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Miss Brown. Lee, Vernon, 1856–1935.
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BOOK I.

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MISS BROWN.

CHAPTER I.

IT was melancholy to admit that Italy also had ceased to interest him, thought Hamlin, as he smoked his cigarette on the hillside above the Villa Arnolfini; melancholy, although, in truth, he had suspected as much throughout the journey, and, indeed, before starting. Pale, milky morning sky, deepening into luminous blue opposite the fast‐rising sun; misty blue‐green valley bounded by unsubstantial Apennine peaks and Carrara crags; yellow shimmer of vines and of maize, green sparkle of pine and fir branches, glitter of vermilion sand crumbling under his feet among the sear grass page: 4 and the brown cistus tufts,—all these things seemed to have lost for him their emotional colour, their imaginative luminousness. He tried to realise the time when all these things had given him a thrill, had gone to his head, nay, when the mere sense of being in Italy had done so; but now the very words “thrill” and “intoxication” seemed false, disgusting, and vulgar. Formerly, at least, such things had soaked into him, dyed his mind with colour, saturated it with light; instead of remaining, as now, so separate from him, so terribly external, that to perceive them required almost an effort. He and the world had been becoming paler in the last three years; it was melancholy, but that seemed quite natural and in keeping; and besides, a washed‐out world, a man with worn‐out feelings, have quite as much psychologic interest for a poet as the reverse.

Walter Hamlin had never been your splash‐of‐scarlet and dash‐of‐orange‐and‐skyblue, lust‐and‐terror kind of lyrist; but he had begun his poetical career with a quiet concentra‐ page: 5 tion of colour, physical and moral, which had made his earliest verses affect one like so many old church windows, deep flecks of jewel lustre set in quaint stiff little frames, with a great deal of lead between, and supreme indifference to anatomy and perspective. And as a painter (perhaps just because, despite his own contrary opinion)—he certainly had less original genius as painter than as poet—he had continued in this habit of gemlike harmonies of colour; but in his poetry, and in his reality as a man, it struck him that he had little by little got paler and paler, colours turning gradually to tints, and tints to shadows; pleasure, pain, hope, despair, all reduced gradually to a delicate penumbra, a diaphanous intellectual pallor, of which this utter listlessness, this indifference even to having grown indifferent, was, as it were, the faint key‐note. The world was a pale and prismatic mist, full of vague, formless ghosts, in which it was possible to see only as far as to‐day; and, indeed, why wish to see that paler to‐day called page: 6 to‐morrow? Perhaps there was a little depression added to Hamlin’s usual listlessness. It had given him a kind of little shock to see Melton Perry again, after those twelve or thirteen years; bringing back to him the time when he had been the most brilliant and eccentric of that little knot of æsthetic undergraduates, at whose strange doings as Greek gods, and Provençal poets, and Norse heroes, Oxford had murmured in those philistine days, and which had welcomed young Hamlin, with his girlish beauty and pre‐Raphaelite verses, as a sort of mixture of Apollo and Eros, sitting at the head of the supper‐table dressed in green silk, with rose garlands on his head, while Perry led a chorus of praise, dressed in indigo velveteen, with peacocks’ feathers in his button‐hole, and silver‐gilt grasshoppers in his hair. Poor old Perry! Absurd days those were, thought Hamlin, as he walked slowly towards the house, through the grass and hemlock bending with dew, pushing aside the fig branches and vine trails along the narrow path between the page: 7 terraced olives; absurd days those, and at which he could now, having grown grave and listless, only faintly smile. Still the sight of Perry had brought back to him that recurring sense that all those absurd lads of long‐gone days, turned humdrum dons, and parsons, and squires for the most part, had had a something, a spontaneity, an aristocratic fibre, a sort of free‐bornness, which he missed among the clique‐and‐shop shoddy æstheticism with which he now associated, and which sang his praises as those boys had sung them so many years before. Professional poetry! professional art! faugh! thought Hamlin; it was that feeling which had been making London odious to him of late, and sent him abroad, he knew not whither. He was a poet himself, and a painter also, to be sure; but somehow he liked to feel (and yet it oppressed him) that he was not of the same stock as his fellow‐workers—that he had his coats made by less romantic tailors, and cut his hair and beard in less pictorial style. The sense of his difference from all those pen‐ page: 8 and‐pencil‐driving men of genius, those reviewer‐poets and clerk‐poets, those once‐a‐week‐studio‐receiving painters; the sense of the dust and smoke, as it were, of the æsthetic factory, had been choking him of late: he would rather go and associate only with well‐dressed numskulls, go and flirt with empty‐headed Faubourg St Germain ladies, or emptier‐headed Monte Carlo ladies—he would not touch pen or brush for years. It had been silly to accept Perry’s invitation to spend September at the Villa Arnolfini; he had accepted, thinking of Perry as he had been, a wild, roistering, half‐French creature, brought up at Louis‐le‐Grand, and telling wicked French stories. Good heavens! what a change! When the wretched, thin, wasted, depressed‐looking creature, fit for a medieval picture of mansuetude, had greeted him by night at the nearest station, and had driven him in the gig, he had been quite unable to realise that this was indeed Melton Perry. But he had understood all, all, when, in the bleak drawing‐room, in the glare of an ill‐ page: 9 trimmed lamp, that lank, limp, lantern‐jawed leering creature with a Sapphic profile had come forward and seized him by both hands, and kissed them, crying—

“Dear Mr Hamlin, I must kiss the hands that have opened the paradise of body and soul to so many of us.”

She, and her speech, and the damp dab on his hands, had passed before him like a nightmare; he felt that he would never be able to disassociate Mrs Melton Perry from that horrible smell of ill‐trimmed, flickering oil‐lamp. It seemed to him dreadful—a sort of hideous, harpy‐like proceeding—that his old friend should have thus been metamorphosed.

“You see,” Perry had said, “I must paint things—well—not the sort of things I exactly admire,—because, you see, there’s Mrs Perry and the children—five girls,—and last year’s baby.”

Perry’s depressed voice had remained in Hamlin’s ears. This was the end of a bright, original fellow—married for love, too! And page: 10 six children! Hamlin had already made up his mind that he could not possibly hold out long at the Villa Arnolfini. That Mrs Perry, with her leering Sapphic profile, her almost amorous admiration, the limp gown, the five girls, and last year’s baby, the all‐pervading smell of oil‐lamp, were too much for him. In three days, he calculated, he might decently, on some pretext, slip off to Florence. And then—why, from Florence he might go to America. He thought all those big hotels, with the fifteen hundred inmates and thirteen brass bands, all that tremendous strain, telegraph‐telephone vulgarity, might be refreshing.

Hamlin had got to the bottom of the hill, and in front of him, nestled among the olives and the vines, rose the Villa Arnolfini, a time‐ and weather‐stained Tuscan country‐house, with its rose‐hedges gone wild among the beans and artichokes, its grotesque ivy‐draped terra‐cotta statues, its belvedere towers, from whose crannied sides and yellow lichened tiles page: 11 the pigeons swept down on to the lawn of overgrown grass, thick with dew in the blue morning shadow. It had a sort of half‐romantic, half‐idyllic charm, which Hamlin could not help recognising: it certainly was better than an American hotel, with ten lifts, thirteen brass bands, and fifteen hundred inmates. But, like everything else, it was a snare; for behind those sleepy‐looking green shutters were the pink and blue chromo‐lithograph pot‐boilers of Melton Perry, were the five girls and the last year’s baby, nay, were the Sapphic leer and limp dresses of Mrs Melton Perry herself.

Making these reflections, Hamlin pushed open the green and blistered house‐door and entered the wide hall, with rickety eighteenth‐century chairs and tables marshalled round the walls. There was one good thing about his hosts, he thought, and that was, that they had no common breakfast, but invited their guests to do whatsoever they pleased in the early morning. The hall was very silent, and Ham‐ page: 12 lin wondered how he should get any breakfast. It struck him that he had better go and ring the bell in his bedroom. But on going upstairs he found there was no sign of a bell either in it or in the vast scantily furnished drawing‐room, where a thick layer of dust reposed on tables and mirrors, and the smell of last night’s oil‐lamp still lingered. He saw the open door of Perry’s studio; it was empty, and so was the adjoining dressing‐room, where boots and canvases littered the floor. But on the mirror was a paper, on which was written in the largest characters: “I am gone to sketch at the Lake of Massaciuccoli; shan’t be back till lunch; please look after Hamlin.”

“Confound it!” thought Hamlin, “am I to be left in tête‐à‐tête with Mrs Perry all the morning?” But since Melton Perry thought nothing of leaving his guest alone all the morning, he too—the guest—might surely be permitted to slip away after breakfast from the effusive æstheticism of his hostess. Hav‐ page: 13 ing Having found no sign of life on the first floor, Hamlin went down‐stairs once more, and proceeded to ramble about in search of breakfast, or, at least, of some servant. The ground‐floor seemed to consist entirely of servants’ rooms, offices, and strange garners, where sacks of potatoes, garden‐tools, silkworm‐mats, and various kinds of pods were gathered together. They were all empty; and empty likewise was the kitchen, its brass saucepans and huge spits left invitingly for any one who might care to step through the open garden‐door. But next to the kitchen was a sort of nursery, at least so he judged from the children’s chairs and battered dolls lying about—and here a table was spread with cups and saucers and jugs, and a cut loaf and a plate of figs. “This looks more like it,” thought Hamlin, wondering what had become of the inmates of this mysterious abode of sleep. Suddenly he heard children talking in a room at the end of the passage, and a sort of subdued, deep, melancholy chant, like some church song. He went page: 14 to the door whence came the sounds, and knocked gently. The childish chattering did not stop, nor the fitful gusts of chant—deep, nasal, but harmonious and weird, with curious, sudden, metallic falsetto notes, less like the voice of a woman than of a youth. Hamlin knocked again, and receiving no notice, boldly opened the door and stood on the threshold. He was struck by the sight which met him. The room was low and vaulted, with walls entirely frescoed with dark‐blue skies sprinkled with birds, mountains like cheeses, rivers, box‐like houses, people fishing, and plentiful ducks and parrots on perches; a faint green shimmer of leaves came through the open windows; three or four little yellow‐headed children were scrambling on the floor, struggling violently over the funeral of a doll in a biscuit‐tin. In the middle of the room was a large deal table, covered with singed flannel, on the corner of which stood a brasier with some flat‐irons, and a heap of crumpled pink pinafores; and behind this table, her tall and page: 15 powerful figure, in a close‐fitting white vest and white skirt, standing out against the dark‐blue painted wall and the green shimmer from outside, was a young woman bending over a frock which she was ironing, her bare brown arms going up and down along the board; her massive and yet girlish body bending with the movement, and singing that strange chant which Hamlin had heard from outside.

