Mr. Glascock had returned to Naples after his sufferings in the dining-room of the American Minister, and by the middle of February was back again in Florence. His father was still alive, and it was said that the old lord would now probably live through the winter. And it was understood that Mr. Glascock would remain in Italy. He had declared that he would pass his time between Naples, Rome, and Florence; but it seemed to his friends that Florence was, of the three, the most to his taste. He liked his room, he said, at the York Hotel, and he liked being in the capital. That was his own statement. His friends said that he liked being with Carry Spalding, the daughter of the American Minister; but none of them, then in Italy, were sufficiently intimate with him to express that opinion to himself.
It had been expressed more than once to Carry Spalding. The world in general says such things to ladies more openly than it does to men, and the probability of a girl's success in matrimony is canvassed in her hearing by those who are nearest to her with a freedom which can seldom be used in regard to a man. A man's most intimate friend hardly speaks to him of the prospect of his marriage till he himself has told that the engagement exists. The lips of no living person had suggested to Mr. Glascock that the American girl was to become his wife; but a great deal had been said to Carry Spalding about the conquest she had made. Her uncle, her aunt, her sister, and her great friend Miss Petrie, the poetess,—the Republican Browning as she was called,—had all spoken to her about it frequently. Olivia had declared her conviction that the thing was to be. Miss Petrie had, with considerable eloquence, explained to her friend that that English title, which was but the clatter of a sounding brass, should be regarded as a drawback rather than as an advantage. Mrs. Spalding, who was no poetess, would undoubtedly have welcomed Mr. Glascock as her niece's husband with all an aunt's energy. When told by Miss Petrie that old Lord Peterborough was a tinkling cymbal she snapped angrily at her gifted countrywoman. But she was too honest a woman, and too conscious also of her niece's strength, to say a word to urge her on. Mr. Spalding as an American minister, with full powers at the court of a European sovereign, felt that he had full as much to give as to receive; but he was well inclined to do both. He would have been much pleased to talk about his nephew Lord Peterborough, and he loved his niece dearly. But by the middle of February he was beginning to think that the matter had been long enough in training. If the Honourable Glascock meant anything, why did he not speak out his mind plainly? The American Minister in such matters was accustomed to fewer ambages than were common in the circles among which Mr. Glascock had lived.
In the meantime Caroline Spalding was suffering. She had allowed herself to think that Mr. Glascock intended to propose to her, and had acknowledged to herself that were he to do so she would certainly accept him. All that she had seen of him, since the day on which he had been courteous to her about the seat in the diligence, had been pleasant to her. She had felt the charm of his manner, his education, and his gentleness; and had told herself that with all her love for her own country, she would willingly become an Englishwoman for the sake of being that man's wife. But nevertheless the warnings of her great friend, the poetess, had not been thrown away upon her. She would put away from herself as far as she could any desire to become Lady Peterborough. There should be no bias in the man's favour on that score. The tinkling cymbal and the sounding brass should be nothing to her. But yet,—yet what a chance was there here for her? "They are dishonest, and rotten at the core," said Miss Petrie, trying to make her friend understand that a free American should under no circumstances place trust in an English aristocrat. "Their country, Carry, is a game played out, while we are still breasting the hill with our young lungs full of air." Carry Spalding was proud of her intimacy with the Republican Browning; but nevertheless she liked Mr. Glascock; and when Mr. Glascock had been ten days in Florence, on his third visit to the city, and had been four or five times at the embassy without expressing his intentions in the proper form, Carry Spalding began to think that she had better save herself from a heartbreak while salvation might be within her reach. She perceived that her uncle was gloomy and almost angry when he spoke of Mr. Glascock, and that her aunt was fretful with disappointment. The Republican Browning had uttered almost a note of triumph; and had it not been that Olivia persisted, Carry Spalding would have consented to go away with Miss Petrie to Rome. "The old stones are rotten too," said the poetess; "but their dust tells no lies." That well known piece of hers—"Ancient Marbles, while ye crumble," was written at this time, and contained an occult reference to Mr. Glascock and her friend.
But Livy Spalding clung to the alliance. She probably knew her sister's heart better than did the others; and perhaps also had a clearer insight into Mr. Glascock's character. She was at any rate clearly of opinion that there should be no running away. "Either you do like him, or you don't. If you do, what are you to get by going to Rome?" said Livy.
"I shall get quit of doubt and trouble."
"I call that cowardice. I would never run away from a man, Carry. Aunt Sophie forgets that they don't manage these things in England just as we do."
"I don't know why there should be a difference."
"Nor do I;—only that there is. You haven't read so many of their novels as I have."
