Part 4 out of 4
"I'm afraid I must be somewhat lacking in decision of
character," he said, with pathetic wonder.
Then suddenly he stamped his foot.
"Come! An end to this tergiversation. Do it. Do it," cried
his manlier soul.
"I will," he resolved all at once, drawing a deep breath, and
clenching his fists.
He left the Casino, and set forth to walk to Ventirose. He
could not wait for the omnibus, which would not leave till
four. He must strike while his will was hot.
He walked rapidly; in less than an hour he had reached the tall
gilded grille of the park. He stopped for an instant, and
looked up the straight avenue of chestnuts, to the western
front of the castle, softly alight in the afternoon sun. He
put his hand upon the pendent bell-pull of twisted iron, to
summon the porter. In another second he would have rung, he
would have been admitted . . . . And just then one of the
little demons that inhabit the circumambient air, called his
attention to an aspect of the situation which he had not
"Wait a bit," it whispered in his ear. "You were there only
yesterday. It can't fail, therefore, to seem extraordinary,
your calling again to-day. You must be prepared with an
excuse, an explanation. But suppose, when you arrive, suppose
that (like the lady in the ballad) she greets you with 'a
glance of cold surprise'--what then, my dear? Why, then, it's
obvious, you can't allege the true explanation--can you? If
she greets you with a glance of cold, surprise, you 'll have
your answer, as it were, before the fact you 'll know that there's
no manner of hope for you; and the time for passionate avowals
will automatically defer itself. But then--? How will you
justify your visit? What face can you put on?"
"H'm," assented Peter, "there's something in that."
"There's a great deal in that," said the demon. "You must have
an excuse up your sleeve, a pretext. A true excuse is a fine
thing in its way; but when you come to a serious emergency, an
alternative false excuse is indispensable."
"H'm," said Peter.
However, if there are demons in the atmosphere, there are gods
in the machine--(Paraschkine even goes so far as to maintain
there are more gods in the machine than have ever been taken
from it.") While Peter stood still, pondering the demon's
really rather cogent intervention, his eye was caught by
something that glittered in the grass at the roadside.
"The Cardinal's snuff-box," he exclaimed, picking it up.
The Cardinal had dropped his snuff-box. Here was an excuse,
and to spare. Peter rang the bell.
And, like the lady in the ballad, sure enough, she greeted his
arrival with a glance of cold surprise.
At all events, eyebrows raised, face unsmiling, it was a glance
that clearly supplemented her spoken "How do you do?" by a
tacit (perhaps self-addressed?) "What can bring him here?"
You or I, indeed, or Mrs. O'Donovan Florence, in the fulness of
our knowledge, might very likely have interpreted it rather as
a glance of nervous apprehension. Anyhow, it was a glance that
perfectly checked the impetus of his intent. Something snapped
and gave way within him; and he needed no further signal that
the occasion for passionate avowals was not the present.
And thereupon befell a scene that was really quite too absurd,
that was really childish, a scene over the memory of which, I
must believe, they themselves have sometimes laughed together;
though, at the moment, its absurdity held, for him at least,
elements of the tragic.
He met her in the broad gravelled carriage-sweep, before the
great hall-door. She had on her hat and gloves, as if she were
just going out. It seemed to him that she was a little pale;
her eyes seemed darker than usual, and graver. Certainly--cold
surprise, or nervous apprehension, as you will--her attitude
was by no means cordial. It was not oncoming. It showed none
of her accustomed easy, half-humorous, wholly good-humoured
friendliness. It was decidedly the attitude of a person
standing off, shut in, withheld.
"I have never seen her in the least like this before," he
thought, as he looked at her pale face, her dark, grave eyes;
"I have never seen her more beautiful. And there is not one
single atom of hope for me."
"How do you do?" she said, unsmiling and waited, as who should
invite him to state his errand. She did not offer him her hand
but, for that matter, (she might have pleaded), she could not,
very well: for one of her hands held her sunshade, and the
other held an embroidered silk bag, woman's makeshift for a
And then, capping the first pang of his disappointment, a kind
of anger seized him. After all, what right had she to receive
him in this fashion?--as if he were an intrusive stranger. In
common civility, in common justice, she owed it to him to
suppose that he would not be there without abundant reason.
And now, with Peter angry, the absurd little scene began.
Assuming an attitude designed to be, in its own way, as
reticent as hers, "I was passing your gate," he explained,
"when I happened to find this, lying by the roadside. I took
the liberty of bringing it to you."
He gave her the Cardinal's snuff box, which, in spite of her
hands' preoccupation, she was able to accept.
"A liberty!" he thought, grinding his teeth. "Yes! No doubt
she would have wished me to leave it with the porter at the
lodge. No doubt she deems it an act of officiousness on my
part to have found it at all."
And his anger mounted.
"How very good of you," she said. "My uncle could not think
where he had mislaid it."
"I am very fortunate to be the means of restoring it," said he.
Then, after a second's suspension, as she said nothing (she
kept her eyes on the snuffbox, examining it as if it were quite
new to her), he lifted his hat, and bowed, preparatory to
retiring down the avenue.
"Oh, but my uncle will wish to thank you," she exclaimed,
looking up, with a kind of start. "Will you not come in? I--I
will see whether he is disengaged."
She made a tentative movement towards the door. She had thawed
But even as she thawed, Peter, in his anger, froze and
stiffened. "I will see whether he is disengaged." The
expression grated. And perhaps, in effect, it was not a
particularly felicitous expression. But if the poor woman was
suffering from nervous apprehension--?
"I beg you on no account to disturb Cardinal Udeschini," he
returned loftily. "It is not a matter of the slightest
And even as he stiffened, she unbent.
"But it is a matter of consequence to him, to us," she said,
faintly smiling. "We have hunted high and low for it. We
feared it was lost for good. It must have fallen from his
pocket when he was walking. He will wish to thank you."
"I am more than thanked already," said Peter. Alas (as
Monsieur de la Pallisse has sagely noted), when we aim to
appear dignified, how often do we just succeed in appearing
And to put a seal upon this ridiculous encounter, to make it
irrevocable, he lifted his hat again, and turned away.
"Oh, very well," murmured the Duchessa, in a voice that did not
reach him. If it had reached him, perhaps he would have come
back, perhaps things might have happened. I think there was
regret in her voice, as well as despite. She stood for a
minute, as he tramped down the avenue, and looked after him,
with those unusually dark, grave eyes. At last, making a
little gesture--as of regret? despite? impatience?--she went
into the house.
"Here is your snuff-box," she said to the Cardinal.
The old man put down his Breviary (he was seated by an open
window, getting through his office), and smiled at the snuff
box fondly, caressing it with his finger. Afterwards, he shook
it, opened it, and took a pinch of snuff.
"Where did you find it?" he enquired.
"It was found by that Mr. Marchdale," she said, "in the road,
outside the gate. You must have let it drop this morning, when
you were walking with Emilia."
"That Mr. Marchdale?" exclaimed the Cardinal. "What a
"A coincidence--?" questioned Beatrice.
"To be sure," said he. "Was it not to Mr. Marchdale that I
owed it in the first instance?"
