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STORIES BY ENGLISH AUTHORS
A FAITHFUL RETAINER James Payn
BIANCA W. E. Norris
GONERIL A. Mary F. Robinson THE BRIGAND’S BRIDE Laurence Oliphant MRS. GENERAL TALBOYS Anthony Trollope
A FAITHFUL RETAINER
When I lived in the country,–which was a long time ago,–our nearest neighbours were the Luscombes. They were very great personages in the country indeed, and the family were greatly “respected”; though not, so far as I could discern, for any particular reason, except from their having been there for several generations. People are supposed to improve, like wine, from keeping–even if they are rather “ordinary” at starting; and the Luscombes, at the time I knew them, were considered quite a “vintage” family. They had begun in Charles II.’s time, and dated their descent from greatness in the female line. That they had managed to keep a great estate not very much impaired so long was certainly a proof of great cleverness, since there had been many spend-thrifts among them; but fortunately there had been a miser or two, who had restored the average, and their fortunes.
Mr. Roger Luscombe, the present proprietor, was neither the one nor the other, but he was inclined to frugality, and no wonder; a burnt child dreads the fire, even though he may have had nothing to do with lighting it himself, and his father had kicked down a good many thousands with the help of “the bones” (as dice were called in his day) and “the devil’s books” (which was the name for cards with those that disapproved of them) and race-horses; there was plenty left, but it made the old gentleman careful and especially solicitous to keep it. There was no stint, however, of any kind at the Court, which to me, who lived in the little vicarage of Dalton with my father, seemed a palace.
It was indeed a very fine place, with statues in the hall and pictures in the gallery and peacocks on the terrace. Lady Jane, the daughter of a wealthy peer, who had almost put things on their old footing with her ample dowry, was a very great lady, and had been used, I was told, to an even more splendid home; but to me, who had no mother, she was simply the kindest and most gracious woman I had ever known.
My connection with the Luscombes arose from their only son Richard being my father’s pupil. We were both brought up at home, but for very different reasons. In my case it was from economy: the living was small and our family was large, though, as it happened, I had no brothers. Richard was too precious to his parents to be trusted to the tender mercies of a public school. He was in delicate health, not so much natural to him as caused by an excess of care–coddling. Though he and I were very good friends, unless when we were quarreling, it must be owned that he was a spoiled boy.
There is a good deal of nonsense talked of young gentlemen who are brought up from their cradles in an atmosphere of flattery /not/ being spoiled; but unless they are angels–which is a very exceptional case –it cannot be otherwise. Richard Luscombe was a good fellow in many ways; liberal with his money (indeed, apt to be lavish), and kind- hearted, but self-willed, effeminate, and impulsive. He had also– which was a source of great alarm and grief to his father–a marked taste for speculation.
After the age of “alley tors and commoneys,” of albert-rock and hard- bake, in which we both gambled frightfully, I could afford him no opportunities of gratifying this passion; but if he could get a little money “on” anything, there was nothing that pleased him better–not that he cared for the money, but for the delight of winning it. The next moment he would give it away to a beggar. Numbers of good people look upon gambling with even greater horror than it deserves, because they cannot understand this; the attraction of risk, and the wild joy of “pulling off” something when the chances are against one, are unknown to them. It is the same with the love of liquor. Richard Luscombe had not a spark of that (his father left him one of the best cellars in England, but he never touches even a glass of claret after dinner; “I should as soon think,” he says, “of eating when I am not hungry”); but he dearly liked what he called a “spec.” Never shall I forget the first time he realised anything that could be termed a stake.
When he was about sixteen, he and I had driven over to some little country races a few miles away from Dalton, without, I fear, announcing our intention of so doing. Fresh air was good for “our dear Richard,” and since pedestrian exercise (which he also hated) exhausted him, he had a groom and dog-cart always at his own disposal. It was a day of great excitement for me, who had never before seen a race-course. The flags, the grand stand (a rude erection of planks, which came down, by-the-bye, the next year during the race for the cup, and reduced the sporting population), the insinuating gipsies, the bawling card-sellers, and especially the shining horses with their twisted manes, all excited my admiration.
I was well acquainted with them in fiction; and these illustrations of the books I loved so well delighted me. Richard, who had read less and seen more, was bent on business.
He was tall for his age, but very slight and youthful-looking, and the contrast of his appearance with that of the company in the little ring, composed as it was of a choice selection of the roughest blackguards in England, was very striking.
Many of these knew who he was, and were very glad to see him, but only one of the book-makers secured his patronage. The fact was, Master Richard had but one five-pound note to lay; he had been saving up his pocket-money for weeks for this very purpose, and he took ten to one about an outsider, “Don Sebastian,”–a name I shall remember when all other historical knowledge has departed from me,–not because he knew anything of the horse, but because the longest odds were laid against him.
I didn’t like the look of the “gentleman sportsman” who took custody of that five-pound note, but Richard (who had never seen him before) assured me, with his usual confidence, that he was “straight as a die” and “as honest as the day.”
The race excited me exceedingly; Richard had lent me a field-glass (for everything he had was in duplicate, if not triplicate), and I watched the progress of that running rainbow with a beating heart. At first Yellow Cap (the Don) seemed completely out of it, the last of all; but presently he began to creep up, and as they drew near the winning-post, shouts of “Yellow Cap wins!” “Yellow Cap wins!” rent the air. He did win by a head, and with a well-pleased flush on my face at my friend’s marvellous good fortune, I turned to congratulate him. He was gone. The tumult and confusion were excessive; but looking toward the exit gate, I just caught a glimpse of the book-maker passing rapidly through it, and then of Richard in pursuit of him.
A stout young farmer, whom I knew, was standing behind me, and in a few hurried words I told him what had happened. “Come with me,” he said, and off we ran, as though we had been entered for the cup ourselves. The other two were already a field ahead, and far away from the course; but, fast as the book-maker ran, the delicate Richard had come up with him. I could imagine how pumped he was, but the idea of having been swindled by this scoundrel, who was running off with his five-pound note, as well as the fifty pounds he owed him, had no doubt lent him wings. It could not, however, lend him strength, nor teach him the art of self-defence, and after a few moments, passed doubtless in polite request and blunt refusal, we saw the miscreant strike out from the shoulder and Richard go down.
The time thus lost, however, short-lived as was the combat, was fatal to the victor. There were few better runners in Dalton than my companion and myself, and we gained on the book-maker, who had probably trained on gin and bad tobacco, hand over hand. As we drew near him he turned round and inquired, with many expletives, made half inarticulate by want of breath, what we wanted with a gentleman engaged on his own private affairs.
“Well,” I said,–for as I could trust my agricultural friend with the more practical measures that were likely to follow I thought it only fair that I should do the talking,–“we want first the five-pound note which that young gentleman, whom you have just knocked down, intrusted to your care, and then the fifty pounds you have lost to him.”
He called Heaven to witness that he had never made a bet in his life with any young gentleman, but that, having been molested, he believed by a footpad, as he was returning home to his family, he had been compelled to defend himself.
“I heard you make the bet and saw you take the money,” I remarked, with confidence.
“That’s good enough,” said the farmer. “Now if you don’t shell out that money this instant, I’ll have you back in the ring in a brace of shakes and tell them what has happened. Last year they tore a welsher pretty nigh to pieces, and this year, if you don’t ‘part,’ they’ll do it quite.”
The book-maker turned livid,–I never saw a man in such a funk in my life,–and produced a greasy pocket-book, out of which he took Richard’s bank-note, and ten quite new ones; and I noticed there were more left, so that poverty was not his excuse for fraud.
“Let me look at ’em against the sun,” said the farmer, “to see as the water-mark is all right.”
This was a precaution I should never have thought of, and it gave me for the first time a sense of the great intelligence of my father’s parishioner.
“Yes, they’re all correct. And now you may go; but if ever you show your face again on Southick (Southwick) race-course it will be the worst for you.”
He slunk away, and we returned to Richard, who was sitting on the ground, looking at his nose, which was bleeding and had attained vast dimensions.
“Did you get the money?” were his first words, which I thought very characteristic.
“Yes, there it is, squire–ten fivers and your own note.”
“Very good; I should never have seen a shilling of it but for you and Charley, so we will just divide it into three shares.”
The farmer said, “No,” but eventually took his L16 13s. 4d., and quite right too. Of course I did not take Richard’s money, but he afterward bought me a rifle with it, which I could not refuse. The farmer, as may be well imagined, could be trusted to say nothing of our adventure; but it was impossible to hide Richard’s nose. He was far too honest a fellow to tell a lie about it, and the whole story came out. His father was dreadfully shocked at it, and Lady Jane in despair: the one about his gambling propensities, and the other about his nose; she thought, if the injury did not prove fatal, he would be disfigured for life.
He was well in a week, but the circumstances had the gravest consequences. It was decided that something must be done with the heir of the Luscombes to wean him from low company (this was not me, but grooms and racing people); but even this predilection was ascribed in part to his fragile constitution. A fashionable physician came down from London to consider the case. He could not quite be brought to the point desired by Lady Jane, to lay Richard’s love of gambling at the door of the delicacy of his lungs; but he was brought very near it. The young fellow, his “opinion” was, had been brought up too much like a hothouse flower; his tastes were what they were chiefly because he had no opportunities of forming better ones; with improved strength his moral nature would become more elevated. That he was truthful was a great source of satisfaction (this was with reference to his distinct refusal to give up gambling to please anybody) and a most wholesome physical sign. “My recommendation is that he should be temporarily removed from his present dull surroundings; there is not scope in them for his mind; he should be sent abroad for a month or two with his tutor. That will do him a world of good.”
If it was not very good advice, it was probably quite as judicious as other “opinions” for which a hundred and fifty guineas have been cheerfully paid. It was at all events a great comfort to hear that there was nothing constitutionally wrong with “dearest Richard,” and that he only wanted a tonic for mind and body. The doctor’s verdict was accepted by both parents, but there was an insurmountable obstacle to its being carried into effect in Master Richard himself. My father could not leave his parish and his family, and with no other tutor could the young gentleman be induced to go.
