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´╗┐Title: Mrs. General Talboys
Author: Trollope, Anthony
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mrs. General Talboys" ***

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Transcribed from the 1864 Chapman and Hall "Tales of All Countries"
edition by David Price, email ccx074@pglaf.org



                          MRS. GENERAL TALBOYS.


WHY Mrs. General Talboys first made up her mind to pass the winter of
1859 at Rome I never clearly understood.  To myself she explained her
purposes, soon after her arrival at the Eternal City, by declaring, in
her own enthusiastic manner, that she was inspired by a burning desire to
drink fresh at the still living fountains of classical poetry and
sentiment.  But I always thought that there was something more than this
in it.  Classical poetry and sentiment were doubtless very dear to her;
but so also, I imagine, were the substantial comforts of Hardover Lodge,
the General's house in Berkshire; and I do not think that she would have
emigrated for the winter had there not been some slight domestic
misunderstanding.  Let this, however, be fully made clear,--that such
misunderstanding, if it existed, must have been simply an affair of
temper.  No impropriety of conduct has, I am very sure, ever been imputed
to the lady.  The General, as all the world knows, is hot; and Mrs.
Talboys, when the sweet rivers of her enthusiasm are unfed by congenial
waters, can, I believe, make herself disagreeable.

But be this as it may, in November, 1859, Mrs. Talboys came among us
English at Rome, and soon succeeded in obtaining for herself a
comfortable footing in our society.  We all thought her more remarkable
for her mental attributes than for physical perfection; but,
nevertheless, she was, in her own way, a sightly woman.  She had no
special brilliance, either of eye or complexion, such as would produce
sudden flames in susceptible hearts; nor did she seem to demand instant
homage by the form and step of a goddess; but we found her to be a
good-looking woman of some thirty or thirty-three years of age, with
soft, peach-like cheeks,--rather too like those of a cherub, with
sparkling eyes which were hardly large enough, with good teeth, a white
forehead, a dimpled chin and a full bust.  Such, outwardly, was Mrs.
General Talboys.  The description of the inward woman is the purport to
which these few pages will be devoted.

There are two qualities to which the best of mankind are much subject,
which are nearly related to each other, and as to which the world has not
yet decided whether they are to be classed among the good or evil
attributes of our nature.  Men and women are under the influence of them
both, but men oftenest undergo the former, and women the latter.  They
are ambition and enthusiasm.  Now Mrs. Talboys was an enthusiastic woman.

As to ambition, generally as the world agrees with Mark Antony in
stigmatising it as a grievous fault, I am myself clear that it is a
virtue; but with ambition at present we have no concern.  Enthusiasm
also, as I think, leans to virtue's side; or, at least, if it be a fault,
of all faults it is the prettiest.  But then, to partake at all of
virtue, or even to be in any degree pretty, the enthusiasm must be true.

Bad coin is known from good by the ring of it; and so is bad enthusiasm.
Let the coiner be ever so clever at his art, in the coining of enthusiasm
the sound of true gold can never be imparted to the false metal.  And I
doubt whether the cleverest she in the world can make false enthusiasm
palatable to the taste of man.  To the taste of any woman the enthusiasm
of another woman is never very palatable.

We understood at Home that Mrs. Talboys had a considerable family,--four
or five children, we were told; but she brought with her only one
daughter, a little girl about twelve years of age.  She had torn herself
asunder, as she told me, from the younger nurslings of her heart, and had
left them to the care of a devoted female attendant, whose love was all
but maternal.  And then she said a word or two about the General, in
terms which made me almost think that this quasi-maternal love extended
itself beyond the children.  The idea, however, was a mistaken one,
arising from the strength of her language, to which I was then
unaccustomed.  I have since become aware that nothing can be more
decorous than old Mrs. Upton, the excellent head-nurse at Hardover Lodge;
and no gentleman more discreet in his conduct than General Talboys.

And I may as well here declare, also, that there could be no more
virtuous woman than the General's wife.  Her marriage vow was to her
paramount to all other vows and bonds whatever.  The General's honour was
quite safe when he sent her off to Rome by herself; and he no doubt knew
that it was so.  Illi robur et aes triplex, of which I believe no weapons
of any assailant could get the better.  But, nevertheless, we used to
fancy that she had no repugnance to impropriety in other women,--to what
the world generally calls impropriety.  Invincibly attached herself to
the marriage tie, she would constantly speak of it as by no means
necessarily binding on others; and, virtuous herself as any griffin of
propriety, she constantly patronised, at any rate, the theory of
infidelity in her neighbours.  She was very eager in denouncing the
prejudices of the English world, declaring that she had found existence
among them to be no longer possible for herself.  She was hot against the
stern unforgiveness of British matrons, and equally eager in reprobating
the stiff conventionalities of a religion in which she said that none of
its votaries had faith, though they all allowed themselves to be
enslaved.

We had at that time a small set at Rome, consisting chiefly of English
and Americans, who habitually met at each other's rooms, and spent many
of our evening hours in discussing Italian politics.  We were, most of
us, painters, poets, novelists, or sculptors;--perhaps I should say
would-be painters, poets, novelists, and sculptors,--aspirants hoping to
become some day recognised; and among us Mrs. Talboys took her place,
naturally enough, on account of a very pretty taste she had for painting.

I do not know that she ever originated anything that was grand; but she
made some nice copies, and was fond, at any rate, of art conversation.
She wrote essays, too, which she showed in confidence to various
gentlemen, and had some idea of taking lessons in modelling.