“I beg your pardon,” said Hamlin, in Italian, as he stood in the doorway. The children looked round, tittered, and made remarks in shrill whispers; the girl stopped her work, stood erect, putting her iron on the brasier, and stared full at Hamlin with large wide‐opened eyes of strange dark‐greyish blue, beneath heavy masses of dark lustreless hair, crimped naturally like so much delicate black iron wire, on her narrow white brow.

“I beg your pardon,” said Hamlin again; “but can you tell me how I may get some breakfast?”

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He could not help smiling in proffering this innocent request, so serious and almost tragic was the face of the girl.

“It’s Mr Hamlin,” tittered the children, rolling under the table, and hanging to the table‐cloth.

The young woman eyed Hamlin for a second in no very gracious manner; then answered, with a certain contemptuous listlessness in her slightly hollowed pale cheeks and beautifully curled but somewhat prominent lips—

“I don’t know anything about your breakfast, sir.” She spoke, to his surprise, in perfect English, with only the faintest guttural Italian accent. “Mr Perry went to sketch at Massaciuccoli early this morning, and took the boy with him; Mrs Perry may never be disturbed till nine; and the cook is gone to Lucca for provisions.”

“That’s very sad,” remarked Hamlin, laughing, and looking at this curious and picturesque being.

The girl seemed annoyed at being discovered page: 17 in that guise, for she pulled down her white sleeves quickly.

“I suppose the cook has orders about your breakfast,” she said, in a tone which seemed to put an end to the conversation; and she took up her iron once more. “Mrs Perry did not think you would want anything so early; the cook will be back about nine.”

But Hamlin would not be shaken off; the fact was, he enjoyed watching this beautiful sullen creature much as he might have enjoyed watching a cat whom he had disturbed in its sleep.

“Nine o’clock!” he said; “that’s a long time to wait. Couldn’t you give me something to eat? I saw a table spread in the next room.”

The girl put down her iron with a sort of subdued irritation of manner.

“It’s the children’s breakfast, sir,” she answered; “we have neither tea nor coffee.”

“We have milk,” said the eldest of the little girls pertly, “and figs.”

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“Milk and figs!” exclaimed Hamlin; “why, that’s a breakfast for the gods! and won’t you,” he went on rather appealingly—“won’t you share a little of it with me?”

“You are Mrs Perry’s guest,” said the girl more sullenly than ever, “and of course you are welcome to anything you choose.”

Hamlin felt rather taken aback.

“Indeed!” he said. “I don’t wish to do anything against the habits of the house, or disagreeable to you.”

“It is not against any rules,” she answered. “If you will excuse me, I will see whether the milk is heated. The children will show you the way.”

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CHAPTER II.

HAMLIN felt rather contrite and humiliated as he sat down at the square table, with the two eldest children, pert little rosy and flaxen things, on either side of him, and the three little ones staring at him, and then suddenly making convulsive dives under the table‐cloth and behind each other’s shoulders opposite. He was the furthest possible removed from the kind of young man who persecutes pretty housemaids. Whatever vagaries he might have had in his life, they were not of that sort; and now, although he had merely intended to ask for some breakfast, he found himself somehow in the position of pushing his presence upon a servant girl. He was vexed with himself, and became very grave, scarce‐ page: 20 ly scarcely answering the chatter of the children by his side.

“And you know,” said the eldest child, a pretty little minx of eleven, fully conscious of her charms, “mamma told us you were the great poet, and she read us a poem of yours about Sir Troilus. Mamma always reads poetry to us—and we liked it so much,—and I liked all about where he kisses the lady so much, and her purple dress with the golden roses, and then about Love, where he comes and takes her by the throat, and chokes her, and makes her feel like a furnace. Mamma says it’s just like love. Mr Thaddeus Smith was in love with the gardener’s girl when he came here last year, mamma says.”

“Good heavens!” thought Hamlin, “what a mamma and what children!”

“And mamma told us to get some myrtles and put them in your room,” blurted out a smaller one.

“Hush, Winnie! You know you shouldn’t tell,” said the eldest.

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“And you know,” insisted the younger, in her little, impertinent lisp, “mamma said we should put the myrtles, because you made poems about myrtles; and we were to have had on our best frocks, and met you in the hall, and—”

“Hush, Winnie!”

“And thrown roses on the floor before you; only then papa got a telegram saying you were coming by the late train, and we had to go to bed—”

Miss Winnie’s revelations and her sister’s expostulations were interrupted by the entry of the nurse, or governess, or whatever else she might be, carrying a large jug of milk. She had slipped on a skirt and loose jacket of striped peasant cotton, which at a distance looked like a dull, rich purple. She sat down at the head of the table, and began silently helping the hot milk.

“May I cut the bread for you?” asked Hamlin, feeling quite shy from her silence.

“I don’t think you will know how to do page: 22 it,” she answered. “We have only yesterday’s bread at this hour, until the cook returns from market.” When the milk was helped and the bread cut, she said, rather sharply—

“Now, children, say your prayer.”

The children immediately set up a shrill chorus; the elder, who wished to show off, slowly—the little ones, who were hungry, quicker; an absurdly pseudo‐poetical thanksgiving, which reminded Hamlin of the sort of poetry presented to rich foreigners by needy Italians on creamy, embossed, and illuminated paper. He was struck by the fact that the girl did not join, but waited passively through this religio‐poetical ceremony; doubtless, he thought, because she was a Catholic.

“That’s mamma’s Tuesday hymn,” said Winnie; “she makes a different one for each day of the week.”

Whereupon the children fell vigorously to their breakfast of bread and milk. Heaven knows when Hamlin had eaten bread and milk last—probably, he thought, not since he page: 23 had been out of frocks; but it seemed to him pleasant and pastoral. He would have enjoyed this improvised breakfast had the children chattered less incessantly (Hamlin did not care for children), and had he not continued to feel rather as if he had been courting a nursemaid. The young woman had as much as she could do in pouring out more milk, giving out more figs, and cutting more slices of bread and butter for the children; and her conversation was entirely engrossed in admonitions to them not to spill their milk, not to jump on their chairs, not to talk with their mouths full, and so forth. She seemed determined, in her sullen indifferent way, to make Hamlin understand that he might intrude his person at that breakfast‐table, but that he had no chance of intruding his personality upon her notice. But her very indifference afforded Hamlin an opportunity, and, as it were, a right, to examine her appearance: one may surely look at a person who obstinately refuses to notice one. She was very beautiful, and even more than page: 24 beautiful—strange. She seemed very young, certainly, thought Hamlin—not more than nineteen at most; but her face, though of perfectly smooth complexion, without furrow or faintest wrinkle, was wholly unyouthful; the look was not of age, for you could not imagine her ever growing old, but of a perfect negation of youth. Hamlin tried to think what she might have been as a child, looking round on the childish faces about him, but in vain. The complexion was of a uniform opaque pallor, more like certain old marble than ivory; indeed you might almost imagine, as she sat motionless at the head of the table, that this was no living creature, but some sort of strange statue—cheek and chin and forehead of Parian marble, scarcely stained a dull red in the lips, and hair of dull wrought‐iron, and eyes of some mysterious greyish‐blue, slate‐tinted onyx: a beautiful and sombre idol of the heathen. And the features were stranger and more monumental even than the substance in which they seemed carved by page: 25 some sharp chisel, delighting in gradual hollowing of cheek and eye, in sudden cutting of bold groove and cavity of nostril and lip. The forehead was high and narrow, the nose massive, heavy, with a slight droop that reminded Hamlin of the head of Antinous; the lips thick, and of curiously bold projection and curl; the faintly hollowed cheek subsided gradually into a neck round and erect like a tower, but set into the massive chest as some strong supple branch into a tree‐trunk. He wondered as he looked at her; and wondered whether this strange type, neither Latin nor Greek, but with something of Jewish and something of Ethiopian subdued into a statuesque but most un‐Hellenic beauty, had met him before. The nearest approach seemed to be certain mournful and sullen heads of Michaelangelo, the type was so monumental, and at the same time so picturesque; and as he looked at the girl, it seemed, despite its strangeness, as if, at some dim distant time, he had seen and known it well before.

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He looked at her with the curiosity of an artist examining a model, or a poet trying to solve a riddle; there was, he felt conscious, nothing insolent or offensive in his stare. Yet he felt he must break the silence; so, with real indifference, he suddenly asked—

“ How is it that you speak English so marvellously well? No one would ever guess that you were not English.”

“I am English,” answered the girl.

English nationality had explained many otherwise unaccountable mixed types to Hamlin; but this took him by surprise, and left him utterly incredulous. This girl certainly was no Englishwoman—a Jewess, perhaps. No, never; no Jewess was ever so pure and statuesque of outline: some Eastern, dashed with Hindoo or Negro; they were much coarser, more common, of far more obvious, less subtle beauty.

“You mean English by adoption,” he suggested, “surely not by blood?”

“My mother was an Italian. I think her page: 27 family came from Sicily or Sardinia, or somewhere,where there are Spaniards and Moors,” she answered; “but my father was Scotch. He came from Aberdeen.”

“Have you ever been in Scotland?” he asked, just by way of saying something to mitigate the personalness of his previous questions.

“No,” she answered, and her lips closed as with a spring; then she added, as if to close all further conversation, “I was born in Italy; my father was employed at Spezia in the docks.”

The eldest Miss Perry raised her pretty little sentimental head pertly.

“Annina’s father was one of those who make the big men‐of‐war at Spezia.”

“Oh, you know, we once went with papa, and saw a man‐of‐war, and all the boilers and big, big cannons,” interrupted a smaller one.

“And he was a bad, bad man,” went on the eldest, composedly. “He used to drink quantities of acquavite; and one day when he had page: 28 drunk so much acquavite, do you know what he did? He tried to throw Annina’s mother out of the window, and then shot himself with a revolver.”

Hamlin listened as the cruel words dribbled out, and stared at the childish face. He had never taken any interest in children; but he had never thought that a child could be so deliberately (as it seemed to him) malignant. The words made his ears burn, and he felt indignant, confused, and humiliated, as if he were a party to them. He did not look at the girl; but he somehow saw, or felt, the sullen, suppressed bitterness of shame in her tragic face.

“And is it true,” interrupted Winnie, “that you are going to do our picture? Mamma said you would want to paint us angels or fairies. All the painters paint us, because, mamma says, we are the most beautiful children in Florence. They always give us chocolate and marrons glacés to keep us quiet.”

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CHAPTER III.

WHEN breakfast was over, and she had made the children fold up their napkins, the nurse took what remained of figs, bread, and milk to lock up in the kitchen. Mildred, the eldest of the little Perrys, sidled up to Hamlin, as he stood on the doorstep leading into the vineyard, lighting a cigarette, and asked whether he would not like to see her garden.

