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- The Emancipated - 30/91 -
Miriam replied nothing.
When they were in the Street of Tombs, Cecily again paused, by the sepulchre of the Priestess Mamia, whence there is a clear prospect across the bay towards the mountains. Turning back again, she heard a voice that made her tremble with delighted surprise. A wall concealed the speaker from her; she took a few quick steps, and saw Reuben Elgar shaking hands with the Bradshaws. He looked at her, and came forward. She could not say any thing, and was painfully conscious of the blood that rushed to her face; never yet had she known this stress of heart-beats that made suffering of joy, and the misery of being unable to command herself under observant eyes.
It was years since Elgar and the Bradshaws had met. As a boy he had often visited their house, but from the time of his leaving home at sixteen to go to a boarding-school, his acquaintance with them, as with all his other Manchester friends, practically ceased. They had often heard of him--too often, in their opinion. Aware of his arrival at Naples, they had expressed no wish to see him. Still, now that he met them in this unexpected way, they could not but assume friendliness. Jacob, not on the whole intolerant, was willing enough to take "the lad" on his present merits; Reuben had the guise and manners of a gentleman, and perhaps was grown out of his reprobate habits. Mr. Bradshaw and his wife could not but notice Cecily's agitation at the meeting; they exchanged wondering glances, and presently found an opportunity for a few words apart. What was going on? How had these two young folks become so intimate? Well, it was no business of theirs. Lucky that Mrs. Baske was one of the company.
And why should Cecily disguise that now only was her enjoyment of the day begun--that only now had the sunshine its familiar brightness, the ancient walls and ways their true enchantment? She did not at once become more talkative, but the shadow had passed utterly from her face, and there was no more listlessness in her movements.
"I have stopped here on my way to join Mallard," was all Reuben said, in explanation of his presence.
All kept together. Mr. Bradshaw resumed his interest in antiquities, but did not speak so freely about them as before.
"Your brother knows a good deal more about these things than I do, Mrs. Baske," he remarked. "He shall give us the benefit of his Latin."
Miriam resolutely kept her eyes alike from Reuben and from Cecily. Hitherto her attention to the ruins had been intermittent, but occasionally she had forgotten herself so far as to look and ponder; now she saw nothing. Her mind was gravely troubled; she wished only that the day were over.
As for Elgar, he seemed to the Bradshaws singularly quiet, modest, inoffensive. If he ventured a suggestion or a remark, it was in a subdued voice and with the most pleasant manner possible. He walked for a time with Mrs. Bradshaw, and accommodated himself with much tact to her way of regarding foreign things, whether ancient or modern. In a short time all went smoothly again.
Not since they shook hands had Elgar and Cecily encountered each other's glance. They looked at each other often, very often, but only when the look could not be returned; they exchanged not a syllable. Yet both knew that at some approaching moment, for them the supreme moment of this day, their eyes must meet. Not yet; not casually, and whilst others regarded them. The old ruins would be kind.
It was in the house of Meleager. They had walked among the coloured columns, and had visited the inner chamber, where upon the wall is painted the Judgment of Paris. Mr. Bradshaw passed out through the narrow door. way, and his voice was dulled; Miriam passed with him, and, close after her, Mrs. Bradshaw. Reuben seemed to draw aside for Cecily, but she saw his hand extended towards her--it held a spray of maidenhair that he had just gathered. She took it, or would have taken it, but her hand was closed in his.
"I have stayed only to see you again," came panting from his lips. "I could not go till I had seen you again!"
And before the winged syllables had ceased, their eyes met; nor their eyes alone, for upon both was the constraint of passion that leaps like flame to its desire--mouth to mouth and heart to heart for one instant that concentrated all the joy of being.
What hand, centuries ago crumbled into indistinguishable dust, painted that parable of the youth making his award to Love? What eyes gazed upon it, when this was a home of man and woman warm with life, listening all day long to the music of uttered thoughts? Dark-buried whilst so many ages of history went by, thrown open for the sunshine to rest upon its pallid antiquity, again had this chamber won a place in human hearts, witnessed the birth of joy and hope, blended itself with the destiny of mortals. He who pictured Paris dreamt not of these passionate lips and their unborn language, knew not that he wrought for a world hidden so far in time. Though his white-limbed goddess fade ghostlike, the symbol is as valid as ever. Did not her wan beauty smile youthful again in the eyes of these her latest worshippers?
