Part 3 out of 4
great event, a great step forward, would have definitely taken
place. He would have been received at Ventirose as a friend.
He would be no longer a mere nodding acquaintance, owing even
that meagre relationship to the haphazard of propinquity. The
ice-broken, if you will, but still present in abundance--would
have been gently thawed away. One era had passed; but then a
new era would have begun.
So he turned his back upon Villa F'loriano, and. set off,
high-hearted, up the wide lawns, under the bending trees
--whither, on four red-marked occasions, he had watched her
disappear--towards the castle, which faced him in its vast
irregular picturesqueness. There were the oldest portions,
grimly mediaeval, a lakeside fortress, with ponderous round
towers, meurtrieres, machiolations, its grey stone walls
discoloured in fantastic streaks and patches by weather-stains
and lichens, or else shaggily overgrown by creepers. Then
there were later portions, rectangular, pink-stuccoed, with
rusticated work at the corners, and, on the blank spaces
between the windows, quaint allegorical frescoes, faded, half
washed-out. And then there were entirely modern-looking
portions, of gleaming marble, with numberless fanciful
carvings, spires, pinnacles, reliefs--wonderfully light, gay,
habitable, and (Peter thought) beautiful, in the clear Italian
atmosphere, against the blue Italian sky.
"It's a perfect house for her," he said. "It suits her--like
an appropriate garment; it almost seems to express her."
And all the while, as he proceeded, her voice kept sounding in
his ears; scraps of her conversation, phrases that she had
spoken, kept coming back to him.
One end of the long, wide marble terrace had been arranged as a
sort of out-of-door living-room. A white awning was stretched
overhead; warm-hued rugs were laid on the pavement; there were
wicker lounging-chairs, with bright cushions, and a little
table, holding books and things.
The Duchessa rose from one of the lounging-chairs, and came
forward, smiling, to meet him.
She gave him her hand--for the first time.
It was warm--electrically warm; and it was soft--womanly soft;
and it was firm, alive--it spoke of a vitality, a temperament.
Peter was sure, besides, that it would be sweet to smell; and
he longed to bend over it, and press it with his lips. He
might almost have done so, according to Italian etiquette.
But, of course, he simply bowed over it, and let it go.
"Mi trova abbandonata," she said, leading the way back to the
terrace-end. There were notes of a peculiar richness in her
voice, when she spoke Italian; and she dwelt languorously on
the vowels, and rather slurred the consonants, lazily, in the
manner Italian women have, whereby they give the quality of
velvet to their tongue. She was not an Italian woman; Heaven
be praised, she was English: so this was just pure gain to the
sum-total of her graces. "My uncle and my niece have gone to
the village. But I 'm expecting them to come home at any
moment now--and you'll not have long, I hope, to wait for your
She flashed a whimsical little smile into his eyes. Then she
returned to her wicker chair, glancing an invitation at Peter
to place himself in the one facing her. She leaned back,
resting her head on a pink silk cushion.
Peter, no doubt, sent up a silent prayer that her uncle and her
niece might be detained at the village for the rest of the
afternoon. By her niece he took her to mean Emilia: he liked
her for the kindly euphemism. "What hair she has!" he thought,
admiring the loose brown masses, warm upon their background of
"Oh, I'm inured to waiting," he replied, with a retrospective
mind for the interminable waits of that interminable day.
The Duchessa had taken a fan from the table, and was playing
with it, opening and shutting it slowly, in her lap. Now she
caught Peter's eyes examining it, and she gave it to him. (My
own suspicion is that Peter's eyes had been occupied rather
with the hands that held the fan, than with the fan itself--but
that's a detail.)
"I picked it up the other day, in Rome," she said. "Of course,
it's an imitation of the French fans of the last century, but I
thought it pretty."
It was of white silk, that had been thinly stained a soft
yellow, like the yellow of faded yellow rose-leaves. It was
painted with innumerable plump little cupids, flying among pale
clouds. The sticks were of mother-of=pearl. The end-sticks
were elaborately incised, and in the incisions opals were set,
big ones and small ones, smouldering with green and scarlet
"Very pretty indeed," said Peter, "and very curious. It's like
a great butterfly's wing is n't it? But are n't you afraid of
"Afraid of opals?" she wondered. "Why should one be?"
"Unless your birthday happens to fall in October, they're
reputed to bring bad luck," he reminded her.
"My birthday happens to fall in June but I 'll never believe
that such pretty things as opals can bring bad luck," she
laughed, taking the fan, which he returned to her, and stroking
one of the bigger opals with her finger tip.
"Have you no superstitions?" he asked.
"I hope not--I don't think I have," she answered. "We're not
allowed to have superstitions, you know--nous autres
"Oh?" he said, with surprise. "No, I did n't know."
"Yes, they're a forbidden luxury. But you--? Are you
superstitious? Would you be afraid of opals?"
"I doubt if I should have the courage to wear one. At all
events, I don't regard superstitions in the light of a luxury.
I should be glad to be rid of those I have. They're a horrible
inconvenience. But I can't get it out of my head that the air
is filled with a swarm of malignant little devils, who are
always watching their chance to do us an ill turn. We don't in
the least know the conditions under which they can bring it
off; but it's legendary that if we wear opals, or sit thirteen
at table, or start an enterprise on Friday, or what not, we
somehow give them their opportunity. And one naturally wishes
to be on the safe side."
She looked at him with. doubt, considering.
"You don't seriously believe all that?" she said.
"No, I don't seriously believe it. But one breathes it in with
the air of one's nursery, and it sticks. I don't believe it,
but I fear it just enough to be made uneasy. The evil eye, for
instance. How can one spend any time in Italy, where everybody
goes loaded with charms against it, and help having a sort of
sneaking half-belief in the evil eye?"
She shook her head, laughing.
"I 've spent a good deal of time in Italy, but I have n't so
much as a sneaking quarter-belief in it."
"I envy you your strength of mind," said he. "But surely,
though superstition is a luxury forbidden to Catholics, there
are plenty of good Catholics who indulge in it, all the same?"
"There are never plenty of good Catholics," said sire. "You
employ a much-abused expression. To profess the Catholic
faith, to go to Mass on Sunday and abstain from meat on Friday,
that is by no means sufficient to constitute a good Catholic.
To be a good Catholic one would have to be a saint, nothing
less--and not a mere formal saint, either, but a very real
saint, a saint in thought and feeling, as well as in speech and
action. Just in so far as one is superstitious, one is a bad
Catholic. Oh, if the world were populated by good Catholics,
it would be the Millennium come to pass."
"It would be that, if it were populated by good Christians
--wouldn't it?" asked Peter.
"The terms are interchangeable," she answered sweetly, with a
half-comical look of defiance.
"Mercy!" cried he. "Can't a Protestant be a good Christian
"Yes," she said, "because a Protestant can be a Catholic
without knowing it."
"Oh--?" he puzzled, frowning.
"It's quite simple," she explained. "You can't be a Christian
unless you're a Catholic. But if you believe as much of
Christian truth as you've ever had a fair opportunity of
learning, and if you try to live in accordance with Christian
morals, you are a Catholic, you're a member of the Catholic
Church, whether you know it or not. You can't be deprived of
your birthright, you see."
"That seems rather broad," said Peter; "and one had always
heard that Catholicism was nothing if not narrow."
"How could it be Catholic if it were narrow?" asked she.
"However, if a Protestant uses his intelligence, and is
logical, he'll not remain an unconscious Catholic long. If he
studies the matter, and is logical, he'll wish to unite himself
to the Church in her visible body. Look at England. See how
logic is multiplying converts year by year."
"But it's the glory of Englishmen to be illogical," said Peter,
with a laugh. "Our capacity for not following premisses to
their logical consequences is the principal source of our
national greatness. So the bulk of the English are likely to
resist conversion for centuries to come--are they not? And
then, nowadays, one is so apt to be an indifferentist in
matters of religion--and Catholicism is so exacting. One
remains a Protestant from the love of ease."
"And from the desire, on the part of a good many Englishmen at
least, to sail in a boat of their own--not to get mixed up with
a lot of foreign publicans and sinners--no?" she suggested.
"Oh, of course, we're insular and we're Pharisaical," admitted
"And as for one's indifference," she smiled, "that is most
probably due to one's youth and inexperience. One can't come
to close quarters with the realities of life--with sorrow, with
great joy, with temptation, with sin or with heroic virtue,
with death, with the birth of a new soul, with any of the
awful, wonderful realities of life--and continue to be an
indifferentist in matters of religion, do you think?"
"When one comes to close quarters with the awful, wonderful
realities of life, one has religious moments," he acknowledged.
"But they're generally rather fugitive, are n't they?"
"One can cultivate them--one can encourage them," she said.
"If you would care to know a good Catholic," she added, "my
niece, my little ward, Emilia is one. She wants to become a
Sister of Mercy, to spend her life nursing the poor."
"Oh? Would n't that be rather a pity?" Peter said. "She's so
extremely pretty. I don't know when I have seen prettier brown
eyes than hers."
"Well, in a few years, I expect we shall see those pretty brown
eyes looking out from under a sister's coif. No, I don't think
it will be a pity. Nuns and sisters, I think, are the happiest
people in the world--and priests. Have you ever met any one
who seemed happier than my uncle, for example?"
"I have certainly never met any one who seemed sweeter,
kinder," Peter confessed. "He has a wonderful old face."
