Part 2 out of 4
"The heart-rending little waifs," she said, in English, with
something like a sob. Then, in Italian, "But--but how do you
live by the way?"
The boy touched his shoulder-load of baskets.
"We sell these, Excellency."
"What is their price?" she asked.
"Thirty soldi, Excellency."
"Have you sold many since you started?"
The boy looked away; and now it was his turn to hang his head,
and to let his toes work nervously in the dust.
"Haven't you sold any?" she exclaimed, drawing her conclusions.
"No, Excellency. The people would not buy," he owned, in a
dull voice, keeping his eyes down.
"Poverino," she murmured. "Where are you going to sleep
"In a house, Excellency," said he.
But that seemed to strike the Duchessa as somewhat vague.
"In what house?" she asked.
"I do not know, Excellency," he confessed. "We will find a
"Would you like to come back with me, and sleep at my house?"
The boy and girl looked at each other, taking mute counsel.
Then, "Pardon, noble lady--with your Excellency's permission,
is it far?" the boy questioned.
"I am afraid it is not very near--three or four kilometres."
Again the children looked at each other, conferring.
Afterwards, the boy shook his head.
"A thousand thanks, Excellency. With your permission, we must
not turn back. We must walk on till later. At night we will
find a house."
"They are too proud to own that their house will be a hedge,"
she said to Peter, again in English. "Aren't you hungry?" she
asked the children.
"No, Excellency. We had bread in the village, below there,"
answered the boy.
"You will not come home with me, and have a good dinner, and a
good night's sleep?"
"Pardon, Excellency. With your favour, the father would not
wish us to turn back."
The Duchessa looked at the little girl.
The little girl wore a medal of the Immaculate Conception on a
ribbon round her neck--a forlorn blue ribbon, soiled and
"Oh, you have a holy medal," said the Duchessa.
"Yes, noble lady," said the girl, dropping a courtesy, and
lifting up her sad little weazened face.
"She has been saying her prayers all along the road," the boy
"That is right," approved the Duchessa. "You have not made
your First Communion yet, have you?"
"No, Excellency," said the girl. "I shall make it next year."
"And you?" the Duchessa asked the boy.
"I made mine at Corpus Christi," said the boy, with a touch of
The Duchessa turned to Peter.
"Do you know, I haven't a penny in my pocket. I have come out
without my purse."
"How much ought one to give them?" Peter asked.
"Of course, there is the fear that they might be robbed," she
reflected. "If one should give them a note of any value, they
would have to change it; and they would probably be robbed.
What to do?"
"I will speak to the boy," said Peter. "Would you like to go
to Turin by train?" he asked.
The boy and girl looked at each other. Yes, Excellency," said
"But if I give you money for your fare, will you know how to
take care of it--how to prevent people from robbing you?"
"Oh, yes, Excellency."
"You could take the train this evening, at Venzona, about two
kilometres from here, in the direction you are walking. In an
hour or two you would arrive at Milan; there you would change
into the train for Turin. You would be at Turin to-morrow
"But if I give you money, you will not let people rob you? If
I give you a hundred lire?"
The boy drew back, stared, as if frightened.
"A hundred lire--?" he said.
"Yes," said Peter.
The boy looked at his sister.
"Pardon, Nobility," he said. "With your condescension, does it
cost a hundred lire to go to Turin by train?"
"Oh, no. I think it costs eight or ten."
Again the boy looked at his sister.
"Pardon, Nobility. With your Excellency's permission, we
should not desire a hundred lire then," he said.
Peter and the Duchessa were not altogether to be blamed, I
hope, if they exchanged the merest hint of a smile.
"Well, if I should give you fifty?" Peter asked.
"Fifty lire, Excellency?"
Still again the boy sought counsel of his sister, with his
"Yes, Excellency," he said.
"You are sure you will be able to take care of it--you will not
let people rob you," the Duchessa put in, anxious. "They will
wish to rob you. If you go to sleep in the train, they will
try to pick your pocket."
"I will hide it, noble lady. No one shall rob me. If I go to
sleep in the train, I will sit on it, and my sister will watch.
If she goes to sleep, I will watch," the boy promised
"You must give it to him in the smallest change you can
possibly scrape together," she advised Peter.
And with one-lira, two-lira, ten-lira notes, and with a little
silver and copper, he made up the amount.
"A thousand thanks, Excellency," said the boy, with a bow that
was magnificent; and he proceeded to distribute the money
between various obscure pockets.
"A thousand thanks, Excellency," said the girl, with a
"Addio, a buon' viaggio," said Peter.
"Addio, Eccellenze," said the boy.
"Addio, Eccellenze," said the girl.
But the Duchessa impulsively stooped down, and kissed the girl
on her poor little wrinkled brow. And when she stood up, Peter
saw that her eyes were wet.
The children moved off. They moved off, whispering together,
and gesticulating, after the manner of their race: discussing
something. Presently they stopped; and the boy came running
back, while his sister waited.
He doffed his hat, and said, "A thousand pardons, Excellency-"
"Yes? What is it?" Peter asked.
"With your Excellency's favour--is it obligatory that we should
take the train?"
"Obligatory?" puzzled Peter. "How do you mean?"
"If it is not obligatory, we would prefer, with the permission
of your Excellency, to save the money."
"But--but then you will have to walk!" cried Peter.
"But if it is not obligatory to take the train, we would pray
your Excellency's permission to save the money. We should like
to save the money, to give it to the father. The father is
very poor. Fifty lire is so much,"
This time it was Peter who looked for counsel to the Duchessa.
Her eyes, still bright with tears, responded, "Let them do as
"No, it is not obligatory--it is only recommended," he said to
the boy, with a smile that he could n't help. "Do as you will.
But if I were you, I should spare my poor little feet."
"Mille grazie, Eccellenze," the boy said, with a final sweep of
his tattered hat. He ran back to his sister; and next moment
they were walking resolutely on, westward, "into the great red
The Duchessa and Peter were silent for a while, looking after
They dwindled to dots in the distance, and then, where the road
At last the Duchessa spoke--but almost as if speaking to
"There, Felix Wildmay, you writer of tales, is a subject made
to your hand," she said.
We may guess whether Peter was startled. Was it possible that
she had found him out? A sound, confused, embarrassed,
something composite, between an oh and ayes, seemed to expire
in his throat.
But the Duchessa did n't appear to heed it.
"Don't you think it would be a touching episode for your friend
to write a story round?" she asked.
We may guess whether he was relieved.
"Oh--oh, yes," he agreed, with the precipitancy of a man who,
in his relief, would agree to anything.
"Have you ever seen such courage?" she went on. "The wonderful
babies! Fancy fifteen days, fifteen days and nights, alone,
unprotected, on the highway, those poor little atoms! Down in
their hearts they are really filled with terror. Who would n't
be, with such a journey before him? But how finely they
concealed it, mastered it! Oh, I hope they won't be robbed.
God help them--God help them!"
"God help them, indeed," said Peter.
"And the little girl, with her medal of the Immaculate
Conception. The father, after all, can hardly be the brute one
might suspect, since he has given them a religious education.
Oh, I am sure, I am sure, it was the Blessed Virgin herself who
sent us across their path, in answer to that poor little
"Yes," said Peter, ambiguously perhaps. But he liked the way
in which she united him to herself in the pronoun.
"Which, of course," she added, smiling gravely into his eyes,
"seems the height of absurdity to you?"
"Why should it seem the height of absurdity to me?" he asked.
"You are a Protestant, I suppose?"
"I suppose so. But what of that? At all events, I believe
there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of
in the usual philosophies. And I see no reason why it should
not have been the Blessed Virgin who sent us across their
"What would your Protestant pastors and masters do, if they
heard you? Isn't that what they call Popish superstition?"
"I daresay. But I'm not sure that there's any such thing as
superstition. Superstition, in its essence, is merely a
recognition of the truth that in a universe of mysteries and
contradictions, like ours, nothing conceivable or inconceivable
"Oh, no, no," she objected. "Superstition is the belief in
something that is ugly and bad and unmeaning. That is the
difference between superstition and religion. Religion is the
belief in something that is beautiful and good and significant
--something that throws light into the dark places of life--that
helps us to see and to live."
"Yes," said Peter, "I admit the distinction." After a little
suspension, "I thought," he questioned, "that all Catholics
were required to go to Mass on Sunday?"
"Of course--so they are," said she.
