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- The Point of View - 4/18 -
by putting them on, we can then have the auto open and no one will recognize you--even should we meet your uncle and aunt; that is fun, is it not?"
Stella had thrown every consideration to the winds, except the determination to enjoy herself. Years of rebellion at the boredom of her existence seemed to be urging her on. So she meekly slipped into the cloak, and wrapped the veil right over her hat, and they started. Her heart was thumping so with excitement she could not have spoken for a moment.
But as they went rapidly on through the crowded streets, her companion's respectful silence reassured her. There seemed to be some rapport between them, she was conscious of a feeling that he understood her thoughts, and was not misjudging her.
"You are like a little frightened bird," he said presently. "And there is nothing to cause you the least fear. We shall soon come to the lovely gardens, and watch the lowering sun make its beautiful effects in the trees, and we shall hear the nightingales throbbing out love songs--the world is full of rest and peace-- when we have had enough passion and strife and want its change-- but you do not know anything of it, and this simple drive is causing you tumults and emotions--is it not so?"
"Yes," said Stella, with a feeling that she had burnt all her ships.
"It is because you have never been allowed to be YOU, I suppose," he went on softly. "So doing a natural and simple thing seems frightful--because it would seem so to the rigid aunt. Now, I have been ME ever since I was born--I have done just what seemed best to me. Do you suppose I am not aware that the way my hair is cut is a shock to most civilized persons; and that you English would strongly disapprove of my watch and my many other things. But I like them myself--it is no trouble for one of my valets to draw a straight line with a pair of scissors--and if I must look at the time, I prefer to look at something beautiful. I am entirely uninfluenced by the thoughts or opinions of any people--they do not exist for me except in so far as they interest me and are instructive or amusing. I never permit myself to be bored for an instant."
"How good that must be," Stella ventured to say--her courage was returning.
"Civilized human beings turn existence into a prison," he went on, meditatively, "and loaded themselves with shackles, because some convention prevents their doing what would give them innocent pleasure. If I had been under the dominion of these things we should not now be enjoying this delightful drive--at least, it is delightful to me--to be thus near you and alone out of doors."
Stella did not speak, she was altogether too full of emotion to trust herself to words just yet. They had turned into the Corso by now, and, as ever, it appeared as though it were a holiday, so thronged with pedestrians was the whole thoroughfare. Count Roumovski seemed quite unconcerned, but Miss Rawson shrank back into her corner, a new fear in her heart.
"Do not be so nervous," her companion said gently. "I always calculate the chances before I suggest another person's risking anything for me. They are a million to one that anyone could recognize you in that veil and that cloak; believe me, although I am not of your country, I am at least a gentleman, and would not have persuaded you to come if there had been any danger of complications for you."
Stella clasped her hands convulsively--and he drew a little nearer her.
"Do put all agitating ideas out of your mind," he said, his blue eyes, with their benign expression, seeking hers and compelling them at last to look at him. "Do you understand that it is foolish to spoil what we have by useless tremors. You are here with me-- for the next hour--shall we not try to be happy?"
"Yes," murmured Miss Rawson, and allowed herself to be magnetized into calmness.
"When we have passed the Piazza del Popolo and the entrance to the Pincio, I will have the car opened; then we can see all the charming young green, and I will tell you of what these gardens were long ago, and you shall see them with new eyes."
Stella, by some sort of magic, seemed to have recovered her self- possession as his eyes looked into hers, and she chatted to him naturally, and the next half hour passed like some fairy tale. His deep, quiet voice took her into realms of fancy that her imagination had never even dreamed about. His cultivation was immense, and the Rome of the Caesars appeared to be as familiar to him as that of 1911.
The great beauty of the Borghese Gardens was at its height at the end of the day, the nightingales throbbed from the bushes, and the air was full of the fresh, exquisite scents of the late spring, as the day grew toward evening and all nature seemed full of beauty and peace. It can easily be imagined what this drive meant, then, to a fine, sensitive young woman, whose every instinct of youth and freedom and life had been crushed into undeveloped nothingness by years of gray convention in an old-fashioned English cathedral town.
