The Cardinal's Snuff-Box by Henry Harland
"The Signorino will take coffee?" old Marietta asked, as she set the
fruit before him.
Peter deliberated for a moment; then burned his ships.
"Yes," he answered.
"But in the garden, perhaps?" the little brown old woman
suggested, with a persuasive flourish.
"No," he corrected her, gently smiling, and shaking his head, "not
Her small, sharp old black Italian eyes twinkled, responsive.
"The Signorino will find a rustic table, under the big
willow-tree, at the water's edge," she informed him, with a good deal
of gesture. "Shall I serve it there?"
"Where you will. I leave myself entirely in your hands," he said.
So he sat by the rustic table, on a rustic bench, under the
willow, sipped his coffee, smoked his cigarette, and gazed in
contemplation at the view.
Of its kind, it was rather a striking view.
In the immediate foreground—at his feet, indeed—there was the
river, the narrow Aco, peacock-green, a dark file of poplars on
either bank, rushing pell-mell away from the quiet waters of the
lake. Then, just across the river, at his left, stretched the smooth
lawns of the park of Ventirose, with glimpses of the many-pinnacled
castle through the trees; and, beyond, undulating country,
flourishing, friendly, a perspective of vineyards, cornfields, groves,
and gardens, pointed by numberless white villas. At his right loomed
the gaunt mass of the Gnisi, with its black forests, its bare crags,
its foaming ascade, and the crenelated range of the Cornobastone; and
finally, climax and cynosure, at the valley's end, Monte Sfiorito, its
three snow-covered summits almost insubstantial-seeming, floating
forms of luminous pink vapour, in the evening sunshine, against the
intense blue of the sky.
A familiar verse had come into Peter's mind, and kept running
"Really," he said to himself, "feature for feature, down to the
very 'cataract leaping in glory,' the scene might have been got up,
apres coup, to illustrate it." And he began to repeat the beautiful
hackneyed words, under his breath . . . .
But about midway of the third line he was interrupted.
"It's not altogether a bad sort of view—is it?" some one said, in
The voice was a woman's. It was clear and smooth; it was
Peter glanced about him.
On the opposite bank of the Aco, in the grounds of Ventirose, five
or six yards away, a lady was standing, looking at him, smiling.
Peter's eyes met hers, took in her face . . . . And suddenly his
heart gave a jump. Then it stopped dead still, tingling, for a
second. Then it flew off, racing perilously.—Oh, for reasons—for
the best reasons in the world: but thereby hangs my tale.
She was a young woman, tall, slender, in a white frock, with a
white cloak, an indescribable complexity of soft lace and airy
ruffles, round her shoulders. She wore no hat. Her hair, brown and
warm in shadow, sparkled, where it caught the light, in a kind of
crinkly iridescence, like threads of glass.
Peter's heart (for the best reasons in the world) was racing
perilously. "It's impossible—impossible—impossible"—the words
strummed themselves to its rhythm. Peter's wits (for had not the
impossible come to pass?) were in a perilous confusion. But he managed
to rise from his rustic bench, and to achieve a bow.
She inclined her head graciously.
"You do not think it altogether bad—I hope?" she questioned, in
her crisp-cut voice, raising her eyebrows slightly, with a droll
little assumption of solicitude.
Peter's wits were in confusion; but he must answer her. An
automatic second-self, summoned by the emergency, answered for him.
"I think one might safely call it altogether good."
"Oh—?" she exclaimed.
Her eyebrows went up again, but now they expressed a certain
whimsical surprise. She threw back her head, and regarded the
"It is not, then, too spectacular, too violent?" she wondered,
returning her gaze to Peter, with an air of polite readiness to defer
to his opinion. "Not too much like a decor de theatre?"
"One should judge it," his automatic second-self submitted, "with
some leniency. It is, after all, only unaided Nature."
A spark flickered in her eyes, while she appeared to ponder. (But
I am not sure whether she was pondering the speech or its speaker.)
"Really?" she said, in the end. "Did did Nature build the villas,
and plant the cornfields?"
But his automatic second-self was on its mettle.
"Yes," it asserted boldly; "the kind of men who build villas and
plant cornfields must be classified as natural forces."
She gave a light little laugh—and again appeared to ponder for a
Then, with another gracious inclination of the head, and an
interrogative brightening of the eyes, "Mr. Marchdale no doubt?" she
"I am very glad if, on the whole, you like our little effect," she
went on, glancing in the direction of Monte Sfiorito. "I" —there was
the briefest suspension—"I am your landlady."
For a third time Peter bowed, a rather more elaborate bow than his
earlier ones, a bow of respectful enlightenment, of feudal homage.
"You arrived this afternoon?" she conjectured.
"By the five-twenty-five from Bergamo," said he.
"A very convenient train," she remarked; and then, in the
pleasantest manner, whereby the unusual mode of valediction was
carried off, "Good evening."
"Good evening," responded Peter, and accomplished his fourth bow.
She moved away from the river, up the smooth lawns, between the
trees, towards Castel Ventirose, a flitting whiteness amid the
Peter stood still, looking after her.
But when she was out of sight, he sank back upon his rustic bench,
like a man exhausted, and breathed a prodigious sigh. He was absurdly
pale. All the same, clenching his fists, and softly pounding the
table with them, he muttered exultantly, between his teeth, "What
luck! What incredible luck! It's she—it's she, as I 'm a heathen.
Oh, what supernatural luck!"
Old Marietta—the bravest of small figures, in her neat
black-and-white peasant dress, with her silver ornaments, and her red
silk coif and apron—came for the coffee things.
But at sight of Peter, she abruptly halted. She struck an
attitude of alarm. She fixed him with her fiery little black eyes.
"The Signorino is not well!" she cried, in the tones of one
launching a denunciation.
Peter roused himself.
"Er—yes—I 'm pretty well, thank you," he reassured her. "I —I
'm only dying," he added, sweetly, after an instant's hesitation.
"Dying—!" echoed Marietta, wild, aghast.
"Ah, but you can save my life—you come in the very nick of time,"
he said. "I'm dying of curiosity—dying to know something that you
can tell me."
Her stare dissolved, her attitude relaxed. She smiled—relief,
rebuke. She shook her finger at him.
"Ah, the Signorino gave me a fine fright," she said.
"A thousand regrets," said Peter. "Now be a succouring angel, and
make a clean breast of it. Who is my landlady?"
Marietta drew back a little. Her brown old visage wrinkled up,
"Who is the Signorino's landlady?" she repeated.
"Ang," said he, imitating the characteristic nasalised eh of
Italian affirmation, and accompanying it by the characteristic
Italian jerk of the head.
Marietta eyed him, still perplexed—even (one might have fancied)
a bit suspicious.
"But is it not in the Signorino's lease?" she asked, with caution.
"Of course it is," said he. "That's just the point. Who is she?"
"But if it is in your lease!" she expostulated.
"All the more reason why you should make no secret of it," he
argued plausibly. "Come! Out with it! Who is my landlady?"
Marietta exchanged a glance with heaven.
"The Signorino's landlady is the Duchessa di Santangiolo," she
answered, in accents of resignation.
But then the name seemed to stimulate her; and she went on "She
lives there—at Castel Ventirose." Marietta pointed towards the
castle. "She owns all, all this country, all these houses —all,
all." Marietta joined her brown old hands together, and separated
them, like a swimmer, in a gesture that swept the horizon. Her eyes
"All Lombardy?" said Peter, without emotion.
Marietta stared again.
"All Lombardy? Mache!" was her scornful remonstrance. "Nobody
owns all Lombardy. All these lands, these houses."
"Who is she?" Peter asked.
Marietta's eyes blinked, in stupefaction before such stupidity.
"But I have just told you," she cried "She is the Duchessa di
"Who is the Duchessa di Santangiolo?" he asked.
Marietta, blinking harder, shrugged her shoulders.
"But"—she raised her voice, screamed almost, as to one deaf
—"but the Duchessa di Santangiolo is the Signorino's landlady la,
proprietaria di tutte queste terre, tutte queste case, tutte, tutte."
And she twice, with some violence, reacted her comprehensive
gesture, like a swimmer's.
"You evade me by a vicious circle," Peter murmured.
Marietta made a mighty effort-brought all her faculties to a
focus—studied Peter's countenance intently. Her own was suddenly
"Ah, I understand," she proclaimed, vigorously nodding. "The
Signorino desires to know who she is personally!"
"I express myself in obscure paraphrases," said he; "but you, with
your unfailing Italian simpatia, have divined the exact shade of my
"She is the widow of the Duca di Santangiolo," said Marietta.
"Enfin vous entrez dans la voie des aveux," said Peter.
"Scusi?" said Marietta.
"I am glad to hear she's a widow," said he. "She—she might
strike a casual observer as somewhat young, for a widow."
"She is not very old," agreed Marietta; "only twenty-six,
twenty-seven. She was married from the convent. That was eight,
nine years ago. The Duca has been dead five or six."
"And was he also young and lovely?"
"Young and lovely! Mache!" derided Marietta. "He was past forty.
He was fat. But he was a good man."
"So much the better for him now," said Peter.
"Gia," approved Marietta, and solemnly made the Sign of the Cross.