"But--but you--" he began.
"I hear Mass not on Sunday only--I hear it every morning of my
"Oh? Indeed? I beg your pardon," he stumbled. "I--one--one
never sees you at the village church."
"No. We have a chapel and a chaplain at the castle."
She mounted her bicycle.
"Good-bye," she said, and lightly rode away.
"So-ho! Her bigotry is not such a negligible quantity, after
all," Peter concluded.
"But what," he demanded of Marietta, as she ministered to his
wants at dinner, "what does one barrier more or less matter,
when people are already divided by a gulf that never can be
traversed? You see that river?" He pointed through his open
window to the Aco. "It is a symbol. She stands on one side of
it, I stand on the other, and we exchange little jokes. But
the river is always there, flowing between us, separating us.
She is the daughter of a lord, and the widow of a duke, and the
fairest of her sex, and a millionaire, and a Roman Catholic.
What am I? Oh, I don't deny I 'm clever. But for the rest?
. . . My dear Marietta, I am simply, in one word, the victim
of a misplaced attachment."
"Non capisco Francese," said Marietta.
And after that, for I forget how many days, Peter and the
Duchessa did not meet; and so he sank low and lower in his
Nothing that can befall us, optimists aver, is without its
value; and this, I have heard, is especially true if we happen
to be literary men. All is grist that comes to a writer's
By his present experience, accordingly, Peter learned--and in
the regretful prose of some future masterpiece will perhaps be
enabled to remember--how exceeding great is the impatience of
the lovesick, with what febrile vehemence the smitten heart can
burn, and to what improbable lengths hours and minutes can on
occasions stretch themselves.
He tried many methods of distraction.
There was always the panorama of his valley--the dark-blue
lake, pale Monte Sfiorito, the frowning Gnisi, the smiling
uplands westward. There were always the sky, the clouds, the
clear sunshine, the crisp-etched shadows; and in the afternoon
there was always the wondrous opalescent haze of August,
filling every distance. There was always his garden--there
were the great trees, with the light sifting through high
spaces of feathery green; there were the flowers, the birds,
the bees, the butterflies, with their colour, and their
fragrance, and their music; there was his tinkling fountain,
in its nimbus of prismatic spray; there was the swift, symbolic
Aco. And then, at a half-hour's walk, there was the pretty
pink-stuccoed village, with its hill-top church, its odd
little shrines, its grim-grotesque ossuary, its faded frescoed
house-fronts, its busy, vociferous, out-of-door Italian life:
--the cobbler tapping in his stall; women gossiping at their
toilets; children sprawling in the dirt, chasing each other,
shouting; men drinking, playing mora, quarrelling, laughing,
singing, twanging mandolines, at the tables under the withered
bush of the wine-shop; and two or three more pensive citizens
swinging their legs from the parapet of the bridge, and angling
for fish that never bit, in the impetuous stream below.
Peter looked at these things; and, it is to be presumed, he saw
them. But, for all the joy they gave him, he, this cultivator
of the sense of beauty, might have been the basest unit of his
own purblind Anglo-Saxon public. They were the background for
an absent figure. They were the stage-accessories of a drama
whose action was arrested. They were an empty theatre.
He tried to read. He had brought a trunkful of books to Villa
Floriano; but that book had been left behind which could fix
his interest now.
He tried to write--and wondered, in a kind of daze, that any
man should ever have felt the faintest ambition to do a thing
so thankless and so futile.
"I shall never write again. Writing," he generalised, and
possibly not without some reason, "when it is n't the sordidest
of trades, is a mere fatuous assertion of one's egotism.
Breaking stones in the street were a nobler occupation; weaving
ropes of sand were better sport. The only things that are
worth writing are inexpressible, and can't be written. The
only things that can be written are obvious and worthless--the
very crackling of thorns under a pot. Oh, why does n't she
And the worst of it was that at any moment, for aught he knew,
she might turn up. That was the worst of it, and the best. It
kept hope alive, only to torture hope. It encouraged him to
wait, to watch, to expect; to linger in his garden, gazing
hungry-eyed up the lawns of Ventirose, striving to pierce the
foliage that embowered the castle; to wander the country
round-about, scanning every vista, scrutinising every shape and
shadow, a tweed-clad Gastibelza. At any moment, indeed, she
might turn up; but the days passed--the hypocritic days--and
she did not turn up.
Marietta, the kind soul, noticing his despondency, sought in
divers artless ways to cheer him.
One evening she burst into his sitting-room with the effect of
a small explosion, excitement in every line of her brown old
face and wiry little figure.
"The fireflies! The fireflies, Signorino!" she cried, with
"What fireflies?" asked he, with phlegm.
"It is the feast of St. Dominic. The fireflies have arrived.
They arrive every year on the feast of St. Dominic. They are
the beads of his rosary. They are St. Dominic's Aves. There
are thousands of them. Come, Signorino, Come and see."
Her black eyes snapped. She waved her hands urgently towards
Peter languidly got up, languidly crossed the room, looked out.
There were, in truth, thousands of them, thousands and
thousands of tiny primrose flames, circling, fluttering,
rising, sinking, in the purple blackness of the night, like
snowflakes in a wind, palpitating like hearts of living
gold--Jove descending upon Danae invisible.
"Son carin', eh?" cried eager Marietta.
"Hum--yes--pretty enough," he grudgingly acknowledged. "But
even so?" the ingrate added, as he turned away, and let himself
drop back into his lounging-chair. "My dear good woman, no
amount of prettiness can disguise the fundamental banality of
things. Your fireflies--St. Dominic's beads, if you like--and,
apropos of that, do you know what they call them in America?
--they call them lightning-bugs, if you can believe me--remark
the difference between southern euphuism and western bluntness
--your fireflies are pretty enough, I grant. But they are
tinsel pasted on the Desert of Sahara. They are condiments
added to a dinner of dust and ashes. Life, trick it out as you
will, is just an incubus--is just the Old Man of the Sea.
Language fails me to convey to you any notion how heavily he
sits on my poor shoulders. I thought I had suffered from ennui
in my youth. But the malady merely plays with the green fruit;
it reserves its serious ravages for the ripe. I can promise
you 't is not a laughing matter. Have you ever had a fixed
idea? Have you ever spent days and nights racking your brain,
importuning the unanswering Powers, to learn whether there was
--well, whether there was Another Man, for instance? Oh, bring
me drink. Bring me Seltzer water and Vermouth. I will seek
nepenthe at the bottom of the wine-cup."
Was there another man? Why should there not be? And yet was
there? In her continued absence, the question came back
persistently, and scarcely contributed to his peace of mind.
A few days later, nothing discouraged, "Would you like to have
a good laugh, Signorino?" Marietta enquired.
"Yes," he answered, apathetic.
"Then do me the favour to come," she said.
She led him out of his garden, to the gate of a neighbouring
meadow. A beautiful black-horned white cow stood there, her
head over the bars, looking up and down the road, and now and
then uttering a low distressful "moo."
"See her," said Marietta.
"I see her. Well--?" said Peter.
This morning they took her calf from her--to wean it," said
"Did they, the cruel things? Well-?" said he.
"And ever since, she has stood there by the gate, looking down
the road, waiting, calling."
"The poor dear. Well--?" said he.
"But do you not see, Signorino? Look at her eyes. She is
weeping--weeping like a Christian."
Peter looked-and, sure enough, from the poor cow's eyes tears
were falling, steadily, rapidly: big limpid tears that trickled
down her cheek, her great homely hairy cheek, and dropped on
the grass: tears of helpless pain, uncomprehending endurance.
"Why have they done this thing to me?" they seemed dumbly to
"Have you ever seen a cow weep before? Is it comical, at
least?" demanded Marietta, exultant.
"Comical--?" Peter gasped. "Comical--!" he groaned . . . .
But then he spoke to the cow.
"Poor dear--poor dear," he repeated. He patted her soft warm
neck, and scratched her between the horns and along the dewlap.
"Poor dear--poor dear."
The cow lifted up her head, and rested her great chin on
Peter's shoulder, breathing upon his face.