"He's a wonderful old man," said she. "I 'm going to try to
keep him a prisoner here for the rest of the summer--though he
will have it that he's just run down for a week. He works a
great deal too hard when he's in Rome. He's the only Cardinal
I've ever heard of, who takes practical charge of his titular
church. But here in the country he's out-of-doors all the
blessed day, hand in hand with Emilia. He's as young as she
is, I believe. They play together like children--and make--me
feel as staid and solemn and grown-up as one of Mr. Kenneth
Peter laughed. Then, in the moment of silence that followed,
he happened to let his eyes stray up the valley.
"Hello!" he suddenly exclaimed. "Someone has been painting our
The Duchessa turned, to look; and she too uttered an
By some accident of reflection or refraction, the snows of
Monte Sfiorito had become bright green, as if the light that
fell on them had passed through emeralds. They both paused, to
gaze and marvel for a little. Indeed, the prospect was a
pleasing one, as well as a surprising--the sunny lawns, the
high trees, the blue lake, and then that bright green mountain.
"I have never known anything like those snow-peaks for sailing
under false colours," Peter said. "I have seen them every
colour of the calendar, except their native white."
"You must n't blame the poor things," pleaded the Duchessa.
"They can't help it. It's all along o' the distance and the
atmosphere and the sun."
She closed her fan, with which she had been more or less idly
playing throughout their dialogue, and replaced it on the
table. Among the books there--French books, for the most part,
in yellow paper--Peter saw, with something of a flutter (he
could never see it without something of a flutter), the
grey-and-gold binding of "A Man of Words."
The Duchessa caught his glance.
"Yes," she said; "your friend's novel. I told you I had been
"Yes," said he.
"And--do you know--I 'm inclined to agree with your own
enthusiastic estimate of it?" she went on. "I think it's
extremely--but extremely--clever; and more--very charming, very
beautiful. The fatal gift of beauty!"
And her smile reminded him that the application of the tag was
"Yes," said he.
"Its beauty, though," she reflected, "is n't exactly of the
obvious sort--is it? It does n't jump at you, for instance.
It is rather in the texture of the work, than on the surface.
One has to look, to see it."
"One always has to look, to see beauty that is worth seeing,"
he safely generalised. But then--he had put his foot in the
stirrup--his hobby bolted with him. "It takes two to make a
beautiful object. The eye of the beholder is every bit as
indispensable as the hand of the artist. The artist does his
work--the beholder must do his. They are collaborators. Each
must be the other's equal; and they must also be like each
other--with the likeness of opposites, of complements. Art, in
short, is entirely a matter of reciprocity. The kind of beauty
that jumps at you is the kind you end by getting heartily tired
of--is the skin-deep kind; and therefore it is n't really
beauty at all--it is only an approximation to beauty--it may be
only a simulacrum of it."
Her eyes were smiling, her face was glowing, softly, with
interest, with friendliness and perhaps with the least
suspicion of something else--perhaps with the faintest glimmer
of suppressed amusement; but interest was easily predominant.
"Yes," she assented . . . . But then she pursued her own train
of ideas. "And--with you--I particularly like the woman
--Pauline. I can't tell you how much I like her. I--it sounds
extravagant, but it's true--I can think of no other woman in
the whole of fiction whom I like so well--who makes so
curiously personal an appeal to me. Her wit--her waywardness
--her tenderness--her generosity--everything. How did your
friend come by his conception of her? She's as real to me as
any woman I have ever known she's more real to me than most of
the women I know--she's absolutely real, she lives, she
breathes. Yet I have never known a woman resembling her. Life
would be a merrier business if one did know women resembling
her. She seems to me all that a woman ought ideally to be.
Does your friend know women like that--the lucky man? Or is
Pauline, for all her convincingness, a pure creature of
"Ah," said Peter, laughing, "you touch the secret springs of my
friend's inspiration. That is a story in itself. Felix
Wildmay is a perfectly commonplace Englishman. How could a
woman like Pauline be the creature of his imagination? No--she
was a 'thing seen.' God made her. Wildmay was a mere copyist.
He drew her, tant bien que mal, from the life from a woman
who's actually alive on this dull globe to-day. But that's the
The Duchessa's eyes were intent.
"The story-? Tell me the story," she pronounced in a breath,
with imperious eagerness.
And her eyes waited, intently.
"Oh," said Peter, "it's one of those stories that can scarcely
be told. There's hardly any thing to take hold of. It's
without incident, without progression--it's all subjective
--it's a drama in states of mind. Pauline was a 'thing seen,'
indeed; but she wasn't a thing known: she was a thing divined.
Wildmay never knew her--never even knew who she was--never knew
her name--never even knew her nationality, though, as the book
shows, he guessed her to be an Englishwoman, married to a
Frenchman. He simply saw her, from a distance, half-a-dozen
times perhaps. He saw her in Paris, once or twice, at the
theatre, at the opera; and then later again, once or twice, in
London; and then, once more, in Paris, in the Bois. That was
all, but that was enough. Her appearance--her face, her eyes,
her smile, her way of carrying herself, her way of carrying her
head, her gestures, her movements, her way of dressing--he
never so much as heard her voice--her mere appearance made an
impression on him such as all the rest of womankind had totally
failed to make. She was exceedingly lovely, of course,
exceedingly distinguished, noble-looking; but she was
infinitely more. Her face her whole person--had an expression!
A spirit burned in her--a prismatic, aromatic fire. Other
women seemed dust, seemed dead, beside her. She was a garden,
inexhaustible, of promises, of suggestions. Wit,
capriciousness, generosity, emotion--you have said it--they
were all there. Race was there, nerve. Sex was there--all the
mystery, magic, all the essential, elemental principles of the
Feminine, were there: she was a woman. A wonderful, strenuous
soul was there: Wildmay saw it, felt it. He did n't know her
--he had no hope of ever knowing her--but he knew her better
than he knew any one else in the world. She became the absorbing
subject of his thoughts, the heroine of his dreams. She
became, in fact, the supreme influence of his life."
The Duchessa's eyes had not lost their intentness, while he was
speaking. Now that he had finished, she looked down at her
hands, folded in her lap, and mused for a moment in silence.
At last she looked up again.
"It's as strange as anything I have ever heard," she said,
"it's furiously strange--and romantic--and interesting. But
--but--" She frowned a little, hesitating between a choice of
"Oh, it's a story all compact of 'buts,'" Peter threw out
She let the remark pass her--she had settled upon her question.
"But how could he endure such a situation?" she asked. "How
could he sit still under it? Did n't he try in any way--did
n't he make any effort at all--to--to find her out--to discover
who she was--to get introduced to her? I should think he could
never have rested--I should think he would have moved heaven
"What could he do? Tell me a single thing he could have done,"
said Peter. "Society has made no provision for a case like
his. It 's absurd--but there it is. You see a woman
somewhere; you long to make her acquaintance; and there's no
natural bar to your doing so--you 're a presentable man she's
what they call a lady--you're both, more or less, of the same
monde. Yet there 's positively no way known by which you can
contrive it--unless chance, mere fortuitous chance, just
happens to drop a common acquaintance between you, at the right
time and place. Chance, in Wildmay's case, happened to drop
all the common acquaintances they may possibly have had at a
deplorable distance. He was alone on each of the occasions
when he saw her. There was no one he could ask to introduce
him; there was no one he could apply to for information
concerning her. He could n't very well follow her carriage
through the streets--dog her to her lair, like a detective.
The Duchessa was playing with her fan again.
"No," she agreed; "I suppose it was hopeless. But it seems
rather hard on the poor man--rather baffling and tantalising."
"The poor man thought it so, to be sure," said Peter; "he
fretted and fumed a good deal, and kicked against the pricks.
Here, there, now, anon, he would enjoy his brief little vision
of her--then she would vanish into the deep inane. So, in the
end--he had to take it out in something--he took it out in
writing a book about her. He propped up a mental portrait of
her on his desk before him, and translated it into the
character of Pauline. In that way he was able to spend long
delightful hours alone with her every day, in a kind of
metaphysical intimacy. He had never heard her voice--but now
he heard it as often as Pauline opened her lips. He owned her
--he possessed her--she lived under his roof--she was always
waiting for him in his study. She is real to you? She was
inexpressibly, miraculously real to him. He saw her, knew her,
felt her, realised her, in every detail of her mind, her soul,
her person--down to the very intonations of her speech--down to
the veins in her hands, the rings on her fingers--down to her
very furs and laces, the frou-frou of her skirts, the scent
upon her pocket-handkerchief. He had numbered the hairs of her
Again the Duchessa mused for a while in silence, opening and
shutting her fan, and gazing into its opals.
"I am thinking of it from the woman's point of view," she said,
by and by. "To have played such a part in a man's life--and
never to have dreamed it! Never even, very likely, to have
dreamed that such a man existed--for it's entirely possible she
didn't notice him, on those occasions when he saw her. And to
have been the subject of such a novel--and never to have
dreamed that, either! To have read the novel perhaps--without
dreaming for an instant that there was any sort of connection
between Pauline and herself! Or else--what would almost be
stranger still--not to have read the novel, not to have heard
of it! To have inspired such a book, such a beautiful book
--yet to remain in sheer unconscious ignorance that there was
such a book! Oh, I think it is even more extraordinary from
the woman's point of view than from the man's. There is
something almost terrifying about it. To have had such an
influence on the destiny of someone you've never heard of!
There's a kind of intangible sense of a responsibility."