"Who would ever think of learning to live out of an English novel?" said Carry.
"I am not saying that. You may teach him to live how you like afterwards. But if you have anything to do with people it must be well to know what their manners are. I think the richer sort of people in England slide into these things more gradually than we do. You stand your ground, Carry, and hold your own, and take the goods the gods provide you." Though Caroline Spalding opposed her sister's arguments, and was particularly hard upon that allusion to "the richer sort of people,"—which, as she knew, Miss Petrie would have regarded as evidence of reverence for sounding brasses and tinkling cymbals,—nevertheless she loved Livy dearly for what she said, and kissed the sweet counsellor, and resolved that she would for the present decline the invitation of the poetess. Then was Miss Petrie somewhat indignant with her friend, and threw out her scorn in those lines which have been mentioned.
But the American Minister hardly knew how to behave himself when he met Mr. Glascock, or even when he was called upon to speak of him. Florence no doubt is a large city, and is now the capital of a great kingdom; but still people meet in Florence much more frequently than they do in Paris or in London. It may almost be said that they whose habit it is to go into society, and whose circumstances bring them into the same circles, will see each other every day. Now the American Minister delighted to see and to be seen in all places frequented by persons of a certain rank and position in Florence. Having considered the matter much, he had convinced himself that he could thus best do his duty as minister from the great Republic of Free States to the newest and,—as he called it,—"the free-est of the European kingdoms." The minister from France was a marquis; he from England was an earl; from Spain had come a count,—and so on. In the domestic privacy of his embassy Mr. Spalding would be severe enough upon the sounding brasses and the tinkling cymbals, and was quite content himself to be the Honourable Jonas G. Spalding,—Honourable because selected by his country for a post of honour; but he liked to be heard among the cymbals and seen among the brasses, and to feel that his position was as high as theirs. Mr. Glascock also was frequently in the same circles, and thus it came to pass that the two gentlemen saw each other almost daily. That Mr. Spalding knew well how to bear himself in his high place no one could doubt; but he did not quite know how to carry himself before Mr. Glascock. At home at Boston he would have been more completely master of the situation.
He thought too that he began to perceive that Mr. Glascock avoided him, though he would hear on his return home that that gentleman had been at the embassy, or had been walking in the Cascine with his nieces. That their young ladies should walk in public places with unmarried gentlemen is nothing to American fathers and guardians. American young ladies are accustomed to choose their own companions. But the minister was tormented by his doubts as to the ways of Englishmen, and as to the phase in which English habits might most properly exhibit themselves in Italy. He knew that people were talking about Mr. Glascock and his niece. Why then did Mr. Glascock avoid him? It was perhaps natural that Mr. Spalding should have omitted to observe that Mr. Glascock was not delighted by those lectures on the American constitution which formed so large a part of his ordinary conversation with Englishmen.
It happened one afternoon that they were thrown together so closely for nearly an hour that neither could avoid the other. They were both at the old palace in which the Italian parliament is held, and were kept waiting during some long delay in the ceremonies of the place. They were seated next to each other, and during such delay there was nothing for them but to talk. On the other side of each of them was a stranger, and not to talk in such circumstances would be to quarrel. Mr. Glascock began by asking after the ladies.
"They are quite well, sir, thank you," said the minister. "I hope that Lord Peterborough was pretty well when last you heard from Naples, Mr. Glascock." Mr. Glascock explained that his father's condition was not much altered, and then there was silence for a moment.
"Your nieces will remain with you through the spring I suppose?" said Mr. Glascock.
"Such is their intention, sir."
"They seem to like Florence, I think."
"Yes;—yes; I think they do like Florence. They see this capital, sir, perhaps under more favourable circumstances than are accorded to most of my countrywomen. Our republican simplicity, Mr. Glascock, has this drawback, that away from home it subjects us somewhat to the cold shade of unobserved obscurity. That it possesses merits which much more than compensate for this trifling evil I should be the last man in Europe to deny." It is to be observed that American citizens are always prone to talk of Europe. It affords the best counterpoise they know to that other term, America,—and America and the United States are of course the same. To speak of France or of England as weighing equally against their own country seems to an American to be an absurdity,—and almost an insult to himself. With Europe he can compare himself, but even this is done generally in the style of the Republican Browning when she addressed the Ancient Marbles.
"Undoubtedly," said Mr. Glascock, "the family of a minister abroad has great advantages in seeing the country to which he is accredited."