"Oh--? Was it? I had fancied that you owed it to me."
"Yes--but," he reminded her, whilst the lines deepened about
his humorous old mouth, "but as a reward of my virtue in
conspiring with you to convert him. And, by the way, how is
his conversion progressing?"
The Cardinal looked up, with interest.
"It is not progressing at all. I think there is no chance of
it," answered Beatrice, in a tone that seemed to imply a
"Oh--?" said the Cardinal.
"No," said she.
"I thought he had shown 'dispositions'?" said the Cardinal.
"That was a mistake. He has shown none. He is a very tiresome
and silly person. He is not worth converting," she declared
"Good gracious!" said the Cardinal.
He resumed his office. But every now and again he would pause,
and look out of the window, with the frown of a man meditating
something; then he would shake his head significantly, and take
Peter tramped down the avenue, angry and sick.
Her reception of him had not only administered an instant
death-blow to his hopes as a lover, but in its ungenial
aloofness it had cruelly wounded his pride as a man. He felt
snubbed and humiliated. Oh, true enough, she had unbent a
little, towards the end. But it was the look with which she
had first greeted him--it was the air with which she had waited
for him to state his errand--that stung, and rankled, and would
not be forgotten.
He was angry with her, angry with circumstances, with life,
angry with himself.
"I am a fool--and a double fool--and a triple fool," he said.
"I am a fool ever to have thought of her at all; a double fool
ever to have allowed myself to think so much of her; a triple
and quadruple and quintuple idiot ever to have imagined for a
moment that anything could come of it. I have wasted time
enough. The next best thing to winning is to know when you are
beaten. I acknowledge myself beaten. I will go back to
England as soon as I can get my boxes packed."
He gazed darkly round the familiar valley, with eyes that
Olympus, no doubt, laughed.
"I shall go back to England as soon as I can get my boxes
But he took no immediate steps to get them packed.
"Hope," observes the clear-sighted French publicist quoted in
the preceding chapter, "hope dies hard."
Hope, Peter fancied, had received its death-blow that
afternoon. Already, that evening, it began to revive a little.
It was very much enfeebled; it was very indefinite and
diffident; but it was not dead. It amounted, perhaps, to
nothing more than a vague kind of feeling that he would not, on
the whole, make his departure for England quite so precipitate
as, in the first heat of his anger, the first chill of his
despair, he had intended. Piano, piano! He would move slowly,
he would do nothing rash.
But he was not happy, he was very far from happy. He spent a
wretched night, a wretched, restless morrow. He walked about a
great deal--about his garden, and afterwards, when the damnable
iteration of his garden had become unbearable, he walked to the
village, and took the riverside path, under the poplars, along
the racing Aco, and followed it, as the waters paled. and
broadened, for I forget how many joyless, unremunerative miles.
When he came home, fagged out and dusty, at dinner time,
Marietta presented a visiting card to him, on her handsomest
salver. She presented it with a flourish that was almost a
Twice the size of an ordinary visiting-card, the fashion of it
was roughly thus:
IL CARDLE UDESCHINI
Sacr: Congr: Archiv: et Inscript: Praef:
And above the legend, was pencilled, in a small oldfashioned
hand, wonderfully neat and pretty:--
"To thank Mr. Marchdale for his courtesy in returning my
"The Lord Prince Cardinal Udeschini was here," said Marietta.
There was a swagger in her accent. There was also something in
her accent that seemed to rebuke Peter for his absence.
"I had inferred as much from this," said he, tapping the card.
"We English, you know, are great at putting two and two
"He came in a carriage," said Marietta.
"Not really?" said her master.
"Ang--veramente," she affirmed.
"Was--was he alone?" Peter asked, an obscure little twinge of
hope stirring in his heart.
"No. Signorino." And then she generalised, with
untranslatable magniloquence: "Un amplissimo porporato non va
Peter ought to have hugged her for that amplissimo porporato.
But he was selfishly engrossed in his emotions.
"Who was with him?" He tried to throw the question out with a
casual effect, an effect of unconcern.
"The Signorina Emelia Manfredi was with him," answered
Marietta, little recking how mere words can stab.
"Oh," said Peter.
"The Lord Prince Cardinal Udeschini was very sorry not to see
the Signorino," continued Marietta.
"Poor man--was he? Let us trust that time will console him,"
said Peter, callously.
But, "I wonder," he asked himself, "I wonder whether perhaps I
was the least bit hasty yesterday? If I had stopped, I should
have saved the Cardinal a journey here to-day--I might have
known that he would come, these Italians are so punctilious
--and then, if I had stopped--if I had stopped--possibly
Possibly what? Oh, nothing. And yet, if he had stopped . . .
well, at any rate, he would have gained time. The Duchessa had
already begun to thaw. If he had stopped . . . He could
formulate no precise conclusion to that if; but he felt dimly
remorseful that he had not stopped, he felt that he had indeed
been the least bit hasty. And his remorse was somehow medicine
to his reviving hope.
"After all, I scarcely gave things a fair trial yesterday," he
And the corollary of that, of course, was that he might give
things a further and fairer trial some other day.
But his hope was still hard hurt; he was still in a profound
"The Signorino is not eating his dinner," cried Marietta,
fixing him with suspicious, upbraiding eyes.
"I never said I was," he retorted.
"The Signorino is not well?" she questioned, anxious.
"Oh, yes--cosi, cosi; the Signorino is well enough," he
"The dinner"--you could perceive that she brought herself with
difficulty to frame the dread hypothesis--"the dinner is not
good?" Her voice sank. She waited, tense, for his reply.
"The dinner," said he, "if one may criticise without eating it,
the dinner is excellent. I will have no aspersions cast upon
"Ah-h-h!" breathed Marietta, a tremulous sigh of relief.
"It is not the Signorino, it is not the dinner, it is the world
that is awry," Peter went on, in reflective melancholy. "'T is
the times that are out of joint. 'T is the sex, the Sex, that
is not well, that is not good, that needs a thorough
overhauling and reforming."
"Which sex?" asked Marietta.
"The sex," said Peter. "By the unanimous consent of
rhetoricians, there is but one sex the sex, the fair sex, the
unfair sex, the gentle sex, the barbaric sex. We men do not
form a sex, we do not even form a sect. We are your mere
hangers-on, camp-followers, satellites--your things, your
playthings--we are the mere shuttlecocks which you toss hither
and thither with your battledores, as the wanton mood impels
you. We are born of woman, we are swaddled and nursed by
woman, we are governessed by woman; subsequently, we are
beguiled by woman, fooled by woman, led on, put off, tantalised
by woman, fretted and bullied by her; finally, last scene of
all, we are wrapped in our cerements by woman. Man's life,
birth, death, turn upon woman, as upon a hinge. I have ever
been a misanthrope, but now I am seriously thinking of becoming
a misogynist as well. Would you advise me to-do so?"
"A misogynist? What is that, Signorino?" asked Marietta.
