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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Babylon » CHAPTER XXXIV. HIRAM SEES LAND.
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CHAPTER XXXIV. HIRAM SEES LAND.
Upon my word,' Gwen Howard-Russell thought to herself in the gardens of the Villa Panormi, 'I really can't understand that young Mr. Churchill. He's four years older, and he ought to be four years wiser now, than when we were last at Rome, but he's actually just as stupid and as dull of comprehension as ever; he positively doesn't see when a girl's in love with him. He must be utterly bound up in his sculpture and his artistic notions, that's what it is, or else he'd surely discover what one was driving at when one gives him every possible sort of opportunity. One would have thought he'd have seen lots of society during these four winters that he's been comparatively famous, and that he would have found out what people mean when they say such things to him. But he hasn't, and I declare he's really more polite and attentive even now to that little governess cousin of his, with the old-fashioned bonnet, than he is to me myself, in spite of everything.'

For it had never entered into Gwen's heart to think that Colin might possibly be in love himself with the little gipsy-faced governess cousin.

'Cousin Dick,' Gwen said a few minutes later to Lord Beaminster, 'I've asked Mr. Churchill and my two Americans to come up and have a cup of tea with us this afternoon out here in the garden.'

'Certainly, my dear,' the earl answered, smiling with all his false teeth most amiably; 'the house is your own, you know. (And, by George, she makes it so, certainly without asking me. But who on earth could ever be angry with such a splendid high-spirited creature?) Bring your Americans here by all means, and give that man with the outlandish name plenty of tea, please, to keep him quiet. By Jove, Gwen, I never can understand for the life of me what the dickens the fellow's talking about.'

In due time the guests arrived, and Gwen, who had determined by this time to play a woman's last card, took great care during the whole afternoon to talk as much as possible to Hiram and as little as possible to Colin Churchill. She was determined to let him think he had a rival; that is the surest way of making a man discover whether he really cares for a woman or otherwise.

'Oh yes, I've been to Mr. Winthrop's studio,' she said in answer to Audouin's inquiry, 'and we admired so much a picture of a lake with such a funny name to it, didn't we, papa? It was really beautiful, Mr. Winthrop. I've never seen anything of yours that I've been pleased with so much. Don't you think it splendid, Mr. Audouin?'

'A fine picture in its way—yes, certainly, Miss Russell; but not nearly so good, to my thinking, as the Capture of Babylon he's now working on.'

'You think so, really? Well, now, for my part I like the landscape better. There's so much more originality and personality in it, I fancy. Mr. Winthrop, which do you yourself like the best of your performances?'

Hiram blushed with pleasure. Gwen had never before taken so much notice of him. 'I'm hardly a good judge myself,' he faltered out timidly. 'I wouldn't for worlds pit my own small opinion, of course, against Mr. Audouin's. I'm trying my best at the Capture of Babylon, naturally, but I don't seem to satisfy my own imaginary standard in historical painting, somehow, nearly as well as in external nature. For my own part, I like the landscapes best. I quite agree with you, Miss Russell, that Lake Chattawauga is about my high-water mark.'

('Lake Chattawauga!' the earl interjected pensively—but nobody took the slightest notice of him. 'Lake Chattawauga! Do you really mean to say you've painted the picture of a place with such a name as Lake Chattawauga? I should suppose it must be somewhere or other over in America.')

'I'm so glad to hear you say so,' Gwen answered cordially, 'because one's always wrong, you know, in matters of art criticism; and it's such a comfort to hear that one may be right now and again if only by accident. I liked Lake Chattawauga quite immensely; I don't know when I've seen a picture that pleased me so much, Mr. Winthrop.—What do you say, Mr. Churchill?'

'I think you and Winthrop are quite right, Miss Russell. His landscapes are very, very pretty, and I wish he'd devote himself to them entirely, and give up historical painting and figure subjects altogether.'

('The first time I ever noticed a trace of professional jealousy in young Churchill,' thought Audouin to himself sapiently. 'He doesn't want Hiram, apparently, to go on with the one thing which is certain to lead him in the end to fame and fortune.')

