“Now, do give us a rest, Jack,” interrupted Vincent mercilessly. “I thought you said something about a nymph or a goddess. Trot her out, if you please, and let me have a look at her.”
Cranbrook turned sharply about and gave his comrade a look of undisguised disgust.
“Harry,” he said gravely, “really you don’t deserve the good fortune of being in Italy. I thought I knew you well; but I am afraid I shall have to revise my judgment of you. You are hopelessly and incorrigibly frivolous. I know, it is ungracious in me to tell you so,—I, who have accepted your bounty; but, by Jove, Harry, I don’t want to buy my pleasure at the price you seem to demand. I have enough to get home, at all events, and I shall repay you what I owe you.”
Vincent colored to the edge of his hair; he bit his lip, and was about to yield to the first impulse of his wrath. A moment’s reflection, however, sobered him; he gave his leg two energetic cuts with his slender cane, then turned slowly on his heel and sauntered away. Cranbrook stood long gazing sadly after him; he would have liked to call him back, but the aimless, leisurely gait irritated him, and the word died on his lips. Every step seemed to hint a vague defiance. “What does it matter to me,” it seemed to say, “what you think of me? You are of too little account to have the power to ruffle my temper.” As the last echo of the retiring footsteps was lost in the great marble silence, Cranbrook heaved a sigh, and, suddenly remembering his errand, walked rapidly down the corridor. He paused before a round-arched, doorless portal, which led into a large sunny room. In the embrazure of one of the windows, a young girl was sitting, with a drawing-board in her lap, apparently absorbed in the contemplation of a marble relief which was suspended upon the wall. From where Cranbrook stood, he could see her noble profile clearly outlined against the white wall; a thick coil of black hair was wound about the back of her head, and a dark, tight-fitting dress fell in simple folds about her magnificent form. There was a simplicity and an unstudied grace in her attitude which appealed directly to Cranbrook’s aesthetic nature. Ever since he entered Italy he had been on the alert for romantic impressions, and his eager fancy instinctively lifted every commonplace incident that appeared to have poetic possibilities in it into the region of romance. He remembered having seen somewhere a statue of Clio whose features bore a remote resemblance to those of the young girl before him—the same massive, boldly sculptured chin, the same splendid, columnar throat, the same grave immobility of vision. It seemed sacrilege to approach such a divine creature with a trivial remark about the weather or the sights of Rome, and yet some commonplace was evidently required to pave the way to further acquaintance. Cranbrook pondered for a moment, and then advanced boldly toward the window where the goddess was sitting. She turned her head and flashed a pair of brilliant black eyes upon him.