"But will you have the kindness to explain to me," the young man
continued, "how it happens that the Duchessa di Santangiolo speaks
English as well as I do?"
The old woman frowned surprise.
"Come? She speaks English?"
"For all the world like an Englishman," asseverated Peter.
"Ah, well," Marietta reflected, "she was English, you know."
"Oho!" exclaimed Peter. "She was English! Was she?" He bore a
little on the tense of the verb. "That lets in a flood of light.
And—and what, by the bye, is she now?" he questioned.
"Ma! Italian, naturally, since she married the Duca," Marietta
"Indeed? Then the leopard can change his spots?" was Peter's
"The leopard?" said Marietta, at a loss.
"If the Devil may quote Scripture for his purpose, why may n't I?"
Peter demanded. "At all events, the Duchessa di Santangiolo is a very
The Signorino has seen her?" Marietta asked.
"I have grounds for believing so. An apparition—a phantom of
delight—appeared on the opposite bank of the tumultuous Aco, and
announced herself as my landlady. Of course, she may have been an
impostor—but she made no attempt to get the rent. A tall woman, in
white, with hair, and a figure, and a voice like cooling streams, and
an eye that can speak volumes with a look."
Marietta nodded recognition.
"That would be the Duchessa."
"She's a very beautiful duchessa," reiterated Peter.
Marietta was Italian. So, Italian—wise, she answered, "We are
all as God makes us."
"For years I have thought her the most beautiful woman in Europe,"
Marietta opened her eyes wide.
"For years? The Signorino knows her? The Signorino has seen her
A phrase came back to him from a novel he had been reading that
afternoon in the train. He adapted it to the occasion.
"I rather think she is my long-lost brother."
"Brother—?" faltered Marietta.
"Well, certainly not sister," said Peter, with determination. "You
have my permission to take away the coffee things."
Up at the castle, in her rose-and-white boudoir, Beatrice was
writing a letter to a friend in England.
"Villa Floriano," she wrote, among other words, "has been let to
an Englishman—a youngish, presentable-looking creature, in a dinner
jacket, with a tongue in his head, and an indulgent eye for
Nature—named Peter Marchdale. Do you happen by any chance to know
who he is, or anything about him?"
Peter very likely slept but little, that first night at the villa;
and more than once, I fancy, he repeated to his pillow his pious
ejaculation of the afternoon: "What luck! What supernatural luck!"
He was up, in any case, at an unconscionable hour next morning, up,
and down in his garden.
"It really is a surprisingly jolly garden," he confessed. "The
agent was guiltless of exaggeration, and the photographs were not the
perjuries one feared."
There were some fine old trees, lindens, acacias, chestnuts, a
flat-topped Lombardy pine, a darkling ilex, besides the willow that
overhung the river, and the poplars that stiffly stood along its
border. Then there was the peacock-blue river itself, dancing and
singing as it sped away, with a thousand diamonds flashing on its
surface—floating, sinking, rising —where the sun caught its ripples.
There were some charming bits of greensward. There was a fountain,
plashing melodious coolness, in a nimbus of spray which the sun
touched to rainbow pinks and yellows. There were vivid parterres of
flowers, begonia and geranium. There were oleanders, with their heady
southern perfume; there were pomegranate-blossoms, like knots of
scarlet crepe; there were white carnations, sweet-peas, heliotrope,
mignonette; there were endless roses. And there were birds, birds,
birds. Everywhere you heard their joyous piping, the busy flutter of
their wings. There were goldfinches, blackbirds, thrushes, with their
young—the plumpest, clumsiest, ruffle-feathered little blunderers, at
the age ingrat, just beginning to fly, a terrible anxiety to their
parents—and there were also (I regret to own) a good many rowdy
sparrows. There were bees and bumblebees; there were brilliant,
dangerous-looking dragonflies; there were butterflies, blue ones and
white ones, fluttering in couples; there were also (I am afraid) a
good many gadflies—but che volete? Who minds a gadfly or two in
Italy? On the other side of the house there were fig-trees and
peach-trees, and artichokes holding their heads high in rigid rows;
and a vine, heavy with great clusters of yellow grapes, was festooned
upon the northern wall.
The morning air was ineffably sweet and keen—penetrant, tonic,
with moist, racy smells, the smell of the good brown earth, the smell
of green things and growing things. The dew was spread over the grass
like a veil of silver gossamer, spangled with crystals. The friendly
country westward, vineyards and white villas, laughed in the sun at
the Gnisi, sulking black in shadow to the east. The lake lay deep and
still, a dark sapphire. And away at the valley's end, Monte Sfiorito,
always insubstantial-seeming, showed pale blue-grey, upon a sky in
which still lingered some of the flush of dawn.
It was a surprisingly jolly garden, true enough. But though Peter
remained in it all day long—though he haunted the riverside, and cast
a million desirous glances, between the trees, and up the lawns,
towards Castel Ventirose—he enjoyed no briefest vision of the
Duchessa di Santangiolo.
Nor the next day; nor the next.
"Why does n't that old dowager ever come down and look after her
river?" he asked Marietta. "For all the attention she gives it, the
water might be undermining her property on both sides."
"That old dowager—?" repeated Marietta, blank.
"That old widow woman—my landlady—the Duchessa Vedova di
"She is not very old—only twenty-six, twenty-seven," said
"Don't try to persuade me that she is n't old enough to know
better," retorted Peter, sternly.
"But she has her guards, her keepers, to look after her property,"
"Guards and keepers are mere mercenaries. If you want a thing
well done, you should do it yourself," said Peter, with gloomy
On Sunday he went to the little grey rococo parish church. There
were two Masses, one at eight o'clock, one at ten—and the church was
quite a mile from Villa Floriano, and up a hill; and the Italian sun
was hot—but the devoted young man went to both.
The Duchessa was at neither.
"What does she think will become of her immortal soul?" he asked
On Monday he went to the pink-stuccoed village post-office.
Before the post-office door a smart little victoria, with a pair
of sprightly, fine-limbed French bays, was drawn up, ducal coronets
emblazoned on its panels.
Peter's heart began to beat.
And while he was hesitating on the doorstep, the door opened, and
the Duchessa came forth—tall, sumptuous, in white, with a wonderful
black-plumed hat, and a wonderful white-frilled sunshade. She was
followed by a young girl—a pretty, dark-complexioned girl, of
fourteen, fifteen perhaps, with pleasant brown eyes (that lucent
Italian brown), and in her cheeks a pleasant hint of red (that covert
Italian red, which seems to glow through the thinnest film of satin).
Peter bowed, standing aside to let them pass.
But when he looked up, the Duchessa had stopped, and was smiling
His heart beat harder.
"A lovely day," said the Duchessa.
"Delightful," agreed Peter, between two heart-beats.—Yet he
looked, in his grey flannels, with his straw-hat and his eyeglass,
with his lean face, his even colour, his slightly supercilious
moustaches—he looked a very embodiment of cool-blooded English
"A trifle warm, perhaps?" the Duchessa suggested, with her air of
polite (or was it in some part humorous?) readiness to defer to his
"But surely," suggested he, "in Italy, in summer, it is its
bounden duty to be a trifle warm?"
The Duchessa smiled.
"You like it? So do I. But what the country really needs is
"Then let us hope," said he, "that the country's real needs may
The Duchessa tittered.
"Think of the poor farmers," she said reproachfully.
"It's vain to think of them," he answered. "'T is an ascertained
fact that no condition of the weather ever contents the farmers."
The Duchessa laughed.
"Ah, well," she consented, "then I 'll join in your hope that the
fine weather may last. I—I trust," she was so good as to add, "that
you're not entirely uncomfortable at Villa Floriano?"
"I dare n't allow myself to speak of Villa Floriano," he replied.
"I should become dithyrambic. It's too adorable."
"It has a pretty garden, and—I remember—you admired the view,"
the Duchessa said. "And that old Marietta? I trust she does for you
fairly well?" Her raised eyebrows expressed benevolent (or was it in
some part humorous?) concern.
"She does for me to perfection. That old Marietta is a priceless
old jewel," Peter vowed.
"A good cook?" questioned the Duchessa.
"A good cook—but also a counsellor and friend. And with a flow
The Duchessa laughed again.
"Oh, these Lombard peasant women. They are untiring chatterers."
"I 'm not sure," Peter felt himself in justice bound to confess,
"that Marietta is n't equally untiring as a listener. In fact, there's
only one respect in which she has disappointed me."
"Oh—?" said the Duchessa. And her raised eyebrows demanded
"She swears she does n't wear a dagger in her garter—has never
heard of such a practice," Peter explained. "And now," he whispered
to his soul, "we 'll see whether our landlady is up in modern
Still again the Duchessa laughed. And, apparently, she was up in
modern literature. At any rate—
"Those are Lombard country-girls along the coast," she reminded
him. "We are peaceful inland folk, miles from the sea. But you had
best be on your guard, none the less." She shook her head, in
warning. "Through all this country-side that old Marietta is reputed
to be a witch."
"If she's a witch," said Peter, undismayed, "her usefulness will
be doubled. I shall put her to the test directly I get home."