Hamlin looked down upon the innocent‐looking little fiend with a sort of disgust and contempt. “Thank you,” he said; “gardens aren’t much in my line.”

The little thing scowled at this rebuff of her fascinations. But a sudden thought struck Hamlin. “Yes, by the way,” he said, “I do take an interest in gardens sometimes. Come and show me yours.”

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Mildred slipped her arm through his—a long‐legged, fair‐haired, pre‐Raphaelite child, in much‐darned stockings and patched pinafore—Winnie, the second, a rounder, more comfortable, cherubic beauty, seized his hand. He let himself be led along, among the prattle of the little one and the assumed shyness of the elder, through the vineyard, where the tall, red‐tipped sorghum brooms stood among the trailing pumpkins and the tufts of fennel, to a small grove behind the house, in whose shade were four little raked‐up spaces, with drooping marigolds and zinnias stuck into the earth, and small box sprigs.

“This is my garden!” cried Winnie, dragging him along, and pointing to the melancholy little patch. “I have marigolds, and sunflowers, and red beans and potatoes.”

“And this is mine,” said Mildred, raising her big blue eyes. “I call it the garden of Acrasia; because mamma told us once about Sir Guyon—”

“Won’t you give us anything to buy seeds page: 31 with; we want tomato seeds,” clamoured Winnie.

“Hush, Winnie! I wonder you’re not ashamed!” cried Mildred.

“They are very good sort of gardens,” said Hamlin, fishing in his waistcoat for loose silver, while the children looked at him with beaming eyes; “here—I hope your tomatoes may prosper and prove eatable.”

Then he suddenly turned to Mildred. “Come here,” he ordered, “I want to speak to you ;” and he sat down on a stone bench under a plane‐tree, in which the cicala was sawing away with all his might.

Mildred stood in front of him, wondering, half hoping for the usual request that she should sit for an angel or a fairy.

“Look here,” said Hamlin, quietly; “I want to know how you would feel if your papa had been in the habit of drinking too much acquavite, and had shot himself after trying to murder your mamma, and some nasty little girl blurted it all out at breakfast to a perfect stranger?”

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The child flushed with surprise and anger; she looked as if she would have scratched Hamlin’s eyes out. But he looked steadily in her face, and he was a stranger, a gentleman, a man, and not her papa; circumstances which entirely overawed her. She recovered her composure marvellously, and answered after a moment’s reflection, “My papa is a gentleman, and Annina’s papa was a common man —a mascalzone,”—with considerable triumph at her dignified argument.

“Your papa is a gentleman,” replied Hamlin, sternly; “I have known him long before you were born. But remember, if you say cruel things which hurt people’s feelings, whether they be gentle people or servants, however much your papa may be a gentleman, you won’t be a lady.”

And Hamlin left the little Perrys to muse upon this moral truth. He felt quite excited; and when the excitement had subsided, he felt quite astonished at himself. He could scarcely realise that he himself had actually been page: 33 meddling in other people’s affairs, had been reading a lesson to other people’s children, all about a little girl saying offensive things to her nurse. It was so strange that it quite humiliated him: he had first pushed his company on to a nursemaid, and then, unasked, fought the nursemaid’s battle. This confounded Perry household! Was it going to turn him also into a ridiculous caricature? He went up‐stairs and wrote some business letters, and corrected a lot of proof of his new book. Then he thought it would be pleasanter to correct the remainder in the garden; so he brought down his writing‐case, and established himself on the grass behind the house. The first‐floor balcony and the roof projected a deep shade; and on the high grass flickered shadows of plane‐trees and laurels, as through their branches there flickered the pale‐blue sky. The swifts flew round the eaves with sharp noise, the cicalas sawed in the trees; all was profoundly peaceable. But suddenly, from the first‐floor windows came a vague sound of page: 34 childish sobbing, a confused murmur as if of consolation. Then a pause, after which a well‐known voice arose shrill in glib Italian.

“Annina, how dare you distress the signorina Mildred? How dare you say cruel things to my poor, poor sensitive child?”

“I have said nothing cruel to the signorina Mildred,” answered a deep, quiet voice; “the signorina Mildred went to show her garden to Mr Hamlin, and then came back crying. I asked her what had happened, but she refused to tell me. I have nothing to do with her tears.”

“How dare you tell such an untruth?” shrieked Mrs Perry. “The signorina Mildred said something about your father at breakfast, and you, like a little viper, turned round upon the poor little darling. She is nearly in hysterics! You little serpent!”

“It is one of Miss Mildred’s usual lies,” answered the other voice calmly—“una delle solite bugíe.”

Hamlin had been admitted too much into page: 35 confidence. He took up his writing things hastily, and removed to the furthest end of the garden, out of reach of the dispute.

This was the pretty result of his interference! He had merely got this poor devil of a nursemaid into a scrape. It was the fit punishment for his folly in going out of his way to meddle with other folk. He was very much annoyed; he had been dragged into a sordid woman’s squabble; Mrs Perry’s scolding had seemed addressed to him. At the same time, he did feel indignant that the girl should be treated in this fashion: such a splendid, queenly creature slanged by a sentimental, æsthetic fishwife, as he defined his hostess to himself.

The return of Melton Perry interrupted his reflections. Perry was quite astonished to find him up, and extremely distressed at his having had no regular breakfast.

“You see,” he said, “Mrs Perry is very delicate—in short, scarcely fit for any kind of household bother,—so that—”

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“Oh,” answered Hamlin, “I had a capital breakfast with your children.”

Then they fell to talking of old times; and little by little there emerged from out of the overworked, henpecked Melton Perry of the present, the resemblance of the proud and brilliant Melton Perry of the past.

“Of course,” said Perry, as they sat smoking in the sheltered studio—“of course I’m very happy, and that sort of thing. My wife—well, she’s a little impetuous, and I don’t always agree about her way of bringing up the children—but there’s no saying that she isn’t an immensely superior kind of woman. I don’t always agree with her, mind you; but she has the true poetic temperament, and”—here he made an evident effort—“she keeps me up to the mark with my work. I was always a lazy hound, you know, and all that. In short, I know I’m quite a singularly fortunate man. Nevertheless,—well, I tell you my frank opinion about matrimony: never do it; the odds page: 37 are too great. My own belief is, that, especially for an artist, it’s a fellow’s ruin. Mine, you see, is an exceptional position. But if you take my advice, old man, never marry.”

“I don’t think there is the faintest chance,” answered Hamlin. “Women have got to bore me long ago: all that in my poems is mere recollections of the past—descriptions of a myself which has long come to an end.”

“I’m glad of it,” replied Perry. “It is a foolish thing to get tied to a woman.”

“Foolish indeed!” thought Hamlin, looking from his shabby, depressed old comrade, to the blazing sunsets and green moonlights on the easels about them.

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CHAPTER IV.

DURING luncheon, no mention was made of the nursemaid into whose concerns Hamlin had that morning intruded; but at dinner, Hamlin’s sense of the question being a sore one, and of being himself mixed up in it, gave way before his curiosity to solve the riddle of the strange‐type which had taken him so by surprise.

“That is a very strange‐looking girl you have in your service,” he remarked to his hostess, over their grapes and thin wine.

“The cook?” cried Mrs Perry. “Isn’t she a divine creature? I call her Monna Lisa’s younger sister.”

“I don’t know your cook by sight,” he answered. “I mean the other young woman they call Annina—”

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Mrs Perry’s brow darkened.

“The nurse—or governess,—I don’t know exactly how to describe her,—of your little girls.”

“My children’s maid,” answered Mrs Perry, with considerable emphasis. “Thank heaven, my children have never had and shall never have any other nurse or any other governess than their own mother.”

“Well, now, Julia,” remonstrated her husband, “I think, you know, that’s pushing it a little too far.”

“My children shall never learn anything from a menial,” insisted Mrs Perry, “neither to walk bodily, nor morally, nor intellectually, as long as I am alive.”

“Good heavens!” thought Hamlin, “what a bandy‐legged family they are likely to turn out!”

“I suppose you mean Annie,” said Perry. “Yes, she’s a good girl, and a good‐looking girl.”

“You are mad, Melton,” cried Mrs Perry, “with your idea of goodness and good looks!”

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“I think her extraordinarily good‐looking,” put in Hamlin, enjoying the authority of his own verdict.

“I always told you so,” replied Perry.

“When I say good‐looking,” corrected Hamlin, “I don’t mean it at all in the ordinary sense. There are dozens of Italian girls five times as pretty as that girl, and I daresay most people don’t think her at all attractive.”

“Yes,” burst out Mrs Perry, “vulgar minds and eyes never appreciate the higher beauty. They see only the body.”

“This is exactly a question of the body,” went on Hamlin. “That girl is one of the most singular types I have ever come across. She is like some of Michaelangelo’s women, but even stranger—a superb creature.”

The revelation of her maid’s beauty by so great an authority as Hamlin quite dazzled and delighted Mrs Perry.

“All our servants are handsome,” she said; “the cook’s the finest Leonardo da Vinci type—when you see her you will want to do her page: 41 picture, Mr Hamlin, as Venus Mystica,” and Mrs Melton Perry set her meagre features and wide‐opening mouth into a mystic smile, intimating that she knew a great deal about Venus Mystica, and her guest doubtless likewise.

“And the footman” . . . she went on.

“Errand‐boy,” corrected Mr Perry, suddenly, emboldened by his friend’s presence.

“The footman is quite a type of manly beauty—a young Hercules,—such a neck and shoulders and arms—and a head like a cameo. I always make it a rule to engage only handsome servants, because it spiritualises the minds of our children to be brought up constantly surrounded by beautiful human forms.”

“I see,” answered Hamlin drily, entirely neglecting his opportunity of making the usual reply to this remark—namely, that the young Perrys were so abundantly provided with beautiful human form in the person of their mother that any other was superfluous.

“That girl you noticed has rather a curious history,” said Perry.

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“Indeed!” answered Hamlin;“she looks as if she ought to have some sort of tragic past—a kind of Brynhilt or Amazon.”

“It’s tragic enough if you like, but it’s unfortunately not at all poetical,” replied Perry.

“There is poetry in all suffering, Melton,” corrected his wife gravely.

“Well, this girl is the daughter of a Scotch mechanic, a very clever fellow, I believe, who fell in love with the Italian maid of some old friends of ours, and followed her to Italy. He got a very good position in the docks at Spezia, but then the other chaps caballed against him, and made him lose his place. They had to live from hand to mouth for a long while, doing odd jobs for the railway company; he squandered his money also on inventions, so, little by little, he and his wife and children got into great distress. Then he took to drinking, poor devil! (I’m sure I should have done so long before;) and one day that he had again been done out of a place by some Italian scoun‐ page: 43 drel scoundrel , he tried to throw his wife out of the window, and then shot himself. It was a dreadful business.”