In all our circle Conrad Mackinnon, an American, was, perhaps, the person
most qualified to be styled its leader.  He was one who absolutely did
gain his living, and an ample living too, by his pen, and was regarded on
all sides as a literary lion, justified by success in roaring at any tone
he might please.  His usual roar was not exactly that of a sucking-dove
or a nightingale; but it was a good-humoured roar, not very offensive to
any man, and apparently acceptable enough to some ladies.  He was a big
burly man, near to fifty as I suppose, somewhat awkward in his gait, and
somewhat loud in his laugh.  But though nigh to fifty, and thus ungainly,
he liked to be smiled on by pretty women, and liked, as some said, to be
flattered by them also.  If so, he should have been happy, for the ladies
at Rome at that time made much of Conrad Mackinnon.

Of Mrs. Mackinnon no one did make very much, and yet she was one of the
sweetest, dearest, quietest, little creatures that ever made glad a man's
fireside.  She was exquisitely pretty, always in good humour, never
stupid, self-denying to a fault, and yet she was generally in the
background.  She would seldom come forward of her own will, but was
contented to sit behind her teapot and hear Mackinnon do his roaring.  He
was certainly much given to what the world at Rome called flirting, but
this did not in the least annoy her.  She was twenty years his junior,
and yet she never flirted with any one.  Women would tell
her--good-natured friends--how Mackinnon went on; but she received such
tidings as an excellent joke, observing that he had always done the same,
and no doubt always would until he was ninety.  I do believe that she was
a happy woman; and yet I used to think that she should have been happier.
There is, however, no knowing the inside of another man's house, or
reading the riddles of another man's joy and sorrow.

We had also there another lion,--a lion cub,--entitled to roar a little,
and of him also I must say something.  Charles O'Brien was a young man,
about twenty-five years of age, who had sent out from his studio in the
preceding year a certain bust, supposed by his admirers to be unsurpassed
by any effort of ancient or modern genius.  I am no judge of sculpture,
and will not, therefore, pronounce an opinion; but many who considered
themselves to be judges, declared that it was a "goodish head and
shoulders," and nothing more.  I merely mention the fact, as it was on
the strength of that head and shoulders that O'Brien separated himself
from a throng of others such as himself in Rome, walked solitary during
the days, and threw himself at the feet of various ladies when the days
were over.  He had ridden on the shoulders of his bust into a prominent
place in our circle, and there encountered much feminine admiration--from
Mrs. General Talboys and others.

Some eighteen or twenty of us used to meet every Sunday evening in Mrs.
Mackinnon's drawing-room.  Many of us, indeed, were in the habit of
seeing each other daily, and of visiting together the haunts in Rome
which are best loved by art-loving strangers; but here, in this
drawing-room, we were sure to come together, and here before the end of
November, Mrs. Talboys might always be found, not in any accustomed seat,
but moving about the room as the different male mental attractions of our
society might chance to move themselves.  She was at first greatly taken
by Mackinnon,--who also was, I think, a little stirred by her admiration,
though he stoutly denied the charge.  She became, however, very dear to
us all before she left us, and certainly we owed to her our love, for she
added infinitely to the joys of our winter.

"I have come here to refresh myself," she said to Mackinnon one
evening--to Mackinnon and myself; for we were standing together.

"Shall I get you tea?" said I.

"And will you have something to eat?" Mackinnon asked.

"No, no, no;" she answered.  "Tea, yes; but for Heaven's sake let nothing
solid dispel the associations of such a meeting as this!"

"I thought you might have dined early," said Mackinnon.  Now Mackinnon
was a man whose own dinner was very dear to him.  I have seen him become
hasty and unpleasant, even under the pillars of the Forum, when he
thought that the party were placing his fish in jeopardy by their desire
to linger there too long.

"Early!  Yes.  No; I know not when it was.  One dines and sleeps in
obedience to that dull clay which weighs down so generally the particle
of our spirit.  But the clay may sometimes be forgotten.  Here I can
always forget it."

"I thought you asked for refreshment," I said.  She only looked at me,
whose small attempts at prose composition had, up to that time, been
altogether unsuccessful, and then addressed herself in reply to
Mackinnon.

"It is the air which we breathe that fills our lungs and gives us life
and light.  It is that which refreshes us if pure, or sinks us into
stagnation if it be foul.  Let me for awhile inhale the breath of an
invigorating literature.  Sit down, Mr. Mackinnon; I have a question that
I must put to you."  And then she succeeded in carrying him off into a
corner.  As far as I could see he went willingly enough at that time,
though he soon became averse to any long retirement in company with Mrs.
Talboys.

We none of us quite understood what were her exact ideas on the subject
of revealed religion.  Somebody, I think, had told her that there were
among us one or two whose opinions were not exactly orthodox according to
the doctrines of the established English church.  If so, she was
determined to show us that she also was advanced beyond the prejudices of
an old and dry school of theology.  "I have thrown down all the barriers
of religion," she said to poor Mrs. Mackinnon, "and am looking for the
sentiments of a pure Christianity."

"Thrown down all the barriers of religion!" said Mrs. Mackinnon, in a
tone of horror which was not appreciated.

"Indeed, yes," said Mrs. Talboys, with an exulting voice.  "Are not the
days for such trammels gone by?"

"But yet you hold by Christianity?"

"A pure Christianity, unstained by blood and perjury, by hypocrisy and
verbose genuflection.  Can I not worship and say my prayers among the
clouds?"  And she pointed to the lofty ceiling and the handsome
chandelier.

"But Ida goes to church," said Mrs. Mackinnon.  Ida Talboys was her
daughter.  Now, it may be observed, that many who throw down the barriers
of religion, so far as those barriers may affect themselves, still
maintain them on behalf of their children.  "Yes," said Mrs. Talboys;
"dear Ida! her soft spirit is not yet adapted to receive the perfect
truth.  We are obliged to govern children by the strength of their
prejudices."  And then she moved away, for it was seldom that Mrs.
Talboys remained long in conversation with any lady.

