IX

FROM THE COUNTESS TO COUNT VON JAROMAR.

Palazzo Malaspina

A Fellowe and his Wife

Is it only an hour or so since I wrote to you, my dear Odo? It was with a start I realized this when I sat down at my little desk. it has your photograph upon it, in that old Danish-silver frame you brought me one day from Copenhagen, and a little cluster of what the Romans call St. Agnes' roses, they are so tenderly pink and white, heaped about it. My letter to you has gone --- is indeed already lost among thousands of others, not half as charming and lovable and forgiving little notes, in that great whirlpool of correspondence in S. Silvestro in Capito, and so I cannot add a postscript to it : but, like a good and amiable Ilse, sit down afresh, pen in hand.

But --- whirlpool ! How that word has suddenly sprung up like a will-o'-the-wisp, and dances before me till my mind is full of you and far-off Rügen instead of my late visitor. Ah, how well I remember you, when the spring tides were at the flood, and that whirlpool off the Black Rock ---the Kelpie of Rügen, as the Thiessow fishermen call it--- was surging horribly, like a torn cobra writhing in deaththroes, and how, when Peter Helder's boat was drawn closer and closer, with his little son in it, his only child, you dashed out in a small skiff, and. by almost a miracle snatched the child from the heavy boat and managed to whirl round and round, but always edging further and further away from that sickening, foam-clotted spot. The men cheered you, Odo, and Peter Helder kissed your hands and sobbed with excitement, but not one of them knew as well as I did what a hero you were. And I know what it was that made you so ghastly white, even after, by your strong arm and dauntless nerve, you had won back little Jan's and your own life. It was not fear of death, but fear of losing me forever and ever. It was then, you told me long afterward, that you first knew what dumb longing was tearing at your heart.

Ah! is there in all this Italy a stronger, braver, or turer man than Odo von Jaromar?

And no, my firend, to my letter.  Will-o'-the -wisp, adieu!    I am in Rome again, and instead of watching you striving with the whirlpool, I am looking at my unfinished Undine, and my freshly modeled Emilia, and a firm little ivory-paper calling-card with the words, La Contessa Lucrezia Mallerini, Casa Barolo, Villa Ludovisi.

I wonder what she is.  I mean in herself. I have read, or heard, that a woman of the north can no more understand a woman of the south than a shite swan can understand a black jaguar.  Who said it, I wonder:  I used to laugh at it as so stupid.  But perhaps there is something in it.  Countessa Mallerini has  been som comunicative and wo winsome (for her), and  yet I am no white the wiser, and do not believe that I am even on the right track at all.

You have not forgotten my telling you about her, have you?  I met her and her sombre husband Cesare recently at dinner, you recollect?

I had no idea till she came in that I had so identified my Emilia Vivani with her.  It was startling; so much so, that as soon as I decently could I leant across my little table so as to shove up the swing lamp, and then dropped a loose pink silk scarf, which I was wearing over the model.  But either it caught or my visitor thought or pretended it did, for in a moment she stooped, delicately snatched the scarf away, and with some gracious words protested her anxiety for my handiwork.  But in a scond she recognized the likeness.  I saw her dark, lustreless eyes flash for a moment.  I think she was about to speak of it at once, but she did not.  We had a pleasant conversation, of a kind.  She told me that she too is an artis.   "Not a professional one, of course," she added, and I did not at all like the way she said it.  For myself, I can quite believe that these southern Italians never can understand northern wormen.  She paints a little.  So far as I can gather, her music is her forte.  I could not byt feel annoyed at this, for the other night, when I sang my little De Musset song, she refused to sing. I wonder if she too is a contralto. Well, we chatted away. I offered her coffee, and she seemed pleased ; though, for myself, I was already disquieted by her presence, and would have been glad to bow gracefully, and say, "A rivederla." Suddenly she began to question me about the technique of my work. How did I like carving in ivory ? Does not the cost of the material make any real profit impossible ? That it is sculpture de luxe, is it not ? That I must be lonely, so far away from my husband ?  And so on. But all the time her eyes were wandering, wandering. "Yes," I replied, vaguely surprised at her interest. "I began that study of Emilia on such and such a day."