"There is also, perhaps," laughed Peter, "a kind of intangible
sense of a liberty taken. I'm bound to say I think Wildmay was
decidedly at his ease. To appropriate in that cool fashion the
personality of a total stranger! But artists are the most
unprincipled folk unhung. Ils prennent leur bien la, ou ils le
"Oh, no," said the Duchessa, "I think she was fair game. One
can carry delicacy too far. He was entitled to the benefits of
his discovery--for, after all, it was a discovery, was n't it?
You have said yourself how indispensable the eye of the
beholder is--'the seeing eye.' I think, indeed, the whole
affair speaks extremely well for Mr. Wildmay. It is not every
man who would be capable of so purely intellectual a passion.
I suppose one must call his feeling for her a passion? It
indicates a distinction in his nature. He can hardly be a mere
materialist. But--but I think it's heart-rending that he never
"Oh, but that's the continuation of the story," said Peter.
"He did meet her in the end, you know."
"He did meet her!" cried the Duchessa, starting up, with a
sudden access of interest, whilst her eyes lightened. "He did
meet her? Oh, you must tell me about that."
And just at this crisis the Cardinal and Emilia appeared,
climbing the terrace steps.
"Bother!" exclaimed the Duchessa, under her breath. Then, to
Peter, "It will have to be for another time--unless I die of
After the necessary greetings were transacted, another elderly
priest joined the company; a tall, burly, rather florid man,
mentioned, when Peter was introduced to him, as Monsignor
Langshawe. "This really is her chaplain," Peter concluded.
Then a servant brought tea.
"Ah, Diamond, Diamond, you little know what mischief you might
have wrought," he admonished himself, as he walked home through
the level sunshine. "In another instant, if we'd not been
interrupted, you would have let the cat out of the bag. The
premature escape of the cat from the bag would spoil
And he hugged himself, as one snatched from peril, in a qualm
of retroactive terror. At the same time he was filled with a
kind of exultancy. All that he had hoped had come to pass, and
more, vastly more. Not only had he been received as a friend
at Ventirose, but he had been encouraged to tell her a part at
least of the story by which her life and his were so curiously
connected; and he had been snatched from the peril of telling
her too much. The day was not yet when he could safely say,
"Mutato nomine. . . . ." Would the day ever be? But,
meanwhile, just to have told her the first ten lines of that
story, he could not help feeling, somehow advanced matters
tremendously, somehow put a new face on matters.
"The hour for which the ages sighed may not be so far away as
you think," he said to Marietta. "The curtain has risen upon
Act Three. I fancy I can perceive faint glimmerings of the
beginning of the end."
All that evening, something which he had not been conscious of
noticing especially when it was present to him--certainly he
had paid no conscious attention to its details--kept recurring
and recurring to Peter's memory: the appearance of the
prettily-arranged terrace-end at Ventirose: the white awning,
with the blue sky at its edges, the sunny park beyond; the
warm-hued carpets on the marble pavement; the wicker chairs,
with their bright cushions; the table, with its books and
bibelots--the yellow French books, a tortoise-shell paperknife,
a silver paperweight, a crystal smelling-bottle, a bowlful of
drooping poppies; and the marble balustrade, with its delicate
tracery of leaves and tendrils, where the jessamine twined
round its pillars.
This kept recurring, recurring, vividly, a picture that he
could see without closing his eyes, a picture with a very
decided sentiment. Like the gay and gleaming many-pinnacled
facade of her house, it seemed appropriate to her; it seemed in
its fashion to express her. Nay, it seemed to do more. It was
a corner of her every-day environment; these things were the
companions, the witnesses, of moments of her life, phases of
herself, which were hidden from Peter; they were the companions
and witnesses of her solitude, her privacy; they were her
confidants, in a way. They seemed not merely to express her,
therefore, but to be continually on the point--I had almost
said of betraying her. At all events, if he could only
understand their silent language, they would prove rich in
precious revelations. So he welcomed their recurrences, dwelt
upon them, pondered them, and got a deep if somewhat
inarticulate pleasure from them.
On Thursday, as he approached the castle, the last fires of
sunset were burning in the sky behind it--the long irregular
mass of buildings stood out in varying shades of blue, against
varying, dying shades of red: the grey stone, dark, velvety
indigo; the pink stucco, pink still, but with a transparent
blue penumbra over it; the white marble, palely, scintillantly
amethystine. And if he was interested in her environment, now
he could study it to his heart's content: the wide marble
staircase, up which he was shown, with its crimson carpet, and
the big mellow painting, that looked as if it might be a
Titian, at the top; the great saloon, in which he was received,
with its polished mosaic floor, its frescoed ceiling, its
white-and-gold panelling, its hangings and upholsteries of
yellow brocade, its satinwood chairs and tables, its bronzes,
porcelains, embroideries, its screens and mirrors; the long
dining-hall, with its high pointed windows, its slender marble
columns supporting a vaulted roof, its twinkling candles in
chandeliers and sconces of cloudy Venetian glass, its brilliant
table, its flowers and their colours and their scents.
He could study her environment to his heart's content, indeed
--or to his heart's despair. For all this had rather the effect
of chilling, of depressing him. It was very splendid; it was
very luxurious and cheerful; it was appropriate and personal to
her, if you like; no doubt, in its fashion, in its measure, it,
too, expressed her. But, at that rate, it expressed her in an
aspect which Peter had instinctively made it his habit to
forget, which he by no means found it inspiriting to remember.
It expressed, it emphasised, her wealth, her rank; it
emphasised the distance, in a worldly sense, between her and
himself, the conventional barriers.
And she . . .
She was very lovely, she was entirely cordial, friendly, she
was all that she had ever been--and yet--and yet--Well,
somehow, she seemed indefinably different. Somehow, again, the
distance, the barriers, were emphasised. She was very lovely,
she was entirely cordial, friendly, she was all that she had
ever been; but, somehow, to-night, she seemed very much the
great lady, very much the duchess . . . .
"My dear man," he said to himself, "you were mad to dream for a
single instant that there was the remotest possibility of
anything ever happening."
The only other guests, besides the Cardinal and Monsignor
Langshawe, were an old Frenchwoman, with beautiful white hair,
from one of the neighbouring villas, Madame de Lafere, and a
young, pretty, witty, and voluble Irishwoman, Mrs. O'Donovan
Florence, from an hotel at Spiaggia. In deference, perhaps,
to the cloth of the two ecclesiastics, none of the women were
in full evening-dress, and there was no arm-taking when they
went in to dinner. The dinner itself was of a simplicity which
Peter thought admirable, and which, of course, he attributed to
his Duchessa's own good taste. He was not yet familiar enough
with the Black aristocracy of Italy, to be aware that in the
matter of food and drink simplicity is as much the criterion of
good form amongst them, as lavish complexity is the criterion
of good form amongst the English-imitating Whites.
The conversation, I believe, took its direction chiefly from
the initiative of Mrs. O'Donovan Florence. With great
sprightliness and humour, and with an astonishing light-hearted
courage, she rallied the Cardinal upon the neglect in which her
native island was allowed to languish by the powers at Rome.
"The most Catholic country in three hemispheres, to be sure,"
she said; "every inch of its soil soaked with the blood of
martyrs. Yet you've not added an Irish saint to the Calendar
for I see you're blushing to think how many ages; and you've
taken sides with the heretic Saxon against us in our struggle
for Home Rule--which I blame you for, though, being a landowner
and a bit of an absentee, I 'm a traitorous Unionist myself."
The Cardinal laughingly retorted that the Irish were far too
fine, too imaginative and poetical a race, to be bothered with
material questions of government and administration. They
should leave such cares to the stolid, practical English, and
devote the leisure they would thus obtain to the further
exercise and development of what someone had called "the
starfire of the Celtic nature." Ireland should look upon
England as her working-housekeeper. And as for the addition of
Irish saints to the Calendar, the stumbling-block was their
excessive number. "'T is an embarrassment of riches. If we
were once to begin, we could never leave off till we had
canonised nine-tenths of the dead population."
Monsignor Langshawe, at this (making jest the cue for earnest),
spoke up for Scotland, and deplored the delay in the
beatification of Blessed Mary. "The official beatification,"
he discriminated, "for she was beatified in the heart of every
true Catholic Scot on the day when Bloody Elizabeth murdered
And Madame de Lafere put in a plea for Louis XVI,
Marie-Antoinette. and the little Dauphin.
"Blessed Mary--Bloody Elizabeth," laughed the Duchessa, in an
aside to Peter; "here is language to use in the presence of a
"Oh, I'm accustomed to 'Bloody Elizabeth,'" said he. "Was n't
it a word of Cardinal Newman's?"
"Yes, I think so," said she. "And since every one is naming
his candidate; for the Calendar, you have named mine. I think
there never was a saintlier saint than Cardinal Newman."
"What is your Eminence's attitude towards the question of mixed
marriages?" Mrs. O'Donovan Florence asked.
Peter pricked up his ears.
"It is not the question of actuality in Italy that it is in
England," his Eminence replied; "but in the abstract, and other
things equal, my attitude would of course be one of
"And yet surely," contended she, "if a pious Catholic girl
marries a Protestant man, she has a hundred chances of
"I don't know," said the Cardinal. "Would n't it be safer to
let the conversion precede the marriage? Afterwards, I 'm
afraid, he would have a hundred chances of inducing her to
apostatise, or, at least, of rendering her lukewarm."
