Rough-Hewn Part 61
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Livingstone was reduced to solitary mornings spent in museums, with a book of art criticism in his hand; or on Sunday mornings, when admission was free, on a bench in the park on the Palatine. The benches were very comfortable there, not mere backless slabs of stone, and when you felt like sight-seeing you could get up and lean over the wall and look down into the Forum and pick out where the different buildings had stood.
He stood thus, his back to the long, cypress-shaded path, trying to be archeological, his guide-book open on the wall. Which of the battered rows of stumps of pillars had been the Temple of Vesta and which the Fornix Fabianus?
He heard voices back of him. To be exact he heard Miss Allen's voice back of him. Livingstone was so paralyzed by the quality of it that, gentleman though he tried to be to the marrow of his bones, he was for an instant incapable of stirring and announcing his presence. _That_, Miss Allen's voice! She sounded as though she had come into a fortune.
But what under the sun was she saying?
"Here, exactly here, is where we stood when you said you were like the puppy, and when you rolled the dusty weight of all those centuries off my shoulders. And now come along. The next place in the pilgrimage is St. John Lateran, where you said, you brutal Prussian, that nothing would induce you to protect a woman!"
"Come, come, this is eavesdropping. Something must be done!" said Livingstone to himself. He shut his guide-book with a slam to give them warning, and faced about resolutely. But they had paid no attention to his warning. They stood with their backs to him, and, oh! hand in hand like rustics at a country fair. But she had called him a brutal Prussian! And a puppy!
"Ahem!" said Mr. Livingstone, loudly, not knowing what else to say.
They turned about, and saw him, and seemed neither surprised nor ashamed. Miss Allen stepped quickly towards him, smiling and saying, "Oh, Mr. Livingstone, we were meaning to tell you anyhow.... Mr.
Crittenden and I are going to be married."
She smiled at him dazzlingly as she spoke, but Livingstone was not at all sure from the expression of her eyes that she saw him. It crossed his mind that she would have smiled as dazzlingly as that if a lamp-post had stood in his place.
"Married!" he cried, really aghast for both of them. That sensitive, imaginative girl tied for life to that unfeeling, rough, hard fellow.
What on earth did she, even for a moment, see in him? And as for Crittenden ... any man with a little money of his own, personable enough to marry advantageously, throwing himself away on a girl without a penny either now or in prospect! To what a wretched, cramped life he was dooming himself and her ... back rooms in greasy, third-rate pensions, never any margin for decent clothes....
"Yes, and we're going to live in Ashley, Vermont."
Livingstone sank down on his bench, appalled. Worse than third-rate pensions! Worse than the human mind could conceive!
"Oh, no! No! No!" he cried to her as though he were clutching at her as she sank to ruin. "No! Don't say that! You've no idea ... my dear young lady, you haven't the faintest idea what an impossible life that would be. You mustn't consider it for a moment. Crittenden, you mustn't let her consider it. An American country village. Good God! You don't know what it is, what the people are!"
"Yes, I do, too," she told him gaily, giving the effect, though she stood quite still, of executing a twirling pirouette of high spirits.
"I've lived there. It's really going back home for both of us."
"Home! Why, Crittenden certainly told me he'd never been there in his life!"
"Oh, pshaw, Livingstone, don't be so heavy-handed and literal. Why wet-blanket _every_ imaginative fancy?" said Crittenden, laughing loudly as though some one had made a joke. He might, for the impression he made on Livingstone, have joined hands with the girl to dance madly around him in a circle. But this was no laughing matter. This was terrible!
Tragic! They had simply lost their heads, both of them, lost their heads and had no idea what they were doing. You could tell that by the wild glitter in their eyes. They were infatuated, that was it, infatuated. He must try to recall them to their senses. He turned imploringly to the girl. "But ... but ... but...." He was so agitated that he could not bring out his words. He stopped, drew a long breath, and passed his hand over his forehead. Then, very solemnly, "Do you know," he said to her, warningly, "do you know that you will probably have to _do your own work_?"
At this, she burst into an inexplicable, foolish shout of laughter, opening her eyes very wide at him and saying, "Appalling!"
She looked up at Crittenden, who for his part never took his eyes an instant from her.
How foolishly she talked! How foolishly she laughed! Why, they were acting as sentimentally as ... Mr. Livingstone could not think of any comparison adequate to their foolishness.
They were moving away now, nodding good-by to him and smiling at each other. At the top of the dark steps leading down through the Palace of the Caesars to the Forum they turned and cast a backward glance at him, who stood stock-still where they had left him, staring after them, dumfounded. Miss Allen looked at him and then came flying back, running, her light dress fluttering. What did she want? What was she going to do, with that shining, tremulous, mirthful face? Livingstone felt afraid of her, as if, like a swift bolt of summer lightning, she might strike him through and through.
What she did was to take his face in her two hands and give him a hearty kiss on each cheek. "_Dear_ Mr. Livingstone!" she said (or was it "_poor_"?)
Livingstone had the impression, from the expression of her face, that she would have kissed a cabman with equal fervor, and that Crittenden would have watched her do it with the same fatuous look he had now.
They went down together into the vaulted darkness and desolation of the ruined palace. Livingstone, leaning on the wall high above, saw them emerge together into the Forum and step off over the ancient flagged paving. And still hand in hand! Mr. Livingstone had by this time thought of an adequate comparison. They were as sentimental as a couple of Rogers statuettes!
Looking up, they saw him leaning there. They waved their hands and called up some laughing greeting to him. But he could not understand what they said, because they were too far away from him.
Hand in hand in the fierce, literal brightness of the noonday sun, they trod their new path over the ancient stones.
Rough-Hewn Part 61
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Rough-Hewn Part 61 summary
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