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- The Emancipated - 70/91 -


such a weary sadness, Comedy? Yes; comedy itself, when comedy is rightly understood.

And whilst they stood here, there came by a young priest, holding open a missal or breviary or some such book, and muttering from it, as if learning by heart. Cecily followed him with her gaze.

"What a place for study of that kind!" she exclaimed, looking at Mallard.

He also had felt the incongruity, and laughed.

Two or three chambers of the Vatican sufficed for one day. Cecily would not trust herself to remain after her interest had begun to weary; it was much that she had won two hours of intellectual calm. Her companions had no wish to stay longer. Just as they came again into the Sala Rotonda, they found themselves face to face with Miriam.

"Did you know we were coming here?" asked Eleanor.

"I thought it likely."

She shook hands with Mallard, but did not speak to him. Eleanor offered to stay with her, as this would be their last visit, but Miriam said in a friendly manner that she preferred to be alone. So they left her.

At the exit, Mallard saw his companions into a carriage, and himself walked on; but as soon as the carriage was out of sight, he turned back. He had taken care to recover his _permesso_ from the attendant, in the common way, when he came out, so that he could enter again immediately. He walked rapidly to the place where they had left Miriam, but she was gone. He went forward, and discovered her sitting before the Belvedere Apollo. As his entrance drew her attention, he saw that she had an impulse to rise; but she overcame it, and again turned her eyes upon him, with a look in which self-control was unconsciously like defiance.

He sat down by her, and said:

"I came to the Vatican this morning for the chance of meeting you."

"I hope that was not your only reason for coming," she returned, in a voice of ordinary civility.

"It was, in fact I should have asked you to let me have your company for an hour to-day, as it is practically your last in Rome; but I was not sure that you would grant it, so I took my chance instead."

She waited a moment before replying.

"I am afraid you refer to your invitation of a few days ago. I didn't feel in the mood for going to a studio, Mr. Mallard."

"Yes, I was thinking of that. You refused in a way not quite like yourself. I began to be afraid that you thought me too regardless of forms."

His return had gratified her; it was unexpected, and she set her face in a hard expression that it might not betray her sudden gladness. But the look of thinly-masked resentment which succeeded told of what had been in her mind since she encountered him in the company of Cecily. That jealous pain was uncontrollable; the most trivial occasions had kept exciting it, and now it made her sick at heart. The effort to speak conventionally was all but beyond her strength.

They had in common that personal diffidence which is one of the phases of pride, and which proves so fruitful a source of misunderstandings. For all her self-esteem, Miriam could not obtain the conviction that, as a woman, she strongly interested Mallard; and the artist found it very hard to persuade himself that Miriam thought of him as anything but a man of some talent, whose attention was agreeable, and perhaps a little flattering. Still, he could not but notice that her changed behaviour connected itself with Cecily's arrival. It seemed to him extraordinary, almost incredible, that she should be jealous of his relations with her sister-in-law. Had she divined his passion for Cecily at Naples? (He cherished a delusion that the secret had never escaped him.) But to attribute jealousy to her was to assume that she set a high value on his friendship.

Miriam had glanced at the Apollo as he spoke. Conscious of his eyes upon her, she looked away, saying in a forced tone:

"I had no such thought. You misunderstood me."

"It was all my fault, then, and I am sorry for it. You said just now that you preferred to be alone. I shall come to the hotel to-morrow, just to say good-bye."

He rose; and Miriam, as she did the same, asked formally:

"You are still uncertain how long you remain here?"

"Quite," was his answer, cheerfully given.

"You are not going to work?"

"No; it is holiday with me for a while. I wish you were staying a little longer."

"You will still have friends here."

Mallard disliked the tone of this.

"Oh yes," he replied. "I hope to see Mrs. Lessingham and Mrs. Elgar sometimes."

He paused; then added:

"I dare say I shall return to England about the same time that they do. May I hope to see you in London?"

"I am quite uncertain where I shall be."

"Then perhaps we shall not meet for a long time.--Will you let me give you one or two little drawings that may help to remind you of Italy?"

Miriam's cheeks grew warm, and she east down her eyes.

"Your drawings are far too valuable to be given as one gives trifles, Mr. Mallard."

"I don't wish you to receive them as trifles. One of their values to me is that I can now and then please a friend with them. If you had rather I did not think of you as a friend, then you would be right to refuse them."

"I will receive them gladly."

"Thank you. They shall be sent to the hotel."

They shook hands, and he left her.

On the morrow they met again for a few minutes, when he came to say good-bye. Miriam made no mention of the packet that had reached her. She was distant, and her smile at leave-taking very cold.

So the three travelled northwards.

Their departure brought back Cecily's despondent mood. With difficulty she restrained her tears in parting from Eleanor; when she was alone, they had their way. She felt vaguely miserable--was troubled with shapeless apprehensions, with a sense of desolateness.

The next day brought a letter from her husband, "Dear Ciss," he wrote, "I am sorry its so long since I sent you a line, but really there's no news. I foresee that I shall not have much manuscript to show you; I am reading hugely, but I don't feel ready to write. Hope you are much better; give me notice of your return. My regards to Mallard; I expect you will see very little of him." And so, with a "yours ever," the epistle ended.

This was all Reuben had to say to her, when she had been absent nearly a month. With a dull disappointment, she put the arid thing out of her sight. It had been her intention to write to-day, but now she could not. She had even less to say than he.

He expressed no wish for her return, and felt none. Perhaps, it was merely indifferent to him how long she stayed away; but she had no assurance that he did not prefer to be without her. And, for her own part, had she any desire to be back again? Here she was not contented, but at home she would be even less so.

The line in his letter which had reference to the much-talked-of book only confirmed her distrust. She had no faith in his work. The revival of his energy from time to time was no doubt genuine enough, but she knew that its subsequent decline was marked with all manner of pretences. Possibly he was still "reading hugely," but the greater likelihood was that he had fallen into mere idleness. It was significant of her feeling towards him that she never made surmises as to how he spent his leisure; her thoughts, consciously and unconsciously, avoided such reflections; it was a matter that did not concern her. He had now a number of companions, men of whom her own knowledge was very vague; that they were not considered suitable acquaintances for her, of course meant that Reuben could have no profit from them, and would probably suffer from their contact. But in these things she had long been passive, careless. Experience had taught her how easy it was for husband and wife to live parted lives, even whilst their domestic habits seemed the same as ever; in books, that situation had formerly struck her as inconceivable, but now she suspected that it was the commonest of the results of marriage. Habit, habit; how strong it is!

And how degrading! To it she attributed this bluntness in her faculties of perception and enjoyment, this barrenness of the world about her. It was dreadful to look forward upon a tract of existence thus vulgarized. Already she recognized in herself the warnings of a possible future in which she would have lost her intellectual ambitions. There is a creeping paralysis of the soul, and did she not experience its symptoms? Already it was hard to apply herself to any study that demanded real effort; she was failing to pursue her Latin; she avoided German books, because they were more exacting than French; her memory had lost something of its grasp. Was she to become a woman of society, a refined gossip, a pretentious echo of the reviews and of clever people's talk? If not, assuredly she must exert a force of character which she had begun to suspect was not in her.


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