And they went forth among the painted pillars, once more shunning each other's look. It was some minutes before Cecily knew that her fingers still crushed the spray of maidenhair; then she touched it gently, and secreted it within her glove. It must be dead when she reached home, but that mattered nothing; would it not remain the sign of something deathless?
She believed so. In her vision the dead city had a new and wonderful life; it lay glorious in the light of heaven, its strait ways fit for the treading of divinities, its barren temples reconsecrate with song and sacrifice. She believed there was that within her soul which should survive all change and hazard--survive, it might be, even this warm flesh that it was hard not to think immortal.
She sought Miriam's side, took her hand, held it playfully as they walked on together.
"Why do you look at me so sadly, Miriam?"
"I did not mean to."
"Yet you do. Let me see you smile once to-day."
But Miriam's smile was sadder than her grave look.
It was true enough that Clifford Marsh would have relished an invitation to accompany that party of four to Pompeii. For one thing, he was beginning to have a difficulty in passing his days; if the present state of things prolonged itself, his position might soon resemble that of Mr. Musselwhite. But chiefly would he have welcomed the prospect of spending some hours in the society of Miss Doran, and under circumstances which would enable him to shine. Clifford had begun to nurse a daring ambition. Allowing his vanity to caress him into the half-belief that he was really making a noble stand against the harshness of fate, he naturally spent much time in imagining how other people regarded him--above all, what figure he made in the eyes of Miss Doran. There could be no doubt that she knew, at all events, the main items of his story; was it not certain that they must make some appeal to her sympathies? His air of graceful sadness could not but lead her to muse as often as she observed it; he had contemplated himself in the mirror, and each time with reassurance on this point. Why should the attractions which had been potent with Madeline fail to engage the interest of this younger and more emotional girl? Miss Doran was far beyond Madeline in beauty, and, there was every reason to believe, had the substantial gifts of fortune which Madeline altogether lacked. It was a bold thing to turn his eye to her with such a thought, circumstances considered; but the boldness was characteristic of Marsh, with whom at all times self-esteem had the force of an irresistible argument.
He was incapable of passion. Just as he had made a pretence of pursuing art, because of a superficial cleverness and a liking for ease and the various satisfactions of his vanity in such a career, so did he now permit his mind to be occupied with Cecily Doran, not because her qualities blinded him to all other considerations, but in pleasant yielding to a temptation of his fancy, which made a lively picture of many desirable things, and flattered him into thinking that they were not beyond his reach. For the present he could do nothing but wait, supporting his pose of placid martyrdom. Wait, and watch every opportunity; there would arrive a moment when seeming recklessness might advance him far on the way to triumph.
And yet he never for a moment regarded himself as a schemer endeavouring to compass vulgar ends by machination. He had the remarkable faculty of viewing himself in an ideal light, even whilst conscious that so many of his claims were mere pretence. Men such as Clifford Marsh do not say to themselves, "What a humbug I am!" When driven to face their conscience, it speaks to them rather in this way: "You are a fellow of fine qualities, altogether out of the common way of men. A pity that conditions do not allow you to he perfectly honest; but people in general are so foolish that you would get no credit for your superiority if you did not wear a little tinsel, practise a few harmless affectations. Some day your difficulties will be at an end, and then you can afford to show yourself in a simpler guise." When he looked in the glass, Clifford admired himself without reserve; when he talked freely, he applauded his own cleverness, and thought it the most natural thing that other people should do so. When he meditated abandoning Madeline, his sincere view of the matter was that she had proved herself unworthy: however sensible her attitude, a girl had no right to put such questions to her lover as she had done, to injure his self-love. When he plotted with himself to engage Cecily's interest, he said that it was the course any lover would have pursued. And in the end he really persuaded himself that he was in love with her.
Yet none the less he thought of Madeline with affection. He was piqued that she made no effort to bring him back to her feet. To be sure, her mother's behaviour probably implied Madeline's desire of reconciliation, but he wished her to make personal overtures; he would have liked to see her approach him with humble eyes, not
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