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- The Emancipated - 5/91 -
along the corridor, and when they had entered her room Miriam walked at once to the window. Then she half turned, and her eyes fell before Cecily's earnest gaze.
"I did so wish to be with you in your illness!" said the girl, with affectionate warmth. "Indeed, I would have come if I could have been of any use. After all the trouble you used to have with my wretched headaches and ailments--"
"You never have anything of the kind now," said Miriam, with her indulgent smile.
"Never. I am in what Mr. Mallard calls aggressive health. But it shocks me to see how pale you still are Miriam. I thought the voyage and these ten days at Naples--And you have such a careworn look. Cannot you throw off your troubles under this sky?"
"You know that the sky matters very little to me, Cecily."
"If I could give you only half my delight! I was awake before dawn this morning, and it was impossible to lie still I dressed and stood at the open window. I couldn't see the sun itself as it rose, but I watched the first beams strike on Capri and the sea; and I tried to make a drawing of the island as it then looked,--a poor little daub, but it will be precious in bringing back to my mind all I felt when I was busy with it. Such feeling I have never known; as if every nerve in me had received an exquisite new sense. I keep saying to myself, 'Is this really Naples?' Let us go on to the balcony. Oh, you _must_ be glad with me!"
Freed from the constraint of formal colloquy, and overcoming the slight embarrassment caused by what she knew of Miriam's thoughts, Cecily revealed her nature as it lay beneath the graces with which education had endowed her. This enthusiasm was no new discovery to Miriam, but in the early days it had attached itself to far other things. Cecily seemed to have forgotten that she was ever in sympathy with the mood which imposed silence on her friend. Her eyes drank light from the landscape; her beauty was transfigured by passionate reception of all the influences this scene could exercise upon heart and mind. She leaned on the railing of the balcony, and gazed until tears of ecstasy made her sight dim.
"Let us see much of each other whilst we are here," she said suddenly, turning to Miriam. "I could never have dreamt of our being together in Italy; it is a happy fate, and gives me all kinds of hope. We will be often alone together in glorious places. We will talk it over; that is better than writing. You shall understand me, Miriam. You shall get as well and strong as I am, and know what I mean when I speak of the joy of living. We shall be sisters again, like we used to be."
Miriam smiled and shook her head.
"Tell me about things at home. Is Miss Baske well?"
"Quite well. I have had two letters from her since I was here. She wished me to give you her love."
"I will write to her. And is old Don still alive?"
"Yes, but very feeble, poor old fellow. He forgets even to be angry with the baker's boy."
Cecily laughed with a moved playfulness.
"He has forgotten me. I don't like to be forgotten by any one who ever cared for me."
There was a pause. They came back into the room, and Cecily, with a look of hesitation, asked quietly,--
"Have you heard of late from Reuben?"
Miriam, with averted eyes, answered simply, "No." Again there was silence, until Cecily, moving about the room, came to the "St. Cecilia."
"So my patron saint is always before you. I am glad of that. Where is the original of this picture, Miriam? I forget."
"I never knew."
"Oh, I wished to speak to you of Mr. Mallard. You met him yesterday. Had you much conversation?"
"A good deal. He dined with us."
"Did he? I thought it possible. And do you like him?"
"I couldn't say until I knew him better."
"It isn't easy to know him, I think," said Cecily, in a reflective and perfectly natural tone, smiling thoughtfully. "But he is a very interesting man, and I wish he would be more friendly with me. I tried hard to win his confidence on the journey from Genoa, but I didn't seem to have much success. I fancy"--she laughed--"that he is still in the habit of regarding me as a little girl, who wouldn't quite understand him if he spoke of serious things. When I wished to talk of his painting, he would only joke. That annoyed me a little, and I tried to let him see that it did, with the result that he refused to speak of anything for a long time."
"What does Mr. Mallard paint?" Miriam asked, half absently.
"Landscape," was the reply, given with veiled surprise. "Did you never see anything of his?"
"I remember; the Bradshaws have a picture by him in their dining-room. They showed it me when I was last in Manchester. I'm afraid I looked at it very inattentively, for it has never re-entered my mind from that day to this. But I was ill at the time."
"His pictures are neglected," said Cecily, "but people who understand them say they have great value. If he has anything accepted by the Academy, it is sure to be hung out of sight. I think he is wrong to exhibit there at all. Academies are foolish things, and always give most encouragement to the men who are worth least. When there is talk of such subjects, I never lose an opportunity of mentioning Mr. Mallard's name, and telling all I can about his work. Some day I shall, perhaps, be able to help him. I will insist on every friend of mine who buys pictures at all possessing at least one of Mr. Mallard's; then, perhaps, he will condescend to talk with me of serious things."
She added the last sentence merrily, meeting Miriam's look with the frankest eyes.
"Does Mrs. Lessingham hold the same opinion?" Miriam inquired.
"Oh yes! Aunt, of course, knows far more about art than I do, and she thinks very highly indeed of Mr. Mallard. Not long ago she met M. Lambert at a friend's house in Paris--the French critic who has just been writing about English landscape--and he mentioned Mr. Mallard with great respect. That was splendid, wasn't it?"
She spoke with joyous spiritedness. However modern, Cecily, it was clear, had caught nothing of the disease of pococurantism. Into whatever pleased her or enlisted her sympathies, she threw all the glad energies of her being. The scornful remark on the Royal Academy was, one could see, not so much a mere echo of advanced opinion, as a piece of championship in a friend's cause. The respect with which she mentioned the name of the French critic, her exultation in his dictum, were notes of a youthful idealism which interpreted the world nobly, and took its stand on generous beliefs.
"Mr. Mallard will help you to see Naples, no doubt," said Miriam.
"Indeed, I wish he would. But he distinctly told us that he has no time. He is going to Amalfi in a few days, to work. I begged him at least to go to Pompeii with us, but he frowned--as he so often does--and seemed unwilling to be persuaded; so I said no more. There again, I feel sure he was afraid of being annoyed by trifling talk in such places. But one mustn't judge an artist like other men. To be sure, anything I could say or think would be trivial compared with what is in _his_ mind."
"But isn't it rather discourteous?" Miriam observed impartially.
"Oh, I could never think of it in that way! An artist is privileged; he must defend his time and his sensibilities. The common terms of society have no application to him. Don't you feel that, Miriam?"
"I know so little of art and artists. But such a claim seems to me very strange."
"This is one of a thousand things we will talk about. Art is the grandest thing in the world; it means everything that is strong and beautiful--statues, pictures, poetry, music. How could one live without art? The artist is born a prince among men. What has he to do with the rules by which common people must direct their lives? Before long, you will feel this as deeply as I do, Miriam. We are in Italy, Italy!"
"Shall we go back to the others?" Miriam suggested, in a voice which contrasted curiously with that exultant cry.
"Yes; it is time."
Cecily's eyes fell on the plans of the chapel, which were still lying open.
"What is this?" she asked. "Something in Naples? Oh no!"
"It's nothing," said Miriam, carelessly. "Come, Cecily."
The visitors took their leave just as the midday cannon boomed from Sant' Elmo. They had promised to come and dine in a day or two. After their departure, Miriam showed as little disposition to make comments as she had to indulge in expectation before their arrival. Eleanor and her husband put less restraint upon themselves.
"Heavens!" cried Spence, when they were alone; "what astounding capacity of growth was in that child!"
"She is a swift and beautiful creature!" said Eleanor, in a warm undertone characteristic of her when she expressed admiration.
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