"Sprinkle her with holy water?" laughed the Duchessa. "Have a
care. If she should turn into a black cat, and fly away on a
broomstick, you'd never forgive yourself."
Wherewith she swept on to her carriage, followed by her young
The sprightly French bays tossed their heads, making the harness
tinkle. The footman mounted the box. The carriage rolled away.
But Peter remained for quite a minute motionless on the door-step,
gazing, bemused, down the long, straight, improbable village street,
with its poplars, its bridge, its ancient stone cross, its irregular
pink and yellow houses—as improbable as a street in opera-bouffe. A
thin cloud of dust floated after the carriage, a thin screen of white
dust, which, in the sun, looked like a fume of silver.
"I think I could put my finger on a witch worth two of Marietta,"
he said, in the end." And thus we see," he added, struck by something
perhaps not altogether novel in his own reflection, "how the primary
emotions, being perennial, tend to express themselves in perennial
Back at the villa, he enquired of Marietta who the pretty
brown-eyed young girl might have been.
"The Signorina Emilia," Marietta promptly informed him.
"Really and truly?" questioned he.
"Ang," affirmed Marietta, with the national jerk of the head; "the
Signorina Emilia Manfredi—the daughter of the Duca."
"Oh—? Then the Duca was married before?" concluded Peter, with
"Che-e-e!" scoffed Marietta, on her highest note. "Married? He?"
Then she winked and nodded—as one man of the world to another. "Ma
molto porn! La mamma fu robaccia di Milano. But after his death, the
Duchessa had her brought to the castle. She is the same as adopted."
"That looks as if your Duchessa's heart were in the right place,
after all," commented Peter.
"Gia," agreed Marietta.
"Hang the right place!" cried he. "What's the good of telling me
her heart is in the right place, if the right place is inaccessible?"
But Marietta only looked bewildered.
He lived in his garden, he haunted the riverside, he made a daily
pilgrimage to the village post, he thoroughly neglected the work he
had come to this quiet spot to do. But a week passed, during which he
never once beheld so much as the shadow of the Duchessa.
On Sunday he trudged his mile, through the sun, and up the hill,
not only to both Masses, but to Vespers and Benediction.
She was present at none of these offices.
"The Pagan!" he exclaimed.
Up at the castle, on the broad marble terrace, where clematis and
jessamine climbed over the balustrade and twined about its pilasters,
where oleanders grew in tall marble urns and shed their roseate petals
on the pavement, Beatrice, dressed for dinner, in white, with pearls
in her hair, and pearls round her throat, was walking slowly backwards
and forwards, reading a letter.
"There is a Peter Marchdale—I don't know whether he will be your
Peter Marchdale or not, my dear; though the name seems hardly likely
to be common—son of the late Mr. Archibald Marchdale, Q. C., and
nephew of old General Marchdale, of Whitstoke. A highly respectable
and stodgy Norfolk family. I've never happened to meet the man myself,
but I'm told he's a bit of an eccentric, who amuses himself
globe-trotting, and writing books (novels, I believe) which nobody, so
far as I am aware, ever reads. He writes under a pseudonym, Felix—I
'm not sure whether it's Mildmay or Wildmay. He began life, by the
bye, in the Diplomatic, and was attache for a while at Berlin, or
Petersburg, or somewhere; but whether (in the elegant language of
Diplomacy) he 'chucked it up,' or failed to pass his exams, I'm not in
a position to say. He will be near thirty, and ought to have a couple
of thousand a year—more or less. His father, at any rate, was a
great man at the bar, and must have left something decent. And the
only other thing in the world I know about him is that he's a great
friend of that clever gossip Margaret Winchfield—which goes to show
that however obscure he may be as a scribbler of fiction, he must
possess some redeeming virtues as a social being—for Mrs. Winchfield
is by no means the sort that falls in love with bores. As you 're
not, either—well, verbum sap., as my little brother Freddie says."
Beatrice gazed off, over the sunny lawn, with its trees and their
long shadows, with its shrubberies, its bright flower-beds, its marble
benches, its artificial ruin; over the lake, with its coloured sails,
its incongruous puffing steamboats; down the valley, away to the rosy
peaks of Monte Sfiorito, and the deep blue sky behind them. She
plucked a spray of jessamine, and brushed the cool white blossoms
across her cheek, and inhaled their fairy fragrance.
"An obscure scribbler of fiction," she mused. "Ah, well, one is
an obscure reader of fiction oneself. We must send to London for Mr.
Felix Mildmay Wildmay's works."
On Monday evening, at the end of dinner, as she set the fruit
before him, "The Signorino will take coffee?" old Marietta asked.
Peter frowned at the fruit, figs and peaches—
"Figs imperial purple, and blushing peaches"—
ranged alternately, with fine precision, in a circle, round a
central heap of translucent yellow grapes.
"Is this the produce of my own vine and fig-tree?" he demanded.
"Yes, Signorino; and also peach-tree," replied Marietta.
"Peaches do not grow on fig-trees?" he enquired.
"No, Signorino," said Marietta.
"Nor figs on thistles. I wonder why not," said he.
"It is n't Nature," was Marietta's confident generalisation.
"Marietta Cignolesi," Peter pronounced severely, looking her hard
in the eyes, "I am told you are a witch."
"No," said Marietta, simply, without surprise, without emotion.
"I quite understand," he genially persisted. "It's a part of the
game to deny it. But I have no intention of sprinkling you with holy
water-so don't be frightened. Besides, if you should do anything
outrageous—if you should turn into a black cat, and fly away on a
broomstick, for example—I could never forgive myself. But I'll thank
you to employ a little of your witchcraft on my behalf, all the same.
I have lost something —something very precious—more precious than
rubies—more precious than fine gold."
Marietta's brown old wrinkles fell into an expression of alarm.
"In the villa? In the garden?" she exclaimed, anxiously.
"No, you conscientious old thing you," Peter hastened to relieve
her. "Nowhere in your jurisdiction—so don't distress yourself:
And he waved a vague hand, to indicate outer space.
The Signorino should put up a candle to St. Anthony of Padua,"
counselled this Catholic witch.
"St. Anthony of Padua? Why of Padua?" asked Peter.
"St. Anthony of Padua," said Marietta.
"You mean of Lisbon," corrected Peter.
"No," insisted the old woman, with energy. "St. Anthony of
It But he was born in Lisbon;" insisted Peter.
"No," said Marietta.
"Yes," said he, "parola d' onore. And, what's more to the
purpose, he died in Lisbon. You clearly mean St. Anthony of Lisbon."
"No!" Marietta raised her voice, for his speedier conviction.
"There is no St. Anthony of Lisbon. St. Anthony of Padua."
"What's the use of sticking to your guns in that obstinate
fashion?" Peter complained. "It's mere pride of opinion. Don't you
know that the ready concession of minor points is a part of the grace
"When you lose an object, you put up a candle to St. Anthony of
Padua," said Marietta, weary but resolved.
"Not unless you wish to recover the object," contended Peter.
Marietta stared at him, blinking.
"I have no wish to recover the object I have lost," he continued
blandly. "The loss of it is a new, thrilling, humanising experience.
It will make a man of me—and, let us hope, a better man. Besides,
in a sense, I lost it long ago —'when first my smitten eyes beat full
on her,' one evening at the Francais, three, four years ago. But it's
essential to my happiness that I should see the person into whose
possession it has fallen. That is why I am not angry with you for
being a witch. It suits my convenience. Please arrange with the
powers of darkness to the end that I may meet the person in question
tomorrow at the latest. No!" He raised a forbidding hand. "I will
listen to no protestations. And, for the rest, you may count upon my
'She is the darling of my heart
And she lives in our valley,'"
he carolled softly.
"E del mio cuore la carina,
E dimor' nella nostra vallettina,"
he obligingly translated. "But for all the good I get of her, she
might as well live on the top of the Cornobastone," he added dismally.
"Yes, now you may bring me my coffee—only, let it be tea. When your
coffee is coffee it keeps me awake at night."
Marietta trudged back to her kitchen, nodding at the sky.
The next afternoon, however, the Duchessa di Santangiolo appeared
on the opposite bank of the tumultuous Aco.
Peter happened to be engaged in the amiable pastime of tossing
bread-crumbs to his goldfinches.
But a score or so of sparrows, vulture-like, lurked under cover of
the neighbouring foliage, to dash in viciously, at the critical
moment, and snatch the food from the finches' very mouths.
The Duchessa watched this little drama for a minute, smiling, in
silent meditation: while Peter—who, for a wonder, had his back turned
to the park of Ventirose, and, for a greater wonder still perhaps,
felt no pricking in his thumbs—remained unconscious of her presence.
At last, sorrowfully, (but there was always a smile at the back of
her eyes), she shook her head.
"Oh, the pirates, the daredevils," she sighed.
Peter started; faced about; saluted.
"The brigands," said she, with a glance towards the sparrows'
"Yes, poor things," said he.
"Poor things?" cried she, indignant. "The unprincipled little
"They can't help it," he pleaded for them. "'It is their nature
to.' They were born so. They had no choice."
"You actually defend them!" she marvelled, rebukefully.
"Oh, dear, no," he disclaimed. "I don't defend them. I defend
nothing. I merely recognise and accept. Sparrows—finches. It's the
way of the world—the established division of the world."