"Yes, you know that we are companions in misery, don't you?" he
said. "They have taken my calf from me too--though my calf,
indeed, was only a calf in an extremely metaphorical sense--and
it never was exactly mine, anyhow--I daresay it's belonged from
the beginning to another man. You, at least, have n't that
gall and wormwood added to your cup. And now you must really
try to pull yourself together. It's no good crying. And
besides, there are more calves in the sea than have ever been
taken from it. You'll have a much handsomer and fatter one
next time. And besides, you must remember that your loss
subserves someone else's gain--the farmer would never have done
it if it hadn't been to his advantage. If you 're an altruist,
that should comfort you. And you must n't mind Marietta,--you
must n't mind her laughter. Marietta is a Latin. The Latin
conception of what is laughable differs by the whole span of
heaven from the Teuton. You and I are Teutons."
"Teutons--?" questioned Marietta wrinkling her brow.
"Yes--Germanic," said he.
"But I thought the Signorino was English?"
"So he is."
"But the cow is not Germanic. White, with black horns, that is
the purest Roman breed, Signorino."
"Fa niente," he instructed her. "Cows and Englishmen, and all
such sentimental cattle, including Germans, are Germanic.
Italians are Latin--with a touch of the Goth and Vandal. Lions
and tigers growl and fight because they're Mohammedans. Dogs
still bear without abuse the grand old name of Sycophant. Cats
are of the princely line of Persia, and worship fire, fish, and
flattery--as you may have noticed. Geese belong indifferently
to any race you like--they are cosmopolitans; and I've known
here and there a person who, without distinction of
nationality, was a duck. In fact, you're rather by way of
being a duck yourself: And now," he perorated, "never deny
again that I can talk nonsense with an aching heart."
"All the same," insisted Marietta, "it is very comical to see a
"At any rate," retorted Peter, "it is not in the least comical
to hear a hyaena laugh."
"I have never heard one," said she.
"Pray that you never may. The sound would make an old woman of
you. It's quite blood-curdling."
"Davvero?" said Marietta.
"Davvero," he assured her.
And meanwhile the cow stood there, with her head on his
shoulder, silently weeping, weeping.
He gave her a farewell rub along the nose.
"Good-bye," he said. "Your breath is like meadowsweet. So dry
your tears, and set your hopes upon the future. I 'll come and
see you again to-morrow, and I 'll bring you some nice coarse
But when he went to see her on the morrow, she was grazing
peacefully; and she ate the salt he brought her with heart-whole
bovine relish--putting out her soft white pad of a tongue,
licking it deliberately from his hand, savouring it tranquilly,
and crunching the bigger grains with ruminative enjoyment between
her teeth. So soon consoled! They were companions in misery no
longer. "I 'm afraid you are a Latin, after all," he said, and
left her with a sense of disappointment.
That afternoon Marietta asked, "Would you care to visit the
He was seated under his willow-tree, by the river, smoking
cigarettes--burning superfluous time.
Marietta pointed towards Ventirose.
"Why?" said he.
"The family are away. In the absence of the family, the public
are admitted, upon presentation of their cards."
"Oho!" he cried. "So the family are away, are they?"
"Aha!" cried he. "The family are away. That explains
everything. Have--have they been gone long?"
"Since a week, ten days, Signorino."
"A week! Ten days!" He started up, indignant. "You secretive
wretch! Why have you never breathed a word of this to me?"
Marietta looked rather frightened.
"I did not know it myself, Signorino," was her meek apology.
"I heard it in the village this morning, when the Signorino
sent me to buy coarse salt."
"Oh, I see." He sank back upon his rustic bench. "You are
forgiven." He extended his hand in sign of absolution. "Are
they ever coming back?"
"What makes you think so?"
"But they will naturally come back."
"I felicitate you upon your simple faith. When?"
"Oh, fra poco. They have gone to Rome."
"To Rome? You're trifling with me. People do not go to Rome
"Pardon, Signorino. People go to Rome for the feast of the
Assumption. That is the 15th. Afterwards they come back,"
said Marietta, firmly.
"I withdraw my protest," said Peter. "They have gone to Rome
for the feast of the Assumption. Afterwards they will come
"Precisely, Signorino. But you have now the right to visit the
castle, upon presentation of your card. You address yourself
to the porter at the lodge. The castle is grand, magnificent.
The Court of Honour alone is thirty metres long."
Marietta stretched her hands to right and left as far as they
"Marietta," Peter enquired solemnly, "are you familiar with
the tragedy of 'Hamlet'?"
"You have never read it," he pursued, "in that famous edition
from which the character of the Prince of Denmark happened to
Marietta shook her head, wearily, patiently.
Wearily, patiently, "No, Signorino," she replied.
"Neither have I," said he, "and I don't desire to."
Marietta shrugged her shoulders; then returned gallantly to her
"If you would care to visit the castle, Signorino, you could
see the crypt which contains the tombs of the family of
Farfalla, the former owners. They are of black marble and
alabaster, with gilding--very rich. You could also see the
wine-cellars. Many years ago a tun there burst, and a serving
man was drowned in the wine. You could also see the bed in
which Nabulione, the Emperor of Europe, slept, when he was in
this country. Also the ancient kitchen. Many years ago, in a
storm, the skeleton of a man fell down the chimney, out upon
the hearth. Also what is called the Court of Foxes. Many
years ago there was a plague of foxes; and the foxes came down
from the forest like a great army, thousands of them. And the
lords of the castle, and the peasants, and the village people,
all, all, had to run away like rabbits--or the foxes would have
eaten them. It was in what they call the Court of Foxes that
the King of the foxes held his court. There is also the park.
In the park there are statues, ruins, and white peacocks."
"What have I in common with ruins and white peacocks?"
Peter demanded tragically, when Marietta had brought her
much-gesticulated exposition to a close. "Let me impress upon
you once for all that I am not a tripper. As for your castle
--you invite me to a banquet-hall deserted. As for your park, I
see quite as much of it as I wish to see, from the seclusion of
my own pleached garden. I learned long ago the folly of
investigating things too closely, the wisdom of leaving things
in the vague. At present the park of Ventirose provides me
with the raw material for day-dreams. It is a sort of
looking-glass country,--I can see just so far into it, and no
farther--that lies beyond is mystery, is potentiality--terra
incognita, which I can populate with monsters or pleasant
phantoms, at my whim. Why should you attempt to deprive me of so
innocent a recreation?"
"After the return of the family," said Marietta, "the public
will no longer be admitted. Meantime--"
"Upon presentation of my card, the porter will conduct me from
disenchantment to disenchantment. No, thank you. Now, if it
were the other way round, it would be different. If it were
the castle and the park that had gone to Rome, and if the
family could be visited on presentation of my card, I might be
"But that would be impossible, Signorino," said Marietta.
Beatrice walking with a priest--ay, I am not sure it would n't
be more accurate to say conspiring with a priest: but you
They were in a room of the Palazzo Udeschini, at Rome--a
reception room, on the piano nobile. Therefore you see it: for
are not all reception-rooms in Roman palaces alike?
Vast, lofty, sombre; the walls hung with dark-green tapestry--a
pattern of vertical stripes, dark green and darker green; here
and there a great dark painting, a Crucifixion, a Holy Family,
in a massive dim-gold frame; dark-hued rugs on the tiled floor;
dark pieces of furniture, tables, cabinets, dark and heavy; and
tall windows, bare of curtains at this season, opening upon a
court--a wide stone-eaved court, planted with fantastic-leaved
eucalyptus-trees, in the midst of which a brown old fountain,
indefatigable, played its sibilant monotone.
In the streets there were the smells, the noises, the heat, the
glare of August of August in Rome, "the most Roman of the
months," they say; certainly the hottest, noisiest, noisomest,
and most glaring. But here all was shadow, coolness,
stillness, fragrance-the fragrance of the clean air coming in
from among the eucalyptus-trees.
Beatrice, critical-eyed, stood before a pier-glass, between two
of the tall windows, turning her head from side to side,
craning her neck a little--examining (if I must confess it) the
effect of a new hat. It was a very stunning hat--if a man's
opinion hath any pertinence; it was beyond doubt very
complicated. There was an upward-springing black brim; there
was a downward-sweeping black feather; there was a defiant
white aigrette not unlike the Shah of Persia's; there were
glints of red.
The priest sat in an arm-chair--one of those stiff, upright
Roman arm-chairs, which no one would ever dream of calling
easy-chairs, high-backed, covered with hard leather, studded
with steel nails--and watched her, smiling amusement,
He was an oldish priest--sixty, sixty-five. He was small,
lightly built, lean-faced, with delicate-strong features: a
prominent, delicate nose; a well-marked, delicate jaw-bone,
ending in a prominent, delicate chin; a large, humorous mouth,
the full lips delicately chiselled; a high, delicate, perhaps
rather narrow brow, rising above humorous grey eyes, rather
deep-set. Then he had silky-soft smooth white hair, and,
topping the occiput, a tonsure that might have passed for a
natural bald spot.