'And there was a lovely little sketch of a Tyrolese waterfall,' Gwen began again enthusiastically. 'Wasn't it exquisite, papa? You know you said you'd so much like to buy it for the dining-room.'

Hiram flushed again. 'I'm so glad you liked my little things,' he said, trembling with delight. 'I didn't think you cared in the least for any of my work, Miss Russell. I was afraid you weren't at all interested in the big canvases.'

'Not like your work, Mr. Winthrop!' Gwen cried, with half a glance aside at Colin. 'Oh yes, I've always admired it most sincerely! Why, don't you remember, our friendship with you and Mr. Audouin began just with my admiring a little water-colour you were making the very first day I ever saw you, by the Lake of the Thousand Islands?' (Hiram nodded a joyful assent. Why, how could he ever possibly forget it?) 'And then you know there was that beautiful little sketch of the Lago Albano, that you gave me the day I was leaving Italy last. I have it hung up in our drawing-room at home in England, and I think it's one of the very prettiest pictures I ever looked at.'

Hiram could have cried like a child that moment with the joy and excitement of a long pent-up nature.

And so, through all that delightful afternoon, Gwen kept leading up, without intermission, to Hiram Winthrop. Hiram himself hardly knew what on earth to make of it. Gwen was very kind and polite to him to-day—that much was certain; and that, at least, was quite enough to secure Hiram an unwonted amount of genuine happiness. How he hugged himself over her kindly smiles and appreciative criticisms! How he fancied in his heart, with tremulous hesitation, that she really was beginning to care just a little bit for him, were it ever so little! In short, for the moment, he was in the seventh heaven, and he felt happier than he had ever felt before in his whole poor, wearisome, disappointed lifetime.

When they were going away, Gwen said once to Hiram (holding his hand in hers just a second longer than was necessary too, he fancied), 'Now, remember, you must come again and see us very soon, Mr. Winthrop—and you too, Mr. Audouin. We want you both to come as often as you're able, for we're quite dull out here in the country, so far away from the town and the Corso.' But she never said a single word of that sort to Cohn Churchill, who was standing close beside them, and heard it all, and thought to himself, 'I wonder whether Miss Russell has begun to take a fancy at last to our friend Winthrop? He's a good fellow, and after all she couldn't do better if she were to search diligently through the entire British peerage.' So utterly had Gwen's wicked little ruse failed of its deceitful, jealous intention.

But as they walked Rome-ward together, to the Porta del Popolo, Audouin said at last musingly to Hiram, 'Miss Russell was in a very gracious mood this afternoon, wasn't she, my dear fellow?'

He looked at Hiram so steadfastly while he said it that Hiram almost blushed again, for he didn't like to hear the subject mentioned, however guardedly, before a third person like Colin Churchill. 'Yes,' he answered shyly, 'she spoke very kindly indeed about my little landscapes. I had no idea before that she really thought anything about them. And how good of her, too, to keep my water-colour of the Lago Albano in her own drawing-room!'

Audouin smiled a gently cynical little Bostonian smile, and answered nothing.

'How strangely one-sided and egotistic we are, after all!' he thought to himself quietly as he walked along. 'We think each of ourselves, and never a bit of other people. Hiram evidently fancied that Miss Russell—Gwen—why not call her so?—wanted him to come again to the Villa Panormi. A moment's reflection might have shown him that she couldn't possibly have asked me, without at the same time asking him also! And it was very clever of her, too, to invite him first, so as not to make the invitation look quite too pointed. She was noticeably kind to Hiram to-day, because he's my protégé. But Hiram, with all his strong, good qualities, is not keen-sighted—not deep enough to fathom the profound abysses of a woman's diplomacy! I don't believe even now he sees what she was driving at. But I know: I feel certain I know; I can't be mistaken. It was a very good sign, too, a very good sign, that though she asked me (and of course Hiram with me) to come often to the villa, she didn't think in the least of asking that young fellow Churchill. It's a terribly presumptuous thing to fancy you have won such a woman's heart as Gwen Howard-Russell's; but I imagine I must be right this time. I don't believe I can possibly be mistaken any longer. The convergence of the evidences is really quite too overwhelming.'


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