"A woman-hater," he explained; "one who abhors and forswears
the sex; one who has dashed his rose-coloured spectacles from
his eyes, and sees woman as she really is, with no illusive
glamour; one who has found her out. Yes, I think I shall
become a misogynist. It is the only way of rendering yourself
invulnerable, 't is the only safe course. During my walk this
afternoon, I recollected, from the scattered pigeon-holes of
memory, and arranged in consequent order, at least a score of
good old apothegmatic shafts against the sex. Was it not, for
example, in the grey beginning of days, was it not woman whose
mortal taste brought sin into the world and all our woe? Was
not that Pandora a woman, who liberated, from the box wherein
they were confined, the swarm of winged evils that still
afflict us? I will not remind you of St. John Chrysostom's
golden parable about a temple and the thing it is constructed
over. But I will come straight to the point, and ask whether
this is truth the poet sings, when he informs us roundly that
'every woman is a scold at heart'?"
Marietta was gazing patiently at the sky. She did not answer.
"The tongue," Peter resumed, "is woman's weapon, even as the
fist is man's. And it is a far deadlier weapon. Words break
no bones--they break hearts, instead. Yet were men one-tenth
part so ready with their fists, as women are with their barbed
and envenomed tongues, what savage brutes you would think us
--would n't you?--and what a rushing trade the police-courts
would drive, to be sure. That is one of the good old cliches
that came back to me during my walk. All women are alike
--there's no choice amongst animated fashion-plates: that is
another. A woman is the creature of her temper; her husband,
her children, and her servants are its victims: that is a
third. Woman is a bundle of pins; man is her pin-cushion.
When woman loves, 't is not the man she loves, but the man's
flattery; woman's love is reflex self-love. The man who
marries puts himself in irons. Marriage is a bird-cage in a
garden. The birds without hanker to get in; but the birds
within know that there is no condition so enviable as that of
the birds without. Well, speak up. What do you think? Do you
advise me to become a misogynist?"
"I do not understand, Signorino," said Marietta.
"Of course, you don't," said Peter. "Who ever could understand
such stuff and nonsense? That's the worst of it. If only one
could understand, if only one could believe it, one might find
peace, one might resign oneself. But alas and alas! I have
never had any real faith in human wickedness; and now, try as I
will, I cannot imbue my mind with any real faith in the
undesirability of woman. That is why you see me dissolved in
tears, and unable to eat my dinner. Oh, to think, to think,"
he cried with passion, suddenly breaking into English, "to
think that less than a fortnight ago, less than one little
brief fortnight ago, she was seated in your kitchen, seated
there familiarly, in her wet clothes, pouring tea, for all the
world as if she was the mistress of the house!"
Days passed. He could not go to Ventirose--or, anyhow, he
thought he could not. He reverted to his old habit of living
in his garden, haunting the riverside, keeping watchful,
covetous eyes turned towards the castle. The river bubbled and
babbled; the sun shone strong and clear; his fountain tinkled;
birds flew about their affairs; his flowers breathed forth
their perfumes; the Gnisi frowned, the uplands westward
laughed, the snows of Monte Sfiorito sailed under every colour
of the calendar except their native white. All was as it had
ever been--but oh, the difference to him. A week passed. He
caught no glimpse of the Duchessa. Yet he took no steps to get
his boxes packed.
And then Marietta fell ill.
One morning, when she came into his room, to bring his tea, and
to open the Venetian blinds that shaded his windows, she failed
to salute him with her customary brisk "Buon giorno,
Noticing which, and wondering, he, from his pillow, called out,
"Buon' giorno, Marietta."
"Buon' giorno, Signorino," she returned but in a whisper.
"What's the matter? Is there cause for secrecy?" Peter asked.
"I have a cold, Signorino," she whispered, pointing to her
chest. "I cannot speak."
The Venetian blinds were up by this time; the room was full of
sun. He looked at her. Something in her face alarmed him. It
seemed drawn and set, it seemed flushed.
"Come here," he said, with a certain peremptoriness. "Give me
She wiped her brown old hand backwards and forwards across her
apron; then gave it to him.
It was hot and dry.
"Your cold is feverish," he said. "You must go to bed, and
stay there till the fever has passed."
"I cannot go to bed, Signorino," she replied.
"Can't you? Have you tried?" asked he.
"No, Signorino," she admitted.
"Well, you never can tell whether you can do a thing or not,
until you try," said he. "Try to go to bed; and if at first
you don't succeed, try, try again."
"I cannot go to bed. Who would do the Signorino's work?" was
her whispered objection.
"Hang the Signorino's work. The Signorino's work will do
itself. Have you never observed that if you conscientiously
neglect to do your work, it somehow manages to get done without
you? You have a feverish cold; you must keep out of draughts;
and the only place where you can be sure of keeping out of
draughts, is bed. Go to bed at once."
She left the room.
But when Peter came downstairs, half an hour later, he heard
her moving in her kitchen.
"Marietta!" he cried, entering that apartment with the mien of
Nemesis. "I thought I told you to go to bed."
Marietta cowered a little, and looked sheepish, as one
surprised in the flagrant fact of misdemeanour.
"Yes, Signorino," she whispered.
"Well--? Do you call this bed?" he demanded.
"No, Signorino," she acknowledged.
"Do you wish to oblige me to put you to bed?" he asked.
"Oh, no, Signorino," she protested, horror in her whisper.
"Then go to bed directly. If you delay any longer, I shall
accuse you of wilful insubordination."
"Bene, Signorino," reluctantly consented Marietta.
Peter strolled into his garden. Gigi, the gardener, was
"The very man I most desired to meet," said Peter, and beckoned
to him. "Is there a doctor in the village?" he enquired, when
Gigi had approached.
"Yes, Signorino. The Syndic is a doctor--Dr. Carretaji."
"Good," said Peter. "Will you go to the village, please, and
ask Dr. Carretaji if he can make it convenient to call here
to-day? Marietta is not well."
"And stop a bit," said Peter. "Are there such things as women
in the village?'
"Ah, mache, Signorino! But many, many," answered Gigi, rolling
his dark eyes sympathetically, and waving his hands.
"I need but one," said Peter. "A woman to come and do
Marietta's work for a day or two--cook, and clean up, and that
sort of thing. Do you think you could procure me such a
"There is my wife, Signorino," suggested Gigi. "If she would
content the Signorino?"
"Oh? I was n't aware that you were married. A hundred
felicitations. Yes, your wife, by all means. Ask her to come
and rule as Marietta's vicereine."
Gigi started for the village.
Peter went into the house, and knocked at Marietta's bed-room
door. He found her in bed, with her rosary in her hands. If
she could not work, she would not waste her time. In
Marietta's simple scheme of life, work and prayer, prayer and
work, stood, no doubt, as alternative and complementary duties.
"But you are not half warmly enough covered up," said Peter.
He fetched his travelling-rug, and spread it over her. Then he
went to the kitchen, where she had left a fire burning, and
filled a bottle with hot water.
"Put this at your feet," he said, returning to Marietta.
"Oh, I cannot allow the Signorino to wait on me like this," the
old woman mustered voice to murmur.
"The Signorino likes it--it affords him healthful exercise,"
Peter assured her.
Dr. Carretaji came about noon, a fat middleaged man, with a
fringe of black hair round an ivory-yellow scalp, a massive
watch-chain (adorned by the inevitable pointed bit of coral),
and podgy, hairy hands. But he seemed kind and honest, and he
seemed to know his business.