He was decidedly clever-looking; he was aristocratic-looking,
distinguished-looking; but he was, above all, pleasant-looking,
He wore a plain black cassock, by no means in its first youth
--brown along the seams, and, at the salient angles, at the
shoulders, at the elbows, shining with the lustre of hard
service. Even without his cassock, I imagine, you would have
divined him for a clergyman--he bore the clerical impress, that
odd indefinable air of clericism which everyone recognises,
though it might not be altogether easy to tell just where or
from what it takes its origin. In the garb of an Anglican
--there being nothing, at first blush, necessarily Italian,
necessarily un-English, in his face--he would have struck you,
I think, as a pleasant, shrewd old parson of the scholarly
--earnest type, mildly donnish, with a fondness for gentle mirth.
What, however, you would scarcely have divined--unless you had
chanced to notice, inconspicuous in this sober light, the red
sash round his waist, or the amethyst on the third finger of
his right hand--was his rank in the Roman hierarchy. I have
the honour of presenting his Eminence Egidio Maria Cardinal
Udeschini, formerly Bishop of Cittareggio, Prefect of the
Congregation of Archives and Inscriptions.
That was his title ecclesiastical. He had two other titles.
He was a Prince of the Udeschini by accident of birth. But his
third title was perhaps his most curious. It had been
conferred upon him informally by the populace of the Roman slum
in which his titular church, St. Mary of the Lilies, was
situated: the little Uncle of the Poor.
As Italians measure wealth, Cardinal Udeschini was a wealthy
man. What with his private fortune and official stipends, he
commanded an income of something like a hundred thousand lire.
He allowed himself five thousand lire a year for food,
clothing, and general expenses. Lodging and service he had for
nothing in the palace of his family. The remaining ninety-odd
thousand lire of his budget . . . Well, we all know that
titles can be purchased in Italy; and that was no doubt the
price he paid for the title I have mentioned.
However, it was not in money only that Cardinal Udeschim paid.
He paid also in labour. I have said that his titular church
was in a slum. Rome surely contained no slum more fetid, none
more perilous--a region of cut-throat alleys, south of the
Ghetto, along the Tiber bank. Night after night, accompanied
by his stout young vicar, Don Giorgio Appolloni, the Cardinal
worked there as hard as any hard-working curate: visiting the
sick, comforting the afflicted, admonishing the knavish,
persuading the drunken from their taverns, making peace between
the combative. Not infrequently, when he came home, he would
add a pair of stilettos to his already large collection of such
relics. And his homecomings were apt to be late--oftener than
not, after midnight; and sometimes, indeed, in the vague
twilight of morning, at the hour when, as he once expressed it
to Don Giorgio, "the tired burglar is just lying down to rest."
And every Saturday evening the Cardinal Prefect of Archives and
Inscriptions sat for three hours boxed up in his confessional,
like any parish priest--in his confessional at St. Mary of the
Lilies, where the penitents who breathed their secrets into his
ears, and received his fatherly counsels . . . I beg your
pardon. One must not, of course, remember his rags or his
sores, when Lazarus approaches that tribunal.
But I don't pretend that the Cardinal was a saint; I am sure he
was not a prig. For all his works of supererogation, his life
was a life of pomp and luxury, compared to the proper saint's
life. He wore no hair shirt; I doubt if he knew the taste of
the Discipline. He had his weaknesses, his foibles--even, if
you will, his vices. I have intimated that he was fond of a
jest. "The Sacred College," I heard him remark one day, "has
fifty centres of gravity. I sometimes fear that I am its
centre of levity." He was also fond of music. He was also
fond of snuff:
"'T is an abominable habit," he admitted. "I can't tolerate it
at all--in others. When I was Bishop of Cittareggio, I
discountenanced it utterly among my clergy. But for myself--I
need not say there are special circumstances. Oddly enough, by
the bye, at Cittareggio each separate member of my clergy was
able to plead special circumstances for himself I have tried to
give it up, and the effort has spoiled my temper--turned me
into a perfect old shrew. For my friends' sake, therefore, I
appease myself with an occasional pinch. You see, tobacco is
antiseptic. It's an excellent preservative of the milk of
The friends in question kept him supplied with sound rappee.
Jests and music he was abundantly competent to supply himself.
He played the piano and the organ, and he sang--in a clear,
sweet, slightly faded tenor. Of secular composers his
favourites were "the lucid Scarlatti, the luminous Bach." But
the music that roused him to enthusiasm was Gregorian. He
would have none other at St. Mary of the Lilies. He had
trained his priests and his people there to sing it admirably
--you should have heard them sing Vespers; and he sang it
admirably himself--you should have heard him sing a Mass--you
should have heard that sweet old tenor voice of his in the
Preface and the Pater Noster.
So, then, Beatrice stood before a pier-glass, and studied her
new hat; whilst the Cardinal, amused, indulgent, sat in his
high-backed armchair, and watched her.
"Well--? What do you think?" she asked, turning towards him.
"You appeal to me as an expert?" he questioned.
His speaking-voice, as well as his singing-voice, was sweet,
but with a kind of trenchant edge upon it, a genial asperity,
that gave it character, tang.
"As one who should certainly be able to advise," said she.
Well, then--" said he. He took his chin into his hand, as if
it were a beard, and looked up at her, considering; and the
lines of amusement--the "parentheses"--deepened at either side
of his mouth. "Well, then, I think if the feather were to be
lifted a little higher in front, and brought down a little
"Good gracious, I don't mean my hat," cried Beatrice. "What in
the world can an old dear like you know about hats?"
There was a further deepening of the parentheses.
"Surely," he contended, "a cardinal should know much. Is it
not 'the badge of all our tribe,' as your poet Byron says?"
Beatrice laughed. Then, "Byron--?" she doubted, with a look.
The Cardinal waved his hand--a gesture of amiable concession.
"Oh, if you prefer, Shakespeare. Everything in English is one
or the other. We will not fall out, like the Morellists, over
an attribution. The point is that I should be a good judge of
He took snuff.
"It's a shame you haven't a decent snuff-box," Beatrice
observed, with an eye on the enamelled wooden one, cheap and
shabby, from which he helped himself.
"The box is but the guinea-stamp; the snuff's the thing.--Was
it Shakespeare or Byron who said that?" enquired the Cardinal.
Beatrice laughed again.
"I think it must have been Pulcinella. I'll give you a lovely
silver one, if you'll accept it."
"Will you? Really?" asked the Cardinal, alert.
"Of course I will. It's a shame you haven't one already."
"What would a lovely silver one cost?" he asked.
"I don't know. It does n't matter," answered she.
"But approximately? More or less?" he pursued.
"Oh, a couple of hundred lire, more or less, I daresay."
"A couple of hundred lire?" He glanced up, alerter. "Do you
happen to have that amount of money on your person?"
Beatrice (the unwary woman) hunted for her pocket--took out her
purse--computed its contents.
"Yes," she innocently answered.
The Cardinal chuckled--the satisfied chuckle of one whose
unsuspected tactics have succeeded.
"Then give me the couple of hundred lire."
He put forth his hand.
But Beatrice held back.
"What for?" she asked, suspicion waking.
"Oh, I shall have uses for it."
His outstretched hand--a slim old tapering, bony hand, in
colour like dusky ivory--closed peremptorily, in a dumb-show
of receiving; and now, by the bye, you could not have failed
to notice the big lucent amethyst, in its setting of
elaborately-wrought pale gold, on the third finger.
"Come! Give!" he insisted, imperative.
Rueful but resigned, Beatrice shook her head.
"You have caught me finely," she sighed, and gave.
"You should n't have jingled your purse--you should n't have
flaunted your wealth in my face," laughed the Cardinal, putting
away the notes. He took snuff again. "I think I honestly
earned that pinch," he murmured.
"At any rate," said Beatrice, laying what unction she could to
her soul, "I am acquainted with a dignitary of the Church, who
has lost a handsome silver snuffbox--beautiful repousse work,
with his arms engraved on the lid."