Mackinnon, I believe, soon became tired of her.  He liked her flattery,
and at first declared that she was clever and nice; but her niceness was
too purely celestial to satisfy his mundane tastes.  Mackinnon himself
can revel among the clouds in his own writings, and can leave us
sometimes in doubt whether he ever means to come back to earth; but when
his foot is on terra firma, he loves to feel the earthly substratum which
supports his weight.  With women he likes a hand that can remain an
unnecessary moment within his own, an eye that can glisten with the
sparkle of champagne, a heart weak enough to make its owner's arm tremble
within his own beneath the moonlight gloom of the Coliseum arches.  A
dash of sentiment the while makes all these things the sweeter; but the
sentiment alone will not suffice for him.  Mrs. Talboys did, I believe,
drink her glass of champagne, as do other ladies; but with her it had no
such pleasing effect.  It loosened only her tongue, but never her eye.
Her arm, I think, never trembled, and her hand never lingered.  The
General was always safe, and happy, perhaps, in his solitary safety.

It so happened that we had unfortunately among us two artists who had
quarrelled with their wives.  O'Brien, whom I have before mentioned, was
one of them.  In his case, I believe him to have been almost as free from
blame as a man can be whose marriage was in itself a fault.  However, he
had a wife in Ireland some ten years older than himself; and though he
might sometimes almost forget the fact, his friends and neighbours were
well aware of it.  In the other case the whole fault probably was with
the husband.  He was an ill-tempered, bad-hearted man, clever enough, but
without principle; and he was continually guilty of the great sin of
speaking evil of the woman whose name he should have been anxious to
protect.  In both cases our friend Mrs. Talboys took a warm interest, and
in each of them she sympathised with the present husband against the
absent wife.

Of the consolation which she offered in the latter instance we used to
hear something from Mackinnon.  He would repeat to his wife, and to me
and my wife, the conversations which she had with him.  "Poor Brown;" she
would say, "I pity him, with my very heart's blood."

"You are aware that he has comforted himself in his desolation,"
Mackinnon replied.

"I know very well to what you allude.  I think I may say that I am
conversant with all the circumstances of this heart-blighting sacrifice."
Mrs. Talboys was apt to boast of the thorough confidence reposed in her
by all those in whom she took an interest.  "Yes, he has sought such
comfort in another love as the hard cruel world would allow him."

"Or perhaps something more than that," said Mackinnon.  "He has a family
here in Rome, you know; two little babies."

"I know it, I know it," she said.  "Cherub angels!" and as she spoke she
looked up into the ugly face of Marcus Aurelius; for they were standing
at the moment under the figure of the great horseman on the Campidoglio.
"I have seen them, and they are the children of innocence.  If all the
blood of all the Howards ran in their veins it could not make their birth
more noble!"

"Not if the father and mother of all the Howards had never been married,"
said Mackinnon.

"What; that from you, Mr. Mackinnon!" said Mrs. Talboys, turning her back
with energy upon the equestrian statue, and looking up into the faces,
first of Pollux and then of Castor, as though from them she might gain
some inspiration on the subject which Marcus Aurelius in his coldness had
denied to her.  "From you, who have so nobly claimed for mankind the
divine attributes of free action!  From you, who have taught my mind to
soar above the petty bonds which one man in his littleness contrives for
the subjection of his brother.  Mackinnon! you who are so great!"  And
she now looked up into his face.  "Mackinnon, unsay those words."

"They _are_ illegitimate," said he; "and if there was any landed
property--"

"Landed property! and that from an American!"

"The children are English, you know."

"Landed property!  The time will shortly come--ay, and I see it
coming--when that hateful word shall be expunged from the calendar; when
landed property shall be no more.  What! shall the free soul of a
God-born man submit itself for ever to such trammels as that?  Shall we
never escape from the clay which so long has manacled the subtler
particles of the divine spirit?  Ay, yes, Mackinnon;" and then she took
him by the arm, and led him to the top of the huge steps which lead down
from the Campidoglio into the streets of modern Rome.  "Look down upon
that countless multitude."  Mackinnon looked down, and saw three groups
of French soldiers, with three or four little men in each group; he saw,
also, a couple of dirty friars, and three priests very slowly beginning
the side ascent to the church of the Ara Coeli.  "Look down upon that
countless multitude," said Mrs. Talboys, and she stretched her arms out
over the half-deserted city.  "They are escaping now from these
trammels,--now, now,--now that I am speaking."

"They have escaped long ago from all such trammels as that of landed
property," said Mackinnon.

"Ay, and from all terrestrial bonds," she continued, not exactly
remarking the pith of his last observation; "from bonds quasi-terrestrial
and quasi-celestial.  The full-formed limbs of the present age, running
with quick streams of generous blood, will no longer bear the ligatures
which past times have woven for the decrepit.  Look down upon that
multitude, Mackinnon; they shall all be free."  And then, still clutching
him by the arm, and still standing at the top of those stairs, she gave
forth her prophecy with the fury of a Sybil.