"Not if she had a spark of the true zeal," said Mrs. O'Donovan
Florence. "Any wife can make her husband's life a burden to
him, if she will conscientiously lay herself out to do so. The
man would be glad to submit, for the sake of peace in his
household. I often sigh for the good old days of the
Inquisition; but it's still possible, in the blessed seclusion
of the family circle, to apply the rack and the thumbscrew in a
modified form. I know a dozen fine young Protestant men in
London whom I'm labouring to convert, and I feel I 'm defeated
only by the circumstance that I'm not in a position to lead
them to the altar in the full meaning of the expression."
"A dozen?" the Cardinal laughed. "Aren't you complicating the
question of mixed marriages with that of plural marriage?"
"'T was merely a little Hibernicism, for which I beg your
Eminence's indulgence," laughed she. "But what puts the most
spokes in a proselytiser's wheel is the Faith itself. If we
only deserved the reputation for sharp practice and double
dealing which the Protestants have foisted upon us, it would be
roses, roses, all the way. Why are we forbidden to let the end
justify the means? And where are those accommodements avec le
ciel of which we've heard? We're not even permitted a few poor
accommodements avec le monde."
"Look at my uncle's face," whispered the Duchessa to Peter.
The Cardinal's fine old face was all alight with amusement.
"In his fondness for taking things by their humorous end, he
has met an affinity."
"It will be a grand day for the Church and the nations, when we
have an Irish Pope," Mrs. O'Donovan Florence continued. "A
good, stalwart, militant Irishman is what's needed to set
everything right. With a sweet Irish tongue, he'd win home the
wandering sheep; and with a strong Irish arm, he'd drive the
wolves from the fold. It's he that would soon sweep the
Italians out of Rome."
"The Italians will soon be swept out of Rome by the natural
current of events," said the Cardinal. "But an Irish bishop of
my acquaintance insists that we have already had many Irish
Popes, without knowing it. Of all the greatest Popes he cries,
'Surely, they must have had Irish blood.' He's perfectly
convinced that Pius the Ninth was Irish. His very name, his
family-name, Ferretti, was merely the Irish name, Farrity,
Italianised, the good bishop says. No one but an Irishman, he
insists, could have been so witty."
Mrs. O'Donovan Florence looked intensely thoughtful for a
moment . . . . Then, "I 'm trying to think of the original
Irish form of Udeschini," she declared.
At which there was a general laugh.
"When you say 'soon,' Eminence, do you mean that we may hope to
see the Italians driven from Rome in our time?" enquired Madame
"They are on the verge of bankruptcy--for their sins," the
Cardinal answered. "When the crash comes--and it can't fail to
come before many years--there will necessarily be a
readjustment. I do not believe that the conscience of
Christendom will again allow Peter to be deprived of his
"God hasten the good day," said Monsignor Langshawe.
"If I can live to see Rome restored to the Pope, I shall die
content, even though I cannot live to see France restored to
the King," said the old Frenchwoman.
"And I--even though I cannot live to see Britain restored to
the Faith," said the Monsignore.
The Duchessa smiled at Peter.
"What a hotbed of Ultramontanes and reactionaries you have
fallen into," she murmured.
"It is exhilarating," said he, "to meet people who have
"Even when you regard their convictions as erroneous?" she
"Yes, even then," he answered. "But I'm not sure I regard as
erroneous the convictions I have heard expressed to-night."
"Oh--?" she wondered. "Would you like to see Rome restored to
"Yes," said he, "decidedly--for aesthetic reasons, if for no
"I suppose there are aesthetic reasons," she assented. "But
we, of course, think there are conclusive reasons in mere
"I don't doubt there are conclusive reasons in mere justice,
too," said he.
After dinner, at the Cardinal's invitation, the Duchessa went
to the piano, and played Bach and Scarlatti. Her face, in the
soft candlelight, as she discoursed that "luminous, lucid"
music, Peter thought . . . But what do lovers always think of
their ladies' faces, when they look up from their pianos, in
Mrs. O'Donovan Florence, taking her departure, said to the
Cardinal, "I owe your Eminence the two proudest days of my
life. The first was when I read in the paper that you had
received the hat, and I was able to boast to all my
acquaintances that I had been in the convent with your niece by
marriage. And the second is now, when I can boast forevermore
hereafter that I've enjoyed the honour of making my courtesy to
"So," said Peter, as he walked home through the dew and the
starlight of the park, amid the phantom perfumes of the night,
"so the Cardinal does n't approve of mixed marriages and, of
course, his niece does n't, either. But what can it matter to
me? For alas and alas--as he truly said--it's hardly a
question of actuality."
And he lit a cigarette.
"So he did meet her, after all?" the Duchessa said.
"Yes, he met her in the end," Peter answered.
They were seated under the gay white awning, against the bright
perspective of lawn, lake, and mountains, on the terrace at
Ventirose, where Peter was paying his dinner-call. The August
day was hot and still and beautiful--a day made of gold and
velvet and sweet odours. The Duchessa lay back languidly,
among the crisp silk cushions, in her low, lounging chair; and
Peter, as he looked at her, told himself that he must be
"Yes, he met her in the end," he said.
"Well--? And then--?" she questioned, with a show of
eagerness, smiling into his eyes. "What happened? Did she
come up to his expectations? Or was she just the usual
disappointment? I have been pining--oh, but pining--to hear
the continuation of the story."
She smiled into his eyes, and his heart fluttered. "I must be
cautious," he told himself. "In more ways than one, this is a
crucial moment." At the same time, as a very part of his
caution, he must appear entirely nonchalant and candid.
"Oh, no--tutt' altro," he said, with an assumption of
nonchalant airiness and candid promptness. "She 'better
bettered' his expectations--she surpassed his fondest. She was
a thousand times more delightful than he had dreamed--though,
as you know, he had dreamed a good deal. Pauline de Fleuvieres
turned out to be the feeblest, faintest echo of her."
The Duchessa meditated for an instant.
"It seems impossible. It's one of those situations in which a
disenchantment seems the foregone conclusion," she said, at
"It seems so, indeed," assented Peter; "but disenchantment,
there was none. She was all that he had imagined, and
infinitely more. She was the substance--he had imagined the
shadow. He had divined her, as it were, from a single angle,
and there were many angles. Pauline was the pale reflection of
one side of her--a pencil-sketch in profile."
The Duchessa shook her head, marvelling, and smiled again.
"You pile wonder upon wonder," she said. "That the reality
should excel the poet's ideal! That the cloud-capped towers
which looked splendid from afar, with all the glamour of
distance, should prove to be more splendid still, on close
inspection! It's dead against the accepted theory of things.
And that any woman should be nicer than that adorable Pauline!
You tax belief. But I want to know what happened. Had she
read his book?"
"Nothing happened," said Peter. "I warned you that it was a
drama without action. A good deal happened, no doubt, in
Wildmay's secret soul. But externally, nothing. They simply
chatted together--exchanged the time o' day--like any pair of
acquaintances. No, I don't think she had read his book. She
did read it afterwards, though."
"And liked it?"
"Yes--she said she liked it."
"Well--? But then-?" the Duchessa pressed him, insistently.
"When she discovered the part she had had in its composition--?
Was n't she overwhelmed? Wasn't she immensely interested
She leaned forward a little. Her eyes were shining. Her lips
were slightly parted, so that between their warm rosiness Peter
could see the exquisite white line of her teeth. His heart
fluttered again. "I must be cautious, cautious," he
remembered, and made a strenuous "act of will" to steady
"Oh, she never discovered that," he said.
"What!" exclaimed the Duchessa. Her face fell. Her eyes
darkened--with dismay, with incomprehension. "Do you--you
don't--mean to say that he didn't tell her?" There was
reluctance to believe, there was a conditional implication of
deep reproach, in her voice.
Peter had to repeat his act of will.
"How could he tell her?" he asked.
She frowned at him, with reproach that was explicit now, and a
kind of pained astonishment.
"How could he help telling her?" she cried. "But--but it was
the one great fact between them. But it was a fact that
intimately concerned her--it was a fact of her own destiny.
But it was her right to be told. Do you seriously mean that he
did n't tell her? But why did n't he? What could have
There was something like a tremor in her voice. "I must appear
entirely nonchalant and candid," Peter remembered.
"I fancy he was possessed, in some measure, by a sense of the
liberty he had taken by a sense of what one might, perhaps,
venture to qualify as his 'cheek.' For, if it was n't already
a liberty to embody his notion of her in a novel--in a
published book, for daws to peck at--it would have become a
liberty the moment he informed her that he had done so. That
would have had the effect of making her a kind of involuntary
"Oh, the foolish man!" sighed the Duchessa, with a rueful shake
of the head. "His foolish British self-consciousness! His
British inability to put himself in another person's place, to
see things from another's point of view! Could n't he see,
from her point of view, from any point of view but his own,
that it was her right to be told? That the matter affected her
in one way, as much as it affected him in another? That since
she had influenced--since she had contributed to--his life and
his art as she had, it was her right to know it? Couldn't he
see that his 'cheek,' his real 'cheek,' began when he withheld
from her that great strange chapter of her own history? Oh, he
ought to have told her, he ought to have told her."
She sank back in her chair, giving her head another rueful
shake, and gazed ruefully away, over the sunny landscape,
through the mellow atmosphere, into the golden-hazy distance.
