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CHAPTER XXVI. BREAKING UP.
And in a few weeks, Miss Russell, we shall all be scattered to the four winds of heaven! You'll be gone to England, the Wilmers to Aix, I to America, and except Winthrop and Churchill, our whole little Anglo-American colony will have deserted Rome altogether for summer quarters! I'm sorry for it, in some ways, for our winter has really been a most enjoyable one.'

'And so am I, Mr. Audouin, very sorry. But we must all meet here again some day or other. Papa's promised that in four years he'll bring me back for another trip. His next three winters will be taken up with his new duties at York, of course; but as soon as he's free again, he's going to bring me to Rome for a second visit. Perhaps by that time you'll be over once more, on a journey of inspection to look up your clever young protégé, Mr. Winthrop.'

Audouin hesitated. Should he propose to her then and there, or should he wait for four more long solitary American winters? he would lead up to it tentatively, first of all, and see whether fortune favoured his present adventure. 'Well,' he answered, dubiously, 'I hardly know whether to say yes or no to that invitation, Miss Russell. I'm not fond of cities, and I've longed many, many times this winter for the expansive breadth of our American woodlands. I wasn't born to be in populous city pent; I pine for the resinous smell of the prim?val forest. Only one thing, indeed, has kept me here so long this journey; your presence at Rome, Miss Russell.'

He looked at her as he spoke those words to see whether there was any response in her eyes or not; but Gwen only answered carelessly, 'What pretty things you always say to one, Mr. Audouin! Our English young men have quite lost the fine old-fashioned art of paying compliments, I imagine; but you and Mr. Winthrop seem to have kept it up beyond the Atlantic in a state of the highest original perfection. You almost remind one of Sir Charles Grandison.'

Audouin's eyes dropped. Clearly there was no chance of pressing the question with the beautiful Englishwoman just at present. Well, well, she was very young yet; better wait a year or two for her ideas to expand and ripen. Very young people always think anyone above thirty so extremely ancient; as they grow older themselves, their seniors by a decade or so seem to grow progressively younger, as if to meet them. 'Well, I'll close with your suggestion and make it an engagement, Miss Russell,' he said, half sighing.

'If you'll come back to Rome in four years' time, I'll come back the same winter to see how friend Hiram progresses with his artistic studies. Four years is a short space of time in a human life, after all; and if you contemplate being here at the end of that space, why, Rome will at least have one more attraction for me then than ever.'

Gwen laughed, and turned off the conversation to the latest nothing of Roman society.

A week later, Audouin went away to sail for America. But he carried back with him a little memento which strangely surprised the servants at Lakeside, when he set it up in a velvet-covered frame, among the Greek vases and tiny Egyptian sardonyx mummies, on his study mantelpiece. It was the photograph of a young lady in an English riding costume, by Montabone of the Piazza di Spagna; and when the housemaid slipped it out, 'jest to see who on airth could hev give it to him,' she found on the back the little inscription, 'For Mr. Audouin, with Gwen Howard-Russells best remembrances.'

Gwen herself, too, went before long; but before she went, she mentioned casually to Colin Churchill that she expected to be back at Rome in about four winters.

'We shall all be delighted to see you in Italy again, Miss Howard-Russell,' Colin answered, with hardly more than mere formal politeness. 'Won't we, Winthrop? Miss Russell is such a sincere admirer of painting and sculpture.'

Was that man's heart as cold and hard as the marble from which he cut his weeping nymphs and Calabrian peasants? Did he want a woman to go down upon her knees before him, or didn't he see when she was making as easy running for him as any man can expect from civilised society? He was really too provoking.

The night before Gwen left Rome, however, a little oblong parcel arrived at the hotel for her, containing a picture or something of the sort, left at the door by an English signor, the porter said. Was it one of Colin Churchill's designs for his unexecuted statues, Gwen wondered? She cut the string hastily, and opened the packet with a little internal flutter. No—wrong—evidently not from Mr. Churchill. It was a watercolour sketch of the Emissario at the Lago d'Albano, carefully finished in the minutest detail; and at the back was written in pencil, somewhat shakily, 'With Hiram Winthrop's compliments.'

'How very polite of Mr. Winthrop,' Gwen said in a careless voice that hardly hid her disappointment. 'He saw I was taken with the picture, and he's finished it off beautifully, and sent it to me for a parting present. It's a beautiful sketch, papa, isn't it? Come and see what Mr. Winthrop has sent me, Mrs. Wilmer.'

'A very well-behaved young man indeed,' the colonel put in, looking at the sketch casually, as if it were an object unworthy of a British field-officer's serious attention. 'A very well-behaved young man, although an American, and much less forward than that sculptor fellow, who's always thrusting himself upon us on every conceivable occasion.'

Hiram Winthrop had no photographs, but he had a great many little pencil sketches of a certain beautiful, proud-faced Englishwoman, which he didn't display upon the mantelpiece of his attic bedroom down the narrow Roman alley, because he preferred to keep them securely locked up in a small box, whence he took them out religiously every night and morning during the four years he spent in exile in that terrible, grimy, unnatural city. It was a very clear-cut, sculpturesque face indeed, but in spite of all Hiram's efforts at softening, it somehow managed to look most terribly inexorable. If Gwen found Colin Churchill blind, Hiram Winthrop found Gwen herself absolutely adamantine.


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