"She has a catarrh of the larynx, with, I am afraid, a
beginning of bronchitis," was his verdict.
"Is there any danger?" Peter asked.
"Not the slightest. She must remain in bed, and take frequent
nourishment. Hot milk, and now and then beef-tea. I will send
some medicine. But the great things are nourishment and
warmth. I will call again to-morrow."
Gigi's wife came. She was a tall, stalwart, blackbrowed,
red-cheeked young woman, and her name (Gigi's eyes flashed
proudly, as he announced it) her name was Carolina Maddalena.
Peter had to be in and out of Marietta's room all day, to see.
that she took her beef-tea and milk and medicine regularly.
She dozed a good deal. When she was awake, she said her
But next day she was manifestly worse.
"Yes--bronchitis, as I feared," said the doctor. "Danger? No
--none, if properly looked after. Add a little brandy to her
milk, and see that she has at least a small cupful every
half-hour. I think it would be easier for you if you had a
nurse. Someone should be with her at night. There is a Convent
of Mercy at Venzona. If you like, I will telephone for a
"Thank you very much. I hope you will," said Peter.
And that afternoon Sister Scholastica arrived, and established
herself in the sick-room. Sister Scholastica was young, pale,
serene, competent. But sometimes she had to send for Peter.
"She refuses to take her milk. Possibly she will take it from
you," the sister said.
Then Peter would assume a half-bluff (perhaps half-wheedling?)
tone of mastery.
"Come, Marietta! You must take your, milk. The Signorino
wishes it. You must not disobey the Signorino."
And Marietta, with a groan, would rouse herself, and take it,
Peter holding the cup to her lips.
On the third day, in the morning, Sister Scholastica said, "She
imagines that she is worse. I do not think so myself. But she
keeps repeating that she is going to die. She wishes to see a
priest. I think it would make her feel easier. Can you send
for the Parrocco? Please let him know that it is not an
occasion for the Sacraments. But it would do her good if he
would come and talk with her."
And the doctor, who arrived just then, having visited Marietta,
confirmed the sister's opinion.
"She is no worse--she is, if anything, rather better. Her
malady is taking its natural course. But people of her class
always fancy they are going to die, if they are ill enough to
stay in bed. It is the panic of ignorance. Yes, I think it
would do her good to see a priest. But there is not the
slightest occasion for the Sacraments."
So Peter sent Gigi to the village for the Parrocco. And Gigi
came back with the intelligence that the Parrocco was away,
making a retreat, and would not return till Saturday. To-day
"What shall we do now?" Peter asked of Sister Scholastica.
"There is Monsignor Langshawe, at Castel Ventirose," said the
"Could I ask him to come?" Peter doubted.
"Certainly," said the sister. "In a case of illness, the
nearest priest will always gladly come."
So Peter despatched Gigi with a note to Monsignor Langshawe.
And presently up drove a brougham, with Gigi on the box beside
the coachman. And from the brougham descended, not Monsignor
Langshawe, but Cardinal Udeschini, followed by Emilia Manfredi.
The Cardinal gave Peter his hand, with a smile so sweet, so
benign, so sunny-bright--it was like music, Peter thought; it
was like a silent anthem.
"Monsignor Langshawe has gone to Scotland, for his holiday. I
have come in his place. Your man told me of your need," the
"I don't know how to thank your Eminence," Peter murmured, and
conducted him to Marietta's room.
Sister Scholastica genuflected, and kissed the Cardinal's ring,
and received his Benediction. Then she and Peter withdrew, and
went into the garden.
The sister joined Emilia, and they walked backwards and
forwards together, talking. Peter sat on his rustic bench,
smoked cigarettes, and waited.
Nearly an hour passed.
At length the Cardinal came out.
Peter rose, and went forward to meet him.
The Cardinal was smiling; but about his eyes there was a
"Mr. Marchdale," he said, "your housekeeper is in great
distress of conscience touching one or two offences she feels
she has been guilty of towards you. They seem to me, in
frankness, somewhat trifling. But I cannot persuade her to
accept my view. She will not be happy till she has asked and
received your pardon for them."
"Offences towards me?" Peter wondered. "Unless excess of
patience with a very trying employer constitutes an offence,
she has been guilty of none."
"Never mind," said the Cardinal. "Her conscience accuses her
--she must satisfy it. Will you come?"
The Cardinal sat down at the head of Marietta's bed, and took
"Now, dear," he said, with the gentleness, the tenderness, of
one speaking to a beloved child, "here is Mr. Marchdale. Tell
him what you have on your mind. He is ready to hear and to
Marietta fixed her eyes anxiously on Peter's face.
"First," she whispered, "I wish to beg the Signorino to pardon
all this trouble I am making for him. I am the Signorino's
servant; but instead of serving, I make trouble for him."
She paused. The Cardinal smiled at Peter.
Peter answered, "Marietta, if you talk like that, you will make
the Signorino cry. You are the best servant that ever lived.
You are putting me to no trouble at all. You are giving me a
chance--which I should be glad of, except that it involves your
suffering--to show my affection for you, and my gratitude."
"There, dear," said the Cardinal to her, "you see the Signorino
makes nothing of that. Now the next thing. Go on."
I have to ask the Signorino's forgiveness for my impertinence,"
"Impertinence--?" faltered Peter. "You have never been
"Scusi, Signorino," she went on, in her whisper. "I have
sometimes contradicted the Signorino. I contradicted the
Signorino when he told me that St. Anthony of Padua was born in
Lisbon. It is impertinent of a servant to contradict her
master. And now his most high Eminence says the Signorino was
right. I beg the Signorino to forgive me."
Again the Cardinal smiled at Peter.
"You dear old woman," Peter half laughed, half sobbed, "how can
you ask me to forgive a mere difference of opinion? You--you
dear old thing."
The Cardinal smiled, and patted Marietta's hand.
"The Signorino is too good," Marietta sighed.
"Go on, dear," said the Cardinal.
"I have been guilty of the deadly sin of evil speaking. I have
spoken evil of the Signorino," she went on. "I said--I said to
people--that the Signorino was simple--that he was simple and
natural. I thought so then. Now I know it is not so. I know
it is only that the Signorino is English."
Once more the Cardinal smiled at Peter.
Again Peter half laughed, half sobbed.
"Marietta! Of course I am simple and natural. At least, I try
to be. Come! Look up. Smile. Promise you will not worry
about these things any more."
She looked up, she smiled faintly.
"The Signorino is too good," she whispered.
After a little interval of silence, "Now, dear," said the
Cardinal, "the last thing of all."
Marietta gave a groan, turning her head from side to side on
"You need not be afraid," said the Cardinal. "Mr. Marchdale
will certainly forgive you."
"Oh-h-h," groaned Marietta. She stared at the ceiling for an
The Cardinal patted her hand. "Courage, courage," he said.
"Oh--Signorino mio," she groaned again, "this you never can
forgive me. It is about the little pig, the porcellino. The
Signorino remembers the little pig, which he called Francesco?"
"Yes," answered Peter.
