“Did the child’s death affect him much?”
“I know nothing about it.”
They smoked in silence for a few minutes. Then Mallard observed, without taking the cigar from his lips:
“How much better Mrs. Baske looks!”
“Naturally the change is more noticeable to you than to us. It has come very slowly. I dare say you see other changes as well?”
Spence’s eye twinkled as he spoke.
“I was prepared for them. That she should stay abroad with you all this time is in itself significant. Where does she propose to live when you are back in England?”
“Why, there hasn’t been a word said on the subject. Eleanor is waiting; doesn’t like to ask questions. We shall have our house in Chelsea again, and she is very welcome to share it with us if she likes. I think it is certain she won’t go back to Lancashire; and the notion of her living with the Elgars is improbable.”
“How far does the change go?” inquired Mallard, with hesitancy.
“I can’t tell you, for we are neither of us in her confidence. But she is no longer a precisian. She has read a great deal; most of it reading of a very substantial kind. Not at all connected with religion; it would be a mistake to suppose that she has been going in for a course of modern criticism, and that kind of thing. The Greek and Latin authors she knows very fairly, in English or French translations. What would our friend Bradshaw say? She has grappled with whole libraries of solid historians. She knows the Italian poets Really, no common case of a woman educating herself at that age.”
“Would you mind telling me what her age is?”
“Twenty-seven, last February. To-day she has been mute; generally, when we are in interesting places, she rather likes to show her knowledge—of course we encourage her to do so. A blessed form of vanity, compared with certain things one remembers!”
“She looks as if she had by no means conquered peace of mind,” observed Mallard, after another silence.
“I don’t suppose she has. I don’t even know whether she’s on the way to it.”
“How about the chapel at Bartles?”
Spence shook his head and laughed, and the dialogue came to an end.
The next morning all started for Rome.
LEARNING AND TEACHING
Easter was just gone by. The Spences had timed their arrival in Rome so as to be able to spend a few days with certain friends, undisturbed by bell-clanging and the rush of trippers, before at length returning to England. Their hotel was in the Babuino. Mallard, who was uncertain about his movements during the next month or two, went to quarters with which he was familiar in the Via Bocca di Leone. He brought his Paestum picture to the hotel, but declined to leave it there. Mallard was deficient in those properties of the showman which are so necessary to an artist if he would make his work widely known and sell it for substantial sums; he hated anything like private exhibition, and dreaded an offer to purchase from any one who had come in contact with him by way of friendly introduction.