“He was a great republican, poor dear,” added Mrs Perry. “I’m a republican too, a socialist—quite a dreadful creature, Mr Hamlin.”

“What became of the wife and children ?” asked Hamlin.

“The children had all died by this time, except Annie; and the poor wife was quite broken in health. There was a nephew of the husband’s, a Scotch lad, quite a boy, who was awfully plucky and worked for them for some time. Then the widow died; and an old friend of ours, old Miss Curzon, the famous singer that had been—perhaps you may have heard of her—took Annie into her house.”

“Darling Miss Curzon!” exclaimed Mrs Perry. “She was the noblest woman that ever lived. How she loved me! I always say that I lost my voice—I had a lovely voice before my marriage—when dear darling Miss Curzon died.”

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“Miss Curzon was an excellent old woman,” went on Perry: “she took Annie when she was eleven, and kept her in her house and educated her till her own death two years ago;” and Perry sighed, as he peeled a hard white peach.

“Then I said to my husband, ‘Perry, this child is a legacy to us from our dearest friend,’” went on Mrs Perry, solemnly; “‘we are not rich, but Heaven will send us enough for our children and this child; and if it don’t, why, we must do without.’”

“So she has been with you ever since?”

“Yes,” answered Perry, sharply; “and I should like her to remain for the children’s sake, only that I feel the girl ought to look out for some better place.” And he turned rather gloomily to his wife.

Mrs Perry answered his look with one of sweet and ineffable astonishment. She naturally viewed all her property, servants, children, husband, &c., as emanations from herself—that is to say, from perfection, and consequently as page: 45 more perfect than other folk’s property, servants, children, husbands, although occasionally falling short of this ineffable origin; and she accepted, with alacrity and pleasure, the belief in the transcendent beauty of the nursemaid whom she had shrieked at only a few hours before. She was quite reconciled to her, evidently.

“And what is this girl’s name?” asked Hamlin.

“Anne,” answered Perry—“ Anne Brown.”

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CHAPTER V.

THUS it came about that Walter Hamlin, of Wotton Hall, pre‐Raphaelite poet and painter, made acquaintance with Anne Brown, nurse, or as Mrs Perry defined it, children’s maid at the Villa Arnolfini.

The whole of the two following days, Hamlin neither saw nor particularly remembered the strange girl whose champion he had constituted himself against the little Perrys. An old chaise, with an older pony, was produced from the neighbouring farmhouse, and Mr and Mrs Melton Perry took it by turns to drive their guest along the dusty roads to the old town of Lucca, to various villas, and other sights of the neighbourhood. In the evening Perry led his friend out for a stroll among the vineyards and page: 47 the olives, and across the low hills covered with bright green pines and dark cypresses. At the end of the third day, Hamlin, while smoking after dinner with his host, insinuated to Perry that he really thought he must be pushing on to Florence. A look of blank terror overspread poor Perry’s face.

“Nonsense!” he cried—“don’t say that; don’t leave me in the lurch yet.”

“You see,” said Hamlin, hypocritically, “I intend going to America; and I really think I ought to do a little work before leaving Italy.”

“What sort of work?”

“Why, I suppose—I think—I ought to take this opportunity of working a little at one of my pictures for the next Grosvenor.”

“Which picture?” asked Perry, eagerly.

“I really scarcely know. I suppose I ought to be making some studies for Circe and the child Comus.”

“Child Comus!” exclaimed Perry. “Why, I’ve the very thing you want here at hand. page: 48 Such a Comus for you! There’s not a model in all Florence will suit you so well; it’s the farmer’s son. Such legs, and such a chest!”

“I don’t intend doing him naked,” answered Hamlin, whose strong point was not anatomy.

“Naked or not, he’s what you want. The head, since you don’t care for legs and chest. You shall have him to‐morrow; and you can work much better here than in that swelter at Florence—”

“In short,” burst out poor Perry, “don’t leave me yet, old fellow. You don’t know what it is for me to have you here—I feel quite another man. It seems to me as if I were ten years younger. The fact is, don’t you know, a man’s never the same when once married; it’s a weight round his neck. Don’t go away yet, dear old Watty, for the sake of auld lang syne.”

Hamlin could not help being touched by the way in which his old friend threw himself on his compassion. Poor old Perry! How page: 49 dreadfully dreary and broken‐spirited he must be when all alone with that awful wife of his!

“Well, I’m willing enough to stay, if you’ll keep me,” answered Hamlin.

“That’s right!” cried Perry, squeezing his hand. “Keep me from growing into a turnip for a little longer, for goodness’ sake.”

So the next morning the farmer’s boy was sent for, and Hamlin began, in a desultory way, to make some studies for his picture. The fact was, he was so utterly indifferent as to all his own movements, that it was an absolute relief to be pinned down to one place by his old friend. Accordingly he unpacked his things, and prepared to stay at the Villa Arnolfini until the Perrys should themselves return to Florence in October.

Little by little he got to arrange his day so as to avoid as far as possible the dreaded tête‐à‐tête with Mrs Perry; spending the morning lying on the sear grass or the fallen fir‐needles under Melton Perry’s sketching umbrella; and page: 50 locking himself up during the afternoon with the pretext of his picture. Locking himself up, and sometimes unlocking the door and letting the lank and limp lady come and sit in his improvised studio, entertaining him with her views on life, poetry, art, love; and invariably representing herself as the devoted slave of a kind of fierce and gloomy lover‐husband of the Othello description. During this first week of his stay at the Villa Arnolfini, Hamlin did not lose sight of the Perrys’ strange nursemaid. The girl’s exotic, and, so to speak, tragic style of beauty, had made a great impression upon him, but a sort of impression such as only a temper entirely artistic could receive. He was interested in Anne Brown, but not in the whole of Anne Brown. He wished to see more of her, but to see more only of her superb physical appearance, and of that sullen, silent, almost haughty manner which accompanied it. As to anything there might be, intellectual or moral, behind this beautiful and dramatic creature, he did not page: 51 care in the least, and would much rather have seen nothing of it. So far, she was striking, admirable, picturesque, consistent; further details might merely spoil the effect. Hence it was that, although he made several sketches of her head from memory, and although he rhymed the first half of a sonnet upon the strange fate which had, to put it in plain prose, given the beauty of an Amazon to a nursemaid, he instinctively abstained from seeking in any way to renew the acquaintance which he had made that first morning. The picturesque and imaginative figure was just in the right light and at the right distance,—a single movement, and all the picturesqueness and strangeness might vanish. Walter Hamlin had had but too many instances of the melancholy results of trying to approach and become familiar with creatures who had caught his æsthetic and poetic fancy. He often saw her hurrying (if she might ever be said to hurry, for there was something wonderfully measured about her) to and fro, filling up, page: 52 it would seem, the gaps in Mrs Perry’s rather theoretical housekeeping; and sometimes, passing through the ground‐floor passage, he would also see her ironing, like that first time, or laboriously presiding over the little Perrys’ lessons; for it appeared that Mrs Perry’s intellectual guidance of her children consisted in telling them the plots of novels and repeating choice poetry, leaving such mechanical matters as reading and writing to what she called a menial. And even more frequently Hamlin would meet her taking the children for a walk, or sitting in the vineyard sewing or reading, while they built houses of leaves and sticks, and cooked dinners of maize‐grains and unripe figs. Hamlin scarcely ever spoke to her; and if the children forced him to remain and examine their houses or their dinners, he would watch the girl, but without the slightest desire of entering into conversation. He wished to know only as much as he could see of her. But this much which he saw inspired him with a kind of respect,—a respect not for Anne page: 53 Brown, nursemaid or nursery‐governess of Mrs Melton Perry, but respect for a beautiful and solemn kind of Valkyr or Amazon; for there is no doubt that to certain temperaments not given to respect for social distinctions or religious institutions, or even the kind of moral characteristics held to be worthy of respect by ordinary folk, there is something actually venerable in some kinds of beauty: the man respects the unknown woman as a goddess, and respects himself for having discovered her divinity. So that, habitually and instinctively, Hamlin displayed towards the young woman a degree of courtesy which astonished the little Perrys, who had seen young men flirt with various of their mother’s carefully selected beautiful servants, but never treat them, as Miss Mildred expressed it, as if they were funerals passing. All of which distant respect Anne Brown received coldly, as if it were a matter of course; showing astonishment only on one occasion, when Hamlin answered, being requested to lift little Winnie into the branches page: 54 of an olive‐tree—“You must first ask permission of Miss Brown.”

The girl looked up from her work, and fixed her great greyish‐blue eyes upon him in wonder. No one had ever called her Miss Brown before.

Thus things might have continued, and Hamlin have left the Villa Arnolfini with only a few lines of a sonnet on the fly‐leaf of his ‘Vita Nuova’—a few scratched‐out sketches of a face with strange, curling full lips, and masses of wiry hair, in his sketchbook—and a daily fainter remembrance of Mrs Perry’s nurse; when one day he took it into his head to construct a kind of medieval costume for his peasant‐boy model, and accordingly went to Mrs Perry for assistance in sewing together the various shreds of old brocade and satin which he had bought at Lucca, the various bits of weather‐stained cotton which he had obtained by barter from the peasants. Mrs Perry, lying languidly on a sofa in her dusty boudoir, littered over with page: 55 books and reviews, afforded him a variety of valuable pieces of information upon harmonies of colours and the magic of folds; but when it came to practical tailoring, she smiled with reproachful gentleness, and, clapping her hands, called out for Annie. Annie—that is to say, Anne Brown—emerged from an adjacent room, silent and sullen as usual; but when she understood that the job was for Hamlin, she seemed suddenly to develop a certain interest in it. The pieces of stuff were spread out on the drawing‐room table, and Hamlin proceeded to explain what manner of garment he wanted, Mrs Perry joining in from the next room with various bewildering instructions. The girl immediately understood; but the piece of work was complicated and tiresome. The stuff had several times to be sewn together, tried on to the live model, and then taken down‐stairs to be altered.

“Won’t you sit down and do it here, Miss Brown?” Hamlin at length suggested.

The girl hesitated for a moment, and then page: 56 settled herself to sew at the table of the empty drawing‐room. Hamlin went into the studio next door, and tried to draw a little; but he felt himself attracted to go and watch the girl as she leaned over the table, or sat with her beautiful head bending over her sewing. Every now and then she looked up to ask him some question: a regal, tragic, out‐of‐our‐world, almost weird face, the contrast of which with her prosiac questions about seams and tucks was almost comic.