"The Signorino told me to take the little pig away, to find a
home for him. And I told the Signorino that I would take him
to my nephew, who is a farmer, towards Fogliamo. The Signorino
"Yes," answered Peter. "Yes, you dear old thing. I remember."
Marietta drew a deep breath, summoned her utmost fortitude.
"Well, I did not take him to my nephew. The--the Signorino ate
Peter could hardly keep from laughing. He could only utter a
kind of half-choked "Oh?"
"Yes," whispered Marietta. "He was bought with the Signorino's
money. I did not like to see the Signorino's money wasted. So
I deceived the Signorino. You ate him as a chicken-pasty."
This time Peter did laugh, I am afraid. Even the Cardinal
--well, his smile was perilously near a titter. He took a big
pinch of snuff.
"I killed Francesco, and I deceived the Signorino. I am very
sorry," Marietta said.
Peter knelt down at her bedside.
"Marietta! Your conscience is too sensitive. As for killing
Francesco--we are all mortal, he could not have lived forever.
And as for deceiving the Signorino, you did it for his own
good. I remember that chicken-pasty. It was the best
chicken-pasty I have ever tasted. You must not worry any more
about the little pig."
Marietta turned her face towards him, and smiled.
"The Signorino forgives his servant?" she whispered.
Peter could not help it. He bent forward, and kissed her brown
"She will be easier now," said the Cardinal. "I will stay with
her a little longer."
Peter went out. The scene had been childish--do you say?
--ridiculous, almost farcical indeed? And yet, somehow, it
seemed to Peter that his heart was full of unshed tears. At
the same time, as he thought of the Cardinal, as he saw his
face, his smile, as he heard the intonations of his voice, the
words he had spoken, as he thought of the way he had held
Marietta's hand and patted it--at the same time a kind of
strange joy seemed to fill his heart, a strange feeling of
exaltation, of enthusiasm.
"What a heavenly old man," he said.
In the garden Sister Scholastica and Emilia were still walking
They halted, when Peter came out; and Emilia said, "With your
consent, Signore, Sister Scholastica has accepted me as her
lieutenant. I will come every morning, and sit with Marietta
during the day. That will relieve the sister, who has to be up
with her at night."
And every morning after that, Emilia came, walking through the
park, and crossing the river by the ladder-bridge, which Peter
left now permanently in its position. And once or twice a
week, in the afternoon, the Cardinal would drive up in the
brougham, and, having paid a little visit to Marietta, would
drive Emilia home.
In the sick-room Emilia would read to Marietta, or say the
rosary for her.
Marietta mended steadily day by day. At the end of a fortnight
she was able to leave her bed for an hour or two in the
afternoon, and sit in the sun in the garden. Then Sister
Scholastica went back to her convent at Venzona. At the end of
the third week Marietta could be up all day. But Gigi's
stalwart Carolina Maddalena continued to rule as vicereine in
the kitchen. And Emilia continued to come every morning.
"Why does the Duchessa never come?" Peter wondered. "It would
be decent of her to come and see the poor old woman."
Whenever he thought of Cardinal Udeschini, the same strange
feeling of joy would spring up in his heart, which he had felt
when he had left the beautiful old man with Marietta, on the
day of his first visit. In the beginning he could only give
this feeling a very general and indefinite expression. "He is
a man who renews one's faith in things, who renews one's faith
in human nature." But gradually, I suppose, the feeling
crystallised; and at last, in due season, it found for itself
an expression that was not so indefinite.
It was in the afternoon, and he had just conducted the Cardinal
and Emilia to their carriage. He stood at his gate for a
minute, and watched the carriage as it rolled away.
"What a heavenly old man, what a heavenly old man," he thought.
Then, still looking after the carriage, before turning back
into his garden, he heard himself repeat, half aloud
"Nor knowest thou what argument
Thy life to thy neighbour's creed hath lent."
The words had come to his lips, and were pronounced, were
addressed to his mental image of the Cardinal, without any
conscious act of volition on his part. He heard them with a
sort of surprise, almost as if some one else had spoken them.
He could not in the least remember what poem they were from, he
could not even remember what poet they were by. Were they by
Emerson? It was years since he had read a line of Emerson's.
All that evening the couplet kept running in his head. And the
feeling of joy, of enthusiasm, in his heart, was not so strange
now. But I think it was intensified.
The next time the Cardinal arrived at Villa Floriano, and gave
Peter his hand, Peter did not merely shake it, English fashion,
as he had hitherto done.
The Cardinal looked startled.
Then his eyes searched Peter's face for a second, keenly
interrogative. Then they softened; and a wonderful clear light
shone in them, a wonderful pure, sweet light.
"Benedicat te Omnipotens Deus, Pater, et Filius, et Spiritus
Sanctus," he said, making the Sign of the Cross.
Up at the castle, Cardinal Udeschini was walking backwards and
forwards on the terrace, reading his Breviary.
Beatrice was seated under the white awning, at the terrace-end,
doing some kind of needlework.
Presently the Cardinal came to a standstill near her, and
closed his book, putting his finger in it, to keep the place.
"It will be, of course, a great loss to Casa Udeschini, when
you marry," he remarked.
Beatrice looked up, astonishment on her brow.
"When I marry?" she exclaimed. "Well, if ever there was a
thunderbolt from a clear sky!"
And she laughed.
"Yes-when you marry," the Cardinal repeated, with conviction.
"You are a young woman--you are twenty-eight years old. You
will, marry. It is only right that you should marry. You have
not the vocation for a religious. Therefore you must marry.
But it will be a great loss to the house of Udeschini."
"Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof," said Beatrice,
laughing again. "I haven't the remotest thought of marrying.
I shall never marry."
"Il ne faut jamais dire a la fontaine, je ne boirai pas de ton
eau," his Eminence cautioned her, whilst the lines of humour
about his mouth emphasised themselves, and his grey eyes
twinkled. "Other things equal, marriage is as much the proper
state for the laity, as celibacy is the proper state for the
clergy. You will marry. It would be selfish of us to oppose
your marrying. You ought to marry. But it will be a great
loss to the family--it will be a great personal loss to me.
You are as dear to me as any of my blood. I am always
forgetting that we are uncle and niece by courtesy only."
"I shall never marry. But nothing that can happen to me can
ever make the faintest difference in my feeling for you. I
hope you know how much I love you?" She looked into his eyes,
smiling her love. "You are only my uncle by courtesy? But you
are more than an uncle--you have been like a father to me, ever
since I left my convent."
The Cardinal returned her smile.
"Carissima," he murmured. Then, "It will be a matter of the
utmost importance to me, however," he went on, "that, when the
time comes, you should marry a good man, a suitable man--a man
who will love you, whom you will love--and, if possible, a man
who will not altogether separate you from me, who will perhaps
love me a little too. It would send me in sorrow to my grave,
if you should marry a man who was not worthy of you."
"I will guard against that danger by not marrying at all,"
"No--you will marry, some day," said the Cardinal. "And I wish
you to remember that I shall not oppose your marrying--provided
the man is a good man. Felipe will not like it--Guido will
pull a long nose--but I, at least, will take your part, if I
can feel that the man is good. Good men are rare, my dear;
good husbands are rarer still. I can think, for instance, of
no man in our Roman nobility, whom I should be content to see
you marry. Therefore I hope you will not marry a Roman. You
would be more likely to marry one of your own countrymen.
