Somewhat later in the day, they went
out for a stroll through the town together.
To Herminia’s great relief, Alan never even noticed
she had been crying. Man-like, he was absorbed
in his own delight. She would have felt herself
a traitor if Alan had discovered it.
“Which way shall we go?”
she asked listlessly, with a glance to right and left,
as they passed beneath the sombre Tuscan gate of their
And Alan answered, smiling, “Why,
what does it matter? Which way you like.
Every way is a picture.”
And so it was, Herminia herself was
fain to admit, in a pure painter’s sense that
didn’t at all attract her. Lines grouped
themselves against the sky in infinite diversity.
Whichever way they turned quaint old walls met their
eyes, and tumble-down churches, and mouldering towers,
and mediaeval palazzi with carved doorways or rich
loggias. But whichever way they turned dusty
roads too confronted them, illimitable stretches of
gloomy suburb, unwholesome airs, sickening sights
and sounds and perfumes. Narrow streets swept,
darkling, under pointed archways, that framed distant
vistas of spire or campanile, silhouetted against the
solid blue sky of Italy. The crystal hardness
of that sapphire firmament repelled Herminia.
They passed beneath the triumphal arch of Augustus
with its Etruscan mason-work, its Roman decorations,
and round the antique walls, aglow with tufted gillyflowers,
to the bare Piazza d’Armi. A cattle fair
was going on there; and Alan pointed with pleasure
to the curious fact that the oxen were all cream-colored, the
famous white steers of Clitumnus. Herminia knew
her Virgil as well as Alan himself, and murmured half
aloud the sonorous hexameter, “Romanos
ad templa deum duxere triumphos.”
But somehow, the knowledge that these were indeed the
milk-white bullocks of Clitumnus failed amid so much
dust to arouse her enthusiasm. She would have
been better pleased just then with a yellow English
They clambered down the terraced ravines
sometimes, a day or two later, to arid banks by a
dry torrent’s bed where Italian primroses really
grew, interspersed with tall grape-hyacinths, and scented
violets, and glossy cleft leaves of winter aconite.
But even the primroses were not the same thing to
Herminia as those she used to gather on the dewy slopes
of the Redlands; they were so dry and dust-grimed,
and the path by the torrent’s side was so distasteful
and unsavory. Bare white boughs of twisted fig-trees
depressed her. Besides, these hills were steep,
and Herminia felt the climbing. Nothing in city
or suburbs attracted her soul. Etruscan Volumnii,
each lolling in white travertine on the sculptured
lid of his own sarcophagus urn, and all duly ranged
in the twilight of their tomb at their spectral banquet,
stirred her heart but feebly. St. Francis, Santa
Chiara, fell flat on her English fancy. But as
for Alan, he revelled all day long in his native element.
He sketched every morning, among the huddled, strangled
lanes; sketched churches and monasteries, and portals
of palazzi; sketched mountains clear-cut in that pellucid
air; till Herminia wondered how he could sit so long
in the broiling sun or keen wind on those bare hillsides,
or on broken brick parapets in those noisome byways.
But your born sketcher is oblivious of all on earth
save his chosen art; and Alan was essentially a painter
in fibre, diverted by pure circumstance into a Chancery
The very pictures in the gallery failed
to interest Herminia, she knew not why. Alan
couldn’t rouse her to enthusiasm over his beloved
Buonfigli. Those naïve flaxen-haired angels,
with sweetly parted lips, and baskets of red roses
in their delicate hands, own sisters though they were
to the girlish Lippis she had so admired at Florence,
moved her heart but faintly. Try as she might
to like them, she responded to nothing Perugian in
At the end of a week or two, however,
Alan began to complain of constant headache.
He was looking very well, but grew uneasy and restless.
Herminia advised him to give up sketching for a while,
those small streets were so close; and he promised
to yield to her wishes in the matter. Yet he
grew worse next day, so that Herminia, much alarmed,
called in an Italian doctor. Perugia boasted
no English one. The Italian felt his pulse, and
listened to his symptoms. “The signore
came here from Florence?” he asked.
“From Florence,” Herminia
assented, with a sudden sinking.
The doctor protruded his lower lip.
“This is typhoid fever,” he said after
a pause. “A very bad type. It has
been assuming such a form this winter at Florence.”
