The Portrait of a Lady HTML version

Chapter 27
I may not attempt to report in its fulness our young woman's response to the
deep appeal of Rome, to analyse her feelings as she trod the pavement of the
Forum or to number her pulsations as she crossed the threshold of Saint Peter's.
It is enough to say that her impression was such as might have been expected of
a person of her freshness and her eagerness. She had always been fond of
history, and here was history in the stones of the street and the atoms of the
sunshine. She had an imagination that kindled at the mention of great deeds, and
wherever she turned some great deed had been acted. These things strongly
moved her, but moved her all inwardly. It seemed to her companions that she
talked less than usual, and Ralph Touchett, when he appeared to be looking
listlessly and awkwardly over her head, was really dropping on her an intensity of
observation. By her own measure she was very happy; she would even have
been willing to take these hours for the happiest she was ever to know. The
sense of the terrible human past was heavy to her, but that of something
altogether contemporary would suddenly give it wings that it could wave in the
blue. Her consciousness was so mixed that she scarcely knew where the
different parts of it would lead her, and she went about in a repressed ecstasy of
contemplation, seeing often in the things she looked at a great deal more than
was there, and yet not seeing many of the items enumerated in her Murray.
Rome, as Ralph said, confessed to the psychological moment. The herd of
reechoing tourists had departed and most of the solemn places had relapsed into
solemnity. The sky was a blaze of blue, and the plash of the fountains in their
mossy niches had lost its chill and doubled its music. On the corners of the
warm, bright streets one stumbled on bundles of flowers. Our friends had gone
one afternoon--it was the third of their stay--to look at the latest excavations in
the Forum, these labours having been for some time previous largely extended.
They had descended from the modern street to the level of the Sacred Way,
along which they wandered with a reverence of step which was not the same on
the part of each. Henrietta Stackpole was struck with the fact that ancient Rome
had been paved a good deal like New York, and even found an analogy between
the deep chariot-ruts traceable in the antique street and the overjangled iron
grooves which express the intensity of American life. The sun had begun to sink,
the air was a golden haze, and the long shadows of broken column and vague
pedestal leaned across the field of ruin. Henrietta wandered away with Mr.
Bantling, whom it was apparently delightful to her to hear speak of Julius Caesar
as a "cheeky old boy," and Ralph addressed such elucidations as he was
prepared to offer to the attentive ear of our heroine. One of the humble
archeologists who hover about the place had put himself at the disposal of the
two, and repeated his lesson with a fluency which the decline of the season had
done nothing to impair. A process of digging was on view in a remote corner of
the Forum, and he presently remarked that if it should please the signori to go
and watch it a little they might see something of interest. The proposal
commended itself more to Ralph than to Isabel, weary with much wandering; so