That, of course, would double the loss to us, if it should take
you away from Italy. But remember, if he is a man whom I can
think worthy of you, you may count upon me as an ally."
He resumed his walk, reopening his Breviary.
Beatrice resumed her needlework. But she found it difficult to
fix her attention on it. Every now and then, she would leave
her needle stuck across its seam, let the work drop to her lap,
and, with eyes turned vaguely up the valley, fall, apparently,
into a muse.
"I wonder why he said all that to me?" was the question that
kept posing itself.
By and by the Cardinal closed his Breviary, and put it in his
pocket. I suppose he had finished his office for the day.
Then he came and sat down in one of the wicker chairs, under
the awning. On the table, among the books and things, stood a
carafe of water, some tumblers, a silver sugar-bowl, and a
crystal dish full of fresh pomegranate seeds. It looked like a
dish full of unset rubies. The Cardinal poured some water into
a tumbler, added a lump of sugar and a spoonful of pomegranate
seeds, stirred the mixture till it became rose-coloured, and
drank it off in a series of little sips.
"What is the matter, Beatrice?" he asked, all at once.
Beatrice raised her eyes, perplexed.
"The matter--? Is anything the matter?"
"Yes," said the Cardinal; "something is the matter. You are
depressed, you are nervous, you are not yourself. I have
noticed it for many days. Have you something on, your mind?"
"Nothing in the world," Beatrice answered, with an appearance
of great candour. "I had not noticed that I was nervous or
"We are entering October," said the Cardinal. "I must return
to Rome. I have been absent too long already. I must return
next week. But I should not like to go away with the feeling
that you are unhappy."
"If a thing were needed to make me unhappy, it would be the
announcement of your intended departure," Beatrice said,
smiling. "But otherwise, I am no more unhappy than it is
natural to be. Life, after all, is n't such a furiously gay
business as to keep one perpetually singing and dancing--is it?
But I am not especially unhappy."
"H'm," said the Cardinal. Then, in a minute, "You will come to
Rome in November, I suppose?" he asked.
"Yes--towards the end of November, I think," said Beatrice.
The Cardinal rose, and began to walk backwards and forwards
In a little while the sound of carriage-wheels could be heard,
in the sweep, round the corner of the house.
The Cardinal looked at his watch.
"Here is the carriage," he said. "I must go down and see that
poor old woman . . . . Do you know," he added, after a
moment's hesitation, "I think it would be well if you were to
go with me."
A shadow came into Beatrice's eyes.
"What good would that do?" she asked.
"It would give her pleasure, no doubt. And besides, she is one
of your parishioners, as it were. I think you ought to go.
You have never been to see her since she fell ill."
"Oh--well," said Beatrice.
She was plainly unwilling. But she went to put on her things.
In the carriage, when they had passed the village and crossed
the bridge, as they were bowling along the straight white road
that led to the villa, "What a long time it is since Mr.
Marchdale has been at Ventirose," remarked the Cardinal.
"Oh--? Is it?" responded Beatrice, with indifference.
"It is more than three weeks, I think--it is nearly a month,"
the Cardinal said.
"Oh--?" said she.
"He has had his hands full, of course; he has had little
leisure," the Cardinal pursued. "His devotion to his poor old
servant has been quite admirable. But now that she is
practically recovered, he will be freer."
"Yes," said Beatrice.
"He is a young man whom I like very much," said the Cardinal.
"He is intelligent; he has good manners; and he has a fine
sense of the droll. Yes, he has wit--a wit that you seldom
find in an Anglo-Saxon, a wit that is almost Latin. But you
have lost your interest in him? That is because you despair of
"I confess I am not greatly interested in him," Beatrice
answered. "And I certainly have no hopes of his conversion."
The Cardinal smiled at his ring. He opened his snuffbox, and
inhaled a long deliberate pinch of snuff.
"Ah, well--who can tell?" he said. "But--he will be free now,
and it is so long since he has been at the castle--had you not
better ask him to luncheon or dinner?"
"Why should I?" answered Beatrice. "If he does not come to
Ventirose, it is presumably because he does not care to come.
If he does care to come, he needs no invitation. He knows that
he is at liberty to call whenever he likes."
"But it would be civil, it would be neighbourly, to ask him to
a meal," the Cardinal submitted.
"And it would put him in the embarrassing predicament of having
either to accept against his will, or to decline and appear
ungracious," submitted Beatrice. "No, it is evident that
Ventirose does not amuse him."
"Bene," said the Cardinal. "Be it as you wish."
But when they reached Villa Floriano, Peter was not at home.
"He has gone to Spiaggia for the day," Emilia informed them.
Beatrice, the Cardinal fancied, looked at once relieved and
Marietta was seated in the sun, in a sheltered corner of the
While Beatrice talked with her, the Cardinal walked about.
Now it so happened that on Peter's rustic table a book lay
open, face downwards.
The Cardinal saw the book. He halted in his walk, and glanced
round the garden, as if to make sure that he was not observed.
He tapped his snuff--box, and took a pinch of snuff. Then he
appeared to meditate for an instant, the lines about his mouth
becoming very marked indeed. At last, swiftly, stealthily,
almost with the air of a man committing felony, he slipped
his snuff-box under the open book, well under it, so that it
was completely covered up.
On the way back to Ventirose, the Cardinal put his hand in his
"Dear me!" he suddenly exclaimed. "I have lost my snuff box
again." He shook his head, as one who recognises a fatality.
"I am always losing it."
"Are you sure you had it with you?" Beatrice asked.
"Oh, yes, I think I had it with me. I should have missed it
before this, if I had left it at home. I must have dropped it
in Mr. Marchdale's garden."
"In that case it will probably be found," said Beatrice.
Peter had gone to Spiaggia, I imagine, in the hope of meeting
Mrs. O'Donovan Florence; but the printed visitors' list there
told him that she had left nearly a fortnight since. On his
return to the villa, he was greeted by Marietta with the proud
tidings that her Excellency the Duchessa di Santangiolo had
been to see her.
"Oh--? Really?" he questioned lightly. (His heart, I think,
dropped a beat, all the same.)
"Ang," said Marietta. "She came with the most Eminent Prince
Cardinal. They came in the carriage. She stayed half an hour.
She was very gracious."
"Ah?" said Peter. "I am glad to hear it."
"She was beautifully dressed," said Marietta.
"Of that I have not the shadow of a doubt," said he.
"The Signorina Emilia drove away with them," said she.
"Dear, dear! What a chapter of adventures," was his comment.
He went to his rustic table, and picked up his book.
"How the deuce did that come there?" he wondered, discovering
the snuff box.
It was, in truth, an odd place for it. A cardinal may
inadvertently drop his snuff box, to be sure. But if the whole
College of Cardinals together had dropped a snuff box, it would
hardly have fallen, of its own weight, through the covers of an
open book, to the under-side thereof, and have left withal no
trace of its passage.
