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Donna Francesca received her three guests in the drawing-room, on the side of the house which she inhabited. Reanda was at his work in the great hall.
Gloria entered first, followed closely by her father, and Francesca was dazzled by the young girl's brilliancy of colour and expression, though she had seen her once before. As she came in, the afternoon sun streamed upon her face and turned her auburn hair to red gold, and gleamed upon her small white teeth as her strong lips parted to speak the first words. She was tall and supple, graceful as a panther, and her voice rang and whispered and rang again in quick changes of tone, like a waterfall in the woods in summer. With much of her mother's beauty, she had inherited from her father the violent vitality of his youth. Yet she was not noisy, though her manners were not like Francesca's. Her voice rippled and rang, but she did not speak too loud. She moved swiftly and surely, but not with rude haste. Nevertheless, it seemed to Francesca that there must be some exaggeration somewhere. The elder woman at first set it down as a remnant of schoolgirl shyness, and then at once felt that she was mistaken, because there was not the smallest awkwardness nor lack of self-possession about it. The contrast between the young girl and Paul Griggs was so striking as to be almost violent. He was cold and funereal in his leonine strength, and his face was more like a mask than ever as he bowed and sat down in silence. When he did not remind her of a gladiator, he made her think of a black lion with a strange, human face, and eyes that were not exactly human, though they did not remind her of any animal's eyes which she had ever seen.
As for Dalrymple, she thought that he was singularly haggard and worn for a man apparently only in middle age. There was a certain imposing air about him, which she liked. Besides, she rarely met foreigners, and they interested her. She noticed that both men wore black coats and carried their tall hats in their hands. They were therefore not artists, nor to be classed with artists. She was still young enough to judge them to some extent by details, to which people attached a good deal more importance at that time than at present. She made up her mind in the course of the next few minutes that both Dalrymple and Griggs belonged to her own class, though she did not ask herself where the young American had got his manners. But somehow, though Gloria fascinated her eyes and her ears, she set down the girl as being inferior to her father. She wondered whether Gloria's mother had not been an actress; which was a curious reflexion, considering that the dead woman had been of her own house and name.
After exchanging a few words with her guests, Francesca suggested that they should cross to the other side and see the frescoes, adding that Reanda was probably still at work.
"You know him, Mr. Griggs?" she said, as they all rose to leave the room.
"Yes," he answered, "as one man knows another."
"What does that mean?" asked Francesca, moving towards the door to lead the way.
"It does not mean much," replied the young man, with curious ambiguity.
He was very gentle in his manner, and spoke in a low voice and rather diffidently. She looked at him as though mentally determining to renew the question at some other time. Her first impression was that of a sort of duality about the man, as she found the possibility of a double meaning in his answer. His magnificent frame seemed to belong to one person, his voice and manner to another. Both might be good in their way, but her curiosity was excited by the side which was the less apparent.
They all went through the house till they came to a door which divided the inhabited part from the hall in which Reanda was working. She knocked gently upon it with her knuckles, and then smiled as she saw Gloria looking at her.
"We keep it locked," she said. "The masons come in the morning to lay on the stucco. One never trusts those people. Signor Reanda keeps the key of this door."
The artist opened from within, and stood aside to let the party pass. He started perceptibly when he first saw Gloria. As a boy he had seen Maria Braccio more than once before she had entered the convent, and he was struck by the girl's strong resemblance to her. Francesca, following Gloria, saw his movement of surprise, and attributed it merely to admiration or astonishment such as she had felt herself a quarter of an hour earlier. She smiled a little as she went by, and Reanda knew that the smile was for him because he had shown surprise. He understood the misinterpretation, and resented it a little.
But she knew Reanda well, and before ten minutes had passed she had convinced herself that he was repelled rather than attracted by the young girl, in spite of the latter's undisguised admiration of his work. It was not mere unintelligent enthusiasm, either, and he might well have been pleased and flattered by her unaffected praise.
She was interested, too, in the technical mechanics of fresco-painting, which she had never before been able to see at close quarters. Everything interested Gloria, and especially everything connected with art. As soon as they had all spoken their first words of compliment and appreciation, she entered into conversation with the painter, asking him all sorts of questions, and listening earnestly to what he said, until he realized that she was certainly not assuming an appearance of admiration for the sake of flattering him.
Meanwhile Francesca talked with Griggs, and Dalrymple, having gone slowly round the hall alone after all the others, came and stood beside the two and watched Francesca, occasionally offering a rather dry remark in a somewhat absent-minded way. It was all rather commonplace and decidedly quiet, and he was not much amused, though from time to time he seemed to become absorbed in studying Francesca's face, as though he saw something there which was past his comprehension. She noticed that he watched her, and felt a little uncomfortable under his steely blue eyes, so that she turned her head and talked more with Griggs than with him. Remembering what Reanda had told her of the young man's origin, she did not like to ask him the common questions about residence in Rome and his liking for Italy. She was self-possessed and ready enough at conversation, and she chose to talk of general subjects. They talked in Italian, of course. Dalrymple, as of old, spoke fluently, but with a strange accent. Any one would have taken Paul Griggs for a Roman. At last, almost in spite of herself, she made a remark about his speech.
