though the space were untenanted--but had hardly got beyond, when he turned suddenly, and walked rapidly to the lift door, passing them again. So that the four entered it presently, and were taken up together.
Stella Rawson was very close to the remarkable looking creature. And again a wild nameless attraction crept over her. She noticed his skin was faintly browned with the sun, but was otherwise as fine as a child's--finer than most children's. And now she could see that three most wonderful pearls were his shirt-studs.
He got out on the second floor, one beneath them, and said, "Pardon," as he passed, but not as a French word, nor yet as if it were English.
During these few seconds Stella was quite aware that he had never apparently looked at her.
"I call such an appearance sacrilegious," Mrs. Ebley said. "A man has no right to imitate one of the blessed apostles in these modern days; it is very bad taste."
Stella Rawson woke the next day with some sense of rebellion. There came with the rest of her post a letter from her betrothed. And although it was just such a letter as any nice girl engaged of her own free will to the Bishop's junior chaplain ought to have been glad to receive, Stella found herself pouting and criticizing every sentence.
"I do wish Eustace would not talk such cant," she said to herself. "Even in this he is unable to be natural--and I am sure I shall not feel a thing like he describes when I stand in St. Peter's. I believe I would rather go into the Pantheon. I seem to be tired of everything I ought to like to-day!" And still rebellious she got up and was taken by her uncle and aunt to the Vatican--and was allowed to linger only in the parts which interested them.
"I never have had a taste for sculpture," Mrs. Ebley said. "People may call it what names they please, but I consider it immoral and indecent."
"A wonder to me," the Uncle Erasmus joined in, "that a prelate-- even a prelate of Rome--should have countenanced the housing of all these unclothed marbles in his own private palace."
Stella Rawson stopped for a second in front of an archaic Apollo of no great merit--because it reminded her of the unknown; and she wished with all her might something new and swift and rushing might come into her humdrum life.
After luncheon, for which they returned to the hotel, she wearily went over to the writing-table in the corner of the hall to answer her lover's chaste effusion--and saw that the low armchair beside the escritoire was tenanted by a pair of long legs with singularly fine silk socks showing upon singularly fine ankles--and a pair of strong slender hands held a newspaper in front of the rest of the body, concealing it all and the face. It was the English TIMES, which, as everybody knows, could hide Gargantua himself.
She began her letter--and not a rustle disturbed her peace.
"Dearest Eustace," she had written, "we have arrived in Rome--" and then she stopped, and fixed her eyes blankly upon the column of births, marriages, and deaths. She was staring at it with sightless eyes, when the paper was slowly lowered and over its top the blue orbs of the stranger looked into hers.
Her pretty color became the hue of a bright pink rose. "Mademoiselle," a very deep voice said in English, "is not this world full of bores and tiresome duties; have you the courage to defy them all for a few minutes--and talk to me instead?"
"Monsieur!" Miss Rawson burst out, and half rose from her seat. Then she sat down again--the unknown had not stirred a muscle.
"Good," he murmured. "One has to be courageous to do what is unconventional, even if it is not wrong. I am not desirous of hurting or insulting you--I felt we might have something to say to each other--is it so--tell me, am I right?"
"I do not know," whispered Stella lamely. She was so taken aback at the preposterous fact that a stranger should have addressed her at all, even in a manner of indifference and respect, that she knew not what to do.
"I observed you last night," he went on. "I am accustomed to judge of character rapidly--it is a habit I have acquired during my travels in foreign lands--when I cannot use the standard of my own. You are weary of a number of things, and you do not know anything at all about life, and you are hedged round with those who will see that you never learn its meaning. Tell me--what do you think of Rome--it contains things and aspects which afford food for reflection, is it not so?"
"We have only been to the Vatican as yet," Stella answered timidly--she was still much perturbed at the whole incident, but now that she had begun she determined she might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, and she was conscious that there was a strong attraction in the mild blue eyes of the stranger. His manner had a complete repose and absence of self-consciousness, which usually is only to be found in the people of race--in any nation.
"You were taken to the Sistine Chapel, of course," he went on, "and to the loggia and Bramant's staircase? You saw some statues, too, perhaps?"
"My uncle and aunt do not care much for sculpture," Miss Rawson said, now regaining her composure, "but I like it--even better than pictures."
The stranger kept his steady eyes fixed upon her face all the time.
"I have a nymph in my house at home," he returned. "She came originally from Rome; she is not Greek and she is very like you, the same droop of head--I remarked it immediately--I am superstitous--I suppose you would call what I mean by that word-- and I knew directly that some day you, too, would mean things to me. That is why I spoke--do you feel it, too?"
Stella Rawson quivered. The incredible situation paralyzed her. She--the Aunt Caroline's niece, and engaged to Eustace Medlicott, the Bishop's junior chaplain, to be listening to a grotesque- looking foreigner making subtle speeches of an insinuating character, and, far from feeling scandalized and repulsed, to be conscious that she was thrilled and interested--it was hardly to be believed!
"Will you tell me from where you come?" she asked with sweet bashfulness, raising two eyes as soft as brown velvet. "You speak English so very well--one cannot guess."
"I am a Russian," he said simply. "I come from near Moscow--and my name is Sasha Roumovski, Count Roumovski. Yours, I am aware, is Rawson, but I would like to know how you are called--Mary, perhaps? That is English."
"No, my name is not Mary," she answered, and froze a little--but the Russian's eyes continued to gaze at her with the same mild frankness which disarmed any resentment. She felt they were as calm as deep pools of blue water--they filled her with a sense of confidence and security--which she could not account for in any way.
Her color deepened--something in his peaceful expectancy seemed to compel her to answer his late question.
"My Christian name is Stella," she said, rather quickly, then added nervously: "I am engaged to Mr. Eustace Medlicott, an English clergyman--we are going to be married in September next."
"And this is May," was all Count Roumovski replied; then, for the first time since he had addressed her, he turned his eyes from her face, while the faintest smile played round his well-cut mouth.
"A number of things can happen in four months. Are you looking forward to your life as the wife of a priest--but I understand it is different in England to in my country--there I could not recommend the situation to you."
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