He spoke the plain truth. Twenty-one
days before in his bedroom at the hotel in Florence,
Alan had drunk a single glass of water from the polluted
springs that supply in part the Tuscan metropolis.
For twenty-one days those victorious microbes had brooded
in silence in his poisoned arteries. At the
end of that time, they swarmed and declared themselves.
He was ill with an aggravated form of the most deadly
disease that still stalks unchecked through unsanitated
Herminia’s alarm was painful.
Alan grew rapidly worse. In two days he was
so ill that she thought it her duty to telegraph at
once to Dr. Merrick, in London: “Alan’s
life in danger. Serious attack of Florentine
typhoid. Italian doctor despairs of his life.
May not last till to-morrow. Herminia
Later on in the day came a telegram
in reply; it was addressed to Alan: “Am
on my way out by through train to attend you.
But as a matter of duty, marry the girl at once,
and legitimatize your child while the chance remains
It was kindly meant in its way.
It was a message of love, of forgiveness, of generosity,
such as Herminia would hardly have expected from so
stern a man as Alan had always represented his father
to be to her. But at moments of unexpected danger
angry feelings between father and son are often forgotten,
and blood unexpectedly proves itself thicker than
water. Yet even so Herminia couldn’t bear
to show the telegram to Alan. She feared lest
in this extremity, his mind weakened by disease, he
might wish to take his father’s advice, and
prove untrue to their common principles. In
that case, woman that she was, she hardly knew how
she could resist what might be only too probably his
dying wishes. Still, she nerved herself for this
trial of faith, and went through with it bravely.
Alan, though sinking, was still conscious at moments;
in one such interval, with an effort to be calm, she
showed him his father’s telegram. Tears
rose into his eyes. “I didn’t expect
him to come,” he said. “This is all
very good of him.” Then, after a moment,
he added, “Would you wish me in this extremity,
Hermy, to do as he advises?”
Herminia bent over him with fierce
tears on her eyelids. “O Alan darling,”
she cried, “you mustn’t die! You
mustn’t leave me! What could I do without
you? oh, my darling, my darling! But don’t
think of me now. Don’t think of the dear
baby. I couldn’t bear to disturb you even
by showing you the telegram. For your sake, Alan,
I’ll be calm, I’ll be calm.
But oh, not for worlds, not for worlds, even
so, would I turn my back on the principles we would
both risk our lives for!”
Alan smiled a faint smile. “Hermy,”
he said slowly, “I love you all the more for
it. You’re as brave as a lion. Oh,
how much I have learned from you!”
All that night and next day Herminia
watched by his bedside. Now and again he was
conscious. But for the most part he lay still,
in a comatose condition, with eyes half closed, the
whites showing through the lids, neither moving nor
speaking. All the time he grew worse steadily.
As she sat by his bedside, Herminia began to realize
the utter loneliness of her position. That Alan
might die was the one element in the situation she
had never even dreamt of. No wife could love
her husband with more perfect devotion than Herminia
loved Alan. She hung upon every breath with unspeakable
suspense and unutterable affection. But the Italian
doctor held out little hope of a rally. Herminia
sat there, fixed to the spot, a white marble statue.
Late next evening Dr. Merrick reached
Perugia. He drove straight from the station
to the dingy flat in the morose palazzo. At the
door of his son’s room, Herminia met him, clad
from head to foot in white, as she had sat by the
bedside. Tears blinded her eyes; her face was
wan; her mien terribly haggard.
“And my son?” the Doctor
asked, with a hushed breath of terror.
“He died half an hour ago,”
Herminia gasped out with an effort.
“But he married you before he
died?” the father cried, in a tone of profound
emotion. “He did justice to his child? he
repaired his evil?”
“He did not,” Herminia
answered, in a scarcely audible voice. “He
was stanch to the end to his lifelong principles.”
“Why not?” the father
asked, staggering. “Did he see my telegram?”
“Yes,” Herminia answered,
numb with grief, yet too proud to prevaricate.
“But I advised him to stand firm; and he abode
by my decision.”
The father waved her aside with his
hands imperiously. “Then I have done with
you,” he exclaimed. “I am sorry to
seem harsh to you at such a moment. But it is
your own doing. You leave me no choice.
You have no right any longer in my son’s apartments.”