"And I," retaliated he, "I am acquainted with a broken-down old
doctor and his wife, in Trastevere, who shall have meat and
wine at dinner for the next two months--at the expense of a
niece of mine. 'I am so glad,' as Alice of Wonderland says,
'that you married into our family.'"
"Alice of Wonderland--?" doubted Beatrice.
The Cardinal waved his hand.
"Oh, if you prefer, Punch. Everything in English is one or the
Beatrice laughed. "It was the I of which especially surprised
my English ear," she explained.
"I am your debtor for two hundred lire. I cannot quarrel with
you over a particle," said he.
"But why," asked she, "why did you give yourself such
superfluous pains? Why couldn't you ask me for the money
point-blank? Why lure it from me, by trick and device?"
The Cardinal chuckled.
"Ah, one must keep one's hand in. And one must not look like a
Jesuit for nothing."
"Do you look like a Jesuit?"
"I have been told so."
"By whom--for mercy's sake?"
"By a gentleman I had the pleasure of meeting not long ago in
the train--a very gorgeous gentleman, with gold chains and
diamonds flashing from every corner of his person, and a
splendid waxed moustache, and a bald head which, I think, was
made of polished pink coral. He turned to me in the most
affable manner, and said, 'I see, Reverend Sir, that you are a
Jesuit. There should be a fellow-feeling between you and me.
I am a Jew. Jews and Jesuits have an almost equally bad
The Cardinal's humorous grey eyes swam in a glow of delighted
"I could have hugged him for his 'almost.' I have been
wondering ever since whether in his mind it was the Jews or the
Jesuits who benefited by that reservation. I have been
wondering also what I ought to have replied."
"What did you reply?" asked Beatrice, curious.
"No, no," said the Cardinal. "With sentiments of the highest
consideration, I must respectfully decline to tell you. It was
too flat. I am humiliated whenever I recall it."
"You might have replied that the Jews, at least, have the
advantage of meriting their bad name," she suggested.
"Oh, my dear child!" objected he. "My reply was flat--you
would have had it sharp. I should have hurt the poor
well-meaning man's feelings, and perhaps have burdened my own
soul with a falsehood, into the bargain. Who are we, to judge
whether people merit their bad name or not? No, no. The
humiliating circumstance is, that if I had possessed the
substance as well as the show, if I had really been a son of
St. Ignatius, I should have found a retort that would have
effected the Jew's conversion."
"And apropos of conversions," said Beatrice, "see how far we
have strayed from our muttons."
"Our muttons--?" The Cardinal looked up, enquiring.
"I want to know what you think--not of my hat--but of my man."
"Oh--ah, yes; your Englishman, your tenant." The Cardinal
"My Englishman--my tenant--my heretic," said she.
"Well," said he, pondering, while the parentheses became marked
again,--"I should think, from what you tell me, that you would
find him a useful neighbour. Let me see . . . You got fifty
lire out of him, for a word; and the children went off,
blessing you as their benefactress. I should think that you
would find him a valuable neighbour--and that he, on his side,
might find you an expensive one."
Beatrice, with a gesture, implored him to be serious.
"Ah, please don't tease about this," she said. "I want to know
what you think of his conversion?"
"The conversion of a heretic is always 'a consummation devoutly
to be desired,' as well, you may settle it between Shakespeare
and Byron, to suit yourself. And there are none so devoutly
desirous of such consummations as you Catholics of England
--especially you women. It is said that a Catholic Englishwoman
once tried to convert the Pope."
"Well, there have been popes whom it would n't have hurt,"
commented Beatrice. "And as for Mr. Marchdale," she continued,
"he has shown 'dispositions.' He admitted that he could see no
reason why it should not have been Our Blessed Lady who sent us
to the children's aid. Surely, from a Protestant, that is an
"Yes," said the Cardinal. "And if he meant it, one may
conclude that he has a philosophic mind."
"If he meant it?" Beatrice cried. "Why should he not have
meant it? Why should he have said it if he did not mean it?"
"Oh, don't ask me," protested the Cardinal. "There is a thing
the French call politesse. I can conceive a young man
professing to agree with a lady for the sake of what the French
might call her beaux yeux."
"I give you my word," said Beatrice, "that my beaux yeux had
nothing to do with the case. He said it in the most absolute
good faith. He said he believed that in a universe like ours
nothing was impossible--that there were more things in heaven
and earth than people generally dreamed of--that he could see
no reason why the Blessed Virgin should not have sent us across
the children's path. Oh, he meant it. I am perfectly sure he
The Cardinal smiled--at her eagerness, perhaps.
"Well, then," he repeated, "we must conclude that he has a
"But what is one to do?" asked she. "Surely one ought to do
something? One ought to follow such an admission up? When a
man is so far on the way to the light, it is surely one's duty
to lead him farther?"
"Without doubt," said the Cardinal.
"Well--? What can one do?"
The Cardinal looked grave.
"One can pray," he said.
"Emilia and I pray for his conversion night and morning."
"That is good," he approved.
"But that is surely not enough?"
"One can have Masses said."
"Monsignor Langshawe, at the castle, says a Mass for him twice
"That is good," approved the Cardinal.
"But is that enough?"
"Why doesn't Monsignor Langshawe call upon him--cultivate his
acquaintance--talk with him--set him thinking?" the Cardinal
"Oh, Monsignor Langshawe!" Beatrice sighed, with a gesture.
"He is interested in nothing but geology--he would talk to him
of nothing but moraines--he would set him thinking of nothing
but the march of glaciers."
"Hum," said the Cardinal.
"Well, then--?" questioned Beatrice.
"Well, then, Carissima, why do you not take the affair in hand
"But that is just the difficulty. What can I what can a mere
woman--do in such a case?"
The Cardinal looked into his amethyst, as a crystal-gazer into
his crystal; and the lines about his humorous old mouth
deepened and quivered.
"I will lend you the works of Bellarmine in I forget how many
volumes. You can prime yourself with them, and then invite
your heretic to a course of instructions."
"Oh, I wish you would n't turn it to a joke," said Beatrice.
"Bellarmine--a joke!" exclaimed the Cardinal. "It is the first
time I have ever heard him called so. However, I will not
press the suggestion."
"But then--? Oh, please advise me seriously. What can I do?
What can a mere unlearned woman do?"
The Cardinal took snuff. He gazed into his amethyst again,
beaming at it, as if he could descry something deliciously
comical in its depths. He gave a soft little laugh. At last
he looked up.
"Well," he responded slowly, "in an extremity, I should think
that a mere unlearned woman might, if she made an effort, ask
the heretic to dinner. I 'll come down and stay with you for a
day or two, and you can ask him to dinner."
"You're a perfect old darling," cried Beatrice, with rapture.
"He'll never be able to resist you."'
"Oh, I 'm not undertaking to discuss theology with him," said
the Cardinal. "But one must do something in exchange for a
couple of hundred lire--so I'll come and give you my moral
"You shall have your lovely silver snuffbox, all the same,"
Mark the predestination!
"August 21 st.
"DEAR Mr. Marchdale: It will give me great pleasure if you can
dine with us on Thursday evening next, at eight o'clock, to
meet my uncle, Cardinal Udeschini, who is staying here for a
"I have been re-reading 'A Man of Words.' I want you to tell
me a great deal more about your friend, the author.
BEATRICE DI SANTANGIOLO."
It is astonishing, what men will prize, what men will treasure.
Peter Marchdale, for example, prizes, treasures, (and imagines
that he will always prize and treasure), the perfectly
conventional, the perfectly commonplace little document, of
which the foregoing is a copy.
The original is written in rather a small, concentrated hand,
not overwhelmingly legible perhaps, but, as we say, "full of
character," on paper lightly blueish, in the prescribed corner
of which a tiny ducal coronet is embossed, above the initials
"B. S." curiously interlaced in a cypher.
When Peter received it, and (need I mention?) approached it to
his face, he fancied he could detect just a trace, just the
faintest reminder, of a perfume--something like an afterthought
of orris. It was by no means anodyne. It was a breath, a
whisper, vague, elusive, hinting of things exquisite, intimate
of things intimately feminine, exquisitely personal. I don't
know how many times he repeated that manoeuvre of conveying the
letter to his face; but I do know that when I was privileged to
inspect it, a few months later, the only perfume it retained
was an unmistakable perfume of tobacco.
I don't know, either, how many times he read it, searched it,
as if secrets might lie perdu between the lines, as if his gaze
could warm into evidence some sympathetic ink, or compel a
cryptic sub-intention from the text itself.
