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   Chapter 18 No.18

A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 13913

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Though Flora had been so wakeful the preceding night, she tapped at Mrs. Delano's door very early the next morning. "Excuse me for coming before you were dressed," said she; "but I wanted to ask you how long you think it will be before Mr. Percival can find out whether Mr. Fitzgerald has brought Rosa with him."

"Probably not before noon," replied Mrs. Delano, drawing the anxious little face toward her, and imprinting on it her morning kiss. "Last evening I wrote a note to Mr. Green, requesting him to dispose of the opera tickets to other friends. Mr. Fitzgerald is so musical, he will of course be there; and whether your sister is with him or not, you will be in too nervous a state to go to any public place. You had better stay in your room, and busy yourself with books and drawings, till we can ascertain the state of things. I will sit with you as much as I can; and when I am absent you must try to be a good, quiet child."

"I will try to be good, because I don't want to trouble you, Mamita Lila; but you know I can't be quiet in my mind. I did long for the opera; but unless Mr. Fitzgerald brought Rosa with him, and I could see her before I went, it would almost kill me to hear Norma; for every part of it is associated with her."

After breakfast, Mrs. Delano sat some time in Flora's room, inspecting her recent drawings, and advising her to work upon them during the day, as the best method of restraining restlessness. While they were thus occupied, Carlina brought in a beautiful bouquet for Miss Delano, accompanied with a note for the elder lady, expressing Mr. Green's great regret at being deprived of the pleasure of their company for the evening.

"I am sorry I missed seeing him," thought Mrs. Delano; "for he is always so intimate with Southerners, I dare say he would know all about Mr. Fitzgerald; though I should have been at a loss how to introduce the inquiry."

Not long afterward Mr. Percival called, and had what seemed to Flora a very long private conference with Mrs. Delano. The information he brought was, that the lady with Mr. Fitzgerald was a small, slight figure, with yellowish hair and very delicate complexion.

"That is in all respects the very opposite of Flora's description of her sister," rejoined Mrs. Delano.

Their brief conversation on the subject was concluded by a request that Mr. Percival would inquire at Civita Vecchia for the earliest vessels bound either to France or England.

Mrs. Delano could not at once summon sufficient resolution to recount all the particulars to Flora; to whom she merely said that she considered it certain that her sister was not with Mr. Fitzgerald.

"Then why can't I go right off to the United States to-day?" exclaimed the impetuous little damsel.

"Would you then leave Mamita Lila so suddenly?" inquired her friend; whereupon the emotional child began to weep and protest. This little scene was interrupted by Carlina with two visiting-cards on a silver salver. Mrs. Delano's face flushed unusually as she glanced at them. She immediately rose to go, saying to Flora: "I must see these people; but I will come back to you as soon as I can. Don't leave your room, my dear."

In the parlor, she found a gentleman and lady, both handsome, but as different from each other as night and morning. The lady stepped forward and said: "I think you will recollect me; for we lived in the same street in Boston, and you and my mother used to visit together."

"Miss Lily Bell," rejoined Mrs. Delano, offering her hand. "I had not heard you were on this side the Atlantic."

"Not Miss Bell now, but Mrs. Fitzgerald," replied the fair little lady. "Allow me to introduce you to Mr. Fitzgerald."

Mrs. Delano bowed, rather coldly; and her visitor continued: "I was so sorry I didn't know you were with the Vatican party last night. Mr. Green told us of it this morning, and said you were obliged to leave early, on account of the indisposition of Miss Delano. I hope she has recovered, for Mr. Green has told me so much about her that I am dying with curiosity to see her."

"She is better, I thank you, but not well enough to see company," replied Mrs. Delano.

"What a pity she will be obliged to relinquish the opera to-night!" observed Mr. Fitzgerald. "I hear she is very musical; and they tell wonderful stories about this new prima donna. They say she has two more notes in the altissimo scale than any singer who has been heard here, and that her sostenuto is absolutely marvellous."