"Solid matter will not pass through solid matter, without
fraction--I learned that at school," said Peter.
The inference would be that someone had purposely put the snuff
The Cardinal himself? In the name of reason, why?
A wild surmise darted through Peter's soul. Could it be?
Could it conceivably be? Was it possible that--that--was it
possible, in fine, that this was a kind of signal, a kind of
Oh, no, no, no. And yet--and yet--
No, certainly not. The idea was preposterous. It deserved,
and (I trust) obtained, summary deletion.
"Nevertheless," said Peter, "it's a long while since I have
darkened the doors of Ventirose. And a poor excuse is better
than none. And anyhow, the Cardinal will be glad to have his
The ladder-bridge was in its place.
He crossed the Aco.
He crossed the Aco, and struck bravely forward, up the smooth
lawns, under the bending trees, towards the castle.
The sun was setting. The irregular mass of buildings stood out
in varying shades of blue, against varying, dying shades of
Half way there, Peter stopped, and looked back.
The level sunshine turned the black forests of the Gnisi to
shining forests of bronze, and the foaming cascade that leapt
down its side to a cascade of liquid gold. The lake, for the
greater part, lay in shadow, violet-grey through a pearl-grey
veil of mist; but along the opposite shore it caught the light,
and gleamed a crescent of quicksilver, with roseate
reflections. The three snow-summits of Monte Sfiorito, at the
valley's end, seemed almost insubstantial--floating forms of
luminous pink vapour, above the hazy horizon, in a pure sky
A familiar verse came into Peter's mind.
"Really,"' he said to himself, "down to the very 'cataract
leaping in glory,' I believe they must have pre-arranged the
scene, feature for feature, to illustrate it." And he began to
repeat the vivid, musical lines, under his breath . . .
But about midway of them he was interrupted.
"It's not altogether a bad sort of view--is it?" a voice asked,
Peter faced about.
On a marble bench, under a feathery acacia; a few yards away, a
lady was seated, looking at him, smiling.
Peter's eyes met hers--and suddenly his heart gave a jump.
Then it stood dead still for a second. Then it flew off,
racing perilously. Oh, for the best reasons in the world.
There was something in her eyes, there was a glow, a softness,
that seemed--that seemed . . . But thereby hangs my tale.
She was dressed in white. She had some big bright-yellow
chrysanthemums stuck in her belt. She wore no hat. Her hair,
brown and warm in shadow, sparkled, where the sun touched it,
transparent and iridescent, like crinkly threads of glass.
"You do not think it altogether bad--I hope?" she questioned,
arching her eyebrows slightly, with a droll little assumption
Peter's heart was racing--but he must answer her.
"I was just wondering," he answered, with a tolerably
successful feint of composure, "whether one might not safely
call it altogether good."
"Oh--?" she exclaimed.
She threw back her head, and examined the prospect critically.
Afterwards, she returned her gaze to Peter, with an air of
polite readiness to defer to his opinion.
"It is not too sensational? Not too much like a landscape on
"We must judge it leniently," said he; "we must remember that
it is only unaided Nature. Besides," he added, "to be
meticulously truthful, there is a spaciousness, there is a
vivacity in the light and colour, there is a sense of depth and
atmosphere, that we should hardly find in a landscape on the
"Yes--perhaps there is," she admitted thoughtfully.
And with that, they looked into each other's eyes, and laughed.
"Are you aware," the lady asked, after a brief silence, "that
it is a singularly lovely evening."
"I have a hundred reasons for thinking it so," Peter answered,
with the least approach to a meaning bow.
In the lady's face there flickered, perhaps, for half a second,
the faintest light, as of a comprehending and unresentful
smile. But she went on, with fine detachment
"How calm and still it is. The wonderful peace of the day's
compline. It seems as if the earth had stopped breathing--does
n't it? The birds have already gone to bed, though the sun is
only just setting. It is the hour when they are generally
noisiest; but they have gone to bed--the sparrows and the
finches, the snatchers and the snatched-from, are equal in the
article of sleep. That is because they feel the touch of
autumn. How beautiful it is, in spite of its sadness, this
first touch of autumn--it is like sad distant music. Can you
analyse it, can you explain it? There is no chill, it is quite
warm, and yet one knows somehow that autumn is here. The birds
know it, and have gone to bed. In another month they will be
flying away, to Africa and the Hesperides--all of them except
the sparrows, who stay all winter. I wonder how they get on
during the winter, with no goldfinches to snatch from?"
She turned to Peter with a look of respectful enquiry, as one
appealing to an authority for information.
"Oh, they snatch from each other, during the winter," he
explained. "It is thief rob thief, when honest victims are not
forthcoming. And--what is more to the point--they must keep
their beaks in, against the return of the goldfinches with the
The Duchessa--for I scorn to deceive the trustful reader
longer; and (as certain fines mouches, despite my efforts at
concealment, may ere this have suspected) the mysterious lady
was no one else--the Duchessa gaily laughed.
Yes," she said, "the goldfinches will return with the spring.
But isn't that rather foolish of them? If I were a goldfinch,
I think I should make my abode permanent in the sparrowless
"There is no sparrowless south," said Peter. "Sparrows, alas,
abound in every latitude; and the farther south you go, the
fiercer and bolder and more impudent they become. In Africa
and the Hesperides, which you have mentioned, they not
infrequently attack the caravans, peck the eyes out of the
camels, and are sometimes even known to carry off a man, a
whole man, vainly struggling in their inexorable talons. There
is no sparrowless south. But as for the goldfinches returning
--it is the instinct of us bipeds to return. Plumed and
plumeless, we all return to something, what though we may have
registered the most solemn vows to remain away."
He delivered his last phrases with an accent, he punctuated
them with a glance, in which there may have lurked an
But the Duchessa did not appear to notice it.
"Yes--true--so we do," she assented vaguely. "And what you
tell me of the sparrows in the Hesperides is very novel and
impressive--unless, indeed, it is a mere traveller's tale, with
which you are seeking to practise upon my credulity. But since
I find you in this communicative vein, will you not push
complaisance a half-inch further, and tell me what that thing
is, suspended there in the sky above the crest of the
Cornobastone--that pale round thing, that looks like the
spectre of a magnified half-crown?"
Peter turned to the quarter her gaze indicated.
"Oh, that," he said, "is nothing. In frankness, it is only
what the vulgar style the moon."
"How odd," said she. "I thought it was what the vulgar style
And they both laughed again.
The Duchessa moved a little; and thus she uncovered, carved on
the back of her marble bench, and blazoned in red and gold, a
coat of arms.
She touched the shield with her finger.
"Are you interested in canting heraldry?" she asked. "There is
no country so rich in it as Italy. These are the arms of the
Farfalla, the original owners of this property. Or, seme of
twenty roses gules; the crest, on a rose gules, a butterfly or,
with wings displayed; and the motto--how could the heralds ever
have sanctioned such an unheraldic and unheroic motto?
Mi cantano al cuore
La gioja e l' amore.
They were the great people of this region for countless
generations, the Farfalla. They were Princes of Ventirose and
Patricians of Milan. And then the last of them was ruined at
Monte Carlo, and killed himself there, twenty-odd years ago.