Well, to be sure, the text had cryptic subintentions; but these
were as far as may be from any that Peter was in a position to
conjecture. How could he guess, for instance, that the letter
was an instrument, and he the victim, of a Popish machination?
How could he guess that its writer knew as well as he did who
was the author of "A Man of Words"?
And then, all at once, a shade of trouble of quite another
nature fell upon his mind. He frowned for a while in silent
perplexity. At last he addressed himself to Marietta.
"Have you ever dined with a cardinal?" he asked.
"No, Signorino," that patient sufferer replied.
"Well, I'm in the very dickens of a quandary--son' proprio nel
dickens d'un imbarazzo." he informed her.
"Dickens--?" she repeated.
"Si--Dickens, Carlo, celebre autore inglese. Why not?" he
Marietta gazed with long-suffering eyes at the horizon.
"Or, to put it differently," Peter resumed, "I've come all the
way from London with nothing better than a dinner jacket in my
"Dina giacca? Cosa e?" questioned Marietta.
"No matter what it is--the important thing is what it is n't.
It is n't a dress-coat."
"Non e un abito nero," said Marietta, seeing that he expected
her to say something.
"Well--? You perceive my difficulty. Do you think you could
make me one?" said Peter.
"Make the Signorino a dress-coat? I? Oh, no, Signorino."
Marietta shook her head.
"I feared as much," he acknowledged. "Is there a decent tailor
in the village?"
"Nor in the whole length and breadth of this peninsula, if you
come to that. Well, what am I to do? How am I to dine with a
cardinal? Do you think a cardinal would have a fit if a man
were to dine with him in a dina giacca?"
"Have a fit? Why should he have a fit, Signorino?" Marietta
"Would he do anything to the man? Would he launch the awful
curses of the Church at him, for instance?"
"Mache, Signorino!" She struck an attitude that put to scorn
"I see," said Peter. "You think there is no danger? You
advise me to brazen the dina giacca out, to swagger it off?"
"I don't understand, Signorino," said Marietta.
"To understand is to forgive," said he; "and yet you can't
trifle with English servants like this, though they ought to
understand, ought n't they? In any case, I 'll be guided by
your judgment. I'll wear my dina giacca, but I'll wear it with
an air! I 'll confer upon it the dignity of a court-suit. Is
that a gardener--that person working over there?"
Marietta looked in the quarter indicated by Peter's nod.
"Yes, Signorino; ha is the same gardener who works here three
days every week," she answered.
"Is he, really? He looks like a pirate," Peter murmured.
"Like a pirate? Luigi?" she exclaimed.
"Yes," affirmed her master. "He wears green corduroy trousers,
and a red belt, and a blue shirt. That is the pirate uniform.
He has a swarthy skin, and a piercing eye, and hair as black as
the Jolly Roger. Those are the marks by which you recognise a
pirate, even when in mufti. I believe you said his name is
Yes, Signorino--Luigi Maroni. We call him Gigi."
"Is Gigi versatile?" asked Peter.
"Versatile--?" puzzled Marietta. But then, risking her own
interpretation of the recondite word, "Oh, no, Signorino. He
is of the country."
"Ah, he's of the country, is he? So much the better. Then he
will know the way to Castel Ventirose?"
But naturally, Signorino." Marietta nodded.
"And do you think, for once in a way, though not versatile, he
could be prevailed upon to divert his faculties from the work
of a gardener to that of a messenger?"
"A messenger, Signorino?" Marietta wrinkled up her brow.
"Ang--an unofficial postman. Do you think he could be induced
to carry a letter for me to the castle?"
"But certainly, Signorino. He is here to obey the Signorino's
orders." Marietta shrugged her shoulders, and waved her hands.
"Then tell him, please, to go and put the necessary touches to
his toilet," said Peter. "Meanwhile I'll indite the letter."
When his letter was indited, he found the piratical-looking
Gigi in attendance, and he gave it to him, with instructions.
Thereupon Gigi (with a smile of sympathetic intelligence,
inimitably Italian) put the letter in his hat, put his hat upon
his head, and started briskly off--but not in the proper
direction: not in the direction of the road, which led to the
village, and across the bridge, and then round upon itself to
the gates of the park. He started briskly off towards Peter's
own toolhouse, a low red-tiled pavilion, opposite the door of
Peter was on the point of calling to him, of remonstrating.
Then he thought better of it. He would wait a bit, and watch.
He waited and watched; and this was what he saw.
Gigi entered the tool-house, and presently brought out a
ladder, which he carried down to the riverside, and left there.
Then he returned to the tool-house, and came back bearing an
armful of planks, each perhaps a foot wide by five or six feet
long. Now he raised his ladder to the perpendicular, and let
it descend before him, so that, one extremity resting upon the
nearer bank, one attained the further, and it spanned the
flood. Finally he laid a plank lengthwise upon the hithermost
rungs, and advanced to the end of it; then another plank; then
a third: and he stood in the grounds of Ventirose.
He had improvised a bridge--a bridge that swayed upwards and
downwards more or less dizzily about the middle, if you will
--but an entirely practicable bridge, for all that. And he had
saved himself at least a good three miles, to the castle and
back, by the road.
Peter watched, and admired.
"And I asked whether he was versatile!" he muttered. "Trust an
Italian for economising labour. It looks like unwarrantable
invasion of friendly territory--but it's a dodge worth
remembering, all the same."
He drew the Duchessa's letter from his pocket, and read it
again, and again approached it to his face, communing with that
ghost of a perfume.
"Heavens! how it makes one think of chiffons," he exclaimed.
"Thursday--Thursday--help me to live till Thursday!"
But he had n't to live till Thursday--he was destined to see
her not later than the next afternoon.
You know with what abruptness, with how brief a warning, storms
will spring from the blue, in that land of lakes and mountains.
It was three o'clock or thereabouts; and Peter was reading in
his garden; and the whole world lay basking in unmitigated
Then, all at once, somehow, you felt a change in things: the
sunshine seemed less brilliant, the shadows less solid, less
sharply outlined. Oh, it was very slight, very uncertain; you
had to look twice to assure yourself that it was n't a mere
fancy. It seemed as if never so thin a gauze had been drawn
over the face of the sun, just faintly bedimming, without
obscuring it. You could have ransacked the sky in vain to
discover the smallest shred of cloud.
At the same time, the air, which had been hot all day--hot,
but buoyant, but stimulant, but quick with oxygen--seemed to
become thick, sluggish, suffocating, seemed to yield up its
vital principle, and to fall a dead weight upon the earth.
And this effect was accompanied by a sudden silence--the usual
busy out-of-door country noises were suddenly suspended: the
locusts stopped their singing; not a bird twittered; not a
leaf rustled: the world held its breath. And if the river
went on babbling, babbling, that was a very part of the
silence--accented, underscored it.
Yet still you could not discern a rack of cloud anywhere in the
sky--still, for a minute or two . . . . Then, before you knew
how it had happened, the snow-summits of Monte Sfiorito were
completely lapped in cloud.
And now the cloud spread with astonishing rapidity--spread and
sank, cancelling the sun, shrouding the Gnisi to its waist,
curling in smoky wreaths among the battlements of the
Cornobastone, turning the lake from sapphire to sombre steel,
filling the entire valley with a strange mixture of darkness
and an uncanny pallid light. Overhead it hung like a vast
canopy of leaden-hued cotton-wool; at the west it had a fringe
of fiery crimson, beyond which a strip of clear sky on the
horizon diffused a dull metallic yellow, like tarnished brass.
Presently, in the distance, there was a low growl of thunder;
in a minute, a louder, angrier growl--as if the first were a
menace which had not been heeded. Then there was a violent
gush of wind--cold; smelling of the forests from which it came;
scattering everything before it, dust, dead leaves, the fallen
petals of flowers; making the trees writhe and labour, like
giants wrestling with invisible giants; making the short grass
shudder; corrugating the steel surface of the lake. Then two
or three big raindrops fell--and then, the deluge.