Hamlin looked at her as he might have looked at a beautiful cathedral front; and he began to feel that kind of anticipated regret at the thought of losing sight of something beautiful and rare, that almost painful desire to keep at least some durable likeness of it, which, in former years, had often tormented him in the midst of the enjoyment of lovely things. He did not see his way to introducing Anne Brown into any picture; nay, he perhaps did not even think of his work; but he determined that he must have a likeness of page: 57 her to take away with him. Accordingly, that same evening, as he was seated with the Perrys in front of the villa, watching the stars gradually lighting themselves in the bright metallic blue sky, Hamlin suddenly turned to his hostess, and asked her whether she thought it would be possible for him to make a sketch of Anne Brown.

“I may want her for a picture some day,” he added, half hypocritically.

Mrs Perry’s enthusiasm was immediately kindled.

“Oh !” she exclaimed, “paint a picture of her as the Witch of Atlas, with a red cloak and red roses all about her, and a background of cactuses and aloes all twisting and writhing, and looking as if they gibbered. Do paint her like that, dear Mr Hamlin—and Mildred and Winnie will do for attendant spirits. Begin to‐morrow—you shall have her to sit to you all day; and she has such lovely arms and shoulders, you must paint her in some kind of dress that will show them.”

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“I think it’s rather cool of you to promise Annie as a sitter in that way,” put in Melton Perry—“especially with so few clothes on, Julia.”

“Why not?” asked Mrs Perry, in astonishment. “If she is beautiful she must be painted. She shall begin sitting to‐morrow morning.”

“She shan’t do anything of the kind!” exclaimed Perry, suddenly. “I don’t see at all what right we have to dispose of her. We pay her wages as a servant for our children, not as a model for our visitors.”

“I never dreamed of Miss Brown being in any way compelled to sit,” remonstrated Hamlin, rather indignantly. “I only wanted your assistance in asking whether she would.”

“Of course she will,” insisted Mrs Perry. “Why, I wonder what great hardship there is in sitting for one’s likeness? Haven’t I done it hundreds of times? When a woman is beautiful, it’s her duty; that’s what I was always told.”

“It may be the duty of a lady, Julia,” an‐ page: 59 swered answered Mr Perry, gloomily, “and it may be yours; but it isn’t the duty of a servant girl—the difference lies in that.”

“Well,” retorted Mrs Perry, angrily, “I think you don’t show much appreciation of the honour of having one of the greatest of living painters in our house, Perry. I do, and I shall see to his having the proper model.”

“Please, I entreat you, dear Mrs Perry,” cried Hamlin,“ do let the matter go—it really is of no consequence; and, indeed, it would be in the last degree distasteful to me to have an unwilling sitter.”

“You shall have a willing one, Mr Hamlin;” and Mrs Perry walked off with dignity.

Melton Perry suddenly shook off his languor, and started after his wife.

“Julia,” he cried, “do leave it to me—I’ll speak to Annie—only do leave it to me.”

“I see no reason for this,” she answered.

“Then I shall speak to Annie at once,” replied Perry.

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“There’s been far too much of this turning of servants into models in this house,” he said, turning to Hamlin. “Mrs Perry can’t be got to see that it isn’t at all the right sort of thing. I don’t mind so much with the others, for I suppose they’re a parcel of sluts; but Annie is another matter. I don’t mind it’s being you, you know, old fellow; but I object to the principle. Annie! Annie! I want to speak to you a moment,” and Mr Perry went into the house.

After a moment he returned.

“I’ve spoken to her, Hamlin,” he said. “I told her that she was just what you wanted for the Lady Guenevere or the Lady of the Lake, or some lady or other—all a lie; but you see I didn’t wish her to know it was merely because she’s handsome. I told her she was like a portrait of one of these persons. Please don’t tell her she’s not. I really expected she’d refuse; and I said to her, ‘Annie, mind you don’t let the mistress force you into sitting; don’t do it to please anybody.’ I’m page: 61 really quite surprised, for she’s such a very reserved girl always; but then she is an obliging creature too, and I think she’ll do more to please me than perhaps my wife, because I always let her understand that this isn’t a good place at all, and that she ought to try for another. Well, she says she’ll sit; but not till after the ironing is done in the morning. I proposed half‐past nine—will that do?”

“Thank you,” answered Hamlin, putting his hand on Perry’s shoulder; “you’re a good old creature, Perry.”

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CHAPTER VI.

HAMLIN did not succeed in doing much that first sitting. He had thought that Anne Brown’s head would be an easy one to sketch; but it proved just the reverse. Those salient and outlandish features, which he had thought he could catch in half an hour, were turned into caricature by the slightest exaggeration, and exaggeration was almost inevitable. He made several beginnings, and scratched them all out; and at the end of a couple of hours he felt that he positively could not go on; he had become quite fidgety over his work.

“I have bungled everything,” he said at last, rising, “and kept you here for nothing, page: 63 Miss Brown. The fact is, that you are far more difficult to draw than I expected.”

He felt very humiliated at having, as it were, to confess himself a bad artist before such a model.

“Try again,” suggested Perry. “I daresay Annie will sit for you again—won’t you, Annie?”

“If Mr Hamlin wishes me to sit, certainly,” answered the girl simply.

“She is confoundedly difficult to draw,” said Hamlin, when she had turned her back.

“She’s difficult because she’s a kind of mystery,” explained Perry. “I’ve felt it ever since we have had her. One thinks there must be something behind that face, and yet it seems to be a mere blank. My belief is, that people of this condition of life often have very little character—at least none in particular developed. Because, after all, it’s talking and jawing about things which don’t matter a pin that develops our character. The people who have no opportunity for that remain quite page: 64 without character, until some day they are forced to choose whether they’ll be self‐sacrificing creatures or mean pigs.”

“There’s something in that,” answered Hamlin, tearing up his abortive sketches in a huff; “but it is hard that a man should be unable to copy the shape of a handsome face as he would copy the shape of a handsome vase, without wondering what there may be inside.”

The fact was, that the utter silence of his model, and his own utter silence, except when begging her to turn a little more in this direction or that, made Hamlin nervous. He had, of course, sketched and painted scores of people who had sat as utterly silent as Anne Brown, but then Anne Brown was not a model of that kind. Indifferent as he felt towards the hidden reality of this girl, he was, nevertheless, fully conscious that she was a personality, something much more than a mere form; or rather, the form itself was suggestive of something more. It would be an easy thing to have to sketch Michaelangelo’s Dawn, or page: 65 his Delphic Sibyl become living flesh, in utter silence with those eyes fixed upon one. If only he could speak to her, or make her speak, he was persuaded it would be much easier; but for some unaccountable reason it seemed impossible to set up a conversation. One morning accident came to Hamlin’s assistance. Strolling about after breakfast, he found in a corner of the vineyard, where the trampled grass revealed the recent presence of the little Perrys, a couple of books carefully buried under a heap of dead leaves just where he chanced to walk. The children had evidently hidden them out of mischief. One was a cheap copy of Dante, with notes—the other an Italian grammar. Turning to the fly‐leaf he found, written in a curious hand, a stiff imitation of English tradesmen’s writing, the name “Anne Brown.” He wiped the books, for they were wet with dew, and deposited them upon the window‐sill of the nursery. At half‐past nine the girl came to the studio. She had been sitting a little while, when Hamlin, page: 66 bending over his work, suddenly broke the silence—

“I find we have a common friend, Miss Brown,” he said.

The girl, without stirring, opened her large eyes.

“A common friend?” she asked, with a scarcely perceptible agitation in her quiet manner; then added, “I suppose you mean Mr Perry; I haven’t many friends now anywhere.”

“Oh! this is the friend of a great many people—thousands—besides ourselves, so you need not feel jealous; his name is Dante.”

“Indeed!” answered Anne Brown, and relapsed into silence.

But silence did not suit Hamlin. “I found two books belonging to you in the vineyard early this morning,” he continued; “and I put them on the nursery window‐sill.”

“Thank you,” replied Miss Brown, in her taciturn manner; “I missed them last night.”

“I was indiscreet enough to wonder whether page: 67 you and I cared for the same things in Dante,” pursued Hamlin; “so I ventured to open the book. I found you had marked the passage about Provenzano.”

“Yes,” said Miss Brown.

“How is it that you marked Provenzano, and did not mark Ugolino, I wonder?”

“I don’t care about Ugolino. He was a traitor.”

“Do you consider that traitors ought to be starved to death?” asked Hamlin, with a smile.

“I don’t think any one ought to be starved to death,” she answered very seriously; “it is too dreadful. But I don’t care about Ugolino, because he was a traitor; and the Archbishop was a traitor too. There is no one to be glad or sorry about.”

“And Francesca da Rimini? Do you find there is nothing to care for or be sorry about in her?”

A faint redness welled up under the uniform brown pallor of Anne Brown’s face.

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“The husband was quite right,” she said, after a pause.

“You are very severe,” remarked Hamlin—“much more severe than Dante. He was sorry for them.”

“They were quite happy,” she answered. “They did not mind being killed; they did not mind being driven about in the wind, of course”—then she stopped short suddenly.

“Why of course?” and Hamlin went on scraping at his pencil.

“Because I don’t think one would mind, if people cared for one, being driven about in the wind like that. Lots of people have been driven about in revolutions, and put into dungeons together, and so on. If they had put papa in prison, I should have wanted to go in with him,”—for once she spoke with a certain amount of vehemence.

Hamlin looked up from his pencil‐cutting. The expression which he suddenly met in her face made him feel that at last he had what he wanted. It was a curious mixture, possible page: 69 only in those strange features, of a kind of passionate effort with dogged determination: the head a little lifted, cheeks and lips firmly set; but in the eyes, and even in the curl of the close‐set lips, a sort of strain, as of a person trying to inhale a larger amount of air, or to take in a larger sight. In a second it was gone.

“That is what I want!” thought Hamlin; “the Amazon or Valkyr—as I thought.”

“Tell me why you care for Provenzano,” he went on, now much more interested in his work again.

“Because he was so proud, and did not like to do humble things,” she answered; “and yet he begged in the streets for a ransom for his friend.”

She showed no desire to say more, and Hamlin was now engrossed in his work. They exchanged but a few trivial remarks during the rest of the sitting. The girl seemed to have contracted a habit of silence, to break through which required a positive effort. When the page: 70 sitting had come to an end, Hamlin asked whether she could possibly give him another.

She hesitated. “If Mrs Perry wishes it, of course,” she answered.

“Excuse me,” corrected Hamlin. “Mrs Perry’s consent may be necessary for you; but for me, the sitting depends upon your wishes, Miss Brown.”

“I don’t care one way or another,” she answered hurriedly.

Mrs Perry of course gave her consent.

She had carefully collected and pieced the scattered remnants of yesterday’s abortive sketches, and Hamlin found her pasting them on to cardboard.

“Do let me keep them, dear Mr Hamlin,” cried Mrs Perry; “they are the most precious things I possess.”