Now it happened that the butler at the Court, John Maitland, who, as is often the case in such households, had the gravity and dignity of a bishop, was so fortunate as to be a favourite both with the old folks and the young one. He really was a superior person, and not only “honest as the day” in Richard’s eyes (which, as we have seen, was not a guarantee of straightforwardness), but in those of every one else. He had been born in the village, had been page to Mr. Luscombe’s father, and had lived more than fifty years at the Court. The relations between master and servant were feudal, mingled with the more modern attachment that comes of good service properly appreciated. He thought the Luscombes, if not the only old family in the world, the best, and worshipped–though in a dignified and ecclesiastical manner–the ground trodden on both by the squire and Master Richard. My own impression was that under pretence of giving way to the latter he played into the parental hands; but as this was certainly for my young friend’s good, I never communicated my suspicions to him. Maitland, at all events, had more influence over him than any man except my father. Still it astonished us all not a little, notwithstanding the high opinion we entertained of him, when we heard that the butler was to be intrusted with the guardianship of Richard abroad. Such a thing could not have happened in any other family, but so it was arranged; and partly as valet, partly as confidential companion and treasurer Maitland started with his young master on his travels.
These were to last for not less than six months, and Italy, because of its warm climate, was the country to which they were bound. That it would do the young fellow good, both moral and physical, we all hoped; but my father had his doubts. He feared that Maitland’s influence over his companion would wane when away from the Court; but it never entered into his mind that he would willingly permit any wrong doing, and still less that the man would himself succumb to any temptation that involved dishonesty.
They travelled by easy stages; though they used the railway, of course, they did so only for a few hours a day, and got out and remained at places of interest. Richard was very amenable, and indeed showed no desire for dissipation; his one weakness–that of having a “spree”–had no opportunity of being gratified; and Maitland wrote home the most gratifying letters, not only respecting the behaviour of his charge, but of the improvement in his health. As they drew nearer to Italy, Richard observed one day that he should spend a day or two at Monte Carlo. Maitland had never heard of the place or of its peculiar attractions; and “Master Richard” only told him that it was very picturesque. The horror of the faithful retainer may therefore be imagined when he found that it was a gambling resort.
He could not prevent his young master frequenting the tables, and though he kept the purse, with the exception of a few pounds, and would certainly have stood between him and ruin, he could not prevent his winning. Richard had the luck, and more, that proverbially attends young people–he had the luck of the devil; his few napoleons swelling to a great many on the very first day, and he was in the seventh heaven of happiness. The next day and the next he won largely, immensely; in vain Maitland threatened to write to his father, and even to leave him.
“All right,” replied the reckless youth. “You may do as you like; even if the governor disinherits me I can make my fortune by stopping here. And as to leaving me, go by all means; I shall get on very well with a French valet.”
It was dreadful.
Richard grew happier and happier every day, as the golden flood flowed in upon him, but also extremely hectic. He passed the whole day at the tables, and the want of air and exercise, and, still more, the intense excitement which possessed him, began to have the most serious effect. That prescription of “seeing the world,” and “escaping from his dull surroundings,” was having a very different result from what had been expected. “The paths of glory lead but to the grave”; the young Englishman and his luck were the talk of all Monte Carlo, and he enjoyed his notoriety very much; but, as the poor butler plaintively observed, what was the good of that when Master Richard was “killing himself”?
How the news was received at the Court I had no means of judging, for the squire kept a rigid silence, except that he had long conferences with my father; and Lady Jane kept her room. It was indeed a very sore subject. The squire wanted to start for Monte Carlo at once; but he was singularly insular, detested travel, and in truth was very unfit for such a “cutting-out expedition” as was contemplated. He waited, half out of his mind with anxiety, but in hopes of a better report; what he hoped for was that luck would turn, and Richard lose every shilling.
The very reverse of this, however, took place; Richard won more and more. He would come home to his hotel in the evening with a porter carrying his gains. His portmanteau was full of napoleons. It was characteristic of him that he never thought of banking it. One evening he came in with very bright eyes, but a most shrunken and cadaverous face.
“This has been my best day of all, Johnny,” he said. “See, I have won two thousand pounds; and you shall have a hundred of it.”
But Maitland refused to have anything to do with such ill-gotten gains, for which, too, his young master was sacrificing his health, and perhaps his life. Still–though this did not strike Richard till afterward–he could not help regarding the great heap of gold with considerable interest. Added to the lad’s previous gains, the amount was now very large indeed–more than five thousand pounds.
“I should really think, Master Richard, as you had now won enough.”
“Enough? Certainly not. I have not broken the bank yet. I mean to do that before I’ve done with it, Johnny.”
“That will be after you’ve killed yourself,” said honest John.
“Well, then I shall die /rich/,” was the reckless rejoinder.
Richard, who was too exhausted for repose, tossed and tumbled on his bed for hours, and eventually dropped into a heavy slumber, and slept far into the next morning. He awoke feeling very unwell, but his chief anxiety was lest he should miss the opening of the tables; he was always the first to begin. He rang his bell violently for Maitland. There was no reply, and when he rang again, one of the hotel servants came up.
“Where is my man?” he inquired.
“Monsieur’s man-servant took monsieur’s luggage to the railway- station; he is gone by the early train to Turin.”
“Gone to Turin with my luggage?”
“Yes, with the two portmanteaus–very heavy ones.”
Richard got out of bed, and dragged his weary limbs into the dressing- room, an inner apartment, where the portmanteaus were kept for safety. They were both gone.
“What train did the scoundrel go by? Where is my watch? Why, the villain has taken that too! Send for the police! No; there is no time to be lost–send a telegram. Why, he has not even left me enough money to pay a telegram!”
All his small change was gone. Honest John had taken everything; he had not left his young master a single sixpence. At this revelation of the state of affairs, poor Richard, weakened as he was by his long excitement, threw himself on the bed and burst into tears. The attendant, to whom, as usual, he had been liberal, was affected by an emotion so strange in an Englishman.
“Monsieur must not fret; the thief will be caught and the money restored. It will be well, perhaps to tell the /maitre d’hotel/.”
The master of the hotel appeared with a very grave face. He was desolated to hear of the misfortune that had befallen his young guest. Perhaps there was not quite so much taken as had been reported.
“I tell you it’s all gone; more than five thousand pounds, and my watch and chain; I have not half a franc in my possession.”
“That is unfortunate indeed,” said the /maitre d’hotel/, looking graver than ever, “because there is my bill to settle.”
“Oh, hang your bill!” cried Richard. “/That/ will be all right. I must telegraph to my father at once.”
“But how is monsieur to telegraph if he has no money?”
It was probably the first time in his life that the young fellow had ever understood how inconvenient a thing is poverty. What also amazed him beyond measure was the man’s manner; yesterday, and all other days, it had been polite to obsequiousness; now it was dry almost to insolence. It seemed, indeed, to imply some doubt of the bona fides of his guest–that he might not, in short, be much better than honest John himself, of whom he was possibly the confederate; that the whole story was a trumped-up one to account for the inability to meet his bill. As to his having won largely at the tables, that might be true enough; but he also might have lost it all, and more with it; money changes hands at Monte Carlo very rapidly.
In the end, however, and not without much objection, the landlord advanced a sufficient sum to enable Richard to telegraph home. He also permitted him to stay on at the hotel, stipulating, however, that he should call for no wine, nor indulge in anything expensive–a humiliating arrangement enough, but not so much so as the terms of another proviso, that he was never to enter the gambling saloon or go beyond the public gardens. Even there he was under surveillance, and it was, in short, quite clear that he was suspected of an intention to run away without paying his bill–perhaps even of joining his “confederate,” Mr. John Maitland.
The only thing that comforted Richard was the conviction that he should have a remittance from his father in a few hours; but nothing of the sort, not even a telegram, arrived. Day after day went by, and the young fellow was in despair; he felt like a pariah, for he had been so occupied with the tables that he had made no friends; and his few acquaintances looked askance at him, as being under a cloud, with the precise nature of which they were unacquainted. Friendless and penniless in a foreign land, his spirit was utterly broken, and he began to understand what a fool he had made of himself; especially how ungratefully he had behaved to his father, without whom it was not so easy to “get on,” it appeared, as he had imagined. He saw, too, the evil of his conduct in having thrust a temptation in the way of honest John too great to be resisted. The police could hear no news of him, and, indeed, seemed very incredulous with respect to Richard’s account of the matter.
On the fourth day Richard received a letter from his father of the gravest kind, though expressed in the most affectionate terms. He hardly alluded to the immediate misfortune that had happened to him, but spoke of the anxiety and alarm which his conduct had caused his mother and himself. “I enclose you a check,” he wrote, “just sufficient to comfortably bring you home and pay your hotel bill, and exceedingly regret that I cannot trust my son with more–lest he should risk it in a way that gives his mother and myself more distress of mind than I can express.”
Richard’s heart was touched, as it well might have been; though perhaps the condition of mind in which his father’s communication found him had something to do with it. By that night’s mail he despatched a letter home which gave the greatest delight at the Court, and also at the vicarage, for Mr. Luscombe, full of pride and joy, brought it to my father to read. “I have been very foolish, sir, and very wicked,” it ran. “I believe I should have been dead by this time had not Maitland stolen my money (so that I have no reason to feel very angry with him) and deprived me of the means of suicide. I give you my word of honour that I will never gamble again.”
Lady Jane sent a telegram to meet Master Richard in Paris, to say what a dear good boy he was, and how happy he had made her. This did not surprise him, but what did astonish him very much on arriving at the Court was that John Maitland opened the door for him.
“Why, you old scoundrel!”
“Yes, sir, I know; I’m a thief and all that, but I did it for the best; I did, indeed.”
Though the fatted calf was killed for Master Richard, he had by no means returned like the prodigal son. On the contrary, he had sent home a remittance, as it were, by the butler, of more than five thousand pounds. The whole plot had been devised by honest John as the only method of extricating Master Richard from that Monte Carlo spider’s web, and had been carried out by the help of the /maitre d’hotel/, with the squire’s approval. And to do the young fellow justice, he never resented the trick that had been played upon him.