Mrs. Delano replied politely, expressing regret that she and her daughter were deprived of the pleasure of hearing such a musical genius. After some desultory chat concerning the various sights in Rome, the visitors departed.

"I'm glad your call was short," said Mr. Fitzgerald. "That lady is a perfect specimen of Boston ice."

Whereupon his companion began to rally him for want of gallantry in saying anything disparaging of Boston.

Meanwhile Mrs. Delano was pacing the parlor in a disturbed state of mind. Though she had foreseen such a contingency as one of the possible consequences of adopting Flora, yet when it came so suddenly in a different place, and under different circumstances from any she had thought of, the effect was somewhat bewildering. She dreaded the agitation into which the news would throw Flora, and she wanted to mature her own future plans before she made the announcement. So, in answer to Flora's questions about the visitors, she merely said a lady from Boston, the daughter of one of her old acquaintances, had called to introduce her husband. After dinner, they spent some time reading Tasso's Aminta together; and then Mrs. Delano said: "I wish to go and have a talk with Mr. and Mrs. Percival. I have asked him to inquire about vessels at Civita Vecchia; for, under present circumstances, I presume you would be glad to set out sooner than we intended on that romantic expedition in search of your sister."

"O, thank you! thank you!" exclaimed Flora, jumping up and kissing her.

"I trust you will not go out, or sing, or show yourself at the windows while I am gone," said Mrs. Delano; "for though Mr. Fitzgerald can do you no possible harm, it would be more agreeable to slip away without his seeing you."

The promise was readily and earnestly given, and she proceeded to the lodgings of Mr. and Mrs. Percival in the next street. After she had related the experiences of the morning, she asked what they supposed had become of Rosabella.

"It is to be hoped she does not continue her relation with that base man if she knows of his marriage," said Mrs. Percival; "for that would involve a moral degradation painful for you to think of in Flora's sister."

"If she has ceased to interest his fancy, very likely he may have sold her," said Mr. Percival; "for a man who could entertain the idea of selling Flora, I think would sell his own Northern wife, if the law permitted it and circ

umstances tempted him to it."

"What do you think I ought to do in the premises?" inquired Mrs.

Delano.

"I would hardly presume to say what you ought to do," rejoined Mrs. Percival; "but I know what I should do, if I were as rich as you, and as strongly attached to Flora."

"Let me hear what you would do," said Mrs. Delano.

The prompt reply was: "I would go in search of her. And if she was sold, I would buy her and bring her home, and be a mother to her."

"Thank you," said Mrs. Delano, warmly pressing her hand. "I thought you would advise what was kindest and noblest. Money really seems to me of very little value, except as a means of promoting human happiness. And in this case I might perhaps prevent moral degradation, growing out of misfortune and despair."

After some conversation concerning vessels that were about to sail, the friends parted. On her way homeward, she wondered within herself whether they had any suspicion of the secret tie that bound her so closely to these unfortunate girls. "I ought to do the same for them without that motive," thought she; "but should I?"

Though her call had not been very long, it seemed so to Flora, who had latterly been little accustomed to solitude. She had no heart for books or drawing. She sat listlessly watching the crowd on Monte Pincio;-children chasing each other, or toddling about with nurses in bright-red jackets; carriages going round and round, ever and anon bringing into the sunshine gleams of gay Roman scarfs, or bright autumnal ribbons fluttering in the breeze. She had enjoyed few things more than joining that fashionable promenade to overlook the city in the changing glories of sunset. But now she cared not for it. Her thoughts were far away on the lonely island. As sunset quickly faded into twilight, carriages and pedestrians wound their way down the hill. The noble trees on its summit became solemn silhouettes against the darkening sky, and the monotonous trickling of the fountain in the court below sounded more distinct as the street noises subsided. She was growing a little anxious, when she heard soft footfalls on the stairs, which she at once recognized and hastened to meet. "O, you have been gone so long!" she exclaimed. Happy, as all human beings are, to have another heart so dependent on them, the gratified lady passed her arm round the waist of the loving child, and they ascended to their rooms like two confidential school-girls.