"That is my meaning, sir. But, as I was remarking, we carry with us as a people no external symbols of our standing at home. The wives and daughters, sir, of the most honoured of our citizens have no nomenclature different from that which belongs to the least noted among us. It is perhaps a consequence of this that Europeans who are accustomed in their social intercourse to the assistance of titles, will not always trouble themselves to inquire who and what are the American citizens who may sit opposite to them at table. I have known, Mr. Glascock, the wife and daughter of a gentleman who has been thrice sent as senator from his native State to Washington, to remain as disregarded in the intercourse of a European city, as though they had formed part of the family of some grocer from your Russell Square!"
"Let the Miss Spaldings go where they will," said Mr. Glascock, "they will not fare in that way."
"The Miss Spaldings, sir, are very much obliged to you," said the minister with a bow.
"I regard it as one of the luckiest chances of my life that I was thrown in with them at St. Michael as I was," said Mr. Glascock with something like warmth.
"I am sure, sir, they will never forget the courtesy displayed by you on that occasion," said the minister bowing again.
"That was a matter of course. I and my friend would have done the same for the grocer's wife and daughter of whom you spoke. Little services such as that do not come from appreciation of merit, but are simply the payment of the debt due by all men to all women."
"Such is certainly the rule of living in our country, sir," said Mr. Spalding.
"The chances are," continued the Englishman, "that no further observation follows the payment of such a debt. It has been a thing of course."
"We delight to think it so, Mr. Glascock, in our own cities."
"But in this instance it has given rise to one of the pleasantest, and as I hope most enduring friendships that I have ever formed," said Mr. Glascock with enthusiasm. What could the American Minister do but bow again three times? And what other meaning could he attach to such words than that which so many of his friends had been attributing to Mr. Glascock for some weeks past? It had occurred to Mr. Spalding, even since he had been sitting in his present close proximity to Mr. Glascock, that it might possibly be his duty as an uncle having to deal with an Englishman, to ask that gentleman what were his intentions. He would do his duty let it be what it might; but the asking of such a question would be very disagreeable to him. For the present he satisfied himself with inviting his neighbour to come and drink tea with Mrs. Spalding on the next evening but one. "The girls will be delighted, I am sure," said he, thinking himself to be justified in this friendly familiarity by Mr. Glascock's enthusiasm. For Mr. Spalding was clearly of opinion that, let the value of republican simplicity be what it might, an alliance with the crumbling marbles of Europe would in his niece's circumstances be not inexpedient. Mr. Glascock accepted the invitation with alacrity, and the minister when he was closeted with his wife that evening declared his opinion that after all the Britisher meant fighting. The aunt told the girls that Mr. Glascock was coming, and in order that it might not seem that a net was being specially spread for him, others were invited to join the party. Miss Petrie consented to be there, and the Italian, Count Buonarosci, to whose presence, though she could not speak to him, Mrs. Spalding was becoming accustomed. It was painful to her to feel that she could not communicate with those around her, and for that reason she would have avoided Italians. But she had an idea that she could not thoroughly realise the advantages of foreign travel unless she lived with foreigners; and, therefore, she was glad to become intimate at any rate with the outside of Count Buonarosci.
"I think your uncle is wrong, dear," said Miss Petrie early in the day to her friend.
"But why? He has done nothing more than what is just civil."
"If Mr. Glascock kept a store in Broadway he would not have thought it necessary to shew the same civility."
"Yes;—if we all liked the Mr. Glascock who kept the store."
"Caroline," said the poetess with severe eloquence, "can you put your hand upon your heart and say that this inherited title, this tinkling cymbal as I call it, has no attraction for you or yours? Is it the unadorned simple man that you welcome to your bosom, or a thing of stars and garters, a patch of parchment, the minion of a throne, the lordling of twenty descents, in which each has been weaker than that before it, the hero of a scutcheon, whose glory is in his quarterings, and whose worldly wealth comes from the sweat of serfs whom the euphonism of an effete country has learned to decorate with the name of tenants?"
But Caroline Spalding had a spirit of her own, and had already made up her mind that she would not be talked down by Miss Petrie. "Uncle Jonas," said she, "asks him because we like him; and would do so too if he kept the store in Broadway. But if he did keep the store perhaps we should not like him."
"I trow not," said Miss Petrie.
Livy was much more comfortable in her tactics, and without consulting anybody sent for a hairdresser. "It's all very well for Wallachia," said Livy,—Miss Petrie's name was Wallachia,—"but I know a nice sort of man when I see him, and the ways of the world are not to be altered because Wally writes poetry."
When Mr. Glascock was announced Mrs. Spalding's handsome rooms were almost filled, as rooms in Florence are filled,—obstruction in every avenue, a crowd in every corner, and a block at every doorway, not being among the customs of the place. Mr. Spalding immediately caught him,—intercepting him between the passages and the ladies,—and engaged him at once in conversation.