“They are horrible rubbish;” and Hamlin rudely tore them to shreds. “If you want something of mine, I will make you a sketch of little Winnie—only please don’t keep these fearful things.”

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“Thank you, thank you so much!” she exclaimed—“but oh, mayn’t I keep this? it is such a lovely head!”

“It’s the head of Miss Brown,” he answered angrily. “You don’t care for it much on her shoulders,—why should you care for it on my paper—an abominable caricature? Really, I must be permitted to tear it up”—and he tore it into a heap of little pieces.

The next day but one he had another sitting from Anne Brown; and he was so pleased with his drawing, that he begged for permission to finish it in colours. During these additional sittings there was not much conversation. The Dante topic was perfectly worn to shreds, till at last it seemed as if it could be made to go no further. In despair, Hamlin remembered the Italian grammar which he had picked up together with the Dante.

“What do you want with an Italian grammer?” he asked. “You surely don’t require to study it yourself, Miss Brown?”

“I want to teach some day,” she answered.

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“Do you mean to teach the Perry children?”

“Oh no—to teach, to be a daily governess, what we call a parlatrice here. It is not difficult. The lessons are all conversation. Many English ladies want those sort of lessons. I know a girl, the daughter of Mrs Perry’s dressmaker, who gives ten lessons every day, and and gets two francs a lesson.”

“Ten lessons a‐day! But that’s fearful. What awful slavery! Surely you don’t want to do that?”

“I wish I could. I should be so happy.”

“Then you want to leave the Perrys?”

“I want to give up being a servant.”

Hamlin paused, and looked at this superb and regal creature. He did not know what to say.

“You don’t care for children?” he asked at random.

“I don’t know. I don’t care for these children,” she answered bluntly.

“I thought women always liked children.”

She smiled bitterly.

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“Oh,” she said, “children are worse sometimes than grown people; and then one can’t resent it, or answer bad words, or strike them, just because they are children.”

“Then you think you would prefer being a teacher of Italian?”

“Oh yes, I must become that some day; I study when I have a little time. A teacher talks with ladies, and talks about all sorts of things.”

“How do you mean—about all sorts of things?”

“About things—which are not things to eat, or mend, or clean,—about books, and places, and people.”

Hamlin could not help smiling. “Is that such a rare pleasure?” he asked, thinking not of the girl with whom he was talking, but of those weary æsthetic discussions which he had left behind him in London.

“Miss Curzon used to talk about books to me—and about music, sometimes,” said the girl. “She made me read Shakespeare with her. That is long, long ago.”

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“And since then. Do you never talk about such things?”

“Never.”

“Never?”

Anne Brown raised her eyes quietly. “Never, except with you, sir.”

Hamlin did not answer.

Towards the end of the sitting, he suddenly looked up.

“Have you ever read the ‘Vita Nuova,’ Miss Brown?” he asked.

“What’s the ‘Vita Nuova’?”

“It is a little book by Dante, in prose and verse, telling how he met Beatrice, and then how she died. It is much more beautiful than the ‘Divina Commedia.’”

She looked incredulous.

“Is it more beautiful than Bertran del Bornio, where he carried his head like a lantern? Or Bocca degli Abati, where they all change into snakes? Or Cacciaguida when he prophesies about Dante’s exile?”

“It is quite different—all about beautiful things, and love.”

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“I don’t care for that.”

“You must read it some day, though.”

Miss Brown was silent, and relapsed into her usual sullen appearance.

“I say, Hamlin, old fellow,” said Perry, as they walked up and down in the garden that evening, “do you care to see the festival at Lucca to‐morrow? I’m going to take the children in for a treat, and I shall take Annie too—for she never gets any amusement, poor girl. I’ve hired a waggonette—will you be of the party?”

“Will you let me think about it, Perry? I don’t much go in for festivals.”

“This is a picturesque affair—really worth seeing.”

“By the way,” asked Hamlin, “I have nearly finished my sketch of Miss Brown, and I should like—I suppose I ought—to make her some little present.”

“I wouldn’t,” answered Melton Perry sharply; “she’s an odd girl, and you might just hurt her feelings. You see her father was a republican, and that sort of thing, so she’s got page: 76 all sorts of notions about equality and so forth. Awful bosh, of course, but still I think it’s as well she should have them as not.”

“I didn’t mean any money,” said Hamlin, feeling himself grow red at the mere thought.

“Then, if you will run the risk, give her some school‐books. You know she wants to set up as a teacher. Grammars—that sort of thing.”

Hamlin made a gesture of disgust.

“Horrible!—to give her grammars!”

“It’s what she wants.”

“Why, it would seem—well—it would be like encouraging her to become a daily governess.”

“That’s just what I wish to do.”

Hamlin did not answer. The idea of Anne Brown giving lessons at two francs the hour jarred upon him.

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CHAPTER VII.

EARLY the following morning Hamlin was awakened by the wheels of the waggonette and the bells of the horses. Then came the excited voices of children; the sound of slammed doors and precipitate steps on the stairs; and finally the rattle and jingle of departure. He had declined being one of the boisterous expedition to Lucca, for he detested children in general, and the little Perrys in particular; and a day in the empty house (for Mrs Perry was going to see some friends at a neighbouring villa) had seemed to him delightful. He opened his shutters and saw, in the crisp pale‐blue morning, the carriage sweeping round the corner of a narrow lane, the children’s hats, Anne Brown’s red shawl, the coachman’s grey coat, brush rapidly along a tall box hedge. page: 78 If there was a thing Hamlin hated more than another, it was a holiday, a crowd, a lot of people on a jaunt.

After breakfast he went to the studio and sat down before his sketches of Miss Brown. They were unsatisfactory, but they were as good as he could hope to make them. He had fancied that a coloured sketch of her head would be all that he could possibly want; but he now recognised that, after all, the head, beautiful and singular as it was, was yet the least part of the matter. It was the girl’s gait, her way of carrying her head and neck, her movements when at work, her postures when in repose—a number of things of which that head gave no indication, and which, indeed, it was difficult to render in painting, since it was all movement. He had scribbled a few lines—just fragmentary metaphors and scraps of description—suggested to him by Anne Brown, and wondered what use he would make of them; indeed, what use he could make of Anne Brown altogether. Here was a page: 79 splendid model, a splendid heroine, but he was in the mood neither for painting nor for poetry writing. He put a background of dark bay trees to one of his sketches, and then regretted having put it in at all. He no longer felt inclined to work; and, all of a sudden, an unaccountable fancy struck him to follow the holiday‐makers—to go quietly into town—to see them, without, perhaps, letting himself be seen.

The sun was already high as he walked, or rather waded, along the dusty road, with its garlands of dust‐engrained vines hanging from tree to tree on either side; its dust‐stifled marsh‐flowers in the ditch; its white farmhouses, and white stone heaps, white upon white, brilliant, relentlessly white, under the deep blue autumn sky. Before him the bullock‐carts, with sleepy drivers prostrate on their back, moved in a white cloud; a whirlwind of dust was raised by every cariole, heavily laden with singing and yelling peasants, which dashed past. Within sight of the rampart trees, like a pleasant oasis of leafage in page: 80 the treeless green desert of the town, the crowd of vehicles of all sorts began. Under the red brick gate, with its statue of Justice and motto “Libertas,” there was a perfect block of carts, gigs, bullocks, horses, and screaming country folk. Hamlin wriggled through, and slipped along in the scant shade of the narrower streets—empty and desolate on that holiday—ribbons of brilliant light cut into, bordered by the black shadows of overhanging roofs and balconies. A great buzz of voices came from the square of the cathedral; peasants and townsfolk elbowing about, people at booths yelling their wares, boys screeching on whistles and trumpets, cathedral bell tolling, and all the neighbouring church bells clattering and jangling. From the windows of the blackened palaces fluttered strips of crimson and yellow brocade; across the street, from balcony to balcony, and from twisted iron torchholder to twisted iron bridle‐ring, were slung garlands of coloured lamps for the evening’s illumination; and in the page: 81 midst of all rose the cathedral front, its tiers and tiers of twisted and sculptured pillarets, with the massive grey belfry soaring by its side into the high blue sky. Hamlin pushed his way in at one of the side gates; a rolling of organs, and quavering of choir voices, and clash of brass instruments; a hot mouthful of heavy, incense‐laden atmosphere; a compact moving human mass beneath the Gothic arches; beams of light flickering among clouds of dust, and incense and taper smoke high in the arched nave; constellations of lights on altar, and organ‐loft, and chandelier, yellow specks in the mid‐day twilight of the cathedral; something tawdry, hushed, unbreathable, and yet impressive and beautiful.

Hamlin gradually made his way to the side of the altar‐steps. This part of the cathedral was full of women—provincial great ladies, and shopkeepers’ wives and daughters in their Sunday clothes, brilliant caricatures of last year’s Paris fashions—close packed together on reserved seats, enjoying the incense, the page: 82 lights, the music, the holiness of the ceremony, the clothes of their neighbours, the appealing glances of the young men in elaborate silk and alpaca summer coats, with artistically combed‐up heads of hair, sucking their canes all about the altar. Hamlin’s entry, however quiet, was soon perceived, and the eyes of all this womankind were fixed upon the sight, rare in that country town, of an Englishman; and white silk bonnets, and black lace veils, and big red fans, and fuzzy yellow and smooth black heads, leant towards each other,—while questions went round in a whisper, who was the forestiere—the handsome forestiere—small, slight, meagre, white, with the light hair and moustache, and that melancholy face like a woman’s? Hamlin was quickly bored by all this magnificence; jostled to pieces, stifled by the heat, and incense, and heavy smell of the crowd. He was going out, when, as his eyes wandered from the silver and lights of the altar, and the shining mitres and stoles of the priests, to that sea of heads and bonnets and page: 83 hats in the nave, they were suddenly and unexpectedly arrested on the side steps of the high altar just opposite to him. There, among a lot of heads, but high above them, was a head half covered with coarse black lace and crisp dark hair half turned away from him; a majestic sweep of cheek and jaw, a solemn bend of neck. A moment later the bell tinkled for the elevation of the Host, the organ burst forth into a rapid jig, and the church was a sea of bent heads, of kneeling and stooping men and women. As the people suddenly sank like a wave about the steps, there remained, stranded as it were, and rising conspicuous, the tall and massive figure of Miss Brown. She was standing on the altar‐steps, whose orange‐red baize cloth threw up faint yellowish tints on to her long dress of some kind of soft white wool, while the crimson brocade on wall and column formed a sort of dull red background. In the mixed light of the yellow tapers and the grey incense‐laden sunbeams, her face acquired a diaphanous pallor, as if of a halo surrounding page: 84 it, as she stood, her hands hanging loosely clasped, looking calmly upon the bowed‐down crowd below. One minute, and the bell tinkling again, the people rose with a muffled, shuffling noise, and hid her from Hamlin. The organ and bells were pealing, the voices and violins rising shrill, the incense curling up in grey spirals into the sunbeams among the crimson hangings. The sonnet of Guido Cavalcanti, about the Madonna picture, enshrined at Or San Michele behind the blazing tapers, and in which he recognised his lady, came into Hamlin’s mind, with the sound of the music and the fumes of the incense; and together with it, a remembrance, a sort of picture, hopelessly jumbled, of Laura in the church at Avignon that Good Friday, and Beatrice among the blazing lights of the Heavenly Rose. The Mass was over, and people began to stir and leave the cathedral. Why had she remained standing while all the others had knelt? Perhaps from some Scotch puritanism; it was incongruous, thought Hamlin. But at the same time page: 85 he felt that, while incongruous in one way—for she ought certainly to have knelt like the others—it had in another respect completed an effect; this disbelieving girl had herself become, as it were, the Madonna of the place. He stood aside and let the crowd slowly pass out. Suddenly he saw, among the moving sea of heads, the flaxen curls of the little Perrys—the reddish beard of Melton Perry—the head, half covered with black lace and towering above the others, of Miss Brown. She was leading the two smaller children, and looked anxious in that great crowd. Up went one of the little yellow heads; she had taken the child in her arms. All of a sudden her eyes caught those of Hamlin standing close by, and yet separated from him by an impassable gulf of people. Her own lit up, and with them her whole face, in a smile, which he had never seen before. At last, near the church door, the crowd bore his friends straight towards him.