"They shall all be free.  Oh, Rome, thou eternal one! thou who hast bowed
thy neck to imperial pride and priestly craft; thou who hast suffered
sorely, even to this hour, from Nero down to Pio Nono,--the days of thine
oppression are over.  Gone from thy enfranchised ways for ever is the
clang of the Praetorian cohorts and the more odious drone of meddling
monks!"  And yet, as Mackinnon observed, there still stood the dirty
friars and the small French soldiers; and there still toiled the slow
priests, wending their tedious way up to the church of the Ara Coeli.
But that was the mundane view of the matter,--a view not regarded by Mrs.
Talboys in her ecstasy.  "O Italia," she continued, "O Italia una, one
and indivisible in thy rights, and indivisible also in thy wrongs! to us
is it given to see the accomplishment of thy glory.  A people shall arise
around thine altars greater in the annals of the world than thy Scipios,
thy Gracchi, or thy Caesars.  Not in torrents of blood, or with screams
of bereaved mothers, shall thy new triumphs be stained.  But mind shall
dominate over matter; and doomed, together with Popes and Bourbons, with
cardinals, diplomatists, and police spies, ignorance and prejudice shall
be driven from thy smiling terraces.  And then Rome shall again become
the fair capital of the fairest region of Europe.  Hither shall flock the
artisans of the world, crowding into thy marts all that God and man can
give.  Wealth, beauty, and innocence shall meet in thy streets--"

"There will be a considerable change before that takes place," said
Mackinnon.

"There shall be a considerable change," she answered.  "Mackinnon, to
thee it is given to read the signs of the time; and hast thou not read?
Why have the fields of Magenta and Solferino been piled with the corpses
of dying heroes?  Why have the waters of the Mincio ran red with the
blood of martyrs?  That Italy might be united and Rome immortal.  Here,
standing on the Capitolium of the ancient city, I say that it shall be
so; and thou, Mackinnon, who hearest me, knowest that my words are true."

There was not then in Rome,--I may almost say there was not in Italy, an
Englishman or an American who did not wish well to the cause for which
Italy was and is still contending; as also there is hardly one who does
not now regard that cause as well-nigh triumphant; but, nevertheless, it
was almost impossible to sympathise with Mrs. Talboys.  As Mackinnon
said, she flew so high that there was no comfort in flying with her.

"Well," said he, "Brown and the rest of them are down below.  Shall we go
and join them?"

"Poor Brown!  How was it that, in speaking of his troubles, we were led
on to this heart-stirring theme?  Yes, I have seen them, the sweet
angels; and I tell you also that I have seen their mother.  I insisted on
going to her when I heard her history from him."

"And what is she like, Mrs. Talboys?"

"Well; education has done more for some of us than for others; and there
are those from whose morals and sentiments we might thankfully draw a
lesson, whose manners and outward gestures are not such as custom has
made agreeable to us.  You, I know, can understand that.  I have seen
her, and feel sure that she is pure in heart and high in principle.  Has
she not sacrificed herself; and is not self-sacrifice the surest
guarantee for true nobility of character?  Would Mrs. Mackinnon object to
my bringing them together?"

Mackinnon was obliged to declare that he thought his wife would object;
and from that time forth he and Mrs. Talboys ceased to be very close in
their friendship.  She still came to the house every Sunday evening,
still refreshed herself at the fountains of his literary rills; but her
special prophecies from henceforth were poured into other ears.  And it
so happened that O'Brien now became her chief ally.  I do not remember
that she troubled herself much further with the cherub angels or with
their mother; and I am inclined to think that, taking up warmly, as she
did, the story of O'Brien's matrimonial wrongs, she forgot the little
history of the Browns.  Be that as it may, Mrs. Talboys and O'Brien now
became strictly confidential, and she would enlarge by the half-hour
together on the miseries of her friend's position, to any one whom she
could get to hear her.

"I'll tell you what, Fanny," Mackinnon said to his wife one day,--to his
wife and to mine, for we were all together; "we shall have a row in the
house if we don't take care.  O'Brien will be making love to Mrs.
Talboys."

"Nonsense," said Mrs. Mackinnon.  "You are always thinking that somebody
is going to make love to some one."

"Somebody always is," said he.

"She's old enough to be his mother," said Mrs. Mackinnon.

"What does that matter to an Irishman?" said Mackinnon.  "Besides, I
doubt if there is more than five years' difference between them."

"There must be more than that," said my wife.  "Ida Talboys is twelve, I
know, and I am not quite sure that Ida is the eldest."

"If she had a son in the Guards it would make no difference," said
Mackinnon.  "There are men who consider themselves bound to make love to
a woman under certain circumstances, let the age of the lady be what it
may.  O'Brien is such a one; and if she sympathises with him much
oftener, he will mistake the matter, and go down on his knees.  You ought
to put him on his guard," he said, addressing himself to his wife.

"Indeed, I shall do no such thing," said she; "if they are two fools,
they must, like other fools, pay the price of their folly."  As a rule
there could be no softer creature than Mrs. Mackinnon; but it seemed to
me that her tenderness never extended itself in the direction of Mrs.
Talboys.

Just at this time, towards the end, that is, of November, we made a party
to visit the tombs which lie along the Appian Way, beyond that most
beautiful of all sepulchres, the tomb of Cecilia Metella.  It was a
delicious day, and we had driven along this road for a couple of miles
beyond the walls of the city, enjoying the most lovely view which the
neighbourhood of Rome affords,--looking over the wondrous ruins of the
old aqueducts, up towards Tivoli and Palestrina.  Of all the environs of
Rome this is, on a fair clear day, the most enchanting; and here perhaps,
among a world of tombs, thoughts and almost memories of the old, old days
come upon one with the greatest force.  The grandeur of Rome is best seen
and understood from beneath the walls of the Coliseum, and its beauty
among the pillars of the Forum and the arches of the Sacred Way; but its
history and fall become more palpable to the mind, and more clearly
realised, out here among the tombs, where the eyes rest upon the
mountains whose shades were cool to the old Romans as to us,--than
anywhere within the walls of the city.  Here we look out at the same
Tivoli and the same Praeneste, glittering in the sunshine, embowered
among the far-off valleys, which were dear to them; and the blue
mountains have not crumbled away into ruins.  Within Rome itself we can
see nothing as they saw it.