"I was born here," answered Griggs. "It is much more remarkable that Miss Dalrymple should speak Italian as she does, having been born in Scotland."
"Are you talking about me?" asked the young girl, turning her head quickly, though she was standing with Reanda at some distance from the others.
"I was speaking of your accent in Italian," said Griggs.
"Is there anything wrong about it?" asked Gloria, with an anxiety that seemed exaggerated.
"On the contrary," answered Donna Francesca, "Mr. Griggs was telling me how perfectly you speak. But I had noticed it."
"Oh! I thought Mr. Griggs was finding fault," answered Gloria, turning to Reanda again.
Dalrymple looked at his daughter as though he were annoyed. The eyes of Francesca and Griggs met for a moment. All three were aware that they resented the young girl's quick question as one which they themselves would not have asked in her place, had they accidentally heard their names mentioned in a distant conversation. But Francesca instantly went on with the subject.
"To us Italians," she said, "it seems incredible that any one should speak our language and English equally well. It is as though you were two persons, Mr. Griggs," she added, smiling at the covered expression of her thought about him.
"I sometimes think so myself," answered Griggs, with one of his steady looks. "In a way, every one must have a sort of duality—a good and evil principle."
"God and the devil," suggested Francesca, simply.
"Body and soul would do, I suppose. The one is always in slavery to the other. The result is a sinner or a saint, as the case may be. One never can tell," he added more carelessly. "I am not sure that it matters. But one can see it. The battle is fought in the face."
"I do not understand. What battle?"
"The battle between body and soul. The face tells which way the fight is going."
She looked at his own, and she felt that she could not tell. But to a certain extent she understood him.
"Griggs is full of theories," observed Dalrymple. "Gloria, come down!" he cried in English, suddenly.
Gloria, intent upon understanding how fresco-painting was done, was boldly mounting the steps of the ladder towards the top of the little scaffolding, which might have been fourteen feet high. For the vault had long been finished, and Reanda was painting the walls.
"Nonsense, papa!" answered the young girl, also in English. "There's no danger at all."
"Well—don't break your neck," said Dalrymple. "I wish you would come down, though."
Francesca was surprised at his indifference, and at his daughter's calm disregard of his authority. Timid, too, as most Italian women of higher rank, she watched the girl nervously. Griggs raised his eyes without lifting his head.
"Gloria is rather wild," said Dalrymple, in a sort of apology. "I hope you will forgive her—she is so much interested."
"Oh—if she wishes to see, let her go, of course," answered Francesca, concealing a little nervous irritation she felt.
A moment later Gloria and Reanda were on the small platform, on one side of which only there was a hand rail. It had been made for him, and his head was steady even at a much greater elevation. He was pointing out to her the way in which the colours slowly changed as the stucco dried from day to day, and explaining how it was impossible to see the effect of what was done until all was completely dry. The others continued to talk below, but Griggs glanced up from time to time, and Francesca's eyes followed his. Dalrymple had become indifferent, allowing his daughter to do what she pleased, as usual.
When Gloria had seen all she wished to see, she turned with a quick movement to come down again, and on turning, she found herself much nearer to the edge than she had expected. She was bending forwards a little, and Griggs saw at once that she must lose her balance, unless Reanda caught her from behind. But she made no sound, and turned very white as she swayed a little, trying to throw herself back.
With a swift movement that was gentle but irresistible, Griggs pushed Francesca back, keeping his eyes on the girl above. It all happened in an instant.
"Jump!" he cried, in a voice of command.
She had felt that she must spring or fall, and her body was already overbalanced as she threw herself off, instinctively gathering her skirt with her hands. Dalrymple turned as pale as she. If she struck the bare brick floor, she could scarcely escape serious injury. But she did not reach it, for Paul Griggs caught her in his arms, swayed with her weight, then stood as steady as a rock, and set her gently upon her feet, beside her father.
"Maria Santissima!" cried Francesca, terrified, though instantly relieved, and dimly understanding the stupendous feat of bodily strength which had just been done before her eyes.
Above, Reanda leaned upon the single rail of the scaffolding with wide-staring eyes. Gloria was faint with the shock of fear, and grasped her father's arm.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" he said roughly, in English, but in a low voice. "You probably owe your life to Mr. Griggs," he added, immediately regaining his self-possession.
Griggs alone seemed wholly unmoved by what had happened. Gloria had held one of her gloves loosely in her hand, and it had fallen to the ground as she sprang. He picked it up and handed it to her with a curious gentleness.
"It must be yours, Miss Dalrymple," he said.
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