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 adder’s, 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.