Our party consisted of some dozen or fifteen persons, and as a hamper
with luncheon in it had been left on the grassy slope at the base of the
tomb of Cecilia Metella, the expedition had in it something of the nature
of a picnic.  Mrs. Talboys was of course with us, and Ida Talboys.
O'Brien also was there.  The hamper had been prepared in Mrs. Mackinnon's
room, under the immediate eye of Mackinnon himself, and they therefore
were regarded as the dominant spirits of the party.  My wife was leagued
with Mrs. Mackinnon, as was usually the case; and there seemed to be a
general opinion among those who were closely in confidence together, that
something would happen in the O'Brien-Talboys matter.  The two had been
inseparable on the previous evening, for Mrs. Talboys had been urging on
the young Irishman her counsels respecting his domestic troubles.  Sir
Cresswell Cresswell, she had told him, was his refuge.  "Why should his
soul submit to bonds which the world had now declared to be intolerable?
Divorce was not now the privilege of the dissolute rich.  Spirits which
were incompatible need no longer be compelled to fret beneath the same
cobbles."  In short, she had recommended him to go to England and get rid
of his wife, as she would, with a little encouragement, have recommended
any man to get rid of anything.  I am sure that, had she been skilfully
brought on to the subject, she might have been induced to pronounce a
verdict against such ligatures for the body as coats, waistcoats, and
trowsers.  Her aspirations for freedom ignored all bounds, and, in
theory, there were no barriers which she was not willing to demolish.

Poor O'Brien, as we all now began to see, had taken the matter amiss.  He
had offered to make a bust of Mrs. Talboys, and she had consented,
expressing a wish that it might find a place among those who had devoted
themselves to the enfranchisement of their fellow-creatures.  I really
think she had but little of a woman's customary personal vanity.  I know
she had an idea that her eye was lighted up in her warmer moments by some
special fire, that sparks of liberty shone round her brow, and that her
bosom heaved with glorious aspirations; but all these feelings had
reference to her inner genius, not to any outward beauty.  But O'Brien
misunderstood the woman, and thought it necessary to gaze into her face,
and sigh as though his heart were breaking.  Indeed he declared to a
young friend that Mrs. Talboys was perfect in her style of beauty, and
began the bust with this idea.  It was gradually becoming clear to us all
that he would bring himself to grief; but in such a matter who can
caution a man?

Mrs. Mackinnon had contrived to separate them in making the carriage
arrangements on this day, but this only added fuel to the fire which was
now burning within O'Brien's bosom.  I believe that he really did love
her, in his easy, eager, susceptible Irish way.  That he would get over
the little episode without any serious injury to his heart no one
doubted; but then, what would occur when the declaration was made?  How
would Mrs. Talboys bear it?

"She deserves it," said Mrs. Mackinnon.

"And twice as much," my wife added.  Why is it that women are so spiteful
to each other?

Early in the day Mrs. Talboys clambered up to the top of a tomb, and made
a little speech, holding a parasol over her head.  Beneath her feet, she
said, reposed the ashes of some bloated senator, some glutton of the
empire, who had swallowed into his maw the provision necessary for a
tribe.  Old Rome had fallen through such selfishness as that; but new
Rome would not forget the lesson.  All this was very well, and then
O'Brien helped her down; but after this there was no separating them.
For her own part she would sooner have had Mackinnon at her elbow.  But
Mackinnon now had found some other elbow.

"Enough of that was as good as a feast," he had said to his wife.  And
therefore Mrs. Talboys, quite unconscious of evil, allowed herself to be
engrossed by O'Brien.

And then, about three o'clock, we returned to the hamper.  Luncheon under
such circumstances always means dinner, and we arranged ourselves for a
very comfortable meal.  To those who know the tomb of Cecilia Metella no
description of the scene is necessary, and to those who do not, no
description will convey a fair idea of its reality.  It is itself a large
low tower of great diameter, but of beautiful proportion, standing far
outside the city, close on to the side of the old Roman way.  It has been
embattled on the top by some latter-day baron, in order that it might be
used for protection to the castle, which has been built on and attached
to it.  If I remember rightly, this was done by one of the Frangipani,
and a very lovely ruin he has made of it.  I know no castellated old
tumble-down residence in Italy more picturesque than this baronial
adjunct to the old Roman tomb, or which better tallies with the ideas
engendered within our minds by Mrs. Radcliffe and the Mysteries of
Udolpho.  It lies along the road, protected on the side of the city by
the proud sepulchre of the Roman matron, and up to the long ruined walls
of the back of the building stretches a grassy slope, at the bottom of
which are the remains of an old Roman circus.  Beyond that is the long,
thin, graceful line of the Claudian aqueduct, with Soracte in the
distance to the left, and Tivoli, Palestine, and Frascati lying among the
hills which bound the view.  That Frangipani baron was in the right of
it, and I hope he got the value of his money out of the residence which
he built for himself.  I doubt, however, that he did but little good to
those who lived in his close neighbourhood.

We had a very comfortable little banquet seated on the broken lumps of
stone which lie about under the walls of the tomb.  I wonder whether the
shade of Cecilia Metella was looking down upon us.  We have heard much of
her in these latter days, and yet we know nothing about her, nor can
conceive why she was honoured with a bigger tomb than any other Roman
matron.  There were those then among our party who believed that she
might still come back among us, and with due assistance from some cognate
susceptible spirit, explain to us the cause of her widowed husband's
liberality.  Alas, alas! if we may judge of the Romans by ourselves, the
true reason for such sepulchral grandeur would redound little to the
credit of the lady Cecilia Metella herself, or to that of Crassus, her
bereaved and desolate lord.