Peter climbed up to his observatory--a square four-windowed
turret, at the top of the house--thence to watch the storm and
exult in it. Really it was splendid--to see, to hear; its
immense wild force, its immense reckless fury. Rain had never
rained so hard, he thought. Already, the lake, the mountain
slopes, the villas and vineyards westward, were totally blotted
out, hidden behind walls and walls of water; and even the
neighbouring lawns of Ventirose, the confines of his own
garden, were barely distinguishable, blurred as by a fog. The
big drops pelted the river like bullets, sending up splashes
bigger than themselves. And the tiled roof just above his head
resounded with a continual loud crepitation, as if a multitude
of iron-shod elves were dancing on it. The thunder crashed,
roared, reverberated, like the toppling of great edifices. The
lightning tore through the black cloud-canopy in long blinding
zig-zags. The wind moaned, howled, hooted--and the square
chamber where Peter stood shook and rattled under its
buffetings, and was full of the chill and the smell of it.
Really the whole thing was splendid.
His garden-paths ran with muddy brooklets; the high-road beyond
his hedge was transformed to a shallow torrent . . . . And,
just at that moment, looking off along the highroad, he saw
something that brought his heart into his throat.
Three figures were hurrying down it, half-drowned in the rain
--the Duchessa di Santangiolo, Emilia Manfredi, and a priest.
In a twinkling, Peter, bareheaded, was at his gate.
"Come in--come in," he called.
"We are simply drenched--we shall inundate your house," the
Duchessa said, as he showed them into his sitting-room.
They were indeed dripping with water, soiled to their knees
"Good heavens!" gasped Peter, stupid. "How were you ever out
in such a downpour?"
She smiled, rather forlornly.
"No one told us that it was going to rain, and we were off for
a good long walk--for pleasure."
"You must be wet to the bone--you must be perishing with cold,"
he cried, looking from one to another.
"Yes, I daresay we are perishing with cold," she admitted.
"And I have no means of offering you a fire--there are no
fireplaces," he groaned, with a gesture round the bleak Italian
room, to certify their absence.
"Is n't there a kitchen?" asked the Duchessa, a faint spark of
raillery kindling amid the forlornness of her smile.
Peter threw up his hands.
"I had lost my head. The kitchen, of course. I 'll tell
Marietta to light a fire."
He excused himself, and sought out Marietta. He found her in
her housekeeper's room, on her knees, saying her rosary, in
obvious terror. I 'm afraid he interrupted her orisons
"Will you be so good as to start a rousing fire in the kitchen
--as quickly as ever it can be done?"
And he rejoined his guests.
"If you will come this way--" he said.
Marietta had a fire of logs and pine-cones blazing in no time.
She courtesied low to the Duchessa, lower still to the priest
--in fact, Peter was n't sure that she did n't genuflect before
him, while he made a rapid movement with his hand over her
head: the Sign of the Cross, perhaps.
He was a little, unassuming-looking, white haired priest, with
a remarkably clever, humorous, kindly face; and he wore a
remarkably shabby cassock. The Duchessa's chaplain, Peter
supposed. How should it occur to him that this was Cardinal
Udeschini? Do Cardinals (in one's antecedent notion of them)
wear shabby cassocks, and look humorous and unassuming? Do
they go tramping about the country in the rain, attended by no
retinue save a woman and a fourteen-year-old girl? And are
they little men--in one's antecedent notion? True, his shabby
cassock had red buttons, and there was a red sash round his
waist, and a big amethyst glittered in a setting of pale gold
on his annular finger. But Peter was not sufficiently versed
in fashions canonical, to recognise the meaning of these
How, on the other hand, should it occur to the Duchessa that
Peter needed enlightenment? At all events, she said to him,
"Let me introduce you;" and then, to the priest, "Let me
present Mr. Marchdale--of whom you have heard before now."
The white-haired old man smiled sweetly into Peter's eyes, and
gave him a slender, sensitive old hand.
"E cattivo vento che non e buono per qualcuno--debbo a questa
burrasca la pregustazione d' un piacere," he said, with a
mingling of ceremonious politeness and sunny geniality that was
of his age and race.
Peter--instinctively--he could not have told why--put a good
deal more deference into his bow, than men of his age and race
commonly put into their bows, and murmured something about
Marietta placed a row of chairs before the raised stone hearth,
and afterwards, at her master's request, busied herself
"But I think you would all be wise to take a little brandy
first," Peter suggested. "It is my despair that I am not able
to provide you with a change of raiment. Brandy will be the
best substitute, perhaps."
The old priest laughed, and put his hand upon the shoulder of
"You have spared this young lady an embarrassing avowal.
Brandy is exactly what she was screwing her courage to the
point of asking for."
"Oh, no!" protested Emilia, in a deep Italian voice, with
But Peter fetched a decanter, and poured brandy for everyone.
"I drink to your health--c'est bien le cas de le dire. I hope
you will not have caught your deaths of cold," he said.
"Oh, we are quite warm now," said the Duchessa. "We are snug
in an ingle on Mount Ararat."
"Our wetting will have done us good--it will make us grow. You
and I will never regret that, will we, Emilietta?" said the
A lively colour had come into the Duchessa's cheeks; her eyes
seemed unusually bright. Her hair was in some disorder,
drooping at the sides, and blown over her brow in fine free
wavelets. It was dark in the kitchen, save for the firelight,
which danced fantastically on the walls and ceiling, and struck
a ruddy glow from Marietta's copper pots and pans. The rain
pattered lustily without; the wind wailed in the chimney; the
lightning flashed, the thunder volleyed. And Peter looked at
the Duchessa--and blessed the elements. To see her seated
there, in her wet gown, seated familiarly, at her ease, before
his fire, in his kitchen, with that colour in her cheeks, that
brightness in her eyes, and her hair in that disarray--it was
unspeakable; his heart closed in a kind of delicious spasm.
And the fragrance, subtle, secret, evasive, that hovered in the
air near her, did not diminish his emotion.
"I wonder," she asked, with a comical little glance upwards at
him, "whether you would resent it very much if I should take
off my hat--because it's a perfect reservoir, and the water
will keep trickling down my neck."
His joy needed but this culmination that she should take off
"Oh, I beg of you--" he returned fervently.
"You had better take yours off too, Emilia," said the Duchessa.
"Admire masculine foresight," said the priest. "I took mine
off when I came in."
"Let me hang them up," said Peter.
It was wonderful to hold her hat in his hand--it was like
holding a part of herself. He brushed it surreptitiously
against his face, as he hung it up. Its fragrance--which met
him like an answering caress, almost--did not lessen his
Then Marietta brought the tea, with bread-and-butter, and
toast, and cakes, and pretty blue china cups and saucers, and
silver that glittered in the firelight.
"Will you do me the honour of pouring the tea?" Peter asked the
So she poured the tea, and Peter passed it. As he stood close
to her, to take it--oh, but his heart beat, believe me! And
once, when she was giving him a cup, the warm tips of her
fingers lightly touched his hand. Believe me, the touch had
its effect. And always there was that heady fragrance in the
air, like a mysterious little voice, singing secrets.
"I wonder," the old priest said, "why tea is not more generally
drunk by us Italians. I never taste it without resolving to
acquire the habit. I remember, when I was a child, our mothers
used to keep it as a medicine; and you could only buy it at the
"It's coming in, you know, at Rome--among the Whites," said the
"Among the Whites!" cried he, with a jocular simulation of
disquiet. "You should not have told me that, till I had
finished my cup. Now I shall feel that I am sharing a
dissipation with our spoliators."
"That should give an edge to its aroma," laughed she. "And
besides, the Whites aren't all responsible for our spoliation
--some of them are not so white as your fancy paints them.
They'd be very decent people, for the most part--if they were
n't so vulgar."
"If you stick up for the Whites like that when I am Pope, I
shall excommunicate you," the priest threatened. "Meanwhile,
what have you to say against the Blacks?"
"The Blacks, with few exceptions, are even blacker than they're
painted; but they too would be fairly decent people in their
way--if they were n't so respectable. That is what makes Rome
impossible as a residence for any one who cares for human
society. White society is so vulgar--Black society is so
"It is rather curious," said the priest, "that the chief of
each party should wear the colour of his adversary. Our chief
dresses in white, and their chief can be seen any day driving
about the streets in black."
And Peter, during this interchange of small-talk, was at
liberty to feast his eyes upon her.
"Perhaps you have not yet reached the time of life where men
begin to find a virtue in snuff?" the priest said, producing a
smart silver snuff box, tapping the lid, and proffering it to
"On the contrary--thank you," Peter answered, and absorbed his
pinch like an adept.
"How on earth have you learned to take it without a paroxysm?"
cried the surprised Duchessa.