Richard was not sent abroad again, but to Cambridge, where eventually he took a fourth-class (poll) degree; and Lady Jane was as proud of it as if he had been senior wrangler. He kept his word, in spite of all temptations to the contrary, and never touched a card–a circumstance which drove him to take a fair amount of exercise, and, in consequence, he steadily improved in health. He was sometimes chaffed by his companions for his abstinence from play; they should have thought he was the last man to be afraid of losing his money.
“You are right, so far,” he would answer, drily; “but the fact is, I have had enough of winning.”
To which they would reply:
“Oh yes, we dare say,” an elliptical expression, which conveyed disbelief.
He never told them the story of his Monte Carlo experiences; but in the vacations he would often talk to honest John about them. We may be sure that that faithful retainer did not go unrewarded for his fraudulent act.
W. E. NORRIS
Not long since, I was one among a crowd of nobodies at a big official reception in Paris when the Marchese and Marchesa di San Silvestro were announced. There was a momentary hush; those about the doorway fell back to let this distinguished couple pass, and some of us stood on tiptoe to get a glimpse of them; for San Silvestro is a man of no small importance in the political and diplomatic world, and his wife enjoys quite a European fame for beauty and amiability, having had opportunities of displaying both these attractive gifts at the several courts where she has acted as Italian ambassadress. They made their way quickly up the long room,–she short, rather sallow, inclined toward embonpoint, but with eyes whose magnificence was rivalled only by that of her diamonds; he bald-headed, fat, gray-haired, covered with orders,–and were soon out of sight. I followed them with a sigh which caused my neighbour to ask me jocosely whether the marchesa was an old flame of mine.
“Far from it,” I answered. “Only the sight of her reminded me of bygone days. Dear, dear me! how time does slip on! It is fifteen years since I saw her last.”
I moved away, looking down rather ruefully at the waistcoat to whose circumference fifteen years have made no trifling addition, and wondering whether I was really as much altered and aged in appearance as the marchesa was.
Fifteen years–it is no such very long time; and yet I dare say that the persons principally concerned in the incident which I am about to relate have given up thinking about it as completely as I had done, until the sound of that lady’s name, and the sight of her big black eyes, recalled it to me, and set me thinking of the sunny spring afternoon on which my sister Anne and I journeyed from Verona to Venice, and of her naive exclamations of delight on finding herself in a real gondola, gliding smoothly down the Grand Canal. My sister Anne is by some years my senior. She is what might be called an old lady now, and she certainly was an old maid then, and had long accepted her position as such. Then, as now, she habitually wore a gray alpaca gown, a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles, gloves a couple of sizes too large for her, and a shapeless, broad-leaved straw hat, from which a blue veil was flung back and streamed out in the breeze behind her, like a ship’s ensign. Then, as now, she was the simplest, the most kind-hearted, the most prejudiced of mortals; an enthusiastic admirer of the arts, and given, as her own small contribution thereto, to the production of endless water-colour landscapes, a trifle woolly, indeed, as to outline, and somewhat faulty as to perspective, but warm in colouring, and highly thought of in the family. I believe, in fact, that it was chiefly with a view to the filling of her portfolio that she had persuaded me to take her to Venice; and, as I am constitutionally indolent, I was willing enough to spend a few weeks in the city which, of all cities in the world, is the best adapted for lazy people. We engaged rooms at Danielli’s, and unpacked all our clothes, knowing that we were not likely to make another move until the heat should drive us away.
The first few days, I remember, were not altogether full of enjoyment for one of us. My excellent Anne, who has all her brother’s virtues, without his failings, would have scouted the notion of allowing any dread of physical fatigue to stand between her and the churches and pictures which she had come all the way from England to admire; and, as Venice was an old haunt of mine, she very excusably expected me to act as cicerone to her, and allowed me but little rest between the hours of breakfast and of the /table d’hote/. At last, however, she conceived the modest and felicitous idea of making a copy of Titian’s “Assumption”; and, having obtained the requisite permission for that purpose, set to work upon the first of a long series of courageous attempts, all of which she conscientiously destroyed when in a half- finished state. At that rate it seemed likely that her days would be fully occupied for some weeks to come; and I urged her to persevere, and not to allow herself to be disheartened by a few brilliant failures; and so she hurried away, early every morning, with her paint-box, her brushes, and her block, and I was left free to smoke my cigarettes in peace, in front of my favourite cafe on the Piazza San Marco.
I was sitting there one morning, watching, with half-closed eyes, the pigeons circling overhead under a cloudless sky, and enjoying the fresh salt breeze that came across the ruffled water from the Adriatic, when I was accosted by one of the white-coated Austrian officers by whom Venice was thronged in those days, and whom I presently recognised as a young fellow named Von Rosenau, whom I had known slightly in Vienna the previous winter. I returned his greeting cordially, for I always like to associate as much as possible with foreigners when I am abroad, and little did I foresee into what trouble this fair-haired, innocent-looking youth was destined to lead me.
I asked him how he liked Venice, and he answered laughingly that he was not there from choice. “I am in disgrace,” he explained. “I am always in disgrace, only this time it is rather worse than usual. Do you remember my father, the general? No? Perhaps he was not in Vienna when you were there. He is a soldier of the old school, and manages his family as they tell me he used to manage his regiment in former years, boasting that he never allowed a breach of discipline to pass unpunished, and never will. Last year I exceeded my allowance, and the colonel got orders to stop my leave; this year I borrowed from the Jews, the whole thing was found out, and I was removed from the cavalry, and put into a Croat regiment under orders for Venice. Next year will probably see me enrolled in the police; and so it will go on, I suppose, till some fine morning I shall find myself driving a two-horse yellow diligence in the wilds of Carinthia, and blowing a horn to let the villagers know that the imperial and royal mail is approaching.”
After a little more conversation we separated, but only to meet again, that same evening, on the Piazza San Marco, whither I had wandered to listen to the band after dinner, and where I found Von Rosenau seated with a number of his brother officers in front of the principal cafe. These gentlemen, to whom I was presently introduced, were unanimous in complaining of their present quarters. Venice, they said, might be all very well for artists and travellers; but viewed as a garrison it was the dullest of places. There were no amusements, there was no sport, and just now no society; for the Italians were in one of their periodical fits of sulks, and would not speak to, or look at, a German if they could possibly avoid it. “They will not even show themselves when our band is playing,” said one of the officers, pointing toward the well-nigh empty piazza. “As for the ladies, it is reported that if one of them is seen speaking to an Austrian, she is either assassinated or sent off to spend the rest of her days in a convent. At all events, it is certain that we have none of us any successes to boast of, except Von Rosenau, who has had an affair, they say, only he is pleased to be very mysterious about it.”
“Where does she live, Von Rosenau?” asked another. “Is she rich? Is she noble? Has she a husband, who will stab you both? or only a mother, who will send her to a nunnery, and let you go free? You might gratify our curiosity a little. It would do you no harm, and it would give us something to talk about.”
“Bah! he will tell you nothing,” cried a third. “He is afraid. He knows that there are half a dozen of us who could cut him out in an hour.”
“Von Rosenau,” said a young ensign, solemnly, “you would do better to make a clean breast of it. Concealment is useless. Janovicz saw you with her in Santa Maria della Salute the other day, and could have followed her home quite easily if he had been so inclined.”
“They were seen together on the Lido, too. People who want to keep their secrets ought not to be so imprudent.”
“A good comrade ought to have no secrets from the regiment.”
“Come, Von Rosenau, we will promise not to speak to her without your permission if you will tell us how you managed to make her acquaintance.”
The object of all these attacks received them with the most perfect composure, continuing to smoke his cigar and gaze out seaward, without so much as turning his head toward his questioners, to whom he vouchsafed no reply whatever. Probably, as an ex-hussar and a sprig of nobility, he may have held his head a little above those of his present brother officers, and preferred disregarding their familiarity to resenting it, as he might have done if it had come from men whom he considered on a footing of equality with himself. Such, at least, was my impression; and it was confirmed by the friendly advances which he made toward me, from that day forth, and by the persistence with which he sought my society. I thought he seemed to wish for some companion whose ideas had not been developed exclusively in barrack atmosphere; and I, on my side, was not unwilling to listen to the chatter of a lively, good-natured young fellow, at intervals, during my long idle days.
It was at the end of a week, I think, or thereabouts, that he honoured me with his full confidence. We had been sea-fishing in a small open boat which he had purchased, and which he managed without assistance; that is to say, that we had provided ourselves with what was requisite for the pursuit of that engrossing sport, and that the young count had gone through the form of dropping his line over the side and pulling it up, baitless and fishless, from time to time, while I had dispensed with even this shallow pretence of employment, and had stretched myself out full length upon the cushions which I had thoughtfully brought with me, inhaling the salt-laden breeze, and luxuriating in perfect inaction, till such time as it had become necessary for us to think of returning homeward. My companion had been sighing portentously every now and again all through the afternoon, and had repeatedly given vent to a sound as though he had been about to say something, and had as often checked himself, and fallen back into silence. So that I was in a great measure prepared for the disclosure that fell from him at length as we slipped before the wind across the broad lagoon, toward the haze and blaze of sunset which was glorifying the old city of the doges.
“Do you know,” said he, suddenly, “that I am desperately in love?” I said I had conjectured as much; and he seemed a good deal surprised at my powers of divination. “Yes,” he resumed, “I am in love; and with an Italian lady too, unfortunately. Her name is Bianca,–the Signorina Bianca Marinelli,–and she is the most divinely beautiful creature the sun ever shone upon.”
“That,” said I, “is of course.”
“It is the truth; and when you have seen her, you will acknowledge that I do not exaggerate. I have known her nearly two months now. I became acquainted with her accidentally–she dropped her handkerchief in a shop, and I took it to her, and so we got to be upon speaking terms, and–and– But I need not give you the whole history. We have discovered that we are all the world to each other; we have sworn to remain faithful to each other all our lives long; and we renew the oath whenever we meet. But that, unhappily, is very seldom! for her father, the Marchese Marinelli, scarcely ever lets her out of his sight; and he is a sour, narrow-minded old fellow, as proud as he is poor, an intense hater of all Austrians; and if he were to discover our attachment, I shudder to think of what the consequences might be.”