She frowned incomprehension.
"The established division of the world—?"
"Exactly," said he. "Sparrows—finches the snatchers and the
snatched-from. Everything that breathes is either a sparrow or a
finch. 'T is the universal war—the struggle for existence —the
survival of the most unscrupulous. 'T is a miniature presentment of
what's going on everywhere in earth and sky."
She shook her head again.
"YOU see the earth and sky through black spectacles, I 'm afraid,"
she remarked, with a long face. But there was still an underglow of
amusement in her eyes.
"No," he answered, "because there's a compensation. As you rise
in the scale of moral development, it is true, you pass from the
category of the snatchers to the category of the snatched-from, and
your ultimate extinction is assured. But, on the other hand, you gain
talents and sensibilities. You do not live by bread alone. These
goldfinches, for a case in point, can sing—and they have your
sympathy. The sparrows can only make a horrid noise—and you contemn
them. That is the compensation. The snatchers can never know the joy
of singing —or of being pitied by ladies."
"N . . . o, perhaps not," she consented doubtfully. The underglow
of amusement in her eyes shone nearer to the surface. "But—but they
can never know, either, the despair of the singer when his songs won't
"Or when the ladies are pitiless. That is true," consented Peter.
"And meanwhile they get the bread, crumbs," she said.
"They certainly get the bread-crumbs," he admitted.
"I 'm afraid "—she smiled, as one who has conducted a syllogism
safely to its conclusion—"I 'm afraid I do not think your
"To be quite honest, I daresay it does n't," he confessed.
"And anyhow"—she followed her victory up—"I should not wish my
garden to represent the universal war. I should not wish my garden to
be a battle-field. I should wish it to be a retreat from the
battle—an abode of peace—a happy valley—a sanctuary for the
"But why distress one's soul with wishes that are vain?" asked he.
"What could one do?"
"One could keep a dragon," she answered promptly. "If I were you,
I should keep a sparrow-devouring, finch-respecting dragon."
"It would do no good," said he. "You'd get rid of one species of
snatcher, but some other species of snatcher would instantly pop UP."
She gazed at him with those amused eyes of hers, and still again,
slowly, sorrowfully, shook her head.
"Oh, your spectacles are black—black," she murmured.
"I hope not," said he; "but such as they are, they show me the
inevitable conditions of our planet. The snatcher, here below, is
ubiquitous and eternal—as ubiquitous, as eternal, as the force of
gravitation. He is likewise protean. Banish him—he takes half a
minute to change his visible form, and returns au galop. Sometimes
he's an ugly little cacophonous brown sparrow; sometimes he's a
splendid florid money-lender, or an aproned and obsequious
greengrocer, or a trusted friend, hearty and familiar. But he 's
always there; and he's always—if you don't mind the vernacular—'on
The Duchessa arched her eyebrows.
"If things are really at such a sorry pass," she said, "I will
commend my former proposal to you with increased confidence. You
should keep a dragon. After all, you only wish to protect your
garden; and that"—she embraced it with her glance—"is not so very
big. You could teach your dragon, if you procured one of an
intelligent breed, to devour greengrocers, trusted friends, and even
moneylenders too (tough though no doubt they are), as well as
"Your proposal is a surrender to my contention," said Peter. "You
would set a snatcher to catch the snatchers. Other heights in other
lives, perhaps. But in the dark backward and abysm of space to which
our lives are confined, the snatcher is indigenous and inexpugnable."
The Duchessa looked at the sunny landscape, the bright lawns, the
high bending trees, with the light caught in the network of their
million leaves; she looked at the laughing white villas westward, the
pale-green vineyards, the yellow cornfields; she looked at the rushing
river, with the diamonds sparkling on its surface, at the far-away
gleaming snows of Monte Sfiorito, at the scintillant blue shy
Then she looked at Peter, a fine admixture of mirth with something
like gravity in her smile.
"The dark backward and abysm of space?" she repeated. "And you do
not wear black spectacles? Then it must be that your eyes themselves
are just a pair of black-seeing pessimists."
"On the contrary," triumphed Peter, "it is because they are
optimists, that they suspect there must be forwarder and more
luminous regions than the Solar System."
The Duchessa laughed.
"I think you have the prettiest mouth, and the most exquisite
little teeth, and the eyes richest in promise, and the sweetest
laughter, of any woman out of Paradise," said Peter, in the silence
of his soul.
"It is clear I shall never be your match in debate," said she.
Peter made a gesture of deprecating modesty.
"But I wonder," she went on, "whether you would put me down as
'another species of snatcher,' if I should ask you to spare me just
the merest end of a crust of bread?" And she lifted those eyes rich
in promise appealingly to his.
"Oh, I beg of you—take all I have," he responded, with effusion.
"Toss," she commanded tersely.
So he tossed what was left of his bread into the air, above the
river; and the Duchessa, easily, deftly, threw up a hand, and caught
it on the wing.
"Thank you very much," she laughed, with a little bow.
Then she crumbled the bread, and began to sprinkle the ground with
it; and in an instant she was the centre of a cloud of birds. Peter
was at liberty to watch her, to admire the swift grace of her motions,
their suggestion of delicate strength, of joy in things physical, and
the lithe elasticity of her figure, against the background of satiny
lawn, and the further vistas of lofty sunlit trees. She was dressed
in white, as always—a frock of I know not what supple fabric, that
looked as if you might have passed it through your ring, and fell in
multitudes of small soft creases. Two big red roses drooped from her
bodice. She wore a garden-hat, of white straw, with a big daring
rose-red bow, under which the dense meshes of her hair, warmly dark,
dimly bright, shimmered in a blur of brownish gold.
"What vigour, what verve, what health," thought Peter, watching
her, "what—lean, fresh, fragrant health!" And he had, no doubt, his
She bestowed her bread crumbs on the birds; but she was able,
somehow, to discriminate mightily in favour of the goldfinches. She
would make a diversion, the semblance of a fling, with her empty right
hand; and the too-greedy sparrows would dart off, avid, on that false
lead. Whereupon, quickly, stealthily, she would rain a little shower
of crumbs, from her left hand, on the grass beside her, to a confiding
group of finches assembled there. And if ever a sparrow ventured to
intrude his ruffianly black beak into this sacred quarter, she would
manage, with a kind of restrained ferocity, to "shoo" him away,
without thereby frightening the finches.
And all the while her eyes laughed; and there was colour in her
cheeks; and there was the forceful, graceful action of her body.
When the bread was finished, she clapped her hands together
gently, to dust the last mites from them, and looked over at Peter,
and smiled significantly.
"Yes," he acknowledged, "you outwitted them very skilfully. You,
at any rate, have no need of a dragon."
"Oh, in default of a dragon, one can do dragon's work oneself,"
she answered lightly. "Or, rather, one can make oneself an
instrument of justice."
"All the same, I should call it uncommonly hard luck to be born a
sparrow—within your jurisdiction," he said.
"It is not an affair of luck," said she. "One is born a
sparrow—within my jurisdiction—for one's sins in a former
state.—No, you little dovelings"—she turned to a pair of finches on
the greensward near her, who were lingering, and gazing up into her
face with hungry, expectant eyes—"I have no more. I have given you
my all." And she stretched out her open hands, palms downwards, to
"The sparrows got nothing; and the goldfinches, who got 'your
all,' grumble because you gave so little," said Peter, sadly. "That
is what comes of interfering with the laws of Nature." And then, as
the two birds flew away, "See the dark, doubtful, reproachful glances
with which they cover you."
"You think they are ungrateful?" she said. "No—listen."
She held up a finger.
For, at that moment, on the branch of an acacia, just over her
head, a goldfinch began to sing—his thin, sweet, crystalline trill
"Do you call that grumbling?" she asked.
"It implies a grumble," said Peter, "like the 'thank you' of a
servant dissatisfied with his tip. It's the very least he can do.
It's perfunctory—I 'm not sure it is n't even ironical."
"Perfunctory! Ironical!" cried the Duchessa. "Look at him! He's
warbling his delicious little soul out."
They both paused to look and listen.
The bird's gold-red bosom palpitated. He marked his modulations
by sudden emphatic movements of the head. His eyes were fixed
intently before him, as if he could actually see and follow the
shining thread of his song, as it wound away through the air. His
performance had all the effect of a spontaneous rhapsody. When it was
terminated, he looked down at his auditors, eager, inquisitive, as who
should say, "I hope you liked it?"—and then, with a nod clearly meant
as a farewell, flew out of sight.
The Duchessa smiled again at Peter, with intention.
"You must really try to take a cheerier view of things," she said.
And next instant she too was off, walking slowly, lightly, up the
green lawns, between the trees, towards the castle, her gown
fluttering in the breeze, now dazzling white as she came into the sun,
now pearly grey as she passed into the shade.
"What a woman it is," said Peter to himself, looking after her.
"What vigour, what verve, what sex! What a woman!"
And, indeed, there was nothing of the too-prevalent epicene in the
Duchessa's aspect; she was very certainly a woman. "Heavens, how she
walks!" he cried in a deep whisper.