"Oh, a thousand years ago I was in the Diplomatic Service," he
explained. "It is one of the requirements."
Emilia Manfredi lifted her big brown eyes, filled with girlish
wonder, to his face, and exclaimed, "How extraordinary!"
"It is n't half so extraordinary as it would be if it were
true, my dear," said the Duchessa.
"Oh? Non e poi vero?" murmured Emilia, and her eyes darkened
Peter meanwhile was looking at the snuffbox, which the priest
still held in his hand, and admiring its brave repousse work of
leaves and flowers, and the escutcheon engraved on the lid.
But what if he could have guessed the part he had passively
played in obtaining it for its possessor--or the part that it
was still to play in his own epopee? Mark again the
"The storm is passing," said the priest.
"Worse luck!" thought Peter.
For indeed the rain and the wind were moderating, the thunder
had rolled farther away, the sky was becoming lighter.
"But there's a mighty problem before us still," said the
Duchessa. "How are we to get to Ventirose? The roads will, be
ankle-deep with mud."
"If you wish to do me a very great kindness--" Peter began.
"Yes--?" she encouraged him.
"You will allow me to go before you, and tell them to come for
you with a carriage."
"I shall certainly allow you to do nothing of the sort," she
replied severely. "I suppose there is no one whom you could
"I should hardly like to send Marietta. I 'm afraid there is
no one else. But upon my word, I should enjoy going myself."
She shook her head, smiling at him with mock compassion.
"Would you? Poor man, poor man! That is an enjoyment which
you will have to renounce. One must n't expect too much in
this sad life."
"Well, then," said Peter, "I have an expedient. If you can
walk a somewhat narrow plank--?"
"Yes--?" questioned she.
"I think I can improvise a bridge across the river."
"I believe the rain has stopped," said the priest, looking
towards the window.
Peter, manning his soul for the inevitable, got up, went to the
door, opened it, stuck out his head.
"Yes," he acknowledged, while his heart sank within him, "the
rain has stopped."
And now the storm departed almost as rapidly as it had arrived.
In the north the sky was already clear, blue and hard-looking
--a wall of lapis-lazuli. The dark cloud-canopy was drifting to
the south. Suddenly the sun came out, flashing first from the
snows of Monte Sfiorito, then, in an instant, flooding the
entire prospect with a marvellous yellow light, ethereal amber;
whilst long streamers of tinted vapour--columns of pearl-dust,
one might have fancied--rose to meet it; and all wet surfaces,
leaves, lawns, tree-trunks, housetops, the bare crags of the
Gnisi, gleamed in a wash of gold.
Puffs of fresh air blew into the kitchen, filling it with the
keen sweet odour of wet earth. The priest and the Duchessa and
Emilia joined Peter at the open door.
"Oh, your poor, poor garden!" the Duchessa cried.
His garden had suffered a good deal, to be sure. The flowers
lay supine, their faces beaten into the mud; the greensward was
littered with fallen leaves and twigs--and even in one or two
places whole branches had been broken from the trees; on the
ground about each rose-bush a snow of pink rose-petals lay
scattered; in the paths there were hundreds of little pools,
shining in the sun like pools of fire.
"There's nothing a gardener can't set right," said Peter,
feeling no doubt that here was a trifling tax upon the delights
the storm had procured him.
"And oh, our poor, poor hats!" said the Duchessa, eyeing
ruefully those damaged pieces of finery. "I fear no gardener
can ever set them right."
"It sounds inhospitable," said Peter, "but I suppose I had
better go and build your bridge."
So he threw a ladder athwart the river, and laid the planks in
place, as he had seen Gigi do the day before.
"How ingenious--and, like all great things, how simple,"
laughed the Duchessa.
Peter waved his hand, as who should modestly deprecate
applause. But, I 'm ashamed to own, he didn't disclaim the
credit of the invention.
"It will require some nerve," she reflected, looking at the
narrow planks, the foaming green water. "However--"
And gathering in her skirts, she set bravely forward, and made
the transit without mishap. The priest and Emilia, gathering
in their skirts, made it after her.
She paused on the other side, and looked back, smiling.
"Since you have discovered so efficacious a means of cutting
short the distance between our places of abode," she said, "I
hope you will not fail to profit by it whenever you may have
occasion--on Thursday, for example."
"Thank you very much," said Peter.
"Of course," she went on, "we may all die of our wetting yet.
It would perhaps show a neighbourly interest if you were to
come up to-morrow, and take our news. Come at four o'clock;
and if we're alive . . . you shall have another pinch of
snuff," she promised, laughing.
"I adore you," said Peter, under his breath. "I'll come with
great pleasure," he said aloud.
"Marietta," he observed, that evening, as he dined, "I would
have you to know that the Aco is bridged. Hence, there is one
symbol the fewer in Lombardy. But why does--you mustn't mind
the Ollendorfian form of my enquiry--why does the chaplain of
the Duchessa wear red stockings?"
"The chaplain of the Duchessa--?" repeated Marietta, wrinkling
up her brow.
"Ang--of the Duchessa di Santangiolo. He wore red stockings,
and shoes with silver buckles. Do you think that's precisely
decorous--don't you think it 's the least bit light-minded--in
"He--? Who--?" questioned Marietta.
"But the chaplain of the Duchessa--when he was here this
"The chaplain of the Duchessa!" exclaimed Marietta. "Here this
afternoon? The chaplain of the Duchessa was not here this
afternoon. His Eminence the Lord Prince Cardinal Udeschini was
here this afternoon."
"What!" gasped Peter.
"Ang," said Marietta.
"That was Cardinal Udeschini--that little harmless-looking,
sweet-faced old man!" Peter wondered.
"Sicuro--the uncle of the Duca," said she.
"Good heavens!" sighed he. "And I allowed myself to hobnob
with him like a boon-companion."
"Gia," said she.
"You need n't rub it in," said he. "For the matter of that,
you yourself entertained him in your kitchen."
"Scusi?" said she.
"Ah, well--it was probably for the best," he concluded. "I
daresay I should n't have behaved much better if I had known."
"It was his coming which saved this house from being struck by
lightning," announced Marietta.
"Oh--? Was it?" exclaimed Peter.
"Yes, Signorino. The lightning would never strike a house that
the Lord Prince Cardinal was in."
"I see--it would n't venture--it would n't presume. Did--did
it strike all the houses that the Lord Prince Cardinal was n't
"I do not think so, Signorino. Ma non fa niente. It was a
terrible storm--terrible, terrible. The lightning was going to
strike this house, when the Lord Prince Cardinal arrived."
"Hum," said Peter. "Then you, as well as I, have reason for
regarding his arrival as providential."
"I think something must have happened to my watch," Peter
said, next day.
Indeed, its hands moved with extraordinary, with exasperating
"It seems absurd that it should do no good to push them on," he
He would force himself, between twice ascertaining their
position, to wait for a period that felt like an eternity,
walking about miserably, and smoking flavourless cigarettes;
--then he would stand amazed, incredulous, when, with a smirk
(as it almost struck him) of ironical complacence, they would
attest that his eternity had lasted something near a quarter of
"And I had professed myself a Kantian, and made light of the
objective reality of Time! thou laggard, Time!" he cried, and
shook his fist at Space, Time's unoffending consort.
"I believe it will never be four o'clock again," he said, in
despair, finally; and once more had out his watch. It was
half-past three. He scowled at the instrument's bland white
face. "You have no bowels, no sensibilities--nothing but dry
little methodical jog-trot wheels and pivots!" he exclaimed,
flying to insult for relief. "You're as inhuman as a French
functionary. Do you call yourself a sympathetic comrade for an
impatient man?" He laid it open on his rustic table, and waited
through a last eternity. At a quarter to four he crossed the
river. "If I am early--tant pis!" he decided, choosing the
lesser of two evils, and challenging Fate.
He crossed the river, and stood for the first time in the
grounds of Ventirose--stood where she had been in the habit of
standing, during their water-side colloquies. He glanced back
at his house and garden, envisaging them for the first time, as
it were, from her point of view. They had a queer air of
belonging to an era that had passed, to a yesterday already
remote. They looked, somehow, curiously small, moreover--the
garden circumscribed, the two-storied house, with its striped
sunblinds, poor and petty. He turned his back upon them--left
them behind. He would have to come home to them later in the
day, to be sure; but then everything would be different. A
chapter would have added itself to the history of the world; a