“What! here after all!” cried Perry. “Up to some mischief, you cunning dog!”

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“Up to the mischief of watching these good people’s devotion,” answered Hamlin.

“Why did you come?” asked the children eagerly.

“I suppose because I thought I should like to amuse myself after all,” answered Hamlin.

They were out on the cathedral steps, in the full glare of the blue sky. Outside a fountain was playing, penny whistles and trumpets shrilled on all sides, and the people at the stalls shrieked and bellowed out their wares to the motley crowd pouring out of the church. The children cast eyes of longing upon the booths, decorated with tricolour flags and sprigs of green, full of gaudy dolls, and squeaking wooden dogs, and tin trumpets, and drums; upon the tables, covered with bottles shaped like pyramids, and china men, and Garibaldi busts, full of red and yellow and green stuff, and with piles of cakes with little pictures of saints stuck in the middle of them.

“Buy us something,” cried the little ones to their father and Hamlin; and they squeezed page: 87 through the crowd, and began to hesitate before the varied splendours of the fair.

“You look very happy, Miss Brown,” said Hamlin, as they were waiting while the children made their choice. For really the girl looked quite radiant,—an expression of unwonted happiness, of freedom and amusement, shone through her quiet, almost solemn, face, like sunshine through a thin film of mist, all the richer for being half suppressed.

“It is all so beautiful,” she answered, looking round at the square surrounded by high black palaces draped with crimson brocade, and terraces covered with green, and at the cathedral, carved like a precious casket, beneath the blue sky.

“Not more beautiful than at the Villa Arnolfini, surely?”

She paused.

“No, not more beautiful; but more—I don’t know what.”

“More cheerful?”

She shook her head. “Yes; but not so page: 88 much that; more free—more—I don’t know how to call it.”

The children were laden with lollipops and sixpenny toys.

“Come,” said Perry suddenly, very cheerful, in his unaccustomed freedom from his better half, “you must choose a fairing, Annie. What will you have?—a doll?—a beautiful yellow ’kerchief with purple flowers, warranted the very worst colours in creation? some gingerbread?—a penny whistle? No, I’m sure you’re dying for some literature”—and he turned to a stone bench under a palace, where twopenny books were piled up, and quantities of leaflets of ballads, and lives of saints, and romantic histories, were strung to the wall.

“Oh!” he said, “there’s nothing for Annie here—she hates saints and knights and poetry; we must get her a book on the ‘Rights of Man,’ or a ‘History of the French Revolution,’ at the bookseller’s in Via Fillungo. But this is just what suits Hamlin”—and throwing page: 89 down a heap of coppers, he filled his hands with printed leaflets. “The tremendous adventures of the Giant Ferracciù,” he read; “the lamentable history of Lucia of Lamermoor; the loves of Irminda and Astolfo; the complaint of the beautiful Fair‐haired One,—these are the things for a poet,” and he stuffed them into Hamlin’s pockets.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Melton,” cried Hamlin.

“Ridiculous!” exclaimed Perry. “Who talks of things being ridiculous? I’m in good earnest”—and as they went along he began declaiming, with appropriate gestures, a ballad composed by some printer’s prentice from the libretto of an old opera.

The children shrieked with laughter at papa’s voice and faces; and Anne Brown burst into a curious subdued laugh, which, although scarcely audible, was extremely childish.

As they walked along the narrow crowded streets towards the inn where they were to page: 90 have dinner, Perry kept on ahead with the two elder children, and Hamlin hung back with Miss Brown and the two younger.

“Did you like the ceremony in the cathedral, Miss Brown?” he asked, irresistibly drawn on to understand why she had not knelt like the others.

“It was very beautiful,” she said; “and such beautiful vestments! Did you see the white and gold embroidery of the bishop?—and the purple dresses of the canons?—oh, it was lovely! But it makes me angry to see such things.”

“Why so?”

“Because it is dreadful—don’t you think?—to see all those people kneeling down and believing in all that nonsense.”

“How do you know it is nonsense? It seems to me very beautiful and consoling.”

She turned her big grey‐blue eyes upon him. “You don’t mean that you believe in all that mummery?” she asked, searchingly and reproachfully—“you who have studied so much; page: 91 you don’t believe that they can make God come down with their mutterings and kneelings?”

“I don’t believe it,” answered Hamlin, with some embarrassment; “but I think it is very beautiful, and those who do believe in it are very happy.”

“But you don’t think it is right that people should believe in falsehoods, and be the slaves of wicked priests?”

“How rabid you are!” laughed Hamlin. “No, I don’t believe; but I like to see others believing.”

“I don’t;” and after a minute she added, “Don’t you believe in anything at all?”

“Perhaps I do,” he said, fixing his eyes upon her. “I believe in beauty—I believe that is the one true thing in life.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” she answered; “but it seems to me dreadful that people should believe in priests and kings, and all sorts of lies.”

They relapsed into silence. As they walked along, Hamlin stole glances at his companion, page: 92 walking stately and serious like a saint or a sibyl by his side. He wondered what this girl would have been had she lived three or four centuries back. All this common modern radicalism distressed him in her—it had no colour and no perfume. Yet, after all, it was but the modern accessory instead of the medieval. This was the way in which beauty and romance were wasted nowadays—wasted, he thought, half consciously, yet not perhaps entirely, since it went to make up a characteristic whole.

Melton Perry took them to the chief inn of the place for dinner. He let each of the children choose whatever she preferred, ordered several bottles of Asti spumante, and gave it them to drink in champagne‐glasses. The one or two furtive English spinsters who were sipping their tea and reading their “Murray” at the other tables of the huge dining‐room, profusely ornamented with casts from the antique, and with cut‐paper fiy‐floppers, looked up with surprise at the festive party headed by Perry. page: 93 After dinner the two little ones began to hang their heads in the hot room, and gave signs of going to sleep.

“Good gracious!” said Perry, in a consternation, “what are we to do with these wretched infants? They’ll just prevent our taking a stroll in the town before returning home.”

“I think the best thing will be for them to sleep a little, sir,” suggested Anne Brown. “I will tuck them up on the sofa, and stay with them here while you and Mr Hamlin take Miss Mildred and Miss Winnie for a walk.”

“But I can’t think of leaving you behind, Annie,” cried Perry., “I know how much you would like to see the town.”

“I saw part of it this morning,” she swered; “and I really would just as soon stay with the children here.” There was no gainsaying her; so the two men sallied forth with the two elder children on a walk through the crowded and bannered streets; while Anne Brown remained sitting in the stuffy inn dining‐room by the side of the torpid little page: 94 ones. When they were out an idea suddenly struck Hamlin: this was the opportunity of getting a present for Anne Brown. He left Perry regaling the children on ices at a café opposite the Church of St Michael, which rose like a great marble bride‐cake into the bright blue sky, and made his way to a bookstall which he had noticed in the morning. He asked for the ‘Vita Nuova.’ The old bookseller looked over a number of little schedules in his desk, and produced several copies, new and second‐hand. They did not please Hamlin. At last he displayed a tiny Giunti volume, just delicately yellowed by age, and bound in vellum. Hamlin bought it, and secreted it in his pocket, and then joined Perry.

They went to the stable, where all the carioles from the country put up, and ordered the waggonette to be at the inn door in an hour. But as they were slowly mounting the wide stone staircase, with the eternal plaster dancing nymphs tripping it on each landing, Perry’s eye fell upon a large bill pasted upon the page: 95 opposite wall,—the playbill of the Teatro del Giglio,—on which, among the names of singers, fiddlers, chorus‐directors, scene‐painters, theatre tailors, and hairdressers, streamed, in scarlet letters, the title “Semiramide.”

!” cried Milton Perry, with the Tuscan expression for a sudden bright thought; “what do you two young minxes say to going to hear an opera for the first time in your lives?”

“Oh, papa!” shrilled Mildred.

“Oh, papa!” echoed Winnie, catching hold of his knees—

“Not so quick!” exclaimed Perry; “I’m by no means so sure of it. What’s to become of the two sleepy little worms?”

“Send them home with Annie,” suggested Mildred, promptly; “and you’ll take us home later.”

“Nothing of the kind, my young woman,” he answered sternly. “If any one goes to the opera it shall be Annie. Make up your mind for that.”

The dining‐room was deserted. On a sofa page: 96 near the open window lay the two tiny girls, propped up with cushions; Anne Brown, surly, flopping away the flies which buzzed about them, and reading a newspaper. She was resting the paper on her knees, and supporting her head with one hand, while the other moved slowly with the cut‐paper flopper; and in this position the young nursemaid struck Hamlin as a resuscitation, but more beautiful and even stranger, of one of Michaelangelo’s prophetic women.

“I say, Annie,”’ cried Perry, “what do you say to taking these two brats to the opera this evening?”

Anne Brown started up.

“To the opera, sir?” she cried, flushing with pleasure.

“Yes; these creatures have never been. They’re giving ‘Semiramide’ to‐night. I think it’s a good opera for children to begin with; because it will teach them betimes the unhappy complications which are apt to result from murdering one’s husband, and trying page: 97 to marry one’s son unawares. I’ll take the little ones back to the villa in half an hour, and quiet Mrs Perry’s feelings. Mr Hamlin will be delighted to accompany you and mesdemoiselles my daughters, to the theatre, and then bring you home. It won’t last late.”