“And your own father–the stern old general of whom you told me–what would he say to it all?”
“Oh, he, of course, would not hear of such a marriage for a moment. He detests and despises the Venetians as cordially as the marchese abhors the /Tedeschi/; and, as I am entirely dependent upon him, I should not dream of saying a word to him about the matter until I was married, and nothing could be done to separate me from Bianca.”
“So that, upon the whole, you appear to stand a very fair chance of starvation, if everything turns out according to your wishes. And pray, in what way do you imagine that I can assist you toward this desirable end? For I take it for granted that you have some reason for letting me into your secret.”
Von Rosenau laughed good-humouredly.
“You form conclusions quickly,” he said. “Well, I will confess to you that I have thought lately that you might be of great service to me without inconveniencing yourself much. The other day, when you did me the honour to introduce me to your sister, I was very nearly telling her all. She has such a kind countenance; and I felt sure that she would not refuse to let my poor Bianca visit her sometimes. The old marchese, you see, would have no objection to leaving his daughter for hours under the care of an English lady; and I thought that perhaps when Miss Jenkinson went out to work at her painting–I might come in.”
“Fortunate indeed is it for you,” I said, “that your confidence in the kind countenance of my sister Anne did not carry you quite to the point of divulging this precious scheme to her. I, who know her pretty well, can tell you exactly the course she would have pursued if you had. Without one moment’s hesitation, she would have found out the address of the young lady’s father, hurried off thither, and told him all about it. Anne is a thoroughly good creature; but she has little sympathy with love-making, still less with surreptitious love-making, and she would as soon think of accepting the part you are so good as to assign to her as of forging a check.”
He sighed, and said he supposed, then, that they must continue to meet as they had been in the habit of doing, but that it was rather unsatisfactory.
“It says something for your ingenuity that you contrive to meet at all,” I remarked.
“Well, yes, there are considerable difficulties, because the old man’s movements are so uncertain; and there is some risk too, for, as you heard the other day, we have been seen together. Moreover, I have been obliged to tell everything to my servant Johann, who waylays the marchese’s housekeeper at market in the mornings, and finds out from her when and where I can have an opportunity of meeting Bianca. I would rather not have trusted him; but I could think of no other plan.”
“At any rate, I should have thought you might have selected some more retired rendezvous than the most frequented church in Venice.”
He shrugged his shoulders. “I wish you would suggest one within reach,” he said. “There are no retired places in this accursed town. But, in fact, we see each other very seldom. Often for days together the only way in which I can get a glimpse of her is by loitering about in my boat in front of her father’s house, and watching till she shows herself at the window. We are in her neighborhood now, and it is close upon the hour at which I can generally calculate upon her appearing. Would you mind my making a short detour that way before I set you down at your hotel?”
We had entered the Grand Canal while Von Rosenau had been relating his love-tale, and some minutes before he had lowered his sail and taken to the oars. He now slewed the boat’s head round abruptly, and we shot into a dark and narrow waterway, and so, after sundry twistings and turnings, arrived before a grim, time-worn structure, so hemmed in by the surrounding buildings that it seemed as if no ray of sunshine could ever penetrate within its walls.
“That is the Palazzo Marinelli,” said my companion. “The greater part of it is let to different tenants. The family has long been much too poor to inhabit the whole of it, and now the old man only reserves himself four rooms on the third floor. Those are the windows, in the far corner; and there–no!–yes!–there is Bianca.”
I brought my eyeglass to bear upon the point indicated just in time to catch sight of a female head, which was thrust out through the open window for an instant, and then withdrawn with great celerity.
“Ah,” sighed the count, “it is you who have driven her away. I ought to have remembered that she would be frightened at seeing a stranger. And now she will not show herself again, I fear. Come; I will take you home. Confess now–is she not more beautiful than you expected?”
“My dear sir, I had hardly time to see whether she was a man or a woman; but I am quite willing to take your word for it that there never was anybody like her.”
“If you would like to wait a little longer–half an hour or so–she /might/ put her head out again,” said the young man, wistfully.
“Thank you very much; but my sister will be wondering why I do not come to take her down to the /table d’hote/. And besides, I am not in love myself, I may perhaps be excused for saying that I want my dinner.”
“As you please,” answered the count, looking the least bit in the world affronted; and so he pulled back in silence to the steps of the hotel, where we parted.
I don’t know whether Von Rosenau felt aggrieved by my rather unsympathetic reception of his confidence, or whether he thought it useless to discuss his projects further with one who could not or would not assist him in carrying them out; but although we continued to meet daily, as before, he did not recur to the interesting subject, and it was not for me to take the initiative in doing so. Curiosity, I confess, led me to direct my gondolier more than once to the narrow canal over which the Palazzo Martinelli towered; and on each occasion I was rewarded by descrying, from the depths of the miniature mourning-coach which concealed me, the faithful count, seated in his boat and waiting in patient faith, like another Ritter Toggenburg, with his eyes fixed upon the corner window; but of the lady I could see no sign. I was rather disappointed at first, as day after day went by and my young friend showed no disposition to break the silence in which he had chosen to wrap himself; for I had nothing to do in Venice, and I thought it would have been rather amusing to watch the progress of this incipient romance. By degrees, however, I ceased to trouble myself about it; and at the end of a fortnight I had other things to think of, in the shape of plans for the summer, my sister Anne having by that time satisfied herself that, all things considered, Titian’s “Assumption” was a little too much for her.
It was Captain Janovicz who informed me casually one evening that Von Rosenau was going away in a few days on leave, and that he would probably be absent for a considerable time.
“For my own part,” remarked my informant, “I shall be surprised if we see him back in the regiment at all. He was only sent to us as a sort of punishment for having been a naughty boy, and I suppose now he will be forgiven, and restored to the hussars.”
“So much for undying love,” thinks I, with a cynical chuckle. “If there is any gratitude in man, that young fellow ought to be showering blessings on me for having refused to hold the noose for him to thrust his head into.”
Alas! I knew not of what I was speaking. I had not yet heard the last of Herr von Rosenau’s entanglement, nor was I destined to escape from playing my part in it. The very next morning, after breakfast, as I was poring over a map of Switzerland, “Murray” on my right hand and “Bradshaw” on my left, his card was brought to me, together with an urgent request that I would see him immediately and alone; and before I had had time to send a reply, he came clattering into the room, trailing his sabre behind him, and dropped into the first arm-chair with a despairing self-abandonment which shook the house to its foundations.
“Mr. Jenkinson,” said he, “I am a ruined man!”
I answered rather drily that I was very sorry to hear it. If I must confess the truth, I thought he had come to borrow money of me.
“A most cruel calamity has befallen me,” he went on; “and unless you will consent to help me out of it–“
“I am sure I shall be delighted to do anything in my power,” I interrupted, apprehensively; “but I am afraid–“
“You cannot refuse me till you have heard what I have to say. I am aware that I have no claim whatever upon your kindness; but you are the only man in the world who can save me, and, whereas the happiness of my whole life is at stake, the utmost you can have to put up with will be a little inconvenience. Now I will explain myself in as few words as possible, because I have only a minute to spare. In fact, I ought to be out on the ramparts at this moment. You have not forgotten what I told you about myself and the Signorina Martinelli, and how we had agreed to seize the first opportunity that offered to be privately married, and to escape over the mountains to my father’s house, and throw ourselves upon his mercy?”
“I don’t remember your having mentioned any such plan.”
“No matter–so it was. Well, everything seemed to have fallen out most fortunately for us. I found out some time ago that the marchese would be going over to Padua this evening on business, and would be absent at least one whole day, and I immediately applied for my leave to begin to-morrow. This I obtained at once through my father, who now expects me to be with him in a few days, and little knows that I shall not come alone. Johann and the marchese’s housekeeper arranged the rest between them. I was to meet my dear Bianca early in the morning on the Lido; thence we were to go by boat to Mestre, where a carriage was to be in waiting for us; and the same evening we were to be married by a priest, to whom I have given due notice, at a place called Longarone. And so we should have gone on, across the Ampezzo Pass homeward. Now would you believe that all this has been defeated by a mere freak on the part of my colonel? Only this morning, after it was much too late to make any alteration in our plans, he told me that he should require me to be on duty all to-day and to-morrow, and that my leave could not begin until the next day. Is it not maddening? And the worst of it is that I have no means of letting Bianca know of this, for I dare not send a message to the palazzo, and there is no chance of my seeing her myself; and of course she will go to the Lido to-morrow morning, and will find no one there. Now, my dear Mr. Jenkinson–my good, kind friend–do you begin to see what I want you to do for me?”
“Not in the very least.”
“No? But it is evident enough. Now listen. You must meet Bianca to-morrow morning; you explain to her what has happened; you take her in the boat, which will be waiting for you, to Mestre; you proceed in the travelling-carriage, which will also be waiting for you, to Longarone; you see the priest, and appoint with him for the following evening; and the next day I arrive, and you return to Venice. Is that clear?”
The volubility with which this programme was enunciated so took away my breath that I scarcely realised its audacity.
“You will not refuse; I am sure you will not,” said the count, rising and hooking up his sword, as if about to depart.
“Stop, stop!” I exclaimed. “You don’t consider what you are asking. I can’t elope with young women in this casual sort of way. I have a character–and a sister. How am I to explain all this to my sister, I should like to know?”
“Oh, make any excuse you can think of to her. Now, Mr. Jenkinson, you know there cannot be any real difficulty in that. You consent then? A thousand, thousand thanks! I will send you a few more instructions by letter this evening. I really must not stay any longer now. Good-bye.”
“Stop! Why can’t your servant Johann do all this instead of me?”
“Because he is on duty like myself. Good-bye.”
