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- The Point of View - 6/18 -
own accord--have you?"
"N--no," said Stella.
"In the beginning, were you engaged to this good clergyman of your own wish?" and his eyes searched her face.
She stiffened immediately, the training of years took offense, and she answered rather stiffly:
"I do not think you have the right to ask me such a question, Count Roumovski."
He was entirely unabashed--he stroked his pointed silky beard for a moment, then he said calmly:
"Yes--I have, you agreed that I should teach you how to shape your life as you pleased, you must remember. It is rather essential that I should know the truth of this matter before I can go further--you must see that."
"We can avoid the subject."
"It would be Hamlet without Hamlet, then," he smiled. "One could draw up no scheme of rules and exercises, unless one has some idea of how far the individual was responsible for the present state of things. If it was your wish in the beginning, or if you were coerced makes all the difference."
Stella was silent--only she nervously plucked an offending rose which grew upon a bush beside them: she pulled its petals off and kept her eyes lowered, and Sasha Roumovski smiled a wise smile.
"You have unconsciously answered me," he said, "and your agitation proves that not only are you aware that you did not become engaged of your own wish, but that you are afraid to face the fact and admit that its aspect appals you. You must remember, in your country, where, I understand, divorce is not tres bien vu, especially among the clergy, the affair is for life, and the joy or the gall of it could be infinite."
She raised two beseeching eyes to his face at last.
"Oh, do not let us talk about it," she pleaded. "It is so warm and pleasant here--I want to be happy."
He looked at her for a while with penetrating eyes, then he said gently:
"It is a man's province to take care of a woman," and his attractive voice filled with a new cadence. "I see you are in need of direction. Leave all to me--and forget there is any one else in the world for the moment but our two selves. Did you know that I thought you looked particularly sweet last night, but rather pale?"
"You never looked at me at all," said Stella before she was aware of it, and then blushed crimson at the inference of her speech. He would be able to understand perfectly that she must have been observing him all the time to be conscious of this.
A gleam of gladness came into his eyes.
"I would like to watch you always openly, if I might," he whispered. "Your little face is like a flower in its delicate tints, and your eyes are true and tender and asking so many questions of life,--and sometimes they are veiled and misty, and then they look wise and courageous. I am beginning to know all their changes."
"Then, in that case, monotony will set in," Stella was almost arch--the day was so glorious!
"I am not afraid of that," he said. "I always know what I want and what is worth while. I do not value my three matchless pearls the less because I know their every iridescence--on the contrary, I grow more fond of them and wear them every night in preference to any others."
They were silent for a moment after this. He was examining her minutely with his wise, calm eyes. He was noting the sensitive curve of the pretty full lips, the tender droop of the set of her head, the gracious charm of her little regular features, and the intelligence of her broad brow. With all her simplicity, she looked no fool or weakling. And to think that the narrow code of those who surrounded her should force this sweet young creature into the gray walls of a prison house, when she became the English clergyman's wife; it was too revolting to him. Count Roumovski suddenly made up his mind, trained to instantaneous decision by his bent of studies, and sure and decided in its action. And if Stella had looked up then she would have seen a keen gleam in the peaceful blue of his eyes. He drew her on to talk of her home and her tastes--she loved many things he did, he found--and she was so eager to hear and to learn their meaning. He grew to feel a sort of pride and the pleasure of a teacher when directing an extremely intelligent child. There were no barriers of stupidity into whatever regions the subjects might wander. They spent an hour of pure joy investigating each other's thoughts. And both knew they were growing more than friends.
Then Stella rose suddenly to her feet. A clock struck twelve.
"You said one must not be negative and drift," she announced demurely, "so I am being decided and must now go to Martha again."
"Ivan has not warned us that she is thinking of stirring," Count Roumovski said. "I told him to, and he will let us know in plenty of time; you surely do not breakfast until half-past twelve, do you?"
"Ivan?--who is Ivan?" Stella asked.
"He is a servant of mine who does what he is bid," her companion answered. "To have peace to enjoy oneself one must calculate and arrange for events. Had we only trusted to the probability of your maid's sleeping, I should have had to be on the lookout, and my uneasiness would have communicated itself to you, and we should have had no happy hour--but I made a certainty of safety--and unconsciously you trusted me to know, and so we have been content."
Stella was thrilled. So he had taken all this trouble. He must be a good deal interested in her, then; and feeling sure of this, womanlike, she immediately took advantage of it to insist upon leaving him.
"Very well," he said, when he could not dissuade her. "To-night the wheel of fortune will revolve for us all, and it remains to be seen who will draw a prize and who a blank."
Then he walked by her side to where they saw the quiet servant standing, a motionless sentinel, and here Count Roumovski bowed and turned on his heel, while Stella advanced to the bench on which the comfortable Martha slept.
This latter was full of defence when she awoke. She had not closed an eye, but thought Miss Stella was enjoying "them statues" better without her, which was indeed true, if she had guessed!
Miss Rawson ate very little luncheon--the Russian did not appear-- and immediately after it she was taken as a treat to see the Borghese Gardens by her uncle and aunt! It behooved her not to be tired by more sightseeing, since her betrothed would arrive when they returned for tea, and would expect her to be bright and on the alert to please him, Aunt Caroline felt. As for Stella, as that moment approached it seemed to her that the end of all joy had come.
The Rev. Eustace Medlicott, when the stains of travel had been removed from his thin person, came down to tea in the hall of the Grand Hotel with a distinct misgiving in his heart. He did not approve of it as a place of residence for his betrothed. Another and equally well-drained hostelry might have been found for the party he thought, where such evidences of worldly occupations and amusements would not so forcibly strike the eye. Music with one's meals savored of paganism. He was still very emaciated with his Lenten fast. It took him until July, generally, to pick up again; and he was tired with his journey. Stella was not there to greet him, only the Aunt Caroline, and he felt a sense of injury creeping over him. She might have been in time. Nancy Ruggles, the Bishop's second daughter, had given him tea and ministered to his wants in a spirit of solicitous devotion every day since the Ebleys had left Exminster, but Nancy's hair was not full of sunlight, nor did her complexion suggest cream and roses. Things which, to be sure, the Rev. Eustace Medlicott felt he ought not to dwell upon; they were fleshly lusts and should be discouraged.
He had been convinced that celibacy was the only road to salvation for a priest, until Stella Rawson's fair young charms had unconsciously undermined this conviction. But even if he had been able to arrange his conscience to his liking upon the vital point, he felt he must fight bravely against allowing himself or his betrothed to get any pleasure out of the affair. It was better to marry than to burn, he had St. Paul's authority for this--but when he felt emotion toward Stella because of her loveliness, he was afterward very uncomfortable in his thoughts, and it took him at least an hour to throw dust in his own eyes in regard to the nature of his desire for her, which he determined to think was only of the spirit. Love, for him, was no god to be exalted, but a too strong beast to be resisted, and every one of his rites were to be succumbed to shamefacedly and under protest. Thus did he criticize the scheme of his Creator like many another before him.
He sat now in the hall of the Grand Hotel at Rome feeling ill at ease and expressed some mild disapproval of the surroundings to Mrs. Ebley, who fired up at once. She was secretly enjoying herself extremely, and allowed the drains to assume gigantic proportions in her reasons for their choice of abode. So there was nothing more to be said, and Stella, looking rather pale, presently came down the steps from the corridor where their lift was situated, and joined the group in the far corner of the large hall.
She was so slender and fresh and graceful, and, even in the week's
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