Peter looked at her--and then, quickly, for caution's sake,
"But there were other things to be taken into account," he
The Duchessa raised her eyes. "What other things?" they
"Would n't his telling her have been equivalent to a
declaration of love?" questioned he, looking at the signet-ring
on the little finger of his left hand.
"A declaration of love?" She considered for a moment. "Yes, I
suppose in a way it would," she acknowledged. "But even so?"
she asked, after another moment of consideration. "Why should
he not have made her a declaration of love? He was in love
with her, wasn't he?"
The point of frank interrogation in her eyes showed clearly,
showed cruelly, how detached, how impersonal, her interest was.
"Frantically," said Peter. For caution's sake, he kept HIS
eyes on the golden-hazy peaks of Monte Sfionto. "He had been
in love with her, in a fashion, of course, from the beginning.
But after he met her, he fell in love with her anew. His mind,
his imagination, had been in love with its conception of her.
But now he, the man, loved her, the woman herself, frantically,
with just a downright common human love. There were
circumstances, however, which made it impossible for him to
tell her so."
"What circumstances?" There was the same frank look of
interrogation. "Do you mean that she was married?"
"No, not that. By the mercy of heaven," he pronounced, with
energy, "she was a widow."
The Duchessa broke into an amused laugh.
"Permit me to admire your piety," she said.
And Peter, as his somewhat outrageous ejaculation came back to
him, laughed vaguely too.
"But then--?" she went on. "What else? By the mercy of
heaven, she was a widow. What other circumstance could have
tied his tongue?"
"Oh," he answered, a trifle uneasily, "a multitude of
circumstances. Pretty nearly every conventional barrier the
world has invented, existed between him and her. She was a
frightful swell, for one thing."
"A frightful swell--?" The Duchessa raised her eyebrows.
"Yes," said Peter, "at a vertiginous height above him--horribly
'aloft and lone' in the social hierarchy." He tried to smile.
"What could that matter?" the Duchessa objected simply. "Mr.
Wildmay is a gentleman."
"How do you know he is?" Peter asked, thinking to create a
"Of course, he is. He must be. No one but a gentleman could
have had such an experience, could have written such a book.
And besides, he's a friend of yours. Of course he's a
gentleman," returned the adroit Duchessa.
"But there are degrees of gentleness, I believe," said Peter.
"She was at the topmost top. He--well, at all events, he knew
his place. He had too much humour, too just a sense of
proportion, to contemplate offering her his hand."
"A gentleman can offer his hand to any woman--under royalty,"
said the Duchessa.
"He can, to be sure--and he can also see it declined with
thanks," Peter answered. "But it wasn't merely her rank. She
was horribly rich, besides. And then--and then--! There were
ten thousand other impediments. But the chief of them all, I
daresay, was Wildmay's fear lest an avowal of his attachment
should lead to his exile from her presence--and he naturally
did not wish to be exiled."
"Faint heart!" the Duchessa said. "He ought to have told her.
The case was peculiar, was unique. Ordinary rules could n't
apply to it. And how could he be sure, after all, that she
would n't have despised the conventional barriers, as you call
them? Every man gets the wife he deserves--and certainly he
had gone a long way towards deserving her. She could n't have
felt quite indifferent to him--if he had told her; quite
indifferent to the man who had drawn that magnificent Pauline
from his vision of her. No woman could be entirely proof
against a compliment like that. And I insist that it was her
right to know. He should simply have told her the story of his
book and of her part in it. She would have inferred the rest.
He needn't have mentioned love--the word."
"Well," said Peter, "it is not always too late to mend. He may
tell her some fine day yet."
And in his soul two voices were contending.
"Tell her--tell her--tell her! Tell her now, at once, and
abide your chances," urged one. "No--no--no--do nothing of the
kind," protested the second. "She is arguing the point for its
abstract interest. She is a hundred miles from dreaming that
you are the man--hundreds of miles from dreaming that she is
the woman. If she had the least suspicion of that, she would
sing a song as different as may be. Caution, caution."
He looked at her--warm and fragrant and radiant, in her soft,
white gown, in her low lounging-chair, so near, so near to him
--he looked at her glowing eyes, her red lips, her rich brown
hair, at the white-and-rose of her skin, at the delicate blue
veins in her forehead, at her fine white hands, clasped loosely
together in her lap, at the flowing lines of her figure, with
its supple grace and strength; and behind her, surrounding her,
accessory to her, he was conscious of the golden August world,
in the golden August weather--of the green park, and the pure
sunshine, and the sweet, still air, of the blue lake, and the
blue sky, and the mountains with their dark-blue shadows, of
the long marble terrace, and the gleaming marble facade of the
house, and the marble balustrade, with the jessamine twining
round its columns. The picture was very beautiful--but
something was wanting to perfect its beauty; and the name of
the something that was wanting sang itself in poignant
iteration to the beating of his pulses. And he longed and
longed to tell her; and he dared not; and he hesitated . . . .
And while he was hesitating, the pounding of hoofs and the
grinding of carriage-wheels on gravel reached his ears--and so
the situation was saved, or the opportunity lost, as you choose
to think it. For next minute a servant appeared on the
terrace, and announced Mrs. O'Donovan Florence.
And shortly after that lady's arrival, Peter took his leave.
Well, Trixie, and is one to congratulate you?" asked Mrs.
"Congratulate me--? On what?" asked Beatrice.
"On what, indeed!" cried the vivacious Irishwoman. "Don't try
to pull the wool over the eyes of an old campaigner like me."
Beatrice looked blank.
"I can't in the least think what you mean," she said.
"Get along with you," cried Mrs. O'Donovan Florence; and she
brandished her sunshade threateningly. "On your engagement to
Mr.--what's this his name is?--to be sure."
She glanced indicatively down the lawn, in the direction of
Peter's retreating tweeds.
Beatrice had looked blank. But now she looked--first, perhaps,
for a tiny fraction of a second, startled--then gently,
"My poor Kate! Are you out of your senses?" she enquired, in
accents of concern, nodding her head, with a feint of pensive
"Not I," returned Mrs. O'Donovan Florence, cheerfully
confident. "But I 'm thinking I could lay my finger on a
long-limbed young Englishman less than a mile from here, who
very nearly is. Hasn't he asked you yet?"
"Es-to bete?" Beatrice murmured, pitifully nodding again.
"Ah, well, if he has n't, it's merely a question of time when
he will," said Mrs. O'Donovan Florence. "You've only to notice
the famished gaze with which he devours you, to see his
condition. But don't try to hoodwink me. Don't pretend that
this is news to you."
"News!" scoffed Beatrice. "It's news and nonsense--the product
of your irrepressible imagination. Mr. What's-this-his-name-is,
as you call him, and I are the barest acquaintances. He's
our temporary neighbour--the tenant for the season of Villa
Floriano--the house you can catch a glimpse of, below there,
through the trees, on the other side of the river."
"Is he, now, really? And that's very interesting too. But I
wasn't denying it." Mrs. O'Donovan Florence smiled, with
derisive sweetness. "The fact of his being the tenant of the
house I can catch a glimpse of, through the trees, on the other
side of the river, though a valuable acquisition to my stores
of knowledge, does n't explain away his famished glance unless,
indeed, he's behind with the rent: but even then, it's not
famished he'd look, but merely anxious and persuasive. I'm
a landlord myself. No, Trixie, dear, you've made roast meat of
the poor fellow's heart, as the poetical Persians express it;
and if he has n't told you so yet with his tongue, he tells the
whole world so with his eyes as often as he allows them to rest
on their loadstone, your face. You can see the sparks and the
smoke escaping from them, as though they were chimneys. If
you've not observed that for yourself, it can only be that
excessive modesty has rendered you blind. The man is head over
ears in love with you. Nonsense or bonsense, that is the sober
"I 'm sorry to destroy a romance, Kate," she said; "but alas
for the pretty one you 've woven, I happen to know that, so far
from being in love with me, Mr. Marchdale is quite desperately
in love with another woman. He was talking to me about her the
moment before you arrived."
"Was he, indeed?--and you the barest acquaintances!" quizzed
Mrs. O'Donovan Florence, pulling a face. "Well, well," she
went on thoughtfully, "if he's in love with another woman, that
settles my last remaining doubt. It can only be that the other
Beatrice shook her head, and laughed again.
"Is that what they call an Irishism?" she asked, with polite
"And an Irishism is a very good thing, too--when employed with
intention," retorted her friend. "Did he just chance, now, in
a casual way, to mention the other woman's name, I wonder?"
"Oh, you perverse and stiff-necked generation!" Beatrice
laughed. "What can his mentioning or not mentioning her name
signify? For since he's in love with her, it's hardly likely
that he's in love with you or me at the same time, is it?"
"That's as may be. But I'll wager I could make a shrewd guess
at her name myself. And what else did he tell you about her?
He's told me nothing; but I'll warrant I could paint her
portrait. She's a fine figure of a young Englishwoman,
brown-haired, grey-eyed, and she stands about five-feet-eight
in her shoes. There's an expression of great malice and humour
in her physiognomy, and a kind of devil-may-care haughtiness in
the poise of her head. She's a bit of a grande dame, into the
bargain--something like an Anglo-Italian duchess, for example;
she's monstrously rich; and she adds, you'll be surprised to
learn, to her other fascinations that of being a widow. Faith,
the men are so fond of widows, it's a marvel to me that we're
ever married at all until we reach that condition;--and there,
if you like, is another Irishism for you. But what's this?