But then a sudden wave of dejection swept over him. At first he
could not account for it. By and by, however, a malicious little
voice began to repeat and repeat within him, "Oh, the futile
impression you must have made upon her! Oh, the ineptitudes you
uttered! Oh, the precious opportunity you have misemployed!"
"You are a witch," he said to Marietta. "You've proved it to the
hilt. I 've seen the person, and the object is more desperately lost
That evening, among the letters Peter received from England, there
was one from his friend Mrs. Winchfield, which contained certain
"Your Duchessa di Santangiolo 'was' indeed, as your funny old
servant told you, English: the only child and heiress of the last
Lord Belfont. The Belfonts of Lancashire (now, save for your
Duchessa, extinct) were the most bigoted sort of Roman Catholics, and
always educated their daughters in foreign convents, and as often as
not married them to foreigners. The Belfont men, besides, were ever
and anon marrying foreign wives; so there will be a goodish deal of
un-English blood in your Duchessa's own ci-devant English veins.
"She was born, as I learn from an indiscretion of my Peerage, in
1870, and is, therefore, as near to thirty (the dangerous age!) as to
the six-and-twenty your droll old Marietta gives her. Her Christian
names are Beatrice Antonia Teresa Mary —faites en votre choix. She
was married at nineteen to Baldassarre Agosto, Principe Udeschini,
Duca di Santangiolo, Marchese di Castellofranco, Count of the Holy
Roman Empire, Knight of the Holy Ghost and of St. Gregory, (does it
take your breath away?), who, according to Frontin, died in '93; and
as there were no children, his brother Felipe Lorenzo succeeded to
the titles. A younger brother still is Bishop of Sardagna. Cardinal
Udeschini is the uncle.
"That, dear child, empties my sack of information. But perhaps I
have a bigger sack, full of good advice, which I have not yet opened.
And perhaps, on the whole, I will not open it at all. Only, remember
that in yonder sentimental Italian lake country, in this summer
weather, a solitary young man's fancy might be much inclined to turn
to thoughts of—folly; and keep an eye on my friend Peter Marchdale."
Our solitary young man brooded over Mrs. Winchfield's letter for a
"The daughter of a lord, and the widow of a duke, and the
niece-in-law of a cardinal," he said. "And, as if that were not
enough, a bigoted Roman Catholic into the bargain . . . . And yet—and
yet," he went on, taking heart a little, "as for her bigotry, to judge
by her assiduity in attending the village church, that factor, at
least, thank goodness, would appear to be static, rather than
After another longish interval of brooding, he sauntered down to
the riverside, through his fragrant garden, fragrant and fresh with
the cool odours of the night, and peered into the darkness, towards
Castel Ventirose. Here and there he could discern a gleam of yellow,
where some lighted window was not entirely hidden by the trees.
Thousands and thousands of insects were threading the silence with
their shrill insistent voices. The repeated wail, harsh, prolonged,
eerie, of some strange wild creature, bird or beast, came down from
the forest of the Gnisi. At his feet, on the troubled surface of the
Aco, the stars, reflected and distorted, shone like broken
He lighted a cigarette, and stood there till he had consumed it.
"Heigh-ho!" he sighed at last, and turned back towards the villa.
And "Yes," he concluded, "I must certainly keep an eye on our friend
"But I 'm doubting it's a bit too late—troppo tardo," he said to
Marietta, whom he found bringing hot water to his dressing-room.
"It is not very late," said Marietta. "Only half-past ten."
"She is a woman—therefore to be loved; she is a duchess
—therefore to be lost," he explained, in his native tongue.
"Cosa." questioned Marietta, in hers.
Beatrice and Emilia, strolling together in one of the flowery
lanes up the hillside, between ranks of the omnipresent poplar, and
rose-bush hedges, or crumbling pink-stuccoed walls that dripped with
cyclamen and snapdragon, met old Marietta descending, with a basket on
Marietta courtesied to the ground.
"How do you do, Marietta?" Beatrice asked.
"I can't complain, thank your Grandeur. I have the lumbago on and
off pretty constantly, and last week I broke a tooth. But I can't
complain. And your Highness?"
Marietta returned, with brisk aplomb.
Beatrice smiled. "Bene, grazie. Your new master—that young
Englishman," she continued, "I hope you find him kind, and easy to do
"Kind—yes, Excellency. Also easy to do for. But—!" Marietta
shrugged her shoulders, and gave her head two meaning oscillations.
"Oh—?" wondered Beatrice, knitting puzzled brows.
"Very amiable, your Greatness; but simple, simple," Marietta
explained, and tapped her brown old forehead with a brown forefinger.
"Really—?" wondered Beatrice.
"Yes, Nobility," said Marietta. "Gentle as a canarybird, but
"You astonish me," Beatrice avowed. "How does he show it?"
"The questions he asks, Most Illustrious, the things he says."
"For example—?" pursued Beatrice.
"For example, your Serenity—" Marietta paused, to search her
memory.—" Well, for one example, he calls roast veal a fowl. I give
him roast veal for his luncheon, and he says to me, 'Marietta, this
fowl has no wings.' But everyone knows, your Mercy, that veal is not
a fowl. How should veal have wings?"
"How indeed?" assented Beatrice, on a note of commiseration. And
if the corners of her mouth betrayed a tendency to curve upwards, she
immediately compelled them down. "But perhaps he does not speak
Italian very well?" she suggested.
"Mache, Potenza! Everyone speaks Italian," cried Marietta.
"Indeed?" said Beatrice.
"Naturally, your Grace—all Christians," Marietta declared.
"Oh, I did n't know," said Beatrice, meekly. "Well," she
acknowledged, "since he speaks Italian, it is certainly unreasonable
of him to call veal a fowl."
"But that, Magnificence," Marietta went on, warming to her theme,
"that is only one of his simplicities. He asks me, 'Who puts the
whitewash on Monte Sfiorito? 'And when I tell him that it is not
whitewash, but snow, he says, 'How do you know?' But everyone knows
that it is snow. Whitewash!"
The sprightly old woman gave her whole body a shake, for the
better exposition of her state of mind. And thereupon, from the
interior of her basket, issued a plaintive little squeal.
"What have you in your basket?" Beatrice asked.
"A little piglet, Nobility—un piccolo porcellino," said Marietta.
And lifting the cover an inch or two, she displayed the anxious
face of a poor little sucking pig.
"E carino?" she demanded, whilst her eyes beamed with a pride that
almost seemed maternal.
"What on earth are you going to do with him?" Beatrice gasped.
The light of pride gave place to a light of resolution, in
"Kill him, Mightiness," was her grim response; "stuff him with
almonds, raisins, rosemary, and onions; cook him sweet and sour; and
serve him, garnished with rosettes of beet-root, for my Signorino's
"Oh-h-h!" shuddered Beatrice and Emilia, in a breath; and they
resumed their walk.
Francois was dining—with an appearance of great fervour.
Peter sat on his rustic bench, by the riverside, and watched him,
smoking a cigarette the while.
The Duchessa di Santangiolo stood screened by a tree in the park
of Ventirose, and watched them both.
Francois wore a wide blue ribbon round his pink and chubby neck;
and his dinner consisted of a big bowlful of bread and milk.
Presently the Duchessa stepped forth from her ambush, into the
sun, and laughed.
"What a sweetly pretty scene," she said. "Pastoral—idyllic —it
reminds one of Theocritus—it reminds one of Watteau."
Peter threw his cigarette into the river, and made an obeisance.
"I am very glad you feel the charm of it," he responded. "May I
be permitted to present Master Francois Vllon?"
"We have met before," said the Duchessa, graciously smiling upon
Francois, and inclining her head.
"Oh, I did n't know," said Peter, apologetic.
"Yes," said the Duchessa, "and in rather tragical circumstances.
But at that time he was anonymous. Why—if you won't think my
curiosity impertinent—why Francois Villon?"
"Why not?" said Peter. "He made such a tremendous outcry when he
was condemned to death, for one thing. You should have heard him. He
has a voice! Then, for another, he takes such a passionate interest
in his meat and drink. And then, if you come to that, I really had
n't the heart to call him Pauvre Lelian."
The Duchessa raised amused eyebrows.
"You felt that Pauvre Lelian was the only alternative?"
"I had in mind a remark of Pauvre Lilian's friend and confrere,
the cryptic Stephane," Peter answered. "You will remember it. 'L'ame
d'un poete dans le corps d'un—' I—I forget the last word," he
"Shall we say 'little pig'?" suggested the Duchessa.
"Oh, please don't," cried Peter, hastily, with a gesture of
supplication. "Don't say 'pig' in his presence. You'll wound his
The Duchessa laughed.
"I knew he was condemned to death," she owned. "Indeed, it was in
his condemned cell that I made his acquaintance. Your Marietta
Cignolesi introduced us. Her air was so inexorable, I 'm a good deal
surprised to see him alive to-day. There was some question of a
stuffing of rosemary and onions."
"Ah, I see," said Peter, "I see that you're familiar with the
whole disgraceful story. Yes, Marietta, the unspeakable old Tartar,
was all for stuffing him with rosemary and onions. But he could not
bring himself to share her point of view. He screamed his protest,
like a man, in twenty different octaves. You really should have heard
him. His voice is of a compass, of a timbre, of an expressiveness!