She did not come among us on the occasion of this banquet, possibly
because we had no tables there to turn in preparation for her presence;
but, had she done so, she could not have been more eloquent of things of
the other world than was Mrs. Talboys.  I have said that Mrs. Talboys'
eye never glanced more brightly after a glass of champagne, but I am
inclined to think that on this occasion it may have done so.  O'Brien
enacted Ganymede, and was, perhaps, more liberal than other latter-day
Ganymedes, to whose services Mrs. Talboys had been accustomed.  Let it
not, however, be suspected by any one that she exceeded the limits of a
discreet joyousness.  By no means!  The generous wine penetrated,
perhaps, to some inner cells of her heart, and brought forth thoughts in
sparkling words, which otherwise might have remained concealed; but there
was nothing in what she thought or spoke calculated to give umbrage
either to an anchorite or to a vestal.  A word or two she said or sung
about the flowing bowl, and once she called for Falernian; but beyond
this her converse was chiefly of the rights of man and the weakness of
women; of the iron ages that were past, and of the golden time that was
to come.

She called a toast and drank to the hopes of the latter historians of the
nineteenth century.  Then it was that she bade O'Brien "Fill high the
bowl with Samian wine."  The Irishman took her at her word, and she
raised the bumper, and waved it over her head before she put it to her
lips.  I am bound to declare that she did not spill a drop.  "The true
'Falernian grape,'" she said, as she deposited the empty beaker on the
grass beneath her elbow.  Viler champagne I do not think I ever
swallowed; but it was the theory of the wine, not its palpable body
present there, as it were, in the flesh, which inspired her.  There was
really something grand about her on that occasion, and her enthusiasm
almost amounted to reality.

Mackinnon was amused, and encouraged her, as, I must confess, did I also.
Mrs. Mackinnon made useless little signs to her husband, really fearing
that the Falernian would do its good offices too thoroughly.  My wife,
getting me apart as I walked round the circle distributing viands,
remarked that "the woman was a fool, and would disgrace herself."  But I
observed that after the disposal of that bumper she worshipped the rosy
god in theory only, and therefore saw no occasion to interfere.  "Come,
Bacchus," she said; "and come, Silenus, if thou wilt; I know that ye are
hovering round the graves of your departed favourites.  And ye, too,
nymphs of Egeria," and she pointed to the classic grove which was all but
close to us as we sat there.  "In olden days ye did not always despise
the abodes of men.  But why should we invoke the presence of the
gods,--we, who can become godlike ourselves!  We ourselves are the
deities of the present age.  For us shall the tables be spread with
ambrosia; for us shall the nectar flow."

Upon the whole it was very good fooling,--for awhile; and as soon as we
were tired of it we arose from our seats, and began to stroll about the
place.  It was beginning to be a little dusk, and somewhat cool, but the
evening air was pleasant, and the ladies, putting on their shawls, did
not seem inclined at once to get into the carriages.  At any rate, Mrs.
Talboys was not so inclined, for she started down the hill towards the
long low wall of the old Roman circus at the bottom; and O'Brien, close
at her elbow, started with her.

"Ida, my dear, you had better remain here," she said to her daughter;
"you will be tired if you come as far as we are going."

"Oh, no, mamma, I shall not," said Ida.  "You get tired much quicker than
I do."

"Oh, yes, you will; besides I do not wish you to come."  There was an end
of it for Ida, and Mrs. Talboys and O'Brien walked off together, while we
all looked into each other's faces.

"It would be a charity to go with them," said Mackinnon.

"Do you be charitable, then," said his wife.

"It should be a lady," said he.

"It is a pity that the mother of the spotless cherubim is not here for
the occasion," said she.  "I hardly think that any one less gifted will
undertake such a self sacrifice."  Any attempt of the kind would,
however, now have been too late, for they were already at the bottom of
the hill.  O'Brien had certainly drunk freely of the pernicious contents
of those long-necked bottles; and though no one could fairly accuse him
of being tipsy, nevertheless that which might have made others drunk had
made him bold, and he dared to do--perhaps more than might become a man.
If under any circumstances he could be fool enough to make an avowal of
love to Mrs. Talboys, he might be expected, as we all thought, to do it
now.

We watched them as they made for a gap in the wall which led through into
the large enclosed space of the old circus.  It had been an arena for
chariot games, and they had gone down with the avowed purpose of
searching where might have been the meta, and ascertaining how the
drivers could have turned when at their full speed.  For awhile we had
heard their voices,--or rather her voice especially.  "The heart of a
man, O'Brien, should suffice for all emergencies," we had heard her say.
She had assumed a strange habit of calling men by their simple names, as
men address each other.  When she did this to Mackinnon, who was much
older than herself, we had been all amused by it, and, other ladies of
our party had taken to call him "Mackinnon" when Mrs. Talboys was not by;
but we had felt the comedy to be less safe with O'Brien, especially when,
on one occasion, we heard him address her as Arabella.  She did not seem
to be in any way struck by his doing so, and we supposed, therefore, that
it had become frequent between them.  What reply he made at the moment
about the heart of a man I do not know;--and then in a few minutes they
disappeared through the gap in the wall.

None of us followed them, though it would have seemed the most natural
thing in the world to do so had nothing out of the way been expected.  As
it was we remained there round the tomb quizzing the little foibles of
our dear friend, and hoping that O'Brien would be quick in what he was
doing.  That he would undoubtedly get a slap in the
face--metaphorically--we all felt certain, for none of us doubted the
rigid propriety of the lady's intentions.  Some of us strolled into the
buildings, and some of us got out on to the road; but we all of us were
thinking that O'Brien was very slow a considerable time before we saw
Mrs. Talboys reappear through the gap.