Methinks a rosy blush mantles my lady's brow. Have I touched
the heel of Achilles? She IS a widow? He TOLD you she was a
widow? . . . But--bless us and save us!--what's come to you
now? You're as white as a sheet. What is it?"
"Good heavens!" gasped Beatrice. She lay back in her chair,
and stared with horrified eyes into space. "Good--good
Mrs. O' Donovan Florence leaned forward and took her hand.
"What is it, my dear? What's come to you?" she asked, in
Beatrice gave a kind of groan.
"It's absurd--it's impossible," she said; "and yet, if by any
ridiculous chance you should be right, it's too horribly
horrible." She repeated her groan. "If by any ridiculous
chance you are right, the man will think that I have been
leading him on!"
"LEADING HIM ON!" Mrs. O'Donovan Florence suppressed a shriek
of ecstatic mirth. "There's no question about my being right,"
she averred soberly. "He wears his heart behind his eyeglass;
and whoso runs may read it."
"Well, then--" began Beatrice, with an air of desperation . . .
"But no," she broke off. "YOU CAN'T be right. It's
impossible, impossible. Wait. I'll tell you the whole story.
You shall see for yourself."
"Go on," said Mrs. O'Donovan Florence, assuming an attitude of
devout attention, which she retained while Beatrice (not
without certain starts and hesitations) recounted the fond tale
of Peter's novel, and of the woman who had suggested the
character of Pauline.
"But OF COURSE!" cried the Irishwoman, when the tale was
finished; and this time her shriek of mirth, of glee, was not
suppressed. "Of course--you miracle of unsuspecting innocence!
The man would never have breathed a whisper of the affair to
any soul alive, save to his heroine herself--let alone to you,
if you and she were not the same. Couple that with the eyes he
makes at you, and you've got assurance twice assured. You
ought to have guessed it from the first syllable he uttered.
And when he went on about her exalted station and her fabulous
wealth! Oh, my ingenue! Oh, my guileless lambkin! And you
Trixie Belfont! Where's your famous wit? Where are your
"BUT DON'T YOU SEE," wailed Beatrice, "don't you see the
utterly odious position this leaves me in? I've been urging
him with all my might to tell her! I said . . . oh, the things
I said!" She shuddered visibly. "I said that differences of
rank and fortune could n't matter." She gave a melancholy laugh.
"I said that very likely she'd accept him. I said she couldn't
help being . . . Oh, my dear, my dear! He'll think--of course,
he can't help thinking--that I was encouraging him--that I was
coming halfway to meet him."
"Hush, hush! It's not so bad as that," said Mrs. O'Donovan
Florence, soothingly. "For surely, as I understand it, the man
doesn't dream that you knew it was about himself he was
speaking. He always talked of the book as by a friend of his;
and you never let him suspect that you had pierced his
Beatrice frowned for an instant, putting this consideration in
its place, in her troubled mind. Then suddenly a light of
intense, of immense relief broke in her face.
"Thank goodness!" she sighed. "I had forgotten. No, he does
n't dream that. But oh, the fright I had!"
"He'll tell you, all the same," said Mrs. O'Donovan Florence.
"No, he'll never tell me now. I am forewarned, forearmed. I
'll give him no chance," Beatrice answered.
"Yes; and what's more, you'll marry him," said her friend.
"Kate! Don't descend to imbecilities," cried Beatrice.
"You'll marry him," reiterated Mrs. O'Donovan Florence, calmly.
"You'll end by marrying him--if you're human; and I've seldom
known a human being who was more so. It's not in flesh and
blood to remain unmoved by a tribute such as that man has paid
you. The first thing you'll do will be to re-read the novel.
Otherwise, I'd request the loan of it myself, for I 'm
naturally curious to compare the wrought ring with the virgin
gold--but I know it's the wrought ring the virgin gold will
itself be wanting, directly it's alone. And then the poison
will work. And you'll end by marrying him."
"In the first place," replied Beatrice, firmly, "I shall never
marry any one. That is absolutely certain. In the next place,
I shall not re-read the novel; and to prove that I shan't, I
shall insist on your taking it with you when you leave to-day.
And finally, I'm nowhere near convinced that you're right about
my being . . . well, you might as well say the raw material,
the rough ore, as the virgin gold. It's only a bare
possibility. But even the possibility had not occurred to me
before. Now that it has, I shall be on my guard. I shall know
how to prevent any possible developments."
"In the first place," said Mrs. O'Donovan Florence, with equal
firmness, "wild horses couldn't induce me to take the novel.
Wait till you're alone. A hundred questions about it will come
flocking to your mind; you'd be miserable if you had n't it to
refer to. In the next place, the poison will work and work.
Say what you will, it's flattery that wins us. In the third
place, he'll tell you. Finally, you'll make a good Catholic of
him, and marry him. It's absurd, it's iniquitous, anyhow, for
a young and beautiful woman like you to remain a widow. And
your future husband is a man of talent and distinction, and
he's not bad-looking, either. Will you stick to your title,
now, I wonder? Or will you step down, and be plain Mrs.
Marchdale? No--the Honourable Mrs.--excuse me--'Mr. and the
Honourable Mrs. Marchdale.' I see you in the 'Morning Post'
already. And will you
continue to live in Italy? Or will you come back to England?"
"Oh, my good Kate, my sweet Kate, my incorrigible Kate, what an
extravagantly silly Kate you can be when the mood takes you,"
"Kate me as many Kates as you like, the man is really not
bad-looking. He has a nice lithe springy figure, and a clean
complexion, and an open brow. And if there's a suggestion of
superciliousness in the tilt of his nose, of scepticism in the
twirl of his moustaches, and of obstinacy in the squareness of
his chin--ma foi, you must take the bitter with the sweet.
Besides, he has decent hair, and plenty of it--he'll not go
bald. And he dresses well, and wears his clothes with an air.
In short, you'll make a very handsome couple. Anyhow, when
your family are gathered round the evening lamp to-night, I 'll
stake my fortune on it, but I can foretell the name of the book
they'll find Trixie Belfont reading," laughed Mrs. O'Donovan
For a few minutes, after her friend had left her, Beatrice sat
still, her head resting on her hand, and gazed with fixed eyes
at Monte Sfiorito. Then she rose, and walked briskly backwards
and forwards, for a while, up and down the terrace. Presently
she came to a standstill, and leaning on the balustrade, while
one of her feet kept lightly tapping the pavement, looked off
again towards the mountain.
The prospect was well worth her attention, with its blue and
green and gold, its wood and water, its misty-blushing snows,
its spaciousness and its atmosphere. In the sky a million
fluffy little cloudlets floated like a flock of fantastic
birds, with mother-of-pearl tinted plumage. The shadows were
lengthening now. The sunshine glanced from the smooth surface
of the lake as from burnished metal, and falling on the
coloured sails of the fishing-boats, made them gleam like sails
of crimson silk. But I wonder how much of this Beatrice really
She plucked an oleander from one of the tall marble urns set
along the balustrade, and pressed the pink blossom against her
face, and, closing her eyes, breathed in its perfume; then,
absent-minded, she let it drop, over the terrace, upon the path
"It's impossible," she said suddenly, aloud. At last she went
into the house, and up to her rose-and-white retiring-room.
There she took a book from the table, and sank into a deep
easy-chair, and began to turn the pages.
But when, by and by, approaching footsteps became audible in
the stone-floored corridor without, Beatrice hastily shut the
book, thrust it back upon the table, and caught up another so
that Emilia Manfredi, entering, found her reading Monsieur
Anatole France's "Etui de nacre."
"Emilia," she said, "I wish you would translate the I Jongleur
de Notre Dame' into Italian."
Peter, we may suppose, returned to Villa Floriano that
afternoon in a state of some excitement.
"He ought to have told her--"
"It was her right to be told--"
"What could her rank matter--"
"A gentleman can offer his hand to any woman--"
"She would have despised the conventional barriers--"
"No woman could be proof against such a compliment--"
The case was peculiar--ordinary rules could not apply to it--"
"Every man gets the wife he deserves--and he had certainly gone
a long way towards deserving her--"
"He should simply have told her the story of his book and of
her part in it--he need n't have mentioned love--she would have
The Duchessa's voice, clear and cool and crisp-cut, sounded
perpetually in his ears; the words she had spoken, the
arguments she had urged, repeated and repeated themselves,
danced round and round, in his memory.
"Ought I to have told her--then and there? Shall I go to her
and tell her to-morrow?"
He tried to think; but he could not think. His faculties were
in a whirl--he could by no means command them. He could only
wait, inert, while the dance went on. It was an extremely
riotous dance. The Duchessa's conversation was reproduced
without sequence, without coherence--scattered fragments of it
were flashed before him fitfully, in swift disorder. If he
would attempt to seize upon one of those fragments, to detain
and fix it, for consideration--a speech of hers, a look, an
inflection--then the whole experience suddenly lost its
outlines, his recollection of it became a jumble, and he was
left, as it were, intellectually gasping.
He walked about his garden, he went into the house, he came
out, he walked about again. he went in and dressed for dinner,
sat on his rustic bench, he smoked cigarette after cigarette.
"Ought I to have told her? Ought I to tell her to-morrow?"
At moments there would come a lull in the turmoil, an interval
of quiet, of apparent clearness; and the answer would seem
"Of course, you ought to tell her. Tell her--and all will be
well. She has put herself in the supposititious woman's place,
and she says, 'He ought to tell her.' She says it earnestly,
vehemently. That means that if she were the woman, she would
wish to be told. She will despise the conventional barriers
--she will be touched, she will be moved. 'No woman could be
proof against such a compliment.' Go to her to-morrow, and
tell her--and all will be well."