"Your John S. Mill is a great man," said the minister.
"They tell me so," said Mr. Glascock. "I don't read what he writes myself."
This acknowledgment seemed to the minister to be almost disgraceful, and yet he himself had never read a word of Mr. Mill's writings. "He is a far-seeing man," continued the minister. "He is one of the few Europeans who can look forward, and see how the rivers of civilization are running on. He has understood that women must at last be put upon an equality with men."
"Can he manage that men shall have half the babies?" said Mr. Glascock, thinking to escape by an attempt at playfulness.
But the minister was down upon him at once,—had him by the lappet of his coat, though he knew how important it was for his dear niece that he should allow Mr. Glascock to amuse himself this evening after another fashion. "I have an answer ready, sir, for that difficulty," he said. "Step aside with me for a moment. The question is important, and I should be glad if you would communicate my ideas to your great philosopher. Nature, sir, has laid down certain laws, which are immutable; and, against them,—"
But Mr. Glascock had not come to Florence for this. There were circumstances in his present position which made him feel that he would be gratified in escaping, even at the cost of some seeming incivility. "I must go in to the ladies at once," he said, "or I shall never get a word with them." There came across the minister's brow a momentary frown of displeasure, as though he felt that he were being robbed of that which was justly his own. For an instant his grasp fixed itself more tightly to the coat. It was quite within the scope of his courage to hold a struggling listener by physical strength;—but he remembered that there was a purpose, and he relaxed his hold.
"I will take another opportunity," said the minister. "As you have raised that somewhat trite objection of the bearing of children, which we in our country, sir, have altogether got over, I must put you in possession of my views on that subject; but I will find another occasion." Then Mr. Glascock began to reflect whether an American lady, married in England, would probably want to see much of her uncle in her adopted country.
Mrs. Spalding was all smiles when her guest reached her. "We did not mean to have such a crowd of people," she said, whispering; "but you know how one thing leads to another, and people here really like short invitations." Then the minister's wife bowed very low to an Italian lady, and for the moment wished herself in Beacon Street. It was a great trouble to her that she could not pluck up courage to speak a word in Italian. "I know more about it than some that are glib enough," she would say to her niece Livy, "but these Tuscans are so particular with their Bocca Toscana."
It was almost spiteful on the part of Miss Petrie,—the manner in which, on this evening, she remained close to her friend Caroline Spalding. It is hardly possible to believe that it came altogether from high principle,—from a determination to save her friend from an impending danger. One's friend has no right to decide for one what is, and what is not dangerous. Mr. Glascock after awhile found himself seated on a fixed couch, that ran along the wall, between Carry Spalding and Miss Petrie; but Miss Petrie was almost as bad to him as had been the minister himself. "I am afraid," she said, looking up into his face with some severity, and rushing upon her subject with audacity, "that the works of your Browning have not been received in your country with that veneration to which they are entitled."
"Do you mean Mr. or Mrs. Browning?" asked Mr. Glascock,—perhaps with some mistaken idea that the lady was out of her depth, and did not know the difference.
"Either;—both; for they are one, the same, and indivisible. The spirit and germ of each is so reflected in the outcome of the other, that one sees only the result of so perfect a combination, and one is tempted to acknowledge that here and there a marriage may have been arranged in Heaven. I don't think that in your country you have perceived this, Mr. Glascock."
"I am not quite sure that we have," said Mr. Glascock.
"Yours is not altogether an inglorious mission," continued Miss Petrie.
"I've got no mission," said Mr. Glascock,—"either from the Foreign Office, or from my own inner convictions."
Miss Petrie laughed with a scornful laugh. "I spoke, sir, of the mission of that small speck on the earth's broad surface, of which you think so much, and which we call Great Britain."
"I do think a good deal of it," said Mr. Glascock.
"It has been more thought of than any other speck of the same size," said Carry Spalding.
"True," said Miss Petrie, sharply;—"because of its iron and coal. But the mission I spoke of was this." And she put forth her hand with an artistic motion as she spoke. "It utters prophecies, though it cannot read them. It sends forth truth, though it cannot understand it. Though its own ears are deaf as adders', it is the nursery of poets, who sing not for their own countrymen, but for the higher sensibilities and newer intelligences of lands, in which philanthropy has made education as common as the air that is breathed."
"Wally," said Olivia, coming up to the poetess, in anger that was almost apparent, "I want to take you, and introduce you to the Marchesa Pulti."
But Miss Petrie no doubt knew that the eldest son of an English lord was at least as good as an Italian marchesa. "Let her come here," said the poetess, with her grandest smile.