After tea, Mrs. Delano said, "Now I will keep my promise of telling you all I have discovered." Flora ran to an ottoman by her side, and, leaning on her lap, looked up eagerly into her face. "You must try not to be excitable, my dear," said her friend; "for I have some unpleasant news to tell you."

The expressive eyes, that were gazing wistfully into hers while she spoke, at once assumed that startled, melancholy look, strangely in contrast with their laughing shape. Her friend was so much affected by it that she hardly knew how to proceed with her painful task. At last Flora murmured, "Is she dead?"

"I have heard no such tidings, darling," she replied. "But Mr. Fitzgerald has married a Boston lady, and they were the visitors who came here this morning."

Flora sprung up and pressed her hand on her heart, as if a sharp arrow had hit her. But she immediately sank on the ottoman again, and said in tones of suppressed agitation: "Then he has left poor Rosa. How miserable she must be! She loved him so! O, how wrong it was for me to run away and leave her! And only to think how I have been enjoying myself, when she was there all alone, with her heart breaking! Can't we go to-morrow to look for her, dear Mamita?"

"In three days a vessel will sail for Marseilles," replied Mrs. Delano. "Our passage is taken; and Mr. and Mrs. Percival, who intended to return home soon, are kind enough to say they will go with us. I wish they could accompany us to the South; but he is so well known as an Abolitionist that his presence would probably cause unpleasant interruptions and delays, and perhaps endanger his life."

Flora seized her hand and kissed it, while tears were dropping fast upon it. And at every turn of the conversation, she kept repeating, "How wrong it was for me to run away and leave her!"

"No, my child," replied Mrs. Delano, "you did right in coming to me. If you had stayed there, you would have made both her and yourself miserable, beside doing what was very wrong. I met Mr. Fitzgerald once on horseback, while I was visiting at Mr. Welby's plantation; but I never fairly saw him until to-day. He is so very handsome, that, when I looked at him, I could not but think it rather remarkable he did not gain a bad power over you by his insinuating flattery, when you were so very young and inexperienced."

The guileless little damsel looked up with an expression of surprise, and said: "How could I bear to have him make love to me, when he was Rosa's husband? He is so handsome and fascinating, that, if he had loved me instead of Rosa, in the beginning, I dare say I should have been as much in love with him as she was. I did dearly love him while he was a kind brother; but I couldn't love him so. It would have killed Rosa if I had. Besides, he told falsehoods; and papa taught us to consider that as the meanest of faults. I have heard him tell Rosa he never loved anybody but her, when an hour before he had told me he loved me better than Rosa. What could I do but despise such a man? Then, when he threatened to sell me, I became dreadfully afraid of him." She started up, as if struck by a sudden thought, and exclaimed wildly, "What if he has sold Rosa?"

Her friend brought forward every argument and every promise she could think of to pacify her; and when she had become quite calm, they sang a few hymns together, and before retiring to rest knelt down side by side and prayed for strength and guidance in these new troubles.

Flora remained a long time wakeful, thinking of Rosa deserted and alone. She had formed many projects concerning what was to be seen and heard and done in Rome; but she forgot them all. She did not even think of the much-anticipated opera, until she heard from the street snatches of Norma, whistled or sung by the dispersing audience. A tenor voice passed the house singing, Vieni in Roma. "Ah," thought she, "Gerald and I used to sing that duet together. And in those latter days how languishingly he used to look at me, behind her back, while he sang passionately, 'Ah, deh cedi, cedi a me!' And poor cheated Rosa would say, 'Dear Gerald, how much heart you put into your voice!' O shame, shame! What could I do but run away? Poor Rosa! How I wish I could hear her sing 'Casta Diva,' as she used to do when we sat gazing at the moon shedding its soft light over the pines in that beautiful lonely island."

And so, tossed for a long while on a sea of memories, she finally drifted into dream-land.

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