At these moments he would look up towards the castle, and
picture the morrow's consummation; and his heart would have a
convulsion. Imagination flew on the wings of his desire. She
stood before him in all her sumptuous womanhood, tender and
strong and glowing. As he spoke, her eyes lightened, her eyes
burned, the blood came and went in her cheeks; her lips parted.
Then she whispered something; and his heart leapt terribly; and
he called her name--"Beatrice! Beatrice!" Her name expressed
the inexpressible--the adoring passion, the wild hunger and
wild triumph of his soul. But now she was moving towards him
--she was holding out her hands. He caught her in his arms--he
held her yielding body in his arms. And his heart leapt
terribly, terribly. And he wondered how he could endure, how
he could live through, the hateful hours that must elapse
before tomorrow would be to-day.
But "hearts, after leaps, ache." Presently the whirl would
begin again; and then, by and by, in another lull, a contrary
answer would seem equally plain.
"Tell her, indeed? My dear man, are you mad? She would simply
be amazed, struck dumb, by your presumption. I can see from
here her incredulity--I can see the scorn with which she would
wither you. It has never dimly occurred to her as conceivable
that you would venture to be in love with her, that you would
dare to lift your eyes to her--you who are nothing, to her who
is all. Yes--nothing, nobody. In her view, you are just a
harmless nobody, whose society she tolerates for kindness'
sake--and faute de mieux. It is precisely because she deems
you a nobody--because she is profoundly conscious of the gulf
that separates you from her--that she can condescend to be
amiably familiar. If you were of a rank even remotely
approximating to her own, she would be a thousand times more
circumspect. Remember--she does not dream that you are Felix
Wildmay. He is a mere name to her; and his story is an amusing
little romance, perfectly external to herself, which she
discusses with entirely impersonal interest. Tell her by all
means, if you like Say, 'I am Wildmay--you are Pauline.' And
see how amazed she will be, and how incensed, and how
Then he would look up at the castle stonily, in a mood of
desperate renunciation, and vaguely meditate packing his
belongings, and going home to England.
At other moments a third answer would seem the plain one:
something between these extremes of optimism and pessimism, a
compromise, it not a reconciliation.
"Come! Let us be calm, let us be judicial. The consequences
of our actions, here below, if hardly ever so good as we could
hope, are hardly ever so bad as we might fear. Let us regard
this matter in the light of that guiding principle. True, she
does n't dream that you are Wildmay. True, if you were
abruptly to say to her, 'I am Wildmay--you are the woman,' she
would be astonished--even, if you will, at first, more or less
taken aback, disconcerted. But indignant? Why? What is this
gulf that separates you from her? What are these conventional
barriers of which you make so much? She is a duchess, she is
the daughter of a lord, and she is rich. Well, all that is to
be regretted. But you are neither a plebeian nor a pauper
yourself. You are a man of good birth, you are a man of some
parts, and you have a decent income. It amounts to this--she
is a great lady, you are a small gentleman. In ordinary
circumstances, to be sure, so small a gentleman could not ask
so great a lady to become his wife. But here the circumstances
are not ordinary. Destiny has meddled in the business. Small
gentleman though you are, an unusual and subtle relation-ship
has been established between you and your great lady. She
herself says, 'Ordinary rules cannot apply--he ought to tell
her.' Very good: tell her. She will be astonished, but she
will see that there is no occasion for resentment. And though
the odds are, of course, a hundred to one that she will not
accept you, still she must treat you as an honourable suitor.
And whether she accepts you or rejects you, it is better to
tell her and to have it over, than to go on forever dangling
this way, like the poor cat in the adage. Tell her--put your
fate to the touch--hope nothing, fear nothing--and bow to the
But even this temperate answer provoked its counter-answer.
"The odds are a hundred to one, a thousand to one, that she
will not accept you. And if you tell her, and she does not
accept you, she will not allow you to see her any more, you
will be exiled from her presence. And I thought, you did not
wish to be exiled from her presence, You would stake, then,
this great privilege, the privilege of seeing her, of knowing
her, upon a. chance that has a thousand to one against it.
You make light of the conventional barriers--but the principal
barrier of them all, you are forgetting. She is a Roman
Catholic, and a devout one. Marry a Protestant? She would as
soon think of marrying a Paynim Turk."
In the end, no doubt, a kind of exhaustion followed upon his
excitement. Questions and answers suspended themselves; and he
could only look up towards Ventirose, and dumbly wish that he
was there. The distance was so trifling--in five minutes he
could traverse it--the law seemed absurd and arbitrary, which
condemned him to sit apart, free only to look and wish.
It was in this condition of mind that Marietta found him, when
she came to announce dinner.
Peter gave himself a shake. The sight of the brown old woman,
with her homely, friendly face, brought him back to small
things, to actual things; and that, if it was n't a comfort,
was, at any rate, a relief.
"Dinner?" he questioned. "Do peris at the gates of Eden DINE?"
"The soup is on the table," said Marietta.
He rose, casting a last glance towards the castle.
Towers and battlements . . .
Bosomed high in tufted trees,
Where perhaps some beauty lies,
The cynosure of neighbouring eyes."
He repeated the lines in an undertone, and went in to dinner.
And then the restorative spirit of nonsense descended upon him.
"Marietta," he asked, "what is your attitude towards the
question of mixed marriages?"
Marietta wrinkled her brow.
"Mixed marriages? What is that, Signorino?"
"Marriages between Catholics and Protestants," he explained.
"Protestants?" Her brow was still a network. "What things are
"They are things--or perhaps it would be less invidious to say
people--who are not Catholics--who repudiate Catholicism as a
deadly and soul-destroying error."
"Jews?" asked Marietta.
"No--not exactly. They are generally classified as Christians.
But they protest, you know. Protesto, protestare, verb,
active, first conjugation. 'Mi pare che la donna protesta
troppo,' as the poet sings. They're Christians, but they
protest against the Pope and the Pretender."
"The Signorino means Freemasons," said Marietta.
"No, he does n't," said Peter. "He means Protestants."
"But pardon, Signorino," she insisted; "if they are not
Catholics, they must be Freemasons or Jews. They cannot be
Christians. Christian--Catholic: it is the same. All
Christians are Catholics."
"Tu quoque!" he cried. "You regard the terms as
interchangeable? I 've heard the identical sentiment similarly
enunciated by another. Do I look like a Freemason?"
She bent her sharp old eyes upon him studiously for a moment.
Then she shook her head.
"No," she answered slowly. "I do not think that the Signorino
looks like a Freemason."
"A Jew, then?"
"Mache! A Jew? The Signorino!" She shrugged derision.
"And yet I'm what they call a Protestant," he said.
"No," said she.
"Yes," said he. "I refer you to my sponsors in baptism. A
regular, true blue moderate High Churchman and Tory, British
and Protestant to the backbone, with 'Frustrate their Popish
tricks' writ large all over me. You have never by any chance
married a Protestant yourself?" he asked.
"No, Signorino. I have never married any one. But it was not
for the lack of occasions. Twenty, thirty young men courted me
when I was a girl. But--mica!--I would not look at them. When
men are young they are too unsteady for husbands; when they are
old they have the rheumatism."
Admirably philosophised," he approved. But it sometimes
happens that men are neither young nor old. There are men of
thirty-five--I have even heard that there are men of forty.
What of them?"
"There is a proverb, Signorino, which says, Sposi di quarant'
anni son mai sempre tiranni," she informed him.
"For the matter of that," he retorted, "there is a proverb
which says, Love laughs at locksmiths."
"Non capisco," said Marietta.
"That's merely because it's English," said he. "You'd
understand fast enough if I should put it in Italian. But I
only quoted it to show the futility of proverbs. Laugh at
locksmiths, indeed! Why, it can't even laugh at such an
insignificant detail as a Papist's prejudices. But I wish I
were a duke and a millionaire. Do you know any one who could
create me a duke and endow me with a million?"
"No, Signorino," she answered, shaking her head.
"Fragrant Cytherea, foam-born Venus, deathless Aphrodite,
cannot, goddess though she is," he complained. "The fact is, I
'm feeling rather undone. I think I will ask you to bring me a
bottle of Asti-spumante--some of the dry kind, with the white
seal. I 'll try to pretend that it's champagne. To tell or
not to tell--that is the question.
'A face to lose youth for, to occupy age
With the dream of, meet death with--
And yet, if you can believe me, the man who penned those lines
had never seen her. He penned another line equally pat to the
situation, though he had never seen me, either
'Is there no method to tell her in Spanish?"
But you can't imagine how I detest that vulgar use of 'pen' for
'write'--as if literature were a kind of pig. However, it's
perhaps no worse than the use of Asti for champagne. One
should n't be too fastidious. I must really try to think of
some method of telling her in Spanish."
Marietta went to fetch the Asti.
When Peter rose next morning, he pulled a grimace at the
"You are a detected cheat," he cried, "an unmasked impostor.
You live upon your reputation as a counsellor--'tis the only
reason why we bear with you. La nuit porte conseil! Yet what
counsel have you brought to me?--and I at the pass where my
need is uttermost. Shall I go to her this afternoon, and
unburden my soul--or shall I not? You have left me where you
found me--in the same fine, free, and liberal state of
vacillation. Discredited oracle!"
