"Every woman can't have your genial disposition, Belle," answered the doctor, admiringly. "Perpetual sunshine is the rarest thing in Nature."Allegra was in raptures with that strange resting-place.
Conscience thus satisfied, he could look on complacently as they eat ices, and selected cool corners of the refreshment-room to flirt in.One was her Shelley—her much-read Shelley—a shabby, cloth-bound volume, bought in her girlhood at the book-seller's in the Place Duguesclin, where English books could be got by special order, and at special prices. The other was an Italian Testament, which her husband had bought her at San Remo, and in which she had read with extreme diligence and with increasing fervour as her mind became more deeply moved by Father Rodwell's sermons. It was not that she had ever been one of those advanced thinkers who will accept no creed which does not square with their own little theories and fit in to their own narrow circle of possibilities. She had never doubted the creed she had been taught in her childhood, but she had thought very[Pg 254] little about serious things, since she was a young girl, preparing for her confirmation, touched with girlish enthusiasm, and very much in earnest. In these fair spring days, and in this city of many memories, all young thoughts had reawakened in her mind. She pored over the familiar Gospel-stories, and again, as in the first freshness of her girlhood, she saw the sacred figure of the Redeemer and Teacher in all the vivid light and colour of a reality, close at hand. Faith stretched a hand across the abyss of time, and brought the old world of the Gospel-story close to her; the closer, because she was in Rome, not far from that church which enshrines the print of the Divine footstep, when He who was God and Man, appeared to His disciple, to foreshadow approaching martyrdom, to inspire the fortitude of the martyr. Yes, although the Saviour's earthly feet never entered the city, every hill and every valley within and without those crumbling walls has interwoven itself so closely with the story of His life—through the work of His saints and martyrs—that it is nowise strange if the scenes and images of the sacred story seem nearer and more vivid in Rome than in any other place on earth, not excepting Jerusalem. It was from Rome, not from Jerusalem, that the Cross went out to the uttermost ends of the world. It is the earth of the Colosseum and the Borgo that is steeped in the blood of those who have died for Christ. It was Rome that ruled the world, through the long night of barbarism and feudal power, by the invincible force of His name."Did Mrs. Disney send you?" he asked the driver.
"Oh, we had the firelight—Parker forgot to bring the lamp."
"Think how hard it must be to lie here and know nothing of all that loveliness," she said, her eyes widening with wonder as they gazed across the varied perspective of vale and mountain, out to the faint blue sea. "How hard, how hard! Do they feel it and know it, Allegra? Can this I—which feels so keenly, which only sleeps in order to enter a new world of dreams—busier and more crowded and more eventful than the real world—can this consciousness go out all at once like the flame of a candle—and nothing, nothing, nothing be left?""There's nothing to fight with in her case," he said, "and there's very little to fall back upon. I can't make her out. She has gone off just like a girl who was simply fretting herself to death; and yet, if she's fond of her husband, what in Heaven's name is there for her to fret about?"Again the sudden flame crimsoned her face, that sensitive spiritual face which reflected every change of feeling.
"Without my husband? Please don't say any more about it, Lord Lostwithiel. I had much rather stay at home.""It was all confusion—a wild chaos—a nightmare of strange sounds and sensations—tempest, fire, earthquake—I know not what—but it meant deadly danger for you—death perhaps. I saw you hanging in space—a white figure, with piteous, pain-wrought face. Never have I seen you look like that—your eyes staring wildly as if they were looking at death; your features drawn and rigid, and through all the confusion, and noise, and ceaseless movement, I was trying to follow you—trying, but impotently—to save you. The white figure was always before me—far off—yet visible every now and then across the darkness of a world where everything was shapeless and confused. But the worst of all was that every now and then a black wall rose up between your distant figure and the stony difficult path that I was treading—a wall against which I flung myself, mad with rage and despair, trying to tear the stones asunder with my hands, till the blood ran in streams from my fingers. It was a dream that seemed to last through a long night, holding in it the memory of a painful past; yet I suppose it was like other dreams—momentary, for I had heard three o'clock strike before I fell asleep, and when I sounded my repeater it was only a quarter past."
"You can ask Gwendolen as many questions as you like," answered Isola, with an offended air, "and you will see if she denies that I was with her in the December you were away."
"Poor soul!" murmured the priest, pitying that debt of self-abasement which he understood so well, under whatsoever guise she might hide her contrition. "Poor soul, you talk too lightly of that great mystery which we should all face in a spirit of deep humility. Do you feel that you can contemplate that passage through death to a new life without fear of the issue? Have you no reckoning to make with the God who pardons repentant sinners? Do you stand before Him with a clear conscience—having kept nothing back—cherished no hidden sin?""Troublesome! My dearest, can anything be troublesome to me if it can but give you pleasure? You shall see Rome—not once—but again and again, in the course of a long and happy life, I hope. I am more than twenty years older than you; but I count upon at least thirty years more upon this planet, before I blow out my candle and say 'Bon soir.'"
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"He must be twenty years older than his wife," said Society, "and yet they seem so happy together. It is quite refreshing to see such a devoted couple nowadays.""He has very pleasant manners. I don't know what constitutes fascination in a man, though I know pretty well what it means in a woman. Lord Lostwithiel's manners are chiefly distinguished by repose without languor or affectation—and by an interest in other people so cleverly simulated that it deceives everybody. One finds him out by the way in which people boast of his friendship. He cannot be so attached to all the world. He has a manner which is generally described as sympathetic.""Angry, no. I am not angry. I don't know how to be angry with you, Isola; but I can't help being distressed. However, let the past be past. I shall never leave you to the care of strangers again till I die."
Art, even in despondency and failure, is a consolation; art successful is an intoxicating delight. Allegra was as happy a young woman as could be found in Cornwall that day, when she shut her colour-box, dismissed her little maiden, and ran down to lunch, where she found Isola more silent than usual, and made amends by her own light-hearted chatter for the morning's absorption over the easel. After lunch she ran off to the village to pay her parish visits to the sick and old, and on her way to an outlying cottage she met Mr. Colfox, who immediately turned to accompany her, a way he had, but a way to which she had never attached any significance. He was a clever, well-read man, of somewhat original temper, who had to pass most of his life among unlettered or dull people; therefore it surprised Allegra in no wise that he should like to talk to her. A bright, attractive girl of three and twenty is very unsuspicious about the feelings of a homely looking man at least a dozen years her senior.详情
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