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CHAPTER XX. THE STRANDS CONVERGE.

Colin and Hiram slept that night under the same roof, at Audouin's hotel. The wheel of Fate had at last brought the two young enthusiasts together, and they fraternised at once by mere dint of the similarity of their tastes and natural circumstances. Their lives had been so like—and yet so unlike; their fortunes had been so much the same—and yet so different. It was pleasant to compare notes with one another in the smoking-room about Wootton Mande ville and Geauga County, about the deacon and the vicar, Cicolari and Audouin; all things on earth, save only Gwen and Minna. Even Hiram didn't care to speak about Gwen. Young men in America are generally far more frank with one another about their love affairs than we sober, suspicious, unromantic English; they talk among themselves enthusiastically about their sweethearts, much as girls talk together in confidence in England. But Hiram in this respect was not American. His self-contained, self-restraining nature forbade him to hint a word even of the interest he felt in the beautiful stranger he had so oddly recognised in Sir Henry's salon.

But he would meet her again—that was something! He knew her name now, and all about her. As they left Sir Henry's hotel together, Gwen had turned with one of her gracious smiles to Sam, flooding his soul with her eyes, and said in that delicious trilling voice of hers: 'I can't forbear to tell you, Mr. Churchill, that I'd been to see Sir Henry, as he hinted to you, on the very self-same errand as yourself, almost. I met your brother in the train coming here, and I learnt from him accidentally what he'd come for, and how he was coming; and I couldn't resist going to tell that horrid old man the whole story. It was so delightful, you know, so very romantic. Of course I thought he'd be only too delighted to hear it, and admire your brother's pluck and resolution so much, exactly as I did. I thought he'd say at once “A sculptor! How magnificent! Then he shan't stay here with me another minute. I'm a lover of art myself. I know what it must be to feel that divine yearning within one,” or something of that sort. “I won't allow a born artist to waste another moment of his precious time upon such useless and unworthy occupations. Let him go immediately and study his noble profession; I'll use all my interest to get him the best introductions to the very first masters in all Italy.” That's what a man of any heart or spirit would have said on the spur of the moment. Instead of that, the horrid old creature put up his eyeglass and stared at me so that I was frightened to death, and swore dreadfully, and said your brother oughtn't to have engaged himself under the circumstances; and used such shocking language, that I was just going to leave the room in a perfect state of terror when you came in and detained me for a minute. And then you saw yourself the dreadful rage he got into—the old wretch! I should like to see him put into prison or something. I've no patience with him.'

Hiram felt in his own soul at that moment a certain fierce demon rising up within him, and goading him on to some desperate vengeance. Was he alone the only man that Gwen didn't seem to notice or care for in any way? She was so cordial to Audouin, she was so cordial to Sam, and now she was so interested in Sam's unknown brother, whom she had only met casually in a railway carriage, that she had actually faced, alone and undaunted, this savage old curmudgeon of a British nobleman (Hiram's views as to the status of English baronets were as vague as those of the Tichborne Claimant's admirers), in order to release him from the necessary consequences of an unpleasant arrangement. But him, Hiram, she had utterly forgotten; and even when reminded of him, she only seemed to remember his personality in a very humiliating fashion as a sort of unimportant pendant or corollary to that brilliant Mr. Audouin. To him, she was all the world of woman; to her, he was evidently nothing more than an uninteresting young man, who happened to accompany that delightfully clever American whom she met at the Thousand Islands!

How little we all of us are to some people who are so very, very much to us!

But when she was leaving them at the door of her own hotel, Gwen handed Hiram a card with a smile that made amends for everything, and said so brightly: 'I hope we may see you again, Mr. Winthrop. I haven't forgotten your delightful picture. I'm so fond of everything at all artistic. And how nice it is, too, that you've got that charming Mr. Audouin still with you. You must be sure to bring him to see us here, or rather, I must send papa to call upon you. And, Mr. Churchill, as soon as your brother sets up a studio—I suppose he will now—we won't forget to drop in and see him at it. I'm so very much interested in anything like sculpture.'

Poor Hiram's heart sank again like a barometer to Very Stormy. She only wanted to see him again, then, because he'd got Audouin with him! Hiram was too profoundly loyal to feel angry, even in his own heart, with his best friend and benefactor; but he couldn't help feeling terribly grieved and saddened and downcast, as he walked along silently the rest of the way through those novel crowded streets of Rome towards the H?tel de Russie. He felt sure he should cordially hate this horrid, interesting, interloping fellow, Sam's brother.

Sam had left a little note at the Allemagne to be given to Mr. Colin Churchill—Sir Henry's valet—as soon as ever he came back. In the note he told Colin he was to call round at once, without speaking to Sir Henry, for a very particular purpose, at the H?tel de Russie. The letter was duly signed: 'Your affectionate brother, Sam Churchill.' Colin took it up and looked at it again and again. Yes, there was no denying it; it was Sam's handwriting, But how on earth had Sam got to Rome, and what on earth was Sam doing there? It was certainly all most mysterious. Still, the words 'without speaking to that old fool Sir Henry' were trebly underlined, and Colin felt sure there must be some sufficient reason for them, especially as the arrangement of epithets was at once so correct and so forcible. So he turned hastily to the H?tel de Russie, filled with amazement at this singular adventure.

In Colin's mind, the Sam of his boyish memory was a Dorsetshire labourer clad in Dorsetshire country clothes, a trifle loutish (if the truth must be told), and with the easy, slouching, lounging gait of the ordinary English agricultural workman. When he called at the Russie, he was ushered up into a room where he saw three men sitting on a red velvet sofa, all alike American in face, dress, and action, and all alike, at first sight, complete strangers to him. When one of the three, a tall, handsome, middle-aged man, with a long brown moustache, and a faultless New Yorker tourist suit, rose hastily from the sofa, and came forward to greet him with a cry of 'Colin!' he could hardly make his eyes believe there was any relic of the original Sam about this flourishing and eminently respectable American citizen.