At last, however, she was there, and we at once saw that she was alone.
She came on, breasting the hill with quick steps, and when she drew near
we could see that there was a frown as of injured majesty on her brow.
Mackinnon and his wife went forward to meet her.  If she were really in
trouble it would be fitting in some way to assist her; and of all women
Mrs. Mackinnon was the last to see another woman suffer from ill-usage
without attempting to aid her.  "I certainly never liked her," Mrs.
Mackinnon said afterwards; "but I was bound to go and hear her tale, when
she really had a tale to tell."

And Mrs. Talboys now had a tale to tell,--if she chose to tell it.  The
ladies of our party declared afterwards that she would have acted more
wisely had she kept to herself both O'Brien's words to her and her
answer.  "She was well able to take care of herself," Mrs. Mackinnon
said; "and, after all, the silly man had taken an answer when he got it."
Not, however, that O'Brien had taken his answer quite immediately, as far
as I could understand from what we heard of the matter afterwards.

At the present moment Mrs. Talboys came up the rising ground all alone,
and at a quick pace.  "The man has insulted me," she said aloud, as well
as her panting breath would allow her, and as soon as she was near enough
to Mrs. Mackinnon to speak to her.

"I am sorry for that," said Mrs. Mackinnon.  "I suppose he has taken a
little too much wine."

"No; it was a premeditated insult.  The base-hearted churl has failed to
understand the meaning of true, honest sympathy."

"He will forget all about it when he is sober," said Mackinnon, meaning
to comfort her.

"What care I what he remembers or what he forgets!" she said, turning
upon poor Mackinnon indignantly.  "You men grovel so in your ideas--"
"And yet," as Mackinnon said afterwards, "she had been telling me that I
was a fool for the last three weeks."--"You men grovel so in your ideas,
that you cannot understand the feelings of a true-hearted woman.  What
can his forgetfulness or his remembrance be to me?  Must not I remember
this insult?  Is it possible that I should forget it?"

Mr. and Mrs. Mackinnon only had gone forward to meet her; but,
nevertheless, she spoke so loud that all heard her who were still
clustered round the spot on which we had dined.

"What has become of Mr. O'Brien?" a lady whispered to me.

I had a field-glass with me, and, looking round, I saw his hat as he was
walking inside the walls of the circus in the direction towards the city.
"And very foolish he must feel," said the lady.

"No doubt he is used to it," said another.

"But considering her age, you know," said the first, who might have been
perhaps three years younger than Mrs. Talboys, and who was not herself
averse to the excitement of a moderate flirtation.  But then why should
she have been averse, seeing that she had not as yet become subject to
the will of any imperial lord?

"He would have felt much more foolish," said the third, "if she had
listened to what he said to her."

"Well I don't know," said the second; "nobody would have known anything
about it then, and in a few weeks they would have gradually become tired
of each other in the ordinary way."

But in the meantime Mrs. Talboys was among us.  There had been no attempt
at secresy, and she was still loudly inveighing against the grovelling
propensities of men.  "That's quite true, Mrs. Talboys," said one of the
elder ladies; "but then women are not always so careful as they should
be.  Of course I do not mean to say that there has been any fault on your
part."

"Fault on my part!  Of course there has been fault on my part.  No one
can make any mistake without fault to some extent.  I took him to be a
man of sense, and he is a fool.  Go to Naples indeed!"

"Did he want you to go to Naples?" asked Mrs. Mackinnon.

"Yes; that was what he suggested.  We were to leave by the train for
Civita Vecchia at six to-morrow morning and catch the steamer which
leaves Leghorn to-night.  Don't tell me of wine.  He was prepared for
it!"  And she looked round about on us with an air of injured majesty in
her face which was almost insupportable.

"I wonder whether he took the tickets over-night," said Mackinnon.

"Naples!" she said, as though now speaking exclusively to herself; "the
only ground in Italy which has as yet made no struggle on behalf of
freedom;--a fitting residence for such a dastard!"

"You would have found it very pleasant at this season," said the
unmarried lady, who was three years her junior.

My wife had taken Ida out of the way when the first complaining note from
Mrs. Talboys had been heard ascending the hill.  But now, when matters
began gradually to become quiescent, she brought her back, suggesting, as
she did so, that they might begin to think of returning.

"It is getting very cold, Ida, dear, is it not?" said she.

"But where is Mr. O'Brien?" said Ida.

"He has fled,--as poltroons always fly," said Mrs. Talboys.  I believe in
my heart that she would have been glad to have had him there in the
middle of the circle, and to have triumphed over him publicly among us
all.  No feeling of shame would have kept her silent for a moment.

"Fled!" said Ida, looking up into her mother's face.

"Yes, fled, my child."  And she seized her daughter in her arms, and
pressed her closely to her bosom.  "Cowards always fly."

"Is Mr. O'Brien a coward?" Ida asked.

"Yes, a coward, a very coward!  And he has fled before the glance of an
honest woman's eye.  Come, Mrs. Mackinnon, shall we go back to the city?
I am sorry that the amusement of the day should have received this
check."  And she walked forward to the carriage and took her place in it
with an air that showed that she was proud of the way in which she had
conducted herself.

"She is a little conceited about it after all," said that unmarried lady.
"If poor Mr. O'Brien had not shown so much premature anxiety with
reference to that little journey to Naples, things might have gone
quietly after all."

