“You said nothing about it in your letters. You—”
“I was not sure it was she; you never told me her name. When I had divined the fact, I was so soon to see you, that I thought best to keep it till we met.”
Gregory tried to speak, but he let Belsky go on.
“If you think that the world has spoiled her, that she will be different from what she was in her home among your mountains, let me reassure you. In her you will find the miracle of a woman whom no flattery can turn the head. I have watched her in your interest; I have tested her. She is what you saw her last.”
“Surely,” asked Gregory, in an anguish for what he now dreaded, “you haven’t spoken to her of me?”
“Not by name, no. I could not have that indiscretion—”
“The name is nothing. Have you said that you knew me—Of course not! But have you hinted at any knowledge—Because—”
“You will hear!” said Belsky; and he poured out upon Gregory the story of what he had done. “She did not deny anything. She was greatly moved, but she did not refuse to let me bid you hope—”
“Oh!” Gregory took his head between his hands. “You have spoiled my life!”
“Spoiled” Belsky stopped aghast.
“I told you my story in a moment of despicable weakness—of impulsive folly. But how could I dream that you would ever meet her? How could I imagine that you would speak to her as you have done?” He groaned, and began to creep giddily about the room in his misery. “Oh, oh, oh! What shall I do?”
“But I do not understand!” Belsky began. “If I have committed an error—”
“Oh, an error that never could be put right in all eternity!”
“Then let me go to her—let me tell her—”
“Keep away from her!” shouted Gregory. “Do you hear? Never go near her again!”
“Ah, I beg your pardon! I don’t know what I’m doing-saying. What will she think—what will she think of me!” He had ceased to speak to Belsky; he collapsed into a chair, and hid his face in his arms stretched out on the table before him.
Belsky watched him in the stupefaction which the artistic nature feels when life proves sentient under its hand, and not the mere material of situations and effects. He could not conceive the full measure of the disaster he had wrought, the outrage of his own behavior had been lost to him in his preoccupation with the romantic end to be accomplished. He had meant to be the friend, the prophet, to these American lovers, whom he was reconciling and interpreting to each other; but in some point he must have misunderstood. Yet the error was not inexpiable; and in his expiation he could put the seal to his devotion. He left the room, where Gregory made no effort to keep him.
He walked down the street from the hotel to the Arno, and in a few moments he stood on the bridge, where he had talked with that joker in the morning, as they looked down together on the boiling river. He had a strange wish that the joker might have been with him again, to learn that there were some things which could not be joked away.