Stella Rawson forgot that she and this Russian were strangers, and she talked to him unrestrainedly, showing glimpses of her inner self that she had not known she possessed. It was certainly heaven, she thought, this drive, and worth all the Aunt Caroline's frowns.
Count Roumovski never said a word of love to her: he treated her with perfect courtesy and infinite respect, but when at last they were turning back again, he permitted himself once more to gaze deeply into her eyes, and Stella knew for the first time in her existence that some silences are more dangerous than words.
"You do not care at all now for the good clergy-man you are affianced to," he said. "No--do not be angry-I am not asking a question, I am stating a fact--when lives have been hedged and controlled and retenu like yours has been, even the feelings lose character, and you cannot be sure of them--but the day is approaching when you will see clearly and--feel much."
"I am sure it is getting very late," said Stella Rawson, and with difficulty she turned her eyes away and looked over the green world.
Count Roumovski laughed softly, as if to himself. And they were silent until they came to the entrance gates again, when the chauffeur stopped and shut the car.
"We have at least snatched some moments of pleasure, have we not?" the owner whispered, "and we have hurt no one. Will you trust me again when I propose something which sounds to you wild?"
"Perhaps I will," Stella murmured rather low.
"When I was hunting lions in Africa I learned to keep my intelligence awake," he said calmly, "it is an advantage to me now in civilization--nothing is impossible if one only keeps cool. If one becomes agitated one instantly connects oneself with all other currents of agitation, and one can no longer act with prudence or sense."
"I think I have always been very foolish," admitted Stella, looking down. "I seem to see everything differently now."
"What we are all striving after is happiness," Count Roumovski said. "Only we will not admit it, and nearly always spoil our own chances by drifting, and allowing outside things to influence us. If you could see the vast plains of snow in my country and the deep forests--with never a human being for miles and miles, you would understand how nature grows to talk to one--and how small the littlenesses of the world appear." Then they were silent again, and it was not until they were rushing up the Via Nazionale and in a moment or two would have reached their destination, that Count Roumovski said:
"Stella--that means star--it is a beautiful name--I can believe you could be a star to shine upon any man's dark night--because you have a pure spirit, although it has been muffled by circumstances for all these years."
Then the automobile drew up by the trees, at perhaps two hundred yards from the hotel, near the baths of Diocletian.
"If you will get out here, it will be best," Count Roumovski told her respectfully, "and walk along on the inner side. I will then drive to the door of the hotel, as usual."
"Thank you, and good-bye," said Stella, and began untying the veil--he helped her at once, and in doing so his hand touched her soft pink cheek. She thrilled with a new kind of mad enjoyment, the like of which she had never felt, and then controlled herself and stamped it out.
"It has been a very great pleasure to me," he said, and nothing more; no "good-bye" or "au revoir" or anything, and he drew into the far corner as she got out of the car, letting the chauffeur help her. Nor did he look her way as he drove on. And Stella walked leisurely back to the hotel, wondering in her heart at the meaning of things.
No one noticed her entrance, and she was able to begin to dress for dinner without even Martha being aware that she had been absent. But as she descended in the lift with her uncle and aunt it seemed as if the whole world and life itself were changed since the same time the night before.
And when they were entering the restaurant a telegram was put into Canon Ebley's hand--it was from the Rev. Eustace Medlicott, sent from Turin, saying he would join them in Rome the following evening.
"Eustace has been preparing this delightful surprise--I knew of it," the Aunt Caroline said, with conscious pride, "but I would not tell you, Stella, dear, in case something might prevent it. I feared to disappoint you."
"Thank you, aunt," Miss Rawson said without too much enthusiasm, and took her seat where she could see the solitary occupant of a
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