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Chapter 31

The brilliant winter morning had an intoxicating quality in it, after the heavy rain which had fallen in the night, and Paul Griggs felt that it was good to be alive as he threaded the narrow streets between his lodging and the Piazza Colonna. He avoided the Corso; for he did not know whom he might meet, and he had no desire to meet any one, except Angelo Reanda.

Naturally enough, his first honourable impulse was to go to the artist, to tell him something of the truth, and to give him an opportunity of demanding the common satisfaction of a hostile meeting. It did not occur to him that Reanda would not wish to exchange shots with him and have the chance of taking his life. Griggs was not the man to refuse such an encounter, and at that moment he felt so absolutely sure of himself that the idea of being killed was very far removed from his thoughts. It was without the slightest emotion that he enquired for Reanda at the latter's house, but he was very much surprised to hear that the painter had gone out as usual at his customary hour. He hesitated a moment and then decided not to leave a card, upon which he could not have written a message intelligible to Reanda which should not have been understood also by the servant who received it. Griggs made up his mind that he would write a formal note later in the day. He took it for granted that Reanda must be searching for his wife.

It was necessary to find a better lodging than the one in the Via della Frezza, and to provide as well as he could for Gloria's comfort. He was met by a difficulty upon which he had not reflected as yet, though he had been dimly aware of it more than once during the past twelve hours.

He was almost penniless, and he had no means of obtaining money at short notice. The payments he received from the newspapers for which he worked came regularly, but were not due for at least three weeks from that day. Alone in his bachelor existence he could have got through the time very well and without any greater privations than his capriciously ascetic nature had often imposed upon itself.

He was not an improvident man, but in his lonely existence he had no sense of future necessities, and the weakest point in his judgment was his undiscriminating generosity. Of the value of money as a store against possible needs, he had no appreciation at all, and he gave away what he earned beyond his most pressing requirements in secret and often ill-judged charities, whenever an occasion of doing so presented itself, though he never sought one. For himself, he was able to subsist on bread and water, and the meagre fare was scarcely a privation to his hardy constitution. If he chanced to have no money to spare for fuel, he bore the cold and buttoned up his old pea-jacket to the throat while he sat at work at his table. His self-respect made him wise and careful in regard to his dress, but in other matters many a handicraftsman was accustomed to more luxury than he. At the present juncture he had been taken unawares, and he found himself in great difficulty. He had left himself barely enough for subsistence until the arrival of the next remittance, and that meant but a very few scudi; and yet he knew that certain expenses must be met immediately, almost within the twenty-four hours. The very first thing was to get a lodging suitable for Gloria. It would be necessary to pay at least one month's rent in advance. Even if he were able to do that, he would be left without a penny for daily expenses. He had no bank account; for he cashed the drafts he received and kept the money in his room. He had never borrowed of an acquaintance, and the idea was repulsive to him and most humiliating. Had he possessed any bit of jewelry, or anything of value, he would have sold the object, but he had nothing of the kind. His books were practically valueless, consisting of such volumes as he absolutely needed for his daily use, chiefly cheap editions, poorly bound and well worn. He needed at least fifty scudi, and he did not possess quite ten. Three weeks earlier he had sent a hundred, anonymously, to free a starving artist from debt.

His position was only very partially enviable just then, but the bright north wind seemed to blow his troubles back from him as he faced it, walking home from his ineffectual attempt to meet Reanda. It was very unlike the man to return to his lodging without having accomplished anything, but he was hardly conscious of the fact. The face of the ancient city was suddenly changed, and it seemed as though nothing could go wrong if he would only allow fortune to play her own game without interference. He walked lightly, and there was a little colour in his face. He tried to think of what he should do to meet his present difficulties, but when he thought of them they were whirled away, shapeless and unrecognizable, and he felt a sense of irresistible power with each breath of the crisp dry air.

As he went along he glanced at the houses he passed, and on some of the doors were little notices scrawled in queer handwritings and telling that a lodging was to let. Occasionally he paused, looked up and hesitated, and then he went on. The difficulty was suddenly before him, and he knew that even if he looked at the rooms he could not hire them, as he had not enough money to cover the first month's rent. Immediately he attempted to devise some means of raising the sum he needed, but before he had reached the very next corner the clear north wind had blown the trouble away like a cobweb. With all his strength and industry and determination, he was still a very young man, and perplexity had no hold upon him since passion had taken its own way.

He reached the corner of his own street and stood still for a few moments. He could almost have smiled at himself as he paused. He had been out more than an hour and had done nothing, thought out nothing, made no definite plan for the future. His present poverty, which was desperate enough, had put on a carnival mask and laughed at him, as it were, and ran away when he tried to grapple with it and look it in the face. Gloria was there, upstairs in that tall house on which the morning sun was shining, and nothing else could possibly matter. But if anything mattered, it would be simple to talk it over together and to decide it in common.

Suddenly he felt ashamed of himself and of the confusion of his own intelligence. There was something meek and childish in standing still at the street corner, watching the people as they went by, listening to the regularly recurring yell of the man who was selling country vegetables from a hand-cart, and looking into the faces of people who went by, as though expecting to find there some solution of a difficulty which his disturbed powers of concentration did not clearly grasp. He could not think connectedly, much less could he reason sensibly. He made a few steps forward towards his house, and then stopped again, asking himself what he was going to do. He felt that he had no right to go back to Gloria until he had decided something for the future. He felt like a boy who has been sent on an errand, and who comes back having forgotten what he was to do. All at once he had lost his hold upon the logic of common-sense, and when he groped for a thread that might lead him, he was suddenly dazzled by the blaze of his happiness and deafened by the voice of his own joy.