“Stop! Why can’t you postpone your flight for a day? I don’t so much mind meeting the young lady and telling her all about it.”
“Quite out of the question, my dear sir. It is perfectly possible that the marchese may return from Padua to-morrow night, and what should we do then? No, no; there is no help for it. Good-bye.”
“Stop! Hi! Come back!”
But it was too late. My impetuous visitor was down the staircase and away before I had descended a single flight in pursuit, and all I could do was to return to my room and register a vow within my own heart that I would have nothing to do with this preposterous scheme.
Looking back upon what followed across the interval of fifteen years, I find that I can really give no satisfactory reason for my having failed to adhere to this wise resolution. I had no particular feeling of friendship for Von Rosenau; I did not care two straws about the Signorina Bianca, whom I had never seen; and certainly I am not, nor ever was, the sort of person who loves romantic adventures for their own sake. Perhaps it was good-nature, perhaps it was only an indolent shrinking from disobliging anybody, that influenced me–it does not much matter now. Whatever the cause of my yielding may have been, I did yield. I prefer to pass over in silence the doubts and hesitations which beset me for the remainder of the day; the arrival, toward evening, of the piteous note from Von Rosenau, which finally overcame my weak resistance to his will; and the series of circumstantial false statements (I blush when I think of them) by means of which I accounted to my sister for my proposed sudden departure.
Suffice it to say that, very early on the following morning, there might have been seen, pacing up and down the shore on the seaward side of the Lido, and peering anxiously about him through an eyeglass, as if in search of somebody or something, the figure of a tall, spare Englishman, clad in a complete suit of shepherd’s tartan, with a wide- awake on his head, a leather bag slung by a strap across his shoulder, and a light coat over his arm. Myself, in point of act, in the travelling-costume of the epoch.
I was kept waiting a long time–longer than I liked; for, as may be supposed, I was most anxious to be well away from Venice before the rest of the world was up and about; but at length there appeared, round the corner of a long white wall which skirted the beach, a little lady, thickly veiled, who, on catching sight of me, whisked round, and incontinently vanished. This was so evidently the fair Bianca that I followed her without hesitation, and almost ran into her arms as I swung round the angle of the wall behind which she had retreated. She gave a great start, stared at me, for an instant, like a startled fawn, and then took to her heels and fled. It was rather ridiculous; but there was nothing for me to do but to give chase. My legs are long, and I had soon headed her round.
“I presume that I have the honour of addressing the Signorina Marinelli?” I panted, in French, as I faced her, hat in hand.
She answered me by a piercing shriek, which left no room for doubt as to her identity.
“For the love of Heaven, don’t do that!” I entreated, in an agony. “You will alarm the whole neighbourhood and ruin us both. Believe me, I am only here as your friend, and very much against my own wishes. I have come on the part of Count Albrecht von Rosenau, who is unable to come himself, because–“
Here she opened her mouth with so manifest an intention of raising another resounding screech that I became desperate, and seized her by the wrists in my anxiety. “/Sgridi ancora una volta/,” says I, in the purest /lingua Toscana/, “/e la lascero qui/–to get out of this mess as best you can–/cosi sicuro che il mio nome e Jenkinsono/!”
To my great relief she began to laugh. Immediately afterward, however, she sat down on the shingle and began to cry. It was too vexatious: what on earth was I to do?
“Do you understand English?” I asked, despairingly.
She shook her head, but sobbed out that she spoke French; so I proceeded to address her in that language.
“Signorina, if you do not get up and control your emotion, I will not be answerable for the consequences. We are surrounded by dangers of the most–compromising description; and every moment of delay must add to them. I know that the officers often come out here to bathe in the morning; so do many of the English people from Danielli’s. If we are discovered together there will be such a scandal as never was, and you will most assuredly not become Countess von Rosenau. Think of that, and it will brace your nerves. What you have to do is to come directly with me to the boat which is all ready to take us to Mestre. Allow me to carry your hand-bag.”
Not a bit of it! The signorina refused to stir.
“What is it? Where is Alberto? What has happened?” she cried. “You have told me nothing.”
“Well, then, I will explain,” I answered, impatiently. And I explained accordingly.
But, dear me, what a fuss she did make over it all! One would have supposed, to hear her, that I had planned this unfortunate complication for my own pleasure, and that I ought to have been playing the part of a suppliant instead of that of a sorely tried benefactor. First she was so kind as to set me down as an imposter, and was only convinced of my honesty when I showed her a letter in the beloved Alberto’s handwriting. Then she declared that she could not possibly go off with a total stranger. Then she discovered that, upon further consideration, she could not abandon poor dear papa in his old age. And so forth, and so forth, with a running accompaniment of tears and sobs. Of course she consented at last to enter the boat; but I was so exasperated by her silly behaviour that I would not speak to her, and had really scarcely noticed whether she was pretty or plain till we were more than half-way to Mestre. But when we had hoisted our sail, and were running before a fine, fresh breeze toward the land, and our four men had shipped their oars and were chattering and laughing under their breath in the bows, and the first perils of our enterprise seemed to have been safely surmounted, my equanimity began to return to me, and I stole a glance at the partner of my flight, who had lifted her veil, and showed a pretty, round, childish face, with a clear, brown complexion, and a pair of the most splendid dark eyes it has ever been my good fortune to behold. There were no tears in them now, but a certain half-frightened, half-mischievous light instead, as if she rather enjoyed the adventure, in spite of its inauspicious opening. A very little encouragement induced her to enter into conversation, and ere long she was prattling away as unrestrainedly as if we had been friends all our lives. She asked me a great many questions. What was I doing in Venice? Had I known Alberto long? Was I very fond of him? Did I think that the old Count von Rosenau would be very angry when he heard of his son’s marriage? I answered her as best I could, feeling very sorry for the poor little soul, who evidently did not in the least realise the serious nature of the step which she was about to take; and she grew more and more communicative. In the course of a quarter of an hour I had been put in possession of all the chief incidents of her uneventful life.
I had heard how she had lost her mother when she was still an infant; how she had been educated partly by two maiden aunts, partly in a convent at Verona; how she had latterly led a life of almost complete seclusion in the old Venetian palace; how she had first met Alberto; and how, after many doubts and misgivings, she had finally been prevailed upon to sacrifice all for his sake, and to leave her father, who,–stern, severe, and suspicious, though he had always been generous to her,–had tried to give her such small pleasures as his means and habits would permit. She had a likeness of him with her, she said,–perhaps I might like to see it. She dived into her travelling- bag as she spoke, and produced from thence a full-length photograph of a tall, well-built gentleman of sixty or thereabouts, whose gray hair, black moustache, and intent, frowning gaze made up an ensemble more striking than attractive.
“Is he not handsome–poor papa?” she asked.
I said the marchese was certainly a very fine-looking man, and inwardly thanked my stars that he was safely at Padua; for looking at the breadth of his chest, the length of his arm, and the somewhat forbidding cast of his features, I could not help perceiving that “poor papa” was precisely one of those persons with whom a prudent man prefers to keep friends than to quarrel.
And so, by the time that we reached Mestre, we had become quite friendly and intimate, and had half forgotten, I think, the absurd relation in which we stood toward each other. We had rather an awkward moment when we left the boat and entered our travelling-carriage; for I need scarcely say that both the boatmen and the grinning vetturino took me for the bridegroom whose place I temporarily occupied, and they were pleased to be facetious in a manner which was very embarrassing to me, but which I could not very well check. Moreover, I felt compelled so far to sustain my assumed character as to be specially generous in the manner of a /buona mano/ to those four jolly watermen, and for the first few miles of our drive I could not help remembering this circumstance with some regret, and wondering whether it would occur to Von Rosenau to reimburse me.
Probably our coachman thought that, having a runaway couple to drive, he ought to make some pretence, at least, of fearing pursuit; for he set off at such a furious pace that our four half-starved horses were soon beat, and we had to perform the remainder of the long, hot, dusty journey at a foot’s pace. I have forgotten how we made the time pass. I think we slept a good deal. I know we were both very tired and a trifle cross when in the evening we reached Longarone, a small, poverty-stricken village, on the verge of that dolomite region which, in these latter days, has become so frequented by summer tourists.
Tourists usually leave in their wake some of the advantages as well as the drawbacks of civilisation; and probably there is now a respectable hotel at Longarone. I suppose, therefore, that I may say, without risk of laying myself open to an action for slander, that a more filthy den than the /osteria/ before which my charge and I alighted no imagination, however disordered, could conceive. It was a vast, dismal building, which had doubtless been the palace of some rich citizen of the republic in days of yore, but which had now fallen into dishonoured old age. Its windows and outside shutters were tightly closed, and had been so, apparently, from time immemorial; a vile smell of rancid oil and garlic pervaded it in every part; the cornices of its huge, bare rooms were festooned with blackened cobwebs, and the dust and dirt of ages had been suffered to accumulate upon the stone floors of its corridors. The signorina tucked up her petticoats as she picked her way along the passages to her bedroom, while I remained behind to order dinner of the sulky, black-browed padrona to whom I had already had to explain that my companion and I were not man and wife, and who, I fear, had consequently conceived no very high opinion of us. Happily the priest had already been warned by telegram that his service would not be required until the morrow; so I was spared the nuisance of an interview with him.
After a time we sat down to our tete-a-tete dinner. Such a dinner! Even after a lapse of all these years I am unable to think of it without a shudder. Half famished though we were, we could not do much more than look at the greater part of the dishes which were set before us; and the climax was reached when we were served with an astonishing compote, made up, so far as I was able to judge, of equal proportions of preserved plums and mustard, to which vinegar and sugar had been superadded. Both the signorina and I partook of this horrible mixture, for it really looked as if it might be rather nice; and when, after the first mouthful, each of us looked up, and saw the other’s face of agony and alarm, we burst into a simultaneous peal of laughter. Up to that moment we had been very solemn and depressed; but the laugh did us good, and sent us to bed in somewhat better spirits; and the malignant compote at least did us the service of effectually banishing our appetite.