“But,” exclaimed Anne Brown,—“ oh, how good of you, sir!—but are you sure you would not like to stay for the opera yourself? I could take the little ones home.”

“No, thank you, Annie. The fact is, I never have approved of Rossini’s music. Ever since my earliest infancy I have been shocked by its want of earnestness; what I like is a symphony in P minor, with plenty of chords of the diminished seventeenth. That’s the right sort of thing, isn’t it, Hamlin?”

A few minutes later Perry went away with the two little girls, leaving Mildred and Winhie with Anne Brown. Hamlin accompanied them down‐stairs to the waggonette.

“I will go to the theatre and secure a box,” he said, “and order a trap to take us back.”

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“All right!” cried Perry, as the waggonette rolled off. “Mind you don’t let those children bore you or worry poor Annie too much; and don’t leave them alone the whole afternoon.”

But, for some unaccountable reason, Hamlin did leave them alone the whole afternoon. After he had secured the box and ordered the carriage, he felt a sort of unwillingness to go back to the inn, perhaps unconsciously, to sit opposite the Perrys’ nursemaid; so he walked about the town till tea‐time, not troubling himself to inquire whether Anne Brown and the children might not prefer a stroll on the ramparts to the monotony of sitting for two mortal hours in the inn dining‐room.

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CHAPTER VIII.

AT dusk they hurriedly drank some of the thin yellow hotel‐tea; and then hastened to the theatre across the twilit street and square, where the garlands of Venetian lanterns were beginning to shine like jewels against the pale‐blue evening sky. Hamlin offered Anne Brown his arm, but she asked him to give it to Winnie Perry.

“Mildred shall take mine,” she said—“that’s the best way in case of a crowd.”

A crowd, alas! there was not; the liveried theatre servants (doubtless the same, in yellow striped waistcoats and drab gaiters, who carried out Semiramis’s throne, when the drop‐scene fell) made profuse bows to the little party, and handed them at least half‐a‐dozen play‐ page: 100 bills playbills , each as large as an ordinary flag. The children had never been in a theatre before, and were in a high state of delight at the lights, the gilding, the red plush, the scraping of fiddles; especially at being in a box, although the box on this occasion cost only about half as much as would a single seat in an English playhouse. Gradually the theatre filled; the boxes with people of quality from surrounding villas, gentlemen displaying an ampleness of shirt‐front, and ladies an ampleness of bosom conceivable only by the provincial mind; the pit with townsfolk and officers: the whole company staring with eyes and opera‐glasses, talking, singing, rapping with sticks and sabres till the overture began to roll out, when the audience immediately set up a kind of confused hum, supposed to be the melody of the piece, and which half drowned the meagre orchestra.

Then the opera began—an opera such as only the misery and genius of Italy could produce. There was a triumphal procession of six page: 101 ragamuffins in cotton trousers and with brass kettle‐covers on their heads, marching round and round the stage, bearing trophies of paper altar‐flowers and coffee‐biggins; there was a row of loathsome females, bloated or fleshless, in draggled robes too short or too long, shrieking out of tune in the queen’s chamber—and four rapscallions in nightgowns and Tam‐o’Shanters, and beards which would not stick on, standing round the little spirit‐lamp burning in front of Baal’s statue; there was the little black leathern portmanteau containing the Babylonian regalia, which a nigger with a black‐crape face carried after the Prince Arsaces; and there was the “magnificent apartment in the palace of Nineveh, disclosing a delicious view of the famous hanging gardens,” as described by the libretto, and furnished solely with a rush‐bottomed chair and a deal table, the table‐cloth of which was so short that Semiramis was obliged to lean her arm on it to prevent its slipping off, which, however, it finally did. Moreover, an incal‐ page: 102 culable incalculable amount of singing out of tune and pummelling one’s chest in moments of passion. No training, no dresses, no scenery, no orchestra. Still in this miserable performance there was an element of beauty and dignity, a something in harmony with the grand situation and glorious music: a splendidly made Semiramis, quite regal in her tawdry robes, who showered out volleys of roulades as a bird might shower out its trills; another young woman, plain, tall, and slight, playing the prince in corselet and helmet, with quite magnificent attitudes of defiance and command, with bare extended arm and supple wrist. The two girls who played the principal parts were sisters, and although they had certainly never sung much with a teacher, they must have sung a great deal together; and their voices and style melted into each other quite as if it were all a spontaneous effusion on their part. All the realities which money can get, dress, voice, training, accessories, scenery, utterly wanting; but instead, in the midst of pauperism, something which money page: 103 cannot always get, a certain ideal beauty and charm. Anne Brown was intensely interested in the performance; indeed, quite as much so, though in another way, as the children. During the intervals between the acts, she could speak of nothing but the story of Semiramis, and wonder what would happen next. Hamlin could scarcely help laughing at the concern which she manifested each time that the hero Arsace was bullied by the wicked Assur; but he could not laugh at the tragic way in which she conceived the whole situation. To him all that florid music of Rossini would already have destroyed any seriousness there might have been in the matter; but to Anne Brown it seemed as if all these splendid vocalisations took the place of the visible pomp and magnificence of Assyrian royalty: for her the heroes and heroines, the magi and satraps, were clad, not in the calico and tinsel of the theatre tailor, but in the musical splendours of Rossini. Hamlin, to say the truth, found the performance very wearisome; he had been page: 104 bored by Semiramide too often with Tietiens and Trebelli, to find it particularly interesting at the Teatro del Giglio of Lucca. He sat looking on listlessly, not so much at the stage as at the girl who was leaning out of the box before him, watching each movement of her hand and neck, as she devoured the performance with eyes and ears. But when at last there came the grand scene between Semiramis and her son, whatsoever was good in the performance suddenly burst forth; the two young women sang with a sort of spontaneous passion, a delight in the music and their own voices and themselves; and when, Semiramis having let down her back hair (as distressed heroines always do) from utter despair, Prince Arsaces, not to be outdone, pulled off his helmet, letting down his or her back hair also, and the two sank into each other’s arms and began the great duet, even Hamlin felt in a kind of way that this was passionate, and tragic, and grand. Anne Brown was seated sidewise in the front of the box, resting her mass page: 105 of iron‐black hair on her hand, her other hand lying loosely on her knees. Her chest heaved under her lace mantilla, and her parted lips quivered. It seemed to Hamlin as if this were the real Semiramis, the real mysterious king‐woman of antiquity—as if the music belonged in some sort of ideal way to her. When the curtain had fallen amid the yells of applause, she remained silent, letting Hamlin help her on with her shawl without turning her eyes from the stage. The lights were rapidly put out.

“We must go, Miss Brown,” cried Hamlin, “otherwise we shall be left in the dark.”

She turned, took little Winnie by the hand, and followed him, who led the elder Perry child, prattling loudly, to the stairs. There was a great crowd going down, whistling and humming tunes from the opera. From the force of habit Hamlin again offered Anne Brown his arm. But instead of accepting it, she, so to speak, rapidly plucked little Winnie from the ground, and raised her in her arms as if she were a feather.

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“Please let me carry that child,” cried Hamlin.

“Oh no,” she answered quietly. “I don’t mind carrying her at all; but she’s too heavy for you, sir.”

Out in the square the carriage was awaiting them in the bright starlight, where the red and green lamps were already dying out among the plane‐trees. In a minute they were rattling through the narrow streets, and out of the town by the dark tree‐masses of the bastions. The bells of the horses jingled as they went; the melancholy shrilling of insects rose from the fields all round; the vine‐garlands creaked in the wind. The two children were speedily asleep—one with her head on Hamlin’s shoulder, the other wrapped in her nurse’s shawl. Anne Brown bent over the side of the waggonette, a dark outline, the damp night breeze catching her hair. Neither spoke. Hamlin felt a sense of guilt stealing over him; of guilt for nothing very definite; of guilt towards no one else, but towards himself. page: 107 The drive passed like a dream. Suddenly the wheels grated on the gravel of the villa garden; dogs barked; lights appeared; the children were lifted out of the carriage asleep; and the voice of Perry whispered to Hamlin—

“I caught it nicely when I came home—I don’t know why, upon my soul! I’m sure I wish I had remained and amused myself with you.”

“I wish you had,” said Hamlin quite seriously, always with the sense of vague guilt towards himself; then added,—

“By the way, old man, I fear I really must go on to Florence to‐morrow afternoon.”

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CHAPTER IX.

PERRY could not at first understand his friend’s sudden decision, and violently combated it. But after a little while he said to himself that it must have been fearfully dull for Hamlin at the Villa Arnolfini, and that to have stayed so long was already much more than a miserable being like himself could expect. So that when his wife nearly went into hysterics at the notion of Hamlin—their poet‐painter, as she called him—suddenly departing, he represented to her, with more emphasis than was his wont, that Hamlin had bored himself to death, and must be bored no longer.

“And where are you going?” asked the limp and Sapphic lady, as they sat at lunch.

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“I have no notion,” answered Hamlin. “I know nothing beyond Florence for three days. I may go on to Rome, Naples, Egypt, America, Japan, or return to Hammersmith. I have no notion.”

“Ah, these poets!” cried Mrs Perry; “they never can tell whither their soul may waft their body.”

When they had finished, Hamlin asked whether he might say good‐bye to Anne Brown. “I have a little farewell gift to make her,” he explained.

Anne Brown was summoned into the studio; she evidently had only just heard the news.

“Are you going away, sir, really?” she asked.

“Yes,” answered Hamlin, drily; “I expect the gig must be waiting for me already.”

“And—are you not going to return, Mr Hamlin?”

“Oh no; I think I shall go to America this winter.”

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She was silent, and stood by the table in the attitude of a servant waiting for further orders.

“Before I go away,” said Hamlin, “I want to thank you, Miss Brown, for your kindness and patience, which have enabled me to make a sketch which will be very valuable for one of my next pictures, and,” he added, as she merely nodded her head, “I want to beg you to accept a little gift in remembrance of all the trouble I have given you.”

Anne Brown flushed, and her face suddenly changed, as if a whip‐cord had passed across it.

Hamlin took the little vellum‐bound volume from his pocket.

“You told me you had never read the ‘Vita Nuova,’ Miss Brown,” he said, “so I venture to ask you to accept this copy of it. I don’t know whether you like old books; I think them much prettier to look at. Good‐bye.”

The girl’s face cleared into a kind of radiance.

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“Thank you so much,” she said; “I will read it often.”

“And think of me sometimes and the trouble I gave you?”

“It was my duty, since Mrs Perry wished it, sir. Good‐bye—a good journey to you.”

“Good‐bye, Miss Brown.”

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