That is how all their gioja and amore ended. It was the case
of a butterfly literally broken upon a wheel. The estate fell
into the hands of the Jews, as everything more or less does
sooner or later; and they--if you can believe me--they were
going to turn the castle into an hotel, into one of those
monstrous modern hotels, for other Jews to come to, when I
happened to hear of it, and bought it. Fancy turning that
splendid old castle into a Jew-infested hotel! It is one of
the few castles in Italy that have a ghost. Oh, but a quite
authentic ghost. It is called the White Page--il Paggio Bianco
di Ventirose. It is the ghost of a boy about sixteen. He
walks on the ramparts of the old keep, and looks off towards
the lake, as if he were watching a boat, and sometimes he waves
his arms, as if he were signalling. And from head to foot he
is perfectly white, like a statue. I have never seen him
myself; but so many people say they have, I cannot doubt he is
authentic. And the Jews wanted to turn this haunted castle
into an hotel . . . As a tribute to the memory of the
Farfalla, I take pains to see that their arms, which are
carved, as you see them here, in at least a hundred different
places, are remetalled and retinctured as often as time and the
weather render it necessary."
She looked towards the castle, while she spoke; and now she
rose, with the design, perhaps, of moving in that direction.
Peter felt that the moment had come for actualities.
"It seems improbable," he began,--and I 'm afraid you will
think there is a tiresome monotony in my purposes; but I am
here again to return Cardinal Udeschini's snuff box. He left
it in my garden."
"Oh--?" said the Duchessa. "Yes, he thought he must have left
it there. He is always mislaying it. Happily, he has another,
for emergencies. It was very good of you to trouble to bring
She gave a light little laugh..
"I may also improve this occasion," Peter abruptly continued,
"to make my adieux. I shall be leaving for England in a few
The Duchessa raised her eyebrows.
"Really?" she said. "Oh, that is too bad," she added, by way
of comment. "October, you know, is regarded as the best month
of all the twelve, in this lake country."
"Yes, I know it," Peter responded regretfully.
"And it is a horrid month in England," she went on.
"It is an abominable month in England," he acknowledged.
"Here it is blue, like larkspur, and all fragrant of the
vintage, and joyous with the songs of the vintagers," she said.
"There it is dingy-brown, and songless, and it smells of
"Yes," he agreed.
"But you are a sportsman? You go in for shooting?" she
"No," he answered. "I gave up shooting years ago."
"Oh--? Hunting, then?"
"I hate hunting. One is always getting rolled on by one's
"Ah, I see. It--it will be golf, perhaps?"
"No, it is not even golf."
"Don't tell me it is football?"
"Do I look as if it were football?"
"It is sheer homesickness, in fine? You are grieving for the
purple of your native heather?"
"There is scarcely any heather in my native county. No," said
Peter, "no. To tell you the truth, it is the usual thing. It
is an histoire de femme."
"I 'might have guessed it," she exclaimed. "It is still that
"That everlasting woman--?" Peter faltered.
"To be sure," said she. "The woman you are always going on
about. The woman of your novel. This woman, in short."
And she produced from behind her back a hand that she had kept
there, and held up for his inspection a grey-and-gold bound
"MY novel--?" faltered he. (But the sight of it, in her
possession, in these particular circumstances, gave him a
thrill that was not a thrill of despair.)
"Your novel," she repeated, smiling sweetly, and mimicking his
tone. Then she made a little moue. "Of course, I have known
that you were your friend Felix Wildmay, from the outset."
"Oh," said Peter, in a feeble sort of gasp, looking bewildered.
"You have known that from the outset?" And his brain seemed to
"Yes," said she, "of course. Where would the fun have been,
otherwise? And now you are going away, back to her shrine, to
renew your worship. I hope you will find the courage to offer
her your hand."
Peter's brain was reeling. But here was the opportunity of his
"You give me courage," he pronounced, with sudden daring. "You
are in a position to help me with her. And since you know so
much, I should like you to know more. I should like to tell
you who she is."
"One should be careful where one bestows one's confidences,"
she warned him; but there was something in her eyes, there was
a glow, a softness, that seemed at the same time to invite
"No," he said, "better than telling you who she is, I will tell
you where I first saw her. It was at the Francais, in
December, four years ago, a Thursday night, a subscription
night. She sat in one of the middle boxes of the first tier.
She was dressed in white. Her companions were an elderly
woman, English I think, in black, who wore a cap; and an old
man, with white moustache and imperial, who looked as if he
might be a French officer. And the play--."
He broke off, and looked at the Duchessa. She kept her eyes
"Yes--the play?" she questioned, in a low voice, after a little
"The play was Monsieur Pailleron's 'Le monde ou l'on
s'ennuie'," he said,
"Oh," said she, still keeping her eyes down. Her voice was
still very low. But there was something in it that made
Peter's heart leap.
"The next time I saw her," he began . . .
But then he had to stop. He felt as if the beating of his
heart must suffocate him.
"Yes--the next time?" she questioned.
He drew a deep breath. He began anew--
"The next time was a week later, at the Opera. They were
giving Lohengrin. She was with the same man and woman, and
there was another, younger man. She had pearls round her neck
and in her hair, and she had a cloak lined with white fur. She
left before the opera was over. I did not see her again until
the following May, when I saw her once or twice in London,
driving in the Park. She was always with the same elderly
Englishwoman, but the military-looking old Frenchman had
disappeared. And then I saw her once more, a year later, in
Paris, driving in the Bois."
The Duchessa kept her eyes down. She did not speak.
Peter waited as long as flesh-and-blood could wait, looking at
"Well?" he pleaded, at last. "That is all. Have you nothing
to say to me?"
She raised her eyes, and for the tiniest fraction of a second
they gave themselves to his. Then she dropped them again.
"You are sure," she asked, "you are perfectly sure that when,
afterwards, you met her, and came to know her as she really is
--you are perfectly sure there was no disappointment?"
"Disappointment!" cried Peter. "She is in every way
immeasurably beyond anything that I was capable of dreaming.
Oh, if you could see her, if you could hear her speak, if you
could look into her eyes--if you could see her as others see
her--you would not ask whether there was a disappointment. She
is . . . No; the language is not yet invented, in which I
could describe her."
The Duchessa smiled, softly, to herself.
"And you are in love with her--more or less?" she asked.
"I love her so that the bare imagination of being allowed to
tell her of my love almost makes me faint with joy. But it is
like the story of the poor squire who loved his queen. She is
the greatest of great ladies. I am nobody. She is so
beautiful, so splendid, and so high above me, it would be the
maddest presumption for me to ask her for her love. To ask for
the love of my Queen! And yet--Oh, I can say no more. God
sees my heart. God knows how I love her."
"And it is on her account--because you think your love is
hopeless--that you are going away, that you are going back to
"Yes," said he.
She raised her eyes again, and again they gave themselves to
his. There was something in them, there was a glow, a softness
. . .
"Don't go," she said.
Up at the castle--Peter had hurried down to the villa, dressed,
and returned to the castle to dine--he restored the snuff-box
to Cardinal Udeschini.
"I am trebly your debtor for it," said the Cardinal.