'Well, Colin,' his brother said kindly, but with such an unexpected Yankee accent, 'I surmise you ain't likely to recognise me, anyhow; that's so, ain't it? You were only such a little chap when I first went away across the millpond.'

When one sees a member of one's own family after a separation of many years, one judges of him as one judges of a stranger; and Colin was certainly pleased with the first glimpse of this resurrected and wholly transfigured Sam—he seemed such a good-humoured, easygoing, kindly-confidential sort of fellow, that Colin's heart warmed to him immediately. They fell to talking at once about old times at Wootton Mandeville, and Sam told Colin the whole story of how he came to cross the Atlantic again, and what reception he had met with that morning from Sir Henry Wilberforce. Hiram and Audouin went out while the two brothers discussed their family affairs and future prospects, ostensibly to see something of the sights of Rome, but really to let them have their talk out in peace and quietness.

'And now, Colin,' Sam said in a blunt, straightforward, friendly fashion, 'of course you mustn't see this Wilberforce man again, whatever happens. It's no use exposing yourself to a scene with him, all for nothing. You've just got to go back to the H?tel d'Allamain on the quiet, pack up your things without saying a word to him, and walk it. I've written a note to him that'll settle everything, and I've put in two bills.'

'Two what?' Colin asked doubtfully.

'Bills,' Sam repeated with a hasty emphasis. 'Notes I think you call 'em in England; bank-notes to cover all expenses of your journey, don't you see, and baggage, and so forth. No, never you mind thanking me like that about a trifle, Colin, but just sit there quietly like a sensible fellow and listen to what I've got to say to you. It's a long time since I left the old country, you know, my boy; and I've kind o' forgotten a good deal about it. I've forgotten that you were likely to be so hard up for money as you were, Colin, or else I'd have sent you over a few hundred dollars long ago to pay your expenses. When you wrote to me that you were working with a sculptor in London, I took it for granted, anyhow, that you were making a pretty tidy thing out of it; and when you wrote that you were going to Rome to continue your studies, I thought I'd bring Hiram Winthrop along just to keep you company. But I never imagined you'd come over as I find you have done. Why, when that Sickolary man told me you'd gone as a valet, I was so ashamed I couldn't look Mr. Audouin straight in the face again for half-an-hour. And what I want to know now's just this, Who's the very best sculptor, should you say, in all Rome, this very minute?'

'There's only one really great sculptor in Rome at all, at present, that I know of,' Colin answered without a moment's hesitation.

'Nicola Maragliano.'

'Well,' Sam continued in a business-like fashion; 'I suppose he takes pupils?'

'I should doubt it very much, Sam, unless they were very specially recommended.'

'What, really? At least, we'll try, Colin. We'll see what Mr. Maragliano's terms are, any way.'

'But, my dear fellow, whatever his terms are, I can't afford them. I must work for my livelihood one way or another.'

'Nonsense,' Sam answered energetically. 'You just leave this business alone. I've got to manage it my own way, and don't you go and interfere with it. I pay, you work; do you see, Colin?'

Colin looked back at his brother with a look half incredulity, half pride. 'Oh, Sam,' he said, 'I can't let you. I really can't let you. You mustn't do it. It's too kind of you, too kind of you altogether.'

'In America,' Sam answered, taking a cigar from his pocket and lighting a vesuvian, 'we're a busy people. We haven't got time for thanks and that sort of thing, Colin; we just take what we get, and say nothing about it. I'm going out now, to have a look after one of their Vaticans, or Colosseums, or triumphal arches, or something; you'd better go and pack up your traps meanwhile at this Wilberforce creature's. You'll sleep here tonight; I'll bespeak a room for you; then you and Hiram can talk things over and arrange all comfortable. They have dinner here at the wrong end of the day—seven o'clock; mind you're back for it. Now, good-bye for the present. I'm off to hunt up some of these ancient Roman ruins.'

Sam put on his hat before Colin could thank him any further, and in half an hour more, he was meditating, with the aid of his cigar, among the big gloomy arches of the Colosseum.

So Colin took the proffered freedom, with an apologetic note to poor old Sir Henry, whom he didn't wish to treat badly; and that evening he and Hiram met to make one another's acquaintance in earnest. Hiram's spleen against the young Englishman who had had the audacity to attract Gwen's favourable attention didn't long outlast their introduction. To say the truth, both young men were too simple and too transparent not to take a sincere liking for one another almost immediately. Sam and Audouin were both delighted at the success of their scheme for bringing them together; and Sam was really very proud of his brother's drawings and designs which Colin brought down for their inspection after dinner. He had enough, of Colin's leaven in him to be able at least to recognise a true and beautiful work of art when it was set before him.

'I shall just wait a bit here in Rome so as to fix up Colin with this man Maragliano, Mr. Audouin,' Sam said, after the two younger men had retired, as they sat talking over the prospect in the billiard-room of the hotel; 'and then I shall run back to England to pay a visit to the old folk, before I return to work at Syracuse.'

'And I,' said Audouin, 'will stop the winter so as to set Hiram fairly on the right way, and let him get free play for his natural talents. He's going to be the greatest American painter ever started, Mr. Churchill; and I'm going to see that he has room and scope to work in.'

But all that night, Hiram dreamt of Chattawauga Lake, and Gwen, and the Thousand Islands, and the green fields he had seen in England. And when he woke to look out on the broad sunshine flooding the neighbourhood of the Piazza del Popolo, his heart was sad within him.


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