"That was before we met," she said, quietly. Then I knew what she meant.  "It is an ideal study," I added, hurriedly "a whim.thought I would make an Emilia Viviani. Emilia Viviani was the woman whom the English poet Shelley loved, and"--- "And about whom you heard from Friedrich Herwegh," she interrupted, with, I think, the worst possible taste. "You know Signor Herwegh well?" I asked. "I know Signor Herwegh well," was the reply, in a mechanical voice; "and I also know all about the Epi psychidion." What a strange woman she is. She lifted her head, and looked at me. For the first time I noticed she had two shadowy little wrinkles along her under-eyelids. I had fancied her not more than three or four and twenty ; she may be five years older. The heavy Abruzzi lace she wore round her neck does not suit her so well as she thinks it does ; personally I cannot understand how she can wear it. It is peasant's lace, you know, coarse in texture and workmanship. "You are looking at my lace, I see ; I often wear this Abruzzi stuff; it is to please my husband. He is feudal seignor of a district up in the Abruzzi, beyond Solmona." Now, I am perfectly sure that is not her reason at all. " Why, in heaven's name, should she say so, then ? " you will exclaim but that I cannot tell you. She  was taking her leave at last, when she caught sight of my little ivory medallion of you. " And this : is it your husband ? " She looked at it so long and scrutinizingly --- or at it and the photograph together I should say, for she had taken up the latter --- that I began to feel quite jealous. Altogether a most enigmatic young woman. She said several things that puzzled me. By the way, I spoke of jealousy just now. She asked me, looking at the portrait, if you were of a jealous nature. " Certainly not," I answered. I have promised to call on her soon ; and she is to come here again ere-long with her husband.

Later.

I had written thus far when Ulrich Heidelolf and Herwegh called. He (F. H.) is a strange man. The other night he was affability itself when I asked him about the Mallerinis. A little while ago he seemed as chill as an iceberg when I questioned him about Signora Lucrezia. He was surprised, and apparently not pleasurably, to learn that she had paid me a long call, and he was rather rude. Every now and again there is something about Friedrich Herwegh that perplexes---indeed, even annoys ---me. He is far more a southerne than a northerner. He professes the most ideal respect for women, and yet I have heard him again and again speak of them, individually, in a way that sent a little jar along my nerves. I fancy he does not at all care for my Contessa, and yet he says he admires her greatly. She is a woman who must have had many lovers," I remarked questioningly. It was then that he said one of those little things I do not like in him: "How cruel women are with that poisoned arrow, the past tense!" 'I felt indignant, for I never for a moment wished to imply that I think the Contessa Mallerini in any degree passée. But like your silly Ilse, I flushed, and then I saw that Herwegh was smiling maliciously. It is a pity that so fine a man should stoop to such little things.

Midnight.

Am I never to be left alone to finish a letter ? I had just written the above when Lilien Röhrich came in " to keep me company." But, oh, dear me, I am tired of people. There was a man outside calling "Limone-limone freschi!" with the most wearisome reiteration. At last, I could stand it no longer, and so I availed myself of Frau Röhrich's suggestion, and went with her to her rooms. She talked much to me about certain acquaintances we have in common. I see that she does not like the Mallerinis, and that she has something amounting to a fear of Madame Lucrezia. She spoke most warmly of Herwegh. I have done him injustice. She says his persiflage means nothing. She told me some things about him which convince me that he is as admirable a man as he is artist. He has few real friends. Only women understand him. Yes, he is a fine fe-low. Tomorrow night I have promised to go to the Röhrichs to dinner. They are to have a score of friends. I am so tired! Good-night.

ILSE.