“Now, fire ahead,” said Eric, “get your stones ready. Mrs. Jerrold, pray begin; let us put down this young parrot with her ‘lusty, live wine.’”
“Her?” exclaimed Edith. “Him, you mean.”
“Not a bit of it; a woman wrote that, didn’t she?”
Eric was very confident. Norman agreed with him, and he glanced at Mae to discover her opinion. There was a look of secret amusement in her face, and a dim suspicion entered his mind, which decided him to watch her closely.
“Well,” said Mrs. Jerrold, “I will be lenient. You children may throw all the stones. It is not poetry to my taste. There’s no metre to it, and I should certainly be sorry to think a woman wrote it.”
“Why?” asked Mae, quickly, almost commandingly. Norman glanced at her. There was a tiny rosebud on each cheek.
“Because,” replied Mrs. Jerrold, “it is too—too what, Edith?”
“Physical, perhaps,” suggested Edith.
“It is a satyr-like sort of writing,” suggested Norman.
“I should advise this person,” said Edith—
“To keep still?” interrupted Eric.
“No, to go to work; that is what he or she needs.”
“That is odd advice,” said Mae; “suppose she—or he—is young, doesn’t know what to do, is a traveler, like ourselves, for instance.”
“There are plenty of benevolent schemes in Rome, I am sure,” said Edith, a trifle sanctimoniously.
“And there’s study,” said Albert, “art or history. Think what a chance for studying them one has here. Yes, Edith is right—work or study, and a general shutting up of the fancy is what this mind needs.”
“I disagree with you entirely,” said Norman with energy. “She needs play, relaxation, freedom.” Then he was sorry he had said it; Mae’s eyes sparkled so.
“She needs,” said Eric, pushing back his chair, “to be married. She is in love. That’s what’s the matter. Read those two last lines, Albert:
beyond them all,
Loud a woman’s heart makes call.’
“Don’t you see?”
“O, wise young man,” laughed Edith. But Mae arose. The scarlet buds in her cheeks flamed into full-blown roses. “There speaks the man,” she cried passionately, “and pray doesn’t a woman’s heart ever call for anything but love—aren’t life and liberty more than all the love in the world? Oh!” and she stopped abruptly.
“Well, we have wasted more time than is worth while over this young, wild gosling,” laughed Albert. “Let us hope she will take our advice.”
Mae shook her head involuntarily. There was a smile on Norman Mann’s lips.
“Here’s health and happiness to the poor child at any rate,” he said.
“He pities me,” thought Mae, “and I hate him.” But then she didn’t at all.