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- The Point of View - 5/18 -
small table, surrounded by the obsequious waiters, already sipping his champagne.
He had not looked up as they passed. Nor did he appear once to glance in their direction. His whole manner was full of the same reflective calm as the night before. And, for some unaccountable reason, Stella Rawson's heart sank down lower and lower, until at the end of the repast she looked pale and tired out.
Eustace, her betrothed, would be there on the morrow, and such things as drives in motor cars with strange Russian counts were only dreams and not realities, she now felt.
Next morning it fell about that Stella Rawson was allowed to go into the Musso Nazionale in the Diocletian baths, accompanied only by Martha, her uncle and aunt having decided they would take a rest and write their English letters. The museum was so near, a mere hundred yards, there could be no impropriety in their niece's going there with Martha, even in an exhibition year in Rome.
Stella was still suffering from a nameless sense of depression. Eustace's train would get in at about five o'clock, and he would accompany them to the Embassy. A cousin of her own and Aunt Caroline's was one of the secretaries, and had already been written to about the invitation. So that even if Count Roumovski should be presented to her, and make the whole thing proper and correct, she would have no chance of any conversation. The brilliant sunlight felt incongruous and hurt her, and she was glad to enter the shady ancient baths. She had glanced furtively to right and left in the hotel as she came through the hall, but saw no one who resembled the Russian, and they had walked so quickly through the vestibule she had not remarked a tall figure coming from the staircase, nor had seen him give some rapid order to a respectful servant who was waiting about, and who instantly followed them: but if she had looked up as she paid for the two tickets at the barrier of the museum, she would have seen this same lean man turn swiftly round and retreat in the direction of the hotel.
Martha was sulky and comatose on this very warm morning; she took no interest in sculpture. "Them naked creatures," she called any masterpiece undraped--and she resented being dragged out by Miss Stella, who always had fancies for art.
They walked round the cloisters first, a voyage of discovery to Miss Rawson, who looked a slim enough nymph herself in her lilac cambric frock and demure gray hat shading her big brown eyes.
Then suddenly, from across the garden in the center, she became aware that an archaic Apollo clad in modern dress had entered upon the scene, and the blood rushed to her cheeks, and her heart beat.
Martha puffed with the heat and exercise, and glanced with longing eyes at a comfortable stone bench in the shade.
"Would you like to rest here, Martha, you old dear?" Miss Rawson said. "There is not a creature about, and I will walk round and join you from the other side."
The Aunt Caroline's elderly maid easily agreed to this. It was true there did not seem to be anyone adventurous-looking, and Miss Stella would be more or less under her eye--and she was thoroughly tired with traveling and what not. So Stella found herself happily unchaperoned, except by Baedecker, as she strolled on.
The Russian had disappeared from view, the bushes and vases in the center of the garden plot gave only occasional chances to see people at a distance.
But when Stella had entered the Ludovici collection she perceived him to the right, gazing at the statue of the beautiful Mars.
He turned instantly, as though some one told him she was near--and his calm eyes took in the fact that she was alone. The small room was empty but for the two, and he addressed her as he removed his hat.
"Good morning, mademoiselle," he said gravely. "Mars is a strong attraction. I knew I should presently find you here--so when I caught sight of your spiritual outline across the garden, I came and--waited."
"He is most splendid-looking, is he not," Stella returned, trying to suppress the sudden tingle of pleasure that was thrilling her, "and look how much character there is in his hands."
"Shall we go and study the others, or shall we find a bench in the garden and sit down and talk?" Count Roumovski asked serenely, and then smiled to himself as he noticed his companion's apprehensive glance in the direction where, far away, Martha dozed in peace.
"It would be nice out of doors--but--" and Stella faltered.
"Do not let us be deprived of pleasure by any buts--there is one out there who will warn us when your maid wakes. See--" and he advanced toward the entrance door, "there is a bench by that rose tree where we can be comparatively alone."
Stella struggled no more with herself. After all, it was her last chance--Eustace Medlicott's train got in at five o'clock!
She had a sense of security, too, the complete serenity of her companion inspired confidence. She almost felt she would not care if Aunt Caroline herself slept instead of the elderly maid.
There was some slight change in Count Roumovski's manner to-day-- he kept his eyes fixed upon her face, and the things he said were less abstract and more personal. After an entrancing half hour she felt she had seen vivid pictures of his land and his home. But he was a great traveler it appeared, and had not been there often in later years.
"It is so agreeable to let the body move from place to place, and remain in a peaceful aloofness of the spirit all the time," he said at last. "To watch all the rushing currents which dominate human beings when they do not know how to manipulate them. If they did, the millennium would come,--but, meanwhile, it is reserved for the few who have learned them to enjoy this present plane we are on."
"You mean you can control events and shape your life as you please, then?" Stella asked surprised, while she raised her sweet shy eyes to his inquiringly. "I wish I knew how!"
"Shall I try to teach you, mademoiselle?" he said.
"Then you must not look down all the time, even though the contemplation of your long eyelashes gives me a pleasure--I would prefer the eyes themselves--the eyes are the indication of what is passing in the soul, and I would study this moving panorama."
Stella's color deepened, but she met his blue orbs without flinching--so he went on:
"I had the fortune to be born a Russian, which has given me time to study these things. My country does not require my work beyond my being a faithful servant of my Emperor. Since I am not a soldier, I can do as I choose. But you in England are now in a seething caldron, and it would be difficult, no doubt, for you to spend the hours required--although the national temperament would lend itself to all things calm if it were directed."
"But for myself," Stella demanded, "I am not a man, and need not interest myself in the nation's affairs--how can I grow to guide my own--as you seem to do?"
"Never permit yourself to be ruffled by anything to commence with," Count Roumovski began gravely, while the pupils of his eyes appeared to grow larger. "Whatever mood you are in, you connect yourself with the cosmic current of that mood--you become in touch, so to speak, with all the other people who are under its dominion, and so it gains strength because unity is strength. If you can understand that as a basic principle, you can see that it is only a question of controlling yourself and directing your moods with those currents whose augmentation can bring you good. You must never be negative and drift. You can be drawn in any adverse way if you do."
"I think I understand," said Stella, greatly interested.
"Then you must use your critical faculties and make selections of what is best--and you must encourage common sense and distrust altruism. Sanity is the thing to aim at."
"The view of the world has become so distorted upon almost every point which started in good, that nothing but a cultivation of our individual critical faculties can enable us to see the truth--and nine-tenths of civilized humanity have no real opinion of their own at all--they simply echo those of others."
"I feel that is true," said Stella, thinking of her own case.
"It is not because a thing is bad or good that it succeeds--merely how much strength we put into the desire for it," he went on.
"But surely we must believe that good will win over evil," and the brown eyes looked almost troubled, and his softened as he looked at her.
"The very fact of believing that would make it come to pass by all these psychic laws. Whatever we really believe we draw," he said almost tenderly.
"Then, if I were to believe all the difficulties and uncertainties would be made straight and just go on calmly, I should be happy, should I?" she asked, and there was an unconscious pathos in her voice which touched him deeply.
"Certainly," he answered. "You have not had a fair chance-- probably you have never been allowed to do a single thing of your
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