He went on again and came to his own door. The one-eyed cobbler was at work, astride of his little bench with a brown pot of coals beside him. From time to time, when he had drawn the waxed yarn out through the leather on both sides, he blew into his black hands. Griggs stood still and looked at him in idle indetermination, and only struggling against the power that drew him towards the stairs.

"A fine north wind," observed Griggs, by way of salutation.

"It seems that it must be said," grunted the old man, punching a fresh hole in the sole he was cobbling. "To me, my fingers say it. It has always been a fine trade, this cobbling. It is a gentleman's trade because one is always sitting down."

"I am going to change my lodging," said Griggs.

The cobbler looked up, resting his dingy fists upon the bench on each side of the shoe, his awl in one hand, the other half encased in a leathern sheath, black with age.

"After so many years!" he exclaimed. "The world will also come to an end. I expected that it would. Now where will you take lodging?"

"Where I can find one. I want a little apartment—"

"It seems that your affairs go better," observed the old man, scrutinizing the other's face with his one eye.

"No. No better. That is the trouble. I want a little apartment, and I do not want to pay for it till the end of the first month."

"Then wait till the end of the month before you move to it, Signore."

"That is impossible."

"Then there is a female," said the cobbler, without the slightest hesitation. "I understand. Why did you not say so?"

Griggs hesitated. The man's guess had taken him by surprise. He reflected that it could make no difference whether the old cobbler knew of Gloria's coming or not.

"There is a signora—a relation of mine—who has come to Rome."

"A fair signora? Very beautiful? With a little eye of the devil? I have seen. Thanks be to heaven, one eye is still good. You are dark, and your family is fair. How can it interest me?"

"What? Has she gone out?" asked Griggs, in sudden anxiety. "When?"

"I had guessed!" exclaimed the cobbler, with a grunting laugh, and he ran the delicate bristles, which pointed the yarn, in opposite directions through the hole he had made, caught one yarn round the knot on the handle of the awl and the other round the leather sheath on his left hand. He drew the yarn tight to his arm's length with a vicious jerk.

"When did the signora go out?" enquired Griggs, repeating his question.

"It may be half an hour ago. Apoplexy! If your relations are all as beautiful as that!"

But Griggs was already moving towards the staircase. The cobbler called him back, and he stood still at the foot of the steps.

"There is the little apartment on the left, on the third floor," said the man. "The lodgers went away yesterday. I was going to ask you to write me a notice to put up on the door. As for paying, the padrone will not mind, seeing that you are an old lodger. It is good, do you know? There is sun. There is also a kitchen. There are five rooms with the entry."

The horror of poverty smote him.

"I will take it," said Griggs, instantly, and he ran up the stairs.

He was breathless with anxiety as he entered his work-room, and looked about him for something which should tell him where Gloria was gone. Almost instantly his eyes fell upon a sheet of paper lying before his accustomed seat. The writing on it was hers.

"I have gone to tell him. I shall be back soon."

That was all it said, but it was enough to blacken the sun that streamed through the windows upon the old carpet. Griggs sat down and rested his head in his hand. With the cloud that came between him and happiness, his powers of reason returned, and he saw quickly, in the pre-vision of logic, a scene of violence and anger between husband and wife, a possible reconciliation, and the instant wreck of his storm-driven love. It was impossible to know what Gloria would tell Reanda.

At the same instant the difficulties of his position rushed upon him and demanded an instant solution. He looked about him at the poor room, the miserable furniture, and the worn-out carpet, and the horror of poverty smote him in the face. He had allowed Gloria to come to him, and he knew that he could not support her decently. He had never found himself in so desperate a position in the course of his short and adventurous life. He could face anything when he alone was to suffer privation, but it was horrible to force misery upon the woman he loved.

Then, too, he asked himself what was to happen to Gloria if Reanda killed him, as was possible enough. And if he were not killed, there was Dalrymple, her father, who might return at any moment. No one could foretell what the Scotchman would do. It would be like him to do nothing except to refuse ever to see his daughter again. But he, also, might choose to fight, though his English traditions would be against it. In any case, Gloria ran the risk of being left alone, ruined and unprotected.

But the present problem was a meaner one, though not less desperate in its way. He reproached himself with having wasted even an hour when the case was so urgent. Without longer hesitation, he began to write letters to the editors for whom he worked, requesting them as a favour to advance the next remittance. Even then, he could scarcely expect to have money in less than ten days, and there was no one to whom he would willingly turn for help. Under ordinary circumstances he would have gone without food for days rather than have borrowed of an acquaintance, but he realized that he must overcome any such false pride within a day or two, at the risk of making Gloria suffer.

In those first hours he was not conscious of any question of right or wrong in what had taken place. Honour, in a rather worldly sense, had always supplied for him the place of all other moral considerations. The woman he loved had been ill-treated by her husband, and had come to him for protection. He had done his best, in spite of his love, to make her go back, and she had known how to refuse. Men, as men, would not blame him for what he was doing. Gloria, as a woman, could never reproach him with having tempted her. He might suffer for his deeds, but he could never blush for them.

F. Marion Crawford