He was standing before his dressing-table, brushing his hair.
The image in the glass frowned back at him. Then something
"At all events, we'll go this morning to Spiaggia, and have our
hair cut," he resolved.
So he walked to the village, and caught the ten o'clock omnibus
for Spiaggia. And after he had had his hair cut, he went to
the Hotel de Russie, and lunched in the garden. And after
luncheon, of course, he entered the grounds of the Casino, and
strolled backwards and forwards, one of a merry procession, on
the terrace by the lakeside. The gay toilets of the women,
their bright-coloured hats and sunshades, made the terrace look
like a great bank of monstrous moving flowers. The band played
brisk accompaniments to the steady babble of voices, Italian,
English, German. The pure air was shot with alien scents--the
women's perfumery, the men's cigarette-smoke. The marvellous
blue waters crisped in the breeze, and sparkled in the sun; and
the smooth snows of Monte Sfiorito loomed so near, one felt one
could almost put out one's stick and scratch one's name upon
them . . . . And here, as luck would have it, Peter came face
to face with Mrs. O'Donovan Florence.
"How do you do?" said she, offering her hand.
"How do you do?" said he.
"It's a fine day," said she.
"Very," said he.
"Shall I make you a confidence?" she asked.
"Do," he answered.
"Are you sure I can trust you?" She scanned his face dubiously.
"Try it and see," he urged.
"Well, then, if you must know, I was thirsting to take a table
and call for coffee; but having no man at hand to chaperon me,
I dared not."
"Je vous en prie'' cried Peter, with a gesture of gallantry;
and he led her to one of the round marble tables. "Due caffe,"
he said to the brilliant creature (chains, buckles, ear-rings,
of silver filigree, and head-dress and apron of flame-red silk)
who came to learn their pleasure.
"Softly, softly," put in Mrs. O'Donovan Florence. "Not a drop
of coffee for me. An orange-sherbet, if you please. Coffee
was a figure of speech--a generic term for light refreshments."
Peter laughed, and amended his order.
"Do you see those three innocent darlings playing together,
under the eye of their governess, by the Wellingtonia yonder?"
enquired the lady.
"The little girl in white and the two boys?" asked Peter.
"Precisely," said she. "Such as they are, they're me own."
"Really?" he responded, in the tone of profound and sympathetic
interest we are apt to affect when parents begin about their
"I give you my word for it," she assured him. "But I mention
the fact, not in a spirit of boastfulness, but merely to show
you that I 'm not entirely alone and unprotected. There's an
American at our hotel, by the bye, who goes up and down telling
every one who'll listen that it ought to be Washingtonia, and
declaiming with tears in his eyes against the arrogance of the
English in changing Washington to Wellington. As he's a
respectable-looking man with grown-up daughters, I should think
very likely he's right."
"Very likely," said Peter. "It's an American tree, is n't it?"
"Whether it is n't or whether it is," said she, "one thing is
undeniable: you English are the coldest-blooded animals south
of the Arctic Circle."
"Oh--? Are we?" he doubted.
"You are that," she affirmed, with sorrowing emphasis.
"Ah, well," he reflected, "the temperature of our blood does
n't matter. We're, at any rate, notoriously warm-hearted."
"Are you indeed?" she exclaimed. "If you are, it's a mighty
quiet kind of notoriety, let me tell you, and a mighty cold
kind of warmth."
"You're all for prudence and expediency. You're the slaves of
your reason. You're dominated by the head, not by the heart.
You're little better than calculating-machines. Are you ever
known, now, for instance, to risk earth and heaven, and all
things between them, on a sudden unthinking impulse?"
"Not often, I daresay," he admitted.
"And you sit there as serene as a brazen statue, and own it
without a quaver," she reproached him.
"Surely," he urged, "in my character of Englishman, it behooves
me to appear smug and self-satisfied?"
"You're right," she agreed. "I wonder," she continued, after a
moment's pause, during which her eyes looked thoughtful, "I
wonder whether you would fall upon and annihilate a person who
should venture to offer you a word of well-meant advice."
"I should sit as serene as a brazen statue, and receive it
without a quaver," he promised.
"Well, then," said she, leaning forward a little, and dropping
her voice, "why don't you take your courage in both hands, and
"Be guided by me--and do it," she said.
"Do what?" he puzzled.
"Ask her to marry you, of course," she returned amiably. Then,
without allowing him time to shape an answer, "Touche!" she
cried, in triumph. "I 've brought the tell-tale colour to your
cheek. And you a brazen statue! 'They do not love who do not
show their love.' But, in faith, you show yours to any one
who'll be at pains to watch you. Your eyes betray you as often
as ever you look at her. I had n't observed you for two
minutes by the clock, when I knew your secret as well as if you
'd chosen me for your confessor. But what's holding you back?
You can't expect her to do the proposing. Now curse me for a
meddlesome Irishwoman, if you will--but why don't you throw
yourself at her feet, and ask her, like a man?"
"How can I?" said Peter, abandoning any desire he may have felt
to beat about the bush. Nay, indeed, it is very possible he
welcomed, rather than resented, the Irishwoman's meddling.
"What's to prevent you?" said she.
"Everything," said he.
"Everything is nothing. That?"
"Dear lady! She is hideously rich, for one thing."
"Getaway with you!" was the dear lady's warm expostulation.
"What has money to do with the question, if a man's in love?
But that's the English of it--there you are with your
cold-blooded calculation. You chain up your natural impulses as
if they were dangerous beasts. Her money never saved you from
succumbing to her enchantments. Why should it bar you from
declaring your passion."
"There's a sort of tendency in society," said Peter, "to look
upon the poor man who seeks the hand of a rich woman as a
"A fig for the opinion of society," she cried. "The only
opinion you should consider is the opinion of the woman you
adore. I was an heiress myself; and when Teddy O'Donovan
proposed to me, upon my conscience I believe the sole piece of
property he possessed in the world was a corkscrew. So much
for her ducats!"
"Men, after coffee, are frequently in the habit of smoking,"
said she. "You have my sanction for a cigarette. It will keep
you in countenance."
"Thank you," said Peter, and lit his cigarette.
"And surely, it's a countenance you'll need, to be going on
like that about her money. However--if you can find a ray of
comfort in the information--small good will her future husband
get of it, even if he is a fortunehunter: for she gives the
bulk of it away in charity, and I 'm doubtful if she keeps two
thousand a year for her own spending."
"Really?" said Peter; and for a breathing-space it seemed to
him that there was a ray of comfort in the information.
"Yes, you may rate her at two thousand a year," said Mrs.
O'Donovan Florence. "I suppose you can match that yourself.
So the disparity disappears."
The ray of comfort had flickered for a second, and gone out.
"There are unfortunately other disparities," he remarked
"Put a name on them," said she.
"There's her rank."
His impetuous adviser flung up a hand of scorn.
"Her rank, do you say?" she cried. "To the mischief with her
rank. What's rank to love? A woman is only a woman, whether
she calls herself a duchess or a dairy-maid. A woman with any
spirit would marry a bank manager, if she loved him. A man's a
man. You should n't care that for her rank."
"That" was a snap of Mrs. O' Donovan Florence's fingers.
"I suppose you know," said Peter, "that I am a Protestant."
"Are you--you poor benighted creature? Well, that's easily
remedied. Go and get yourself baptised directly."
She waved her hand towards the town, as if to recommend his
immediate procedure in quest of a baptistery.
Peter laughed again.
"I 'm afraid that's more easily said than done."
"Easy!" she exclaimed. "Why, you've only to stand still and
let yourself be sprinkled. It's the priest who does the work.
Don't tell me," she added, with persuasive inconsequence, "that
you'll allow a little thing like being in love with a woman to
keep you back from professing the true faith."
"Ah, if I were convinced that it is true," he sighed, still
"What call have you to doubt it? And anyhow, what does it
matter whether you 're convinced or not? I remember, when I
was a school-girl, I never was myself convinced of the theorems
of Euclid; but I professed them gladly, for the sake of the
marks they brought; and the eternal verities of mathematics
remained unshaken by my scepticism."
"Your reasoning is subtle," laughed Peter. "But the worst of
it is, if I were ten times a Catholic, she wouldn't have me.
So what's the use?"
"You never can tell whether a woman will have you or not, until
you offer yourself. And even if she refuses you, is that a
ground for despair? My own husband asked me three times, and
three times I said no. And then he took to writing verses--and
I saw there was but one way to stop him. So we were married.
Ask her; ask her again--and again. You can always resort in
the end to versification. And now," the lady concluded,
rising, "I have spoken, and I leave you to your fate. I'm
obliged to return to the hotel, to hold a bed of justice. It
appears that my innocent darlings, beyond there, innocent as
they look, have managed among them to break the electric light
in my sitting-room. They're to be arraigned before me at three
for an instruction criminelle. Put what I 've said in your
pipe, and smoke it--'tis a mother's last request. If I 've not
succeeded in determining you, don't pretend, at least, that I
haven't encouraged you a bit. Put what I 've said in your
pipe, and see whether, by vigorous drawing, you can't fan the
smouldering fires of encouragement into a small blaze of
Peter resumed his stroll backwards and forwards by the
lakeside. Encouragement was all very well; but . . . "Shall I
--shall I not? Shall I--shall I not? Shall I--shall I not?"
The eternal question went tick-tack, tick-tack, to the rhythm of
his march. He glared at vacancy, and tried hard to make up his