But the unmarried lady was wrong in her judgment.  Mrs. Talboys was proud
and conceited in the matter,--but not proud of having excited the
admiration of her Irish lover.  She was proud of her own subsequent
conduct, and gave herself credit for coming out strongly as a
noble-minded matron.  "I believe she thinks," said Mrs. Mackinnon, "that
her virtue is quite Spartan and unique; and if she remains in Rome she'll
boast of it through the whole winter."

"If she does, she may be certain that O'Brien will do the same," said
Mackinnon.  "And in spite of his having fled from the field, it is upon
the cards that he may get the best of it.  Mrs. Talboys is a very
excellent woman.  She has proved her excellence beyond a doubt.  But,
nevertheless, she is susceptible of ridicule."

We all felt a little anxiety to hear O'Brien's account of the matter, and
after having deposited the ladies at their homes, Mackinnon and I went
off to his lodgings.  At first he was denied to us, but after awhile we
got his servant to acknowledge that he was at home, and then we made our
way up to his studio.  We found him seated behind a half-formed model, or
rather a mere lump of clay punched into something resembling the shape of
a head, with a pipe in his mouth and a bit of stick in his hand.  He was
pretending to work, though we both knew that it was out of the question
that he should do anything in his present frame of mind.

"I think I heard my servant tell you that I was not at home," said he.

"Yes, he did," said Mackinnon, "and would have sworn to it too if we
would have let him.  Come, don't pretend to be surly."

"I am very busy, Mr. Mackinnon."

"Completing your head of Mrs. Talboys, I suppose, before you start for
Naples."

"You don't mean to say that she has told you all about it," and he turned
away from his work, and looked up into our faces with a comical
expression, half of fun and half of despair.

"Every word of it," said I.  "When you want a lady to travel with you,
never ask her to get up so early in winter."

"But, O'Brien, how could you be such an ass?" said Mackinnon.  "As it has
turned out, there is no very great harm done.  You have insulted a
respectable middle-aged woman, the mother of a family, and the wife of a
general officer, and there is an end of it;--unless, indeed, the general
officer should come out from England to call you to account."

"He is welcome," said O'Brien, haughtily.

"No doubt, my dear fellow," said Mackinnon; "that would be a dignified
and pleasant ending to the affair.  But what I want to know is
this;--what would you have done if she had agreed to go?"

"He never calculated on the possibility of such a contingency," said I.

"By heavens, then, I thought she would like it," said he.

"And to oblige her you were content to sacrifice yourself," said
Mackinnon.

"Well, that was just it.  What the deuce is a fellow to do when a woman
goes on in that way.  She told me down there, upon the old race course
you know, that matrimonial bonds were made for fools and slaves.  What
was I to suppose that she meant by that?  But to make all sure, I asked
her what sort of a fellow the General was.  'Dear old man,' she said,
clasping her hands together.  'He might, you know, have been my father.'
'I wish he were,' said I, 'because then you'd be free.'  'I am free,'
said she, stamping on the ground, and looking up at me as much as to say
that she cared for no one.  'Then,' said I, 'accept all that is left of
the heart of Wenceslaus O'Brien,' and I threw myself before her in her
path.  'Hand,' said I, 'I have none to give, but the blood which runs red
through my veins is descended from a double line of kings.'  I said that
because she is always fond of riding a high horse.  I had gotten close
under the wall, so that none of you should see me from the tower."

"And what answer did she make?" said Mackinnon.

"Why she was pleased as Punch;--gave me both her hands, and declared that
we would be friends for ever.  It is my belief, Mackinnon, that that
woman never heard anything of the kind before.  The General, no doubt,
did it by letter."

"And how was it that she changed her mind?"

"Why; I got up, put my arm round her waist, and told her that we would be
off to Naples.  I'm blest if she didn't give me a knock in the ribs that
nearly sent me backwards.  She took my breath away, so that I couldn't
speak to her."

"And then--"

"Oh, there was nothing more.  Of course I saw how it was.  So she walked
off one way and I the other.  On the whole I consider that I am well out
of it."

"And so do I," said Mackinnon, very gravely.  "But if you will allow me
to give you my advice, I would suggest that it would be well to avoid
such mistakes in future."

"Upon my word," said O'Brien, excusing himself, "I don't know what a man
is to do under such circumstances.  I give you my honour that I did it
all to oblige her."

We then decided that Mackinnon should convey to the injured lady the
humble apology of her late admirer.  It was settled that no detailed
excuses should be made.  It should be left to her to consider whether the
deed which had been done might have been occasioned by wine, or by the
folly of a moment,--or by her own indiscreet enthusiasm.  No one but the
two were present when the message was given, and therefore we were
obliged to trust to Mackinnon's accuracy for an account of it.

She stood on very high ground indeed, he said, at first refusing to hear
anything that he had to say on the matter.  "The foolish young man," she
declared, "was below her anger and below her contempt."

"He is not the first Irishman that has been made indiscreet by beauty,"
said Mackinnon.

"A truce to that," she replied, waving her hand with an air of assumed
majesty.  "The incident, contemptible as it is, has been unpleasant to
me.  It will necessitate my withdrawal from Rome."

"Oh, no, Mrs. Talboys; that will be making too much of him."

"The greatest hero that lives," she answered, "may have his house made
uninhabitable by a very small insect."  Mackinnon swore that those were
her own words.  Consequently a sobriquet was attached to O'Brien of which
he by no means approved.  And from that day we always called Mrs. Talboys
"the hero."

Mackinnon prevailed at last with her, and she did not leave Rome.  She
was even induced to send a message to O'Brien, conveying her forgiveness.
They shook hands together with great eclat in Mrs. Mackinnon's
drawing-room; but I do not suppose that she ever again offered to him
sympathy on the score of his matrimonial troubles.





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