I forbear to enlarge upon the horrors of the night. Mosquitos, and other insects, which, for some reason or other, we English seldom mention, save under a modest pseudonym, worked their wicked will upon me till daybreak set me free; and I presume that the fair Bianca was no better off, for when the breakfast hour arrived I received a message from her to the effect that she was unable to leave her room.
I was sitting over my dreary little repast, wondering how I should get through the day, and speculating upon the possibility of my release before nightfall, and I had just concluded that I must make up my mind to face another night with the mosquitos and their hardy allies, when, to my great joy, a slatternly serving-maid came lolloping into the room, and announced that a gentleman styling himself “/il Conte di Rosenau/” had arrived and demanded to see me instantly. Here was a piece of unlooked-for good fortune! I jumped up, and flew to the door to receive my friend, whose footsteps I already heard on the threshold.
“My dear, good soul!” I cried, “this is too delightful! How did you manage—-“
The remainder of my sentence died away upon my lips; for, alas! it was not the missing Alberto whom I had nearly embraced, but a stout, red- faced, white-moustached gentleman, who was in a violent passion, judging by the terrific salute of Teutonic expletives with which he greeted my advance. Then he, too, desisted as suddenly as I had done, and we both fell back a few paces, and stared at each other blankly. The new-comer was the first to recover himself.
“This is some accursed mistake,” said he, in German.
“Evidently,” said I.
“But they told me that you and an Italian young lady were the only strangers in the house.”
“Well, sir,” I said, “I can’t help it if we are. The house is not of a kind likely to attract strangers; and I assure you that, if I could consult my own wishes, the number of guests would soon be reduced by one.”
He appeared to be a very choleric old person. “Sir,” said he, “you seem disposed to carry things off with a high hand; but I suspect that you know more than you choose to reveal. Be so good as to tell me the name of the lady who is staying here.”
“I think you are forgetting yourself,” I answered with dignity. “I must decline to gratify your curiosity.”
He stuck his arms akimbo, and planted himself directly in front of me, frowning ominously. “Let us waste no more words,” he said. “If I have made a mistake, I shall be ready to offer you a full apology. If not– But that is nothing to the purpose. I am Lieutenant-General Graf von Rosenau, at your service, and I have reason to believe that my son, Graf Albrecht von Rosenau, a lieutenant in his Imperial and Royal Majesty’s 99th Croat Regiment, has made a runaway match with a certain Signorina Bianca Marinelli of Venice. Are you prepared to give me your word of honour as a gentleman and an Englishman that you are not privy to this affair?”
At these terrible words I felt my blood run cold. I may have lost my presence of mind; but I don’t know how I could have got out of the dilemma even if I had preserved it.
“Your son has not yet arrived,” I stammered.
He pounced upon me like a cat upon a mouse, and gripped both my arms above the elbow. “Is he married?” he hissed, with his red nose a couple of inches from mine.
“No,” I answered, “he is not. Perhaps I had better say at once that if you use personal violence I shall defend myself, in spite of your age.”
Upon this he was kind enough to relax his hold.
“And pray, sir,” he resumed, in a somewhat more temperate tone, after a short period of reflection, “what have you to do with all this?”
“I am not bound to answer your questions, Herr Graf,” I replied; “but, as things have turned out, I have no special objection to doing so. Out of pure good-nature to your son, who was detained by duty in Venice at the last moment, I consented to bring the Signorina Marinelli here yesterday, and to await his arrival, which I am now expecting.”
“So you ran away with the girl, instead of Albrecht, did you? Ho, ho, ho!”
I had seldom heard a more grating or disagreeable laugh.
“I did nothing of the sort,” I answered, tartly. “I simply undertook to see her safely through the first stage of her journey.”
“And you will have the pleasure of seeing her back, I imagine; for as for my rascal of a boy, I mean to take him off home with me as soon as he arrives; and I can assure you that I have no intention of providing myself with a daughter-in-law in the course of the day.”
I began to feel not a little alarmed. “You cannot have the brutality to leave me here with a young woman whom I am scarcely so much as acquainted with on my hands!” I ejaculated, half involuntarily. “What in the world should I do?”
The old gentleman gave vent to a malevolent chuckle. “Upon my word, sir,” said he, “I can only see one course open to you as a man of honour. You must marry her yourself.”
At this I fairly lost all patience, and gave the Graf my opinion of his conduct in terms the plainness of which left nothing to be desired. I included him, his son, and the entire German people in one sweeping anathema. No Englishman, I said, would have been capable of either insulting an innocent lady, or of so basely leaving in the lurch one whose only fault had been a too great readiness to sacrifice his own convenience to the interests of others. My indignation lent me a flow of words such as I should never have been able to command in calmer moments; and I dare say I should have continued in the same strain for an indefinite time, had I not been summarily cut short by the entrance of a third person.
There was no occasion for this last intruder to announce himself, in a voice of thunder, as the Marchese Marinelli. I had at once recognised the original of the signorina’s photograph, and I perceived that I was now in about as uncomfortable a position as my bitterest enemy could have desired for me. The German old gentleman had been very angry at the outset; but his wrath, as compared with that of the Italian, was as a breeze to a hurricane. The marchese was literally quivering from head to foot with concentrated fury. His face was deadly white, his strongly marked features twitched convulsively, his eyes blazed like those of a wild animal. Having stated his identity in the manner already referred to, he made two strides toward the table by which I was seated, and stood glaring at me as though he would have sprung at my throat. I thought it might avert consequences which we should both afterward deplore if I were to place the table between us; and I did so without loss of time. From the other side of that barrier I adjured my visitor to keep cool, pledging him my word, in the same breath, that there was no harm done as yet.
“No harm!” he repeated, in a strident shout that echoed through the bare room. “Dog! Villain! You ensnare my daughter’s affections–you entice her away from her father’s house–you cover my family with eternal disgrace–and then you dare to tell me there is no harm done! Wait a little, and you shall see that there will be harm enough for you. Marry her you must, since you have ruined her; but you shall die for it the next day! It is I–I, Ludovico Marinelli–who swear it!”
I am aware that I do but scant justice to the marchese’s inimitable style. The above sentences must be imagined as hurled forth in a series of yells, with a pant between each of them. As a melodramatic actor this terrific Marinelli would, I am sure, have risen to the first rank in his profession.
“Signore,” I said, “you are under a misapprehension. I have ensnared nobody’s affections, and I am entirely guiltless of all the crimes which you are pleased to attribute to me.”
“What? Are you not, then, the hound who bears the vile and dishonoured name of Von Rosenau?”
“I am not. I bear the less distinguished, but, I hope, equally respectable patronymic of Jenkinson.”
But my modest disclaimer passed unheeded, for now another combatant had thrown himself into the fray.
“Vile and dishonoured name! No one shall permit himself such language in my presence. I am Lieutenant-General Graf von Rosenau, sir, and you shall answer to me for your words.”
The Herr Graf’s knowledge of Italian was somewhat limited; but, such as it was, it had enabled him to catch the sense of the stigma cast upon his family, and now he was upon his feet, red and gobbling, like a turkey-cock, and prepared to do battle with a hundred irate Venetians if need were.
The marchese stared at him in blank amazement. “/You!/” he ejaculated–“you Von Rosenau! It is incredible–preposterous. Why, you are old enough to be her grandfather.”
“Not old enough to be in my dotage,–as I should be if I permitted my son to marry a beggarly Italian,–nor too old to punish impertinence as it deserves,” retorted the Graf.
“Your son? You are the father then? It is all the same to me. I will fight you both. But the marriage shall take place first.”
“It shall not.”
“Insolent slave of an Italian, I will make you eat your words!”
“Triple brute of a German, I spit upon you!”
During this animated dialogue I sat apart, softly rubbing my hands. What a happy dispensation it would be, I could not help thinking, if these two old madmen were to exterminate each other, like the Kilkenny cats! Anyhow, their attention was effectually diverted from my humble person, and that was something to be thankful for.
Never before had I been privileged to listen to so rich a vocabulary of vituperation. Each disputant had expressed himself, after the first few words, in his own language, and between them they were now making hubbub enough to bring the old house down about their ears. Up came the padrona to see the fun; up came her fat husband, in his shirt- sleeves and slippers; and her long-legged sons, and her tousle-headed daughters, and the maid-servant, and the cook, and the ostler–the whole establishment, in fact, collected at the open folding-doors, and watched with delight the progress of this battle of words. Last of all, a poor little trembling figure, with pale face and eyes big with fright, crept in, and stood, hand on heart, a little in advance of the group. I slipped to her side, and offered her a chair, but she neither answered me nor noticed my presence. She was staring at her father as a bird stares at a snake, and seemed unable to realise anything except the terrible fact that he had followed and found her.
Presently the old man wheeled round, and became aware of his daughter.
“Unhappy girl!” he exclaimed, “what is this that you have done?”
I greatly fear that the marchese’s paternal corrections must have sometimes taken a more practical shape than mere verbal upbraidings; for poor Bianca shrank back, throwing up one arm, as if to shield her face, and, with a wild cry of “Alberto! come to me!” fell into the arms of that tardy lover, who at that appropriate moment had made his appearance, unobserved, upon the scene.
The polyglot disturbance that ensued baffles all description. Indeed, I should be puzzled to say exactly what took place, or after how many commands, defiances, threats, protestations, insults, and explanations, a semblance of peace was finally restored. I only know that, at the expiration of a certain time, three of us were sitting by the open window, in a softened and subdued frame of mind, considerately turning our backs upon the other two, who were bidding each other farewell at the farther end of the room.
It was the faithless Johann, as I gathered, who was responsible for this catastrophe. His heart, it appeared, had failed him when he had discovered that nothing less than a bona-fide marriage was to be the outcome of the meetings he had shown so much skill in contriving, and, full of penitence and alarm, he had written to his old master, divulging the whole project. It so happened that a recent storm in the mountains had interrupted telegraphic communication, for the time, between Austria and Venice, and the only course that had seemed open to Herr von Rosenau was to start post-haste for the latter place, where, indeed, he would have arrived a day too late had not Albrecht’s colonel seen fit to postpone his leave. In this latter circumstance also the hand of Johann seemed discernible. As for the marchese, I suppose he must have returned rather sooner than had been expected from Padua, and finding his daughter gone, must have extorted the truth from his housekeeper. He did not volunteer any explanation of his presence, nor were any of us bold enough to question him.
As I have said before, I have no very clear recollection of how an understanding was arrived at and bloodshed averted and the padrona and her satellites hustled downstairs again. Perhaps I may have had some share in the work of pacification. Be that as it may, when once the exasperated parents had discovered that they both really wanted the same thing,–namely, to recover possession of their respective offspring, to go home, and never meet each other again,–a species of truce was soon agreed upon between them for the purpose of separating the two lovers, who all this time were locked in each other’s arms, in the prettiest attitude in the world, vowing loudly that nothing should ever part them.
How often since the world began have such vows been made and broken– broken, not willingly, but of necessity–broken and mourned over, and, in due course of time, forgotten! I looked at the Marchese di San Silvestro the other night, as she sailed up the room in her lace and diamonds, with her fat little husband toddling after her, and wondered whether, in these days of her magnificence, she ever gave a thought to her lost Alberto–Alberto, who has been married himself this many a long day, and has succeeded to his father’s estates, and has numerous family, I am told. At all events, she was unhappy enough over parting with him at the time. The two old gentlemen, who, as holders of the purse-strings, knew that they were completely masters of the situation, and could afford to be generous, showed some kindliness of feeing at the last. They allowed the poor lovers an uninterrupted half-hour in which to bid each other adieu forever, and abstained from any needless harshness in making their decision known. When the time was up, two travelling-carriages were seen waiting at the door. Count von Rosenau pushed his son before him into the first; the marchese assisted the half-fainting Bianca into the second; the vetturini cracked their whips, and presently both vehicles were rolling away, the one toward the north, the other toward the south. I suppose the young people had been promising to remain faithful to each other until some happier future time should permit of their union, for at the last moment Albrecht thrust his head out of the carriage window, and, waving his hand, cried, “/A rivederci!/” I don’t know whether they ever met again.
The whole scene, I confess, had affected me a good deal, in spite of some of the absurdities by which it had been marked; and it was not until I had been alone for some time, and silence had once more fallen upon the Longarone /osteria/, that I awoke to the fact that it was /my/ carriage which the Marchese Marinelli had calmly appropriated to his own use, and that there was no visible means of my getting back to Venice that day. Great was my anger and great my dismay when the ostler announced this news to me, with a broad grin, in reply to my order to put the horses to without delay.
“But the marchese himself–how did he get here?” I inquired.
“Oh, he came by the diligence.”
“And the count–the young gentleman?”
“On horseback, signore; but you cannot have his horse. The poor beast is half dead as it is.”
“Then will you tell me how I am to escape from your infernal town? For nothing shall induce me to pass another night here.”
“Eh! there is the diligence which goes through at two o’clock in the morning!”
There was no help for it. I sat up for that diligence, and returned by it to Mestre, seated between a Capuchin monk and a peasant farmer whose whole system appeared to be saturated with garlic. I could scarcely have fared worse in my bed at Longarone.
And so that was my reward for an act of disinterested kindness. It is only experience that can teach a man to appreciate the ingrained thanklessness of the human race. I was obliged to make a clean breast of it to my sister, who of course did not keep the secret long; and for some time afterward I had to submit to a good deal of mild chaff upon the subject from my friends. But it is an old story now, and two of the actors in it are dead, and of the remaining three I dare say I am the only one who cares to recall it. Even to me it is a somewhat painful reminiscence.
A. MARY F. ROBINSON
THE TWO OLD LADIES
On one of the pleasant hills round Florence, a little beyond Camerata, there stands a house so small that an Englishman would probably take it for a lodge of the great villa behind, whose garden trees at sunset cast their shadow over the cottage and its terrace on to the steep white road. But any of the country people could tell him that this, too, is a /casa signorile/, despite its smallness. It stands somewhat high above the road, a square white house with a projecting roof, and with four green-shuttered windows overlooking the gay but narrow terrace. The beds under the windows would have fulfilled the fancy of that French poet who desired that in his garden one might, in gathering a nosegay, cull a salad, for they boasted little else than sweet basil, small and white, and some tall gray rosemary bushes. Nearer to the door an unusually large oleander faced a strong and sturdy magnolia-tree, and these, with their profusion of red and white sweetness, made amends for the dearth of garden flowers. At either end of the terrace flourished a thicket of gum-cistus, syringa, stephanotis, and geranium bushes; and the wall itself, dropping sheer down to the road, was bordered with the customary Florentine hedge of China roses and irises, now out of bloom. Great terra-cotta flower- pots, covered with devices, were placed at intervals along the wall; as it was summer, the oranges and lemons, full of wonderfully sweet white blossoms and young green fruit, were set there in the sun to ripen.
It was the 17th of June. Although it was after four o’clock, the olives on the steep hill that went down to Florence looked blindingly white, shadeless, and sharp. The air trembled round the bright green cypresses behind the house. The roof steamed. All the windows were shut, all the jalousies shut, yet it was so hot that no one could stir within. The maid slept in the kitchen; the two elderly mistresses of the house dozed upon their beds. Not a movement; not a sound.
Gradually along the steep road from Camerata there came a roll of distant carriage-wheels. The sound came nearer and nearer, till one could see the carriage, and see the driver leading the tired, thin, cab-horse, his bones starting under the shaggy hide. Inside the carriage reclined a handsome, middle-aged lady, with a stern profile turned toward the road; a young girl in pale pink cotton and a broad hat trudged up the hill at the side.
“Goneril,” said Miss Hamelyn, “let me beg you again to come inside the carriage.”
“Oh no, Aunt Margaret; I’m not a bit tired.”
“But I have asked you; that is reason enough.”
“It’s so hot!” cried Goneril.
“That is why I object to your walking.”
“But if it’s so hot for me, just think how hot is must be for the horse.”
Goneril cast a commiserating glance at the poor, halting, wheezing nag.
“The horse, probably,” rejoined Miss Hamelyn, “does not suffer from malaria, neither has he kept his aunt in Florence nursing him till the middle heat of the summer.”
“True!” said Goneril. Then, after a few minutes, “I’ll get in, Aunt Margaret, on one condition.”
“In my time young people did not make conditions.”
“Very well, auntie; I’ll get in, and you shall answer all my questions when you feel inclined.”
The carriage stopped. The poor horse panted at his ease, while the girl seated herself beside Miss Hamelyn. Then for a few minutes they drove on in silence past the orchards; past the olive-yards, yellow underneath the ripening corn; past the sudden wide views of the mountains, faintly crimson in the mist of heat, and, on the other side, of Florence, the towers and domes steaming beside the hazy river.
“How hot it looks down there!” cried Goneril.
“How hot it /feels/!” echoed Miss Hamelyn, rather grimly.
“Yes, I am so glad you can get away at last, dear, poor old auntie.” Then, a little later, “Won’t you tell me something about the old ladies with whom you are going to leave me?”
Miss Hamelyn was mollified by Goneril’s obedience.
“They are very nice old ladies,” she said; “I met them at Mrs. Gorthrup’s.” But this was not at all what the young girl wanted.
“Only think, Aunt Margaret,” she cried, impatiently, “I am to stay there for at least six weeks, and I know nothing about them, not what age they are, nor if they are tall or short, jolly or prim, pretty, or ugly, not even if they speak English!”
“They speak English,” said Miss Hamelyn, beginning at the end. “One of them is English, or at least Irish: Miss Prunty.”
“And the other?”
“She is an Italian, Signora Petrucci; she used to be very handsome.”
“Oh!” said Goneril, looking pleased. “I’m glad she’s handsome, and that they speak English. But they are not relations?”
“No, they are not connected; they are friends.”
“And have they always lived together?”
“Ever since Madame Lilli died,” and Miss Hamelyn named a very celebrated singer.
“Why!” cried Goneril, quite excited; “were they singers too?”
“Madame Petrucci; nevertheless a lady of the highest respectability. Miss Prunty was Madame Lilli’s secretary.”
“How nice!” cried the young girl; “how interesting! O auntie, I’m so glad you found them out.”
“So am I, child; but please remember it is not an ordinary pension. They only take you, Goneril, till you are strong enough to travel, as an especial favour to me and to their old friend, Mrs. Gorthrup.”
“I’ll remember, auntie.”
By this time they were driving under the terrace in front of the little house.
“Goneril,” said the elder lady, “I shall leave you outside; you can play in the garden or the orchard.”
Miss Hamelyn left the carriage and ascended the steep little flight of steps that leads from the road to the cottage garden.
In the porch a singular figure was awaiting her.
“Good-afternoon, Madame Petrucci,” said Miss Hamelyn.
A slender old lady, over sixty, rather tall, in a brown silk skirt, and a white burnoose that showed the shrunken slimness of her arms, came eagerly forward. She was rather pretty, with small refined features, large expressionless blue eyes, and long whitish-yellow ringlets down her cheeks, in the fashion of forty years ago.
“Oh, /dear/ Miss Hamelyn,” she cried, “how /glad/ I am to see you! And have you brought your /charming/ young relation?”
She spoke with a languid foreign accent, and with an emphatic and bountiful use of adjectives, that gave to our severer generation an impression of insincerity. Yet it was said with truth that Giulia Petrucci had never forgotten a friend nor an enemy.
“Goneril is outside,” said Miss Hamelyn. “How is Miss Prunty?”
“Brigida? Oh, you must come inside and see my invaluable Brigida. She is, as usual, fatiguing herself with our accounts.” The old lady led the way into the darkened parlour. It was small and rather stiff. As one’s eyes became accustomed to the dim green light one noticed the incongruity of the furniture: the horsehair chairs and sofa, and large accountant’s desk with ledgers; the large Pleyel grand piano; a bookcase, in which all the books were rare copies or priceless MSS. of old-fashioned operas; hanging against the wall an inlaid guitar and some faded laurel crowns; moreover, a fine engraving of a composer, twenty years ago the most popular man in Italy; lastly, an oil-colour portrait, by Winterman, of a fascinating blonde, with very bare white shoulders, holding in her hands a scroll, on which were inscribed some notes of music, under the title Giulia Petrucci. In short, the private parlour of an elderly and respectable diva of the year ’40.
“Brigida!” cried Madame Petrucci, going to the door. “Brigida! our charming English friend is arrived!”
“All right!” answered a strong, hearty voice from upstairs. “I’m coming.”
“You must excuse me, dear Miss Hamelyn,” went on Madame Petrucci. “You must excuse me for shouting in your presence, but we have only one little servant, and during this suffocating weather I find that any movement reminds me of approaching age.” The old lady smiled as if that time were still far ahead.
“I am sure you ought to take care of yourself,” said Miss Hamelyn. “I hope you will not allow Goneril to fatigue you.”
“Gonerilla! What a pretty name! Charming! I suppose it is in your family?” asked the old lady.
Miss Hamelyn blushed a little, for her niece’s name was a sore point with her.
“It’s an awful name for any Christian woman,” said a deep voice at the door. “And pray, who’s called Goneril?”
Miss Prunty came forward: a short, thick-set woman of fifty, with fine dark eyes, and, even in a Florentine summer, with something stiff and masculine in the fashion of her dress.
“And have you brought your niece?” she said, as she turned to Miss Hamelyn.
“Yes, she is in the garden.”
“Well, I hope she understands that she’ll have to rough it here.”
“Goneril is a very simple girl,” said Miss Hamelyn.
“So it’s she that’s called Goneril?”
“Yes,” said the aunt, making an effort. “Of course I am aware of the strangeness of the name, but–but, in fact, my brother was devotedly attached to his wife, who died at Goneril’s birth.”
“Whew!” whistled Miss Prunty. “The parson must have been a fool who christened her!”
“He did, in fact, refuse; but my brother would have no baptism saving with that name, which, unfortunately, it is impossible to shorten.”
“I think it is a charming name!” said Madame Petrucci, coming to the rescue. “Gonerilla–it dies on one’s lips like music! And if you do not like it, Brigida, what’s in a name? as your charming Byron said.”
“I hope we shall make her happy,” said Miss Prunty.
“Of course we shall!” cried the elder lady.
“Goneril is easily made happy,” asserted Miss Hamelyn.
“That’s a good thing, snapped Miss Prunty, “for there’s not much here to make her so!”
“O Brigida! I am sure there are many attractions. The air, the view, the historic association! and, more than all, you know there is always a chance of the signorino!”
“Of whom?” said Miss Hamelyn, rather anxiously.
“Of him!” cried Madame Petrucci, pointing to the engraving opposite. “He lives, of course, in the capital; but he rents the villa behind our house,–the Medici Villa,–and when he is tired of Rome he runs down here for a week or so; and so your Gonerilla may have the benefit of /his/ society!”
“Very nice, I’m sure,” said Miss Hamelyn, greatly relieved; for she knew that Signor Graziano must be fifty.
“We have known him,” went on the old lady, “very nearly thirty years. He used to largely frequent the salon of our dear, our cherished Madame Lilli.”
The tears came into the old lady’s eyes. No doubt those days seemed near and dear to her; she did not see the dust on those faded triumphs.
“That’s all stale news!” cried Miss Prunty, jumping up. “And Gon’ril (since I’ll have to call her so) must be tired of waiting in the garden.”
They walked out on to the terrace. The girl was not there, but by the gate into the olive-yard, where there was a lean-to shed for tools, they found her sitting on a cask, whittling a piece of wood and talking to a curly-headed little contadino.
Hearing steps, Goneril turned round. “He was asleep,” she said. “Fancy, in such beautiful weather!”
Then, remembering that two of the ladies were still strangers, she made an old-fashioned little courtesy.
“I hope you won’t find me a trouble, ladies,” she said.
“She is charming!” said Madame Petrucci, throwing up her hands.
Goneril blushed; her hat had slipped back and showed her short brown curls of hair, strong regular features, and flexile scarlet mouth laughing upward like a faun’s. She had sweet dark eyes, a little too small and narrow.
“I mean to be very happy,” she exclaimed.
“Always mean that, my dear,” said Miss Prunty.
“And now, since Gonerilla is no longer a stranger,” added Madame Petrucci, “we will leave her to the rustic society of Angiolino while we show Miss Hamelyn our orangery.”
“And conclude our business!” said Bridget Prunty.
One day, when Goneril, much browner and rosier for a week among the mountains, came in to lunch at noon, she found no signs of that usually regular repast. The little maid was on her knees polishing the floor; Miss Prunty was scolding, dusting, ordering dinner, arranging vases, all at once; strangest of all, Madame Petrucci had taken the oil-cloth cover from her grand piano, and, seated before it, was practising her sweet and faded notes, unheedful of the surrounding din and business.
“What’s the matter?” cried Goneril.
“We expect the signorino,” said Miss Prunty.
“And is he going to stay here?”
“Don’t be a fool!” snapped that lady; and then she added, “Go into the kitchen and get some of the pasty and some bread and cheese–there’s a good girl.”
“All right!” said Goneril.
Madame Petrucci stopped her vocalising. “You shall have all the better a dinner to compensate you, my Gonerilla!” She smiled sweetly, and then again became Zerlina.
Goneril cut her lunch, and took it out of doors to share with her companion, Angiolino. He was harvesting the first corn under the olives, but at noon it was too hot to work. Sitting still there was, however, a cool breeze that gently stirred the sharp-edged olive- leaves.
Angiolino lay down at full length and munched his bread and cheese in perfect happiness. Goneril kept shifting about to get herself into the narrow shadow cast by the split and writhen trunk.
“How aggravating it is!” she cried. “In England, where there’s no sun, there’s plenty of shade; and here, where the sun is like a mustard- plaster on one’s back, the leaves are all set edgewise on purpose that they sha’n’t cast any shadow!”
Angiolino made no answer to this intelligent remark.
“He is going to sleep again!” cried Goneril, stopping her lunch in despair. “He is going to sleep, and there are no end of things I want to know. Angiolino!”
“/Si/, signora,” murmured the boy.
“Tell me about Signor Graziano.”
“He is our padrone; he is never here.”
“But he is coming to-day. Wake up, wake up, Angiolino. I tell you, he is on the way!”
“Between life and death there are so many combinations,” drawled the boy, with Tuscan incredulity and sententiousness.
“Ah!” cried the girl, with a little shiver of impatience. “Is he young?”
“Is he old then?”
“What is he like? He must be /something/.”
“He’s our padrone,” repeated Angiolino, in whose imagination Signor Graziano could occupy no other place.
“How stupid you are!” exclaimed the young English girl.
“Maybe,” said Angiolino, stolidly.
“Is he a good padrone? Do you like him?”
“Rather!” The boy smiled and raised himself on one elbow; his eyes twinkled with good-humoured malice.
“My /babbo/ had much better wine than /quel signore/,” he said.
“But that is wrong!” cried Goneril, quite shocked.
After this conversation flagged. Goneril tried to imagine what a great musician could be like: long hair, of course; her imagination did not get much beyond the hair. He would of course be much older now than his portrait. Then she watched Angiolino cutting the corn, and learned how to tie the swathes together. She was occupied in this useful employment when the noise of wheels made them both stop and look over the wall.
“Here’s the padrone!” cried the boy.
“Oh, he is old!” said Goneril. “He is old and brown, like a coffee- bean.”
“To be old and good is better than youth with malice,” suggested Angiolino, by way of consolation.
“I suppose so,” acquiesced Goneril.
Nevertheless she went in to dinner a little disappointed.
The signorino was not in the house; he had gone up to the villa; but he had sent a message that later in the evening he intended to pay his respects to his old friends. Madame Petrucci was beautifully dressed in soft black silk, old lace, and a white Indian shawl. Miss Prunty had on her starchiest collar and most formal tie. Goneril saw it was necessary that she, likewise should deck herself in her best. She was much too young and impressionable not to be influenced by the flutter of excitement and interest which filled the whole of the little cottage. Goneril, too, was excited and anxious, although Signor Graziano had seemed so old and like a coffee-bean. She made no progress in the piece of embroidery she was working as a present for the two old ladies, jumping up and down to look out of the window. When, about eight o’clock, the door-bell rang, Goneril blushed, Madame Petrucci gave a pretty little shriek, Miss Prunty jumped up and rang for coffee. A moment afterward the signorino entered. While he was greeting her hostesses Goneril cast a rapid glance at him. He was tall for an Italian, rather bent and rather gray; fifty at least–therefore very old. He certainly was brown, but his features were fine and good, and he had a distinguished and benevolent air that somehow made her think of an abbe, a French abbe of the last century. She could quite imagine him saying, “/Enfant de St. Louis, montez au ciel!/”
Thus far had she got in her meditations when she felt herself addressed in clear, half-mocking tones:
“And how, this evening, is Madamigella Ruth?”
So he had seen her this evening binding his corn.
“I am quite well, padrone,” she said, smiling shyly.
The two old ladies looked on amazed, for of course they were not in the secret.
“Signor Graziano, Miss Goneril Hamelyn,” said Miss Prunty, rather severely.
Goneril felt that the time had come for silence and good manners. She sat quite quiet over her embroidery, listening to the talk of Sontag, of Clementi, of musicians and singers dead and gone. She noticed that the ladies treated Signore Graziano with the utmost reverence, even the positive Miss Prunty furling her opinions in deference to his gayest hint. They talked too of Madame Lilli, and always as if she were still young and fair, as if she had died yesterday, leaving the echo of her triumph loud behind her. And yet all this had happened years before Goneril had ever seen the light.
“Mees Goneril is feeling very young!” said the signorino, suddenly turning his sharp, kind eyes upon her.
“Yes,” said Goneril, all confusion.
Madame Petrucci looked almost annoyed–the gay, serene little lady that nothing ever annoyed.
“It is she that is young!” she cried, in answer to an unspoken thought. “She is a baby!”