Passive endurance, I fear, is not his forte. For the sake of peace
and silence, I intervened, interceded. She had her knife at his very
throat. I was not an instant too soon. So, of course, I 've had to
"Of course, poor man," sympathised the Duchessa. "It's a
recognised principle that if you save a fellow's life, you 're bound
to him for the rest of yours. But—but won't you find him rather a
burdensome responsibility when he's grownup?" she reflected.
"—Que voulez-vous?" reflected Peter. "Burdensome
responsibilities are the appointed accompaniments of man's
pilgrimage. Why not Francois Villon, as well as another? And
besides, as the world is at present organised, a member of the class
vulgarly styled 'the rich' can generally manage to shift his
responsibilities, when they become too irksome, upon the backs of the
poor. For example—Marietta! Marietta!" he called, raising his voice
a little, and clapping his hands.
Marietta came. When she had made her courtesy to the Duchessa,
and a polite enquiry as to her Excellency's health, Peter said, with
an indicative nod of the head, "Will you be so good as to remove my
"Il porcellino?" questioned Marietta.
"Ang," said he.
And when Marietta had borne Francois, struggling and squealing in
her arms, from the foreground—
"There—you see how it is done," he remarked.
The Duchessa laughed.
"An object-lesson," she agreed. "An object-lesson in—might n't
one call it the science of Applied Cynicism?"
"Science!" Peter plaintively repudiated the word. "No, no. I was
rather flattering myself it was an art."
"Apropos of art—" said the Duchessa.
She came down two or three steps nearer to the brink of the river.
She produced from behind her back a hand that she had kept there, and
held up for Peter's inspection a grey-and-gold bound book.
"Apropos of art, I've been reading a novel. Do you know it?"
Peter glanced at the grey-and-gold binding—and dissembled the
emotion that suddenly swelled big in his heart.
He screwed his eyeglass into his eye, and gave an intent look.
"I can't make out the title," he temporised, shaking his head, and
letting his eyeglass drop.
On the whole, it was very well acted; and I hope the occult little
smile that played about the Duchessa's lips was a smile of
"It has a highly appropriate title," she said. "It is called 'A
Man of Words,' by an author I've never happened to hear of before,
named Felix Wildmay."
"Oh, yes. How very odd," said Peter. "By a curious chance, I
know it very well. But I 'm surprised to discover that you do. How
on earth did it fall into your hands?"
"Why on earth shouldn't it?" wondered she. "Novels are intended
to fall into people's hands, are they not?"
"I believe so," he assented. "But intentions, in this vale of
tears, are not always realised, are they? Anyhow, 'A Man of Words'
is not like other novels. It's peculiar."
"Peculiar—?" she repeated.
"Of a peculiar, of an unparalleled obscurity," he explained.
"There has been no failure approaching it since What's-his-name
invented printing. I hadn't supposed that seven copies of it were in
"Really?" said the Duchessa. "A correspondent of mine in London
recommended it. But—in view of its unparalleled obscurity is n't it
almost equally a matter for surprise that you should know it?"
"It would be, sure enough," consented Peter, "if it weren't that I
just happen also to know the author."
"Oh—? You know the author?" cried the Duchessa, with animation.
"Comme ma poche," said Peter. "We were boys together."
"Really?" said she. "What a coincidence."
"Yes," said he.
"And—and his book?" Her eyebrows went up, interrogative. "I
expect, as you know the man, you think rather poorly of it?"
"On the contrary, in the teeth of verisimilitude, I think
extremely well of it," he answered firmly. "I admire it immensely.
I think it's an altogether ripping little book. I think it's one of
the nicest little books I've read for ages.
"How funny," said she.
"Why funny?" asked he.
"It's so unlikely that one should seem a genius to one's old
"Did I say he seemed a genius to me? I misled you. He does n't.
In fact, he very frequently seems—but, for Charity's sake, I 'd best
forbear to tell. However, I admire his book. And—to be entirely
frank—it's a constant source of astonishment to me that he should
ever have been able to do anything one-tenth so good."
The Duchessa smiled pensively.
"Ah, well," she mused, "we must assume that he has happy
moments—or, perhaps, two soul-sides, one to face the world with, one
to show his manuscripts when he's writing. You hint a fault, and
hesitate dislike. That, indeed, is only natural, on the part of an
old friend. But you pique my interest. What is the trouble with him?
Is—is he conceited, for example?"
"The trouble with him?" Peter pondered. "Oh, it would be too long
and too sad a story. Should I anatomise him to you as he is, I must
blush and weep, and you must look pale and wonder. He has pretty
nearly every weakness, not to mention vices, that flesh is heir to.
But as for conceit . . . let me see. He concurs in my own high
opinion of his work, I believe; but I don't know whether, as literary
men go, it would be fair to call him conceited. He belongs, at any
rate, to the comparatively modest minority who do not secretly fancy
that Shakespeare has come back to life."
"That Shakespeare has come back to life!" marvelled the Duchessa.
"Do you mean to say that most literary men fancy that?"
"I think perhaps I am acquainted with three who don't," Peter
replied; "but one of them merely wears his rue with a difference. He
fancies that it's Goethe."
"How extravagantly—how exquisitely droll!" she laughed.
"I confess, it struck me so, until I got accustomed to it," said
he, "until I learned that it was one of the commonplaces, one of the
normal attributes of the literary temperament. It's as much to be
taken for granted, when you meet an author, as the tail is to be taken
for granted, when you meet a cat."
"I'm vastly your debtor for the information—it will stand me in
stead with the next author who comes my way. But, in that case, your
friend Mr. Felix Wildmay will be, as it were, a sort of Manx cat?" was
her smiling deduction.
"Yes, if you like, in that particular, a sort of Manx cat,"
acquiesced Peter, with a laugh.
The Duchessa laughed too; and then there was a little pause.
Overhead, never so light a breeze lisped never so faintly in the
tree-tops; here and there bird-notes fell, liquid, desultory, like
drops of rain after a shower; and constantly one heard the cool music
of the river. The sun, filtering through worlds and worlds of leaves,
shed upon everything a green-gold penumbra. The air, warm and still,
was sweet with garden-scents. The lake, according to its habit at
this hour of the afternoon, had drawn a grey veil over its face, a
thin grey veil, through which its sapphire-blue shone furtively. Far
away, in the summer haze, Monte Sfiorito seemed a mere dim spectre of
itself—a stranger might easily have mistaken it for a vague mass of
cloud floating above the horizon.
"Are you aware that it 's a singularly lovely afternoon?" the
Duchessa asked, by and by.
"I have a hundred reasons for thinking it so," Peter hazarded,
with the least perceptible approach to a meaning bow.
In the Duchessa's face, perhaps, there flickered, for
half-a-second, the least perceptible light, as of a comprehending and
unresentful smile. But she went on, with fine aloofness.
"I rather envy you your river, you know. We are too far from it
at the castle. Is n't the sound, the murmur, of it delicious? And
its colour—how does it come by such a subtle colour? Is it green?
Is it blue? And the diamonds on its surface—see how they glitter.
You know, of course," she questioned, "who the owner is of those
"Surely," Peter answered, "the lady paramount of this demesne?"
"No, no." She shook her head, smiling. "Undine. They are
Undine's—her necklaces and tiaras. No mortal woman's jewel-case
contains anything half so brilliant. But look at them—look at the
long chains of them—how they float for a minute—and are then drawn
down. They are Undine's—Undine and her companions are sporting with
them just below the surface. A moment ago I caught a glimpse of a
"Ah," said Peter, nodding thoughtfully, "that's what it is to have
'the seeing eye.' But I'm grieved to hear of Undine in such a wanton
mood. I had hoped she would still be weeping her unhappy
"What! with that horrid, stolid German—Hildebrandt, was his
name?" cried the Duchessa. "Not she! Long ago, I'm glad to say, she
learned to laugh at that, as a mere caprice of her immaturity.
However, this is a digression. I want to return to our 'Man of
Words.' Tell me—what is the quality you especially like in it?"
"I like its every quality," Peter affirmed, unblushing. "Its
style, its finish, its concentration; its wit, humour, sentiment; its
texture, tone, atmosphere; its scenes, its subject; the paper it's
printed on, the type, the binding. But above all, I like its heroine.
I think Pauline de Fleuvieres the pearl of human women—the
cleverest, the loveliest, the most desirable, the most exasperating.
And also the most feminine. I can't think of her at all as a mere
fiction, a mere shadow on paper. I think of her as a living,
breathing, flesh-and-blood woman, whom I have actually known. I can
see her before me now—I can see her eyes, full of mystery and
mischief—I can see her exquisite little teeth, as she smiles —I can
see her hair, her hands—I can almost catch the perfume of her
garments. I 'm utterly infatuated with her—I could commit a hundred
follies for her."
"Mercy!" exclaimed the Duchessa. "You are enthusiastic."
"The book's admirers are so few, they must endeavour to make up in
enthusiasm what they lack in numbers," he submitted.
"But—at that rate—why are they so few?" she puzzled. "If the
book is all you think it, how do you account for its unpopularity?"
"It could never conceivably be anything but unpopular," said he.
"It has the fatal gift of beauty."
The Duchessa laughed surprise.
"Is beauty a fatal gift—in works of art?"
"Yes—in England," he declared.
"In England? Why especially in England?"
"In English-speaking—in Anglo-Saxon lands, if you prefer. The
Anglo-Saxon public is beauty-blind. They have fifty religions —only
one sauce—and no sense of beauty whatsoever. They can see the nose
on one's face—the mote in their neighbour's eye; they can see when a
bargain is good, when a war will be expedient. But the one thing they
can never see is beauty. And when, by some rare chance, you catch them
in the act of admiring a beautiful object, it will never be for its
beauty —it will be in spite of its beauty for some other, some
extra-aesthetic interest it possesses—some topical or historical
interest. Beauty is necessarily detached from all that is topical or
historical, or documentary or actual. It is also necessarily an
effect of fine shades, delicate values, vanishing distinctions, of
evasiveness, inconsequence, suggestion. It is also absolute,
unrelated—it is positive or negative or superlative—it is never
comparative. Well, the Anglo-Saxon public is totally insensible to
such things. They can no more feel them, than a blind worm can feel
the colours of the rainbow."
She laughed again, and regarded him with an air of humorous
"And that accounts for the unsuccess of 'A Man of Words'?"
"You might as well offer Francois Villon a banquet of Orient
"You are bitterly hard on the Anglo-Saxon public."
"Oh, no," he disclaimed, "not hard—but just. I wish them all
sorts of prosperity, with a little more taste."
"Oh, but surely," she caught him up, "if their taste were greater,
their prosperity would be less?"
"I don't know," said he. "The Greeks were fairly prosperous, were
n't they? And the Venetians? And the French are not yet quite
Still again she laughed—always with that little air of humorous
"You—you don't exactly overwhelm one with compliments," she
He looked alarm, anxiety.
"Don't I? What have I neglected?" he cried.
"You 've never once evinced the slightest curiosity to learn what
I think of the book in question."
"Oh, I'm sure you like it," he rejoined hardily. "You have 'the
"And yet I'm just a humble member of the Anglo-Saxon public."
"No—you're a distinguished member of the Anglo-Saxon 'remnant.'
Thank heaven, there's a remnant, a little scattered remnant. I'm
perfectly sure you like 'A Man of Words.'"
"'Like it' is a proposition so general. Perhaps I am burning to
tell someone what I think of it in detail."
She smiled into his eyes, a trifle oddly.
"If you are, then I know someone who is burning to hear you," he
"Well, then, I think—I think . . . " she began, on a note of
deliberation. "But I 'm afraid, just now, it would take too long to
formulate my thought. Perhaps I'll try another day."
She gave him a derisory little nod—and in a minute was well up
the lawn, towards the castle.
Peter glared after her, his fists clenched, teeth set.
"You fiend!" he muttered. Then, turning savagely upon himself,
Nevertheless, that evening, he said to Marietta, "The plot
thickens. We've advanced a step. We've reached what the vulgar call
a psychological moment. She's seen my Portrait of a Lady. But as
yet, if you can believe me, she doesn't dream who painted it; and she
has n't recognised the subject. As if one were to face one's image in
the glass, and take it for another's! 3—I 'll—I 'll double your
wages—if you will induce events to hurry up."
However, as he spoke English, Marietta was in no position to
profit by his offer.
Peter was walking in the high-road, on the other side of the
river—the great high-road that leads from Bergamo to Milan.
It was late in the afternoon, and already, in the west, the sky
was beginning to put on some of its sunset splendours. In the east,
framed to Peter's vision by parallel lines of poplars, it hung like a
curtain of dark-blue velvet.
Peter sat on the grass, by the roadside, in the shadow of a
hedge—a rose-bush hedge, of course—and lighted a cigarette.
Far down the long white road, against the blue velvet sky, between
the poplars, two little spots of black, two small human figures, were
moving towards him.
Half absently, he let his eyes accompany them.
As they carne nearer, they defined themselves as a boy and a girl.
Nearer still, he saw that they were ragged and dusty and barefoot.
The boy had three or four gaudy-hued wicker baskets slung over his
Vaguely, tacitly, Peter supposed that they would be the children
of some of the peasants of the countryside, on their way home from the
As they arrived abreast of him, they paid him the usual peasants'
salute. The boy lifted a tattered felt hat from his head, the girl
bobbed a courtesy, and "Buona sera, Eccellenza," they said in concert,
without, however, pausing in their march.
Peter put his hand in his pocket.
"Here, little girl," he called.
The little girl glanced at him, doubting.
"Come here," he said.
Her face a question, she came up to him; and he gave her a few
"To buy sweetmeats," he said.
"A thousand thanks; Excellency," said she, bobbing another
"A thousand thanks, Excellency," said the boy, from his distance,
again lifting his rag of a hat.
And they trudged on.
But Peter looked after them—and his heart smote him. They were
clearly of the poorest of the poor. He thought of Hansel and Gretel.
Why had he given them so little? He called to them to stop.
The little girl came running back.
Peter rose to meet her.
"You may as well buy some ribbons too," he said, and gave her a
couple of lire.
She looked at the money with surprise—even with an appearance of
hesitation. Plainly, it was a sum, in her eyes.
"It's all right. Now run along," said Peter.
"A thousand thanks, Excellency," said she, with a third courtesy,
and rejoined her brother . . . .
"Where are they going?" asked a voice.
Peter faced about.
There stood the Duchessa, in a bicycling costume, her bicycle
beside her. Her bicycling costume was of blue serge, and she wore a
jaunty sailor-hat with a blue ribbon. Peter (in spite of the
commotion in his breast) was able to remember that this was the first
time he had seen her in anything but white.
Her attention was all upon the children, whom he, perhaps, had
more or less banished to Cracklimbo.
"Where are they going?" she repeated, trouble in her voice and in
Peter collected himself.
"The children? I don't know—I didn't ask. Home, aren't they?"
"Home? Oh, no. They don't live hereabouts," she said. "I know
all the poor of this neighbourhood.—Ohe there! Children! Children!"
But they were quite a hundred yards away, and did not hear.
"Do you wish them to come back?" asked Peter.
"Yes—of course," she answered, with a shade of impatience.
He put his fingers to his lips (you know the schoolboy
accomplishment), and gave a long whistle.
That the children did hear.
They halted, and turned round, looking, enquiring.
"Come back—come back!" called the Duchessa, raising her hand, and
They came back.
"The pathetic little imps," she murmured while they were on the
The boy was a sturdy, square-built fellow, of twelve, thirteen,
with a shock of brown hair, brown cheeks, and sunny brown eyes; with
a precocious air of doggedness, of responsibility. He wore an old
tail-coat, the tail-coat of a man, ragged, discoloured, falling to his
The girl was ten or eleven, pale, pinched; hungry, weary, and
sorry looking. Her hair too had been brown, upon a time; but now it
was faded to something near the tint of ashes, and had almost the
effect of being grey. Her pale little forehead was crossed by thin
wrinkles, lines of pain, of worry, like an old woman's.
The Duchessa, pushing her bicycle, and followed by Peter, moved
down the road, to meet them. Peter had never been so near to her
before—at moments her arm all but brushed his sleeve. I think he
blessed the children.
"Where are you going?" the Duchessa asked, softly, smiling into
the girl's sad little face.
The girl had shown no fear of Peter; but apparently she was
somewhat frightened by this grand lady. The toes of her bare feet
worked nervously in the dust. She hung her head shyly, and eyed her
But the brother, removing his hat, with the bow of an Italian
peasant—and that is to say, the bow of a courtier—spoke up bravely.
"To Turin, Nobility."
He said it in a perfectly matter-of-fact way, quite as he might
have said, "To the next farm-house."
The Duchessa, however, had not bargained for an answer of this
measure. Startled, doubting her ears perhaps, "To—Turin—!" she
"Yes, Excellency," said the boy.
"But—but Turin—Turin is hundreds of kilometres from here," she
said, in a kind of gasp.
"Yes, Excellency," said the boy.
"You are going to Turin—you two children—walking—like that!"
"But—but it will take you a month."
"Pardon, noble lady," said the boy. "With your Excellency's
permission, we were told it should take fifteen days."
"Where do you come from?" she asked.
"From Bergamo, Excellency."
"When did you leave Bergamo?"
"Yesterday morning, Excellency."
"The little girl is your sister?"
"Have you a mother and father?"
"A father, Excellency. The mother is dead." Each of the children
made the Sign of the Cross; and Peter was somewhat surprised, no
doubt, to see the Duchessa do likewise. He had yet to learn the
beautiful custom of that pious Lombard land, whereby, when the Dead
are mentioned, you make the Sign of the Cross, and, pausing reverently
for a moment, say in silence the traditional prayer of the Church:
"May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the Mercy of God, rest in peace."
"And where is your father?" the Duchessa asked.
"In Turin, Excellency," answered the boy. "He is a glass-blower.
After the strike at Bergamo, he went to Turin to seek work. Now he
has found it. So he has sent for us to come to him."
"And you two children—alone—are going to walk all the way to
Turin!" She could not get over the pitiful wonder of it.
"The heart-rending little waifs," she said, in English, with
something like a sob. Then, in Italian, "But—but how do you live by
The boy touched his shoulder-load of baskets.
"We sell these, Excellency."
"What is their price?" she asked.
"Thirty soldi, Excellency."
"Have you sold many since you started?"
The boy looked away; and now it was his turn to hang his head, and
to let his toes work nervously in the dust.
"Haven't you sold any?" she exclaimed, drawing her conclusions.
"No, Excellency. The people would not buy," he owned, in a dull
voice, keeping his eyes down.
"Poverino," she murmured. "Where are you going to sleep
"In a house, Excellency," said he.
But that seemed to strike the Duchessa as somewhat vague.
"In what house?" she asked.
"I do not know, Excellency," he confessed. "We will find a
"Would you like to come back with me, and sleep at my house?"
The boy and girl looked at each other, taking mute counsel.
Then, "Pardon, noble lady—with your Excellency's permission, is
it far?" the boy questioned.
"I am afraid it is not very near—three or four kilometres."
Again the children looked at each other, conferring. Afterwards,
the boy shook his head.
"A thousand thanks, Excellency. With your permission, we must not
turn back. We must walk on till later. At night we will find a
"They are too proud to own that their house will be a hedge," she
said to Peter, again in English. "Aren't you hungry?" she asked the
"No, Excellency. We had bread in the village, below there,"
answered the boy.
"You will not come home with me, and have a good dinner, and a
good night's sleep?"
"Pardon, Excellency. With your favour, the father would not wish
us to turn back."
The Duchessa looked at the little girl.
The little girl wore a medal of the Immaculate Conception on a
ribbon round her neck—a forlorn blue ribbon, soiled and frayed.
"Oh, you have a holy medal," said the Duchessa.
"Yes, noble lady," said the girl, dropping a courtesy, and lifting
up her sad little weazened face.
"She has been saying her prayers all along the road," the boy
"That is right," approved the Duchessa. "You have not made your
First Communion yet, have you?"
"No, Excellency," said the girl. "I shall make it next year."
"And you?" the Duchessa asked the boy.
"I made mine at Corpus Christi," said the boy, with a touch of
The Duchessa turned to Peter.
"Do you know, I haven't a penny in my pocket. I have come out
without my purse."
"How much ought one to give them?" Peter asked.
"Of course, there is the fear that they might be robbed," she
reflected. "If one should give them a note of any value, they would
have to change it; and they would probably be robbed. What to do?"
"I will speak to the boy," said Peter. "Would you like to go to
Turin by train?" he asked.
The boy and girl looked at each other. Yes, Excellency," said the
"But if I give you money for your fare, will you know how to take
care of it—how to prevent people from robbing you?"
"Oh, yes, Excellency."
"You could take the train this evening, at Venzona, about two
kilometres from here, in the direction you are walking. In an hour
or two you would arrive at Milan; there you would change into the
train for Turin. You would be at Turin to-morrow morning."
"But if I give you money, you will not let people rob you? If I
give you a hundred lire?"
The boy drew back, stared, as if frightened.
"A hundred lire—?" he said.
"Yes," said Peter.
The boy looked at his sister.
"Pardon, Nobility," he said. "With your condescension, does it
cost a hundred lire to go to Turin by train?"
"Oh, no. I think it costs eight or ten."
Again the boy looked at his sister.
"Pardon, Nobility. With your Excellency's permission, we should
not desire a hundred lire then," he said.
Peter and the Duchessa were not altogether to be blamed, I hope,
if they exchanged the merest hint of a smile.
"Well, if I should give you fifty?" Peter asked.
"Fifty lire, Excellency?"
Still again the boy sought counsel of his sister, with his eyes.
"Yes, Excellency," he said.
"You are sure you will be able to take care of it—you will not
let people rob you," the Duchessa put in, anxious. "They will wish
to rob you. If you go to sleep in the train, they will try to pick
"I will hide it, noble lady. No one shall rob me. If I go to
sleep in the train, I will sit on it, and my sister will watch. If
she goes to sleep, I will watch," the boy promised confidently.
"You must give it to him in the smallest change you can possibly
scrape together," she advised Peter.
And with one-lira, two-lira, ten-lira notes, and with a little
silver and copper, he made up the amount.
"A thousand thanks, Excellency," said the boy, with a bow that was
magnificent; and he proceeded to distribute the money between various
"A thousand thanks, Excellency," said the girl, with a courtesy.
"Addio, a buon' viaggio," said Peter.
"Addio, Eccellenze," said the boy.
"Addio, Eccellenze," said the girl.
But the Duchessa impulsively stooped down, and kissed the girl on
her poor little wrinkled brow. And when she stood up, Peter saw that
her eyes were wet.
The children moved off. They moved off, whispering together, and
gesticulating, after the manner of their race: discussing something.
Presently they stopped; and the boy came running back, while his
He doffed his hat, and said, "A thousand pardons, Excellency-"
"Yes? What is it?" Peter asked.
"With your Excellency's favour—is it obligatory that we should
take the train?"
"Obligatory?" puzzled Peter. "How do you mean?"
"If it is not obligatory, we would prefer, with the permission of
your Excellency, to save the money."
"But—but then you will have to walk!" cried Peter.
"But if it is not obligatory to take the train, we would pray your
Excellency's permission to save the money. We should like to save the
money, to give it to the father. The father is very poor. Fifty lire
is so much,"
This time it was Peter who looked for counsel to the Duchessa.
Her eyes, still bright with tears, responded, "Let them do as they
"No, it is not obligatory—it is only recommended," he said to the
boy, with a smile that he could n't help. "Do as you will. But if I
were you, I should spare my poor little feet."
"Mille grazie, Eccellenze," the boy said, with a final sweep of
his tattered hat. He ran back to his sister; and next moment they
were walking resolutely on, westward, "into the great red light."
The Duchessa and Peter were silent for a while, looking after
They dwindled to dots in the distance, and then, where the road
At last the Duchessa spoke—but almost as if speaking to herself.
"There, Felix Wildmay, you writer of tales, is a subject made to
your hand," she said.
We may guess whether Peter was startled. Was it possible that she
had found him out? A sound, confused, embarrassed, something
composite, between an oh and ayes, seemed to expire in his throat.
But the Duchessa did n't appear to heed it.
"Don't you think it would be a touching episode for your friend to
write a story round?" she asked.
We may guess whether he was relieved.
"Oh—oh, yes," he agreed, with the precipitancy of a man who, in
his relief, would agree to anything.
"Have you ever seen such courage?" she went on. "The wonderful
babies! Fancy fifteen days, fifteen days and nights, alone,
unprotected, on the highway, those poor little atoms! Down in their
hearts they are really filled with terror. Who would n't be, with
such a journey before him? But how finely they concealed it, mastered
it! Oh, I hope they won't be robbed. God help them—God help them!"
"God help them, indeed," said Peter.
"And the little girl, with her medal of the Immaculate Conception.
The father, after all, can hardly be the brute one might suspect,
since he has given them a religious education. Oh, I am sure, I am
sure, it was the Blessed Virgin herself who sent us across their path,
in answer to that poor little creature's prayers."
"Yes," said Peter, ambiguously perhaps. But he liked the way in
which she united him to herself in the pronoun.
"Which, of course," she added, smiling gravely into his eyes,
"seems the height of absurdity to you?"
"Why should it seem the height of absurdity to me?" he asked.
"You are a Protestant, I suppose?"
"I suppose so. But what of that? At all events, I believe there
are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in the usual
philosophies. And I see no reason why it should not have been the
Blessed Virgin who sent us across their path."
"What would your Protestant pastors and masters do, if they heard
you? Isn't that what they call Popish superstition?"
"I daresay. But I'm not sure that there's any such thing as
superstition. Superstition, in its essence, is merely a recognition
of the truth that in a universe of mysteries and contradictions, like
ours, nothing conceivable or inconceivable is impossible."
"Oh, no, no," she objected. "Superstition is the belief in
something that is ugly and bad and unmeaning. That is the difference
between superstition and religion. Religion is the belief in
something that is beautiful and good and significant —something that
throws light into the dark places of life—that helps us to see and to
"Yes," said Peter, "I admit the distinction." After a little
suspension, "I thought," he questioned, "that all Catholics were
required to go to Mass on Sunday?"
"Of course—so they are," said she.
"But—but you—" he began.
"I hear Mass not on Sunday only—I hear it every morning of my
"Oh? Indeed? I beg your pardon," he stumbled. "I—one—one
never sees you at the village church."
"No. We have a chapel and a chaplain at the castle."
She mounted her bicycle.
"Good-bye," she said, and lightly rode away.
"So-ho! Her bigotry is not such a negligible quantity, after
all," Peter concluded.
"But what," he demanded of Marietta, as she ministered to his
wants at dinner, "what does one barrier more or less matter, when
people are already divided by a gulf that never can be traversed? You
see that river?" He pointed through his open window to the Aco. "It
is a symbol. She stands on one side of it, I stand on the other, and
we exchange little jokes. But the river is always there, flowing
between us, separating us. She is the daughter of a lord, and the
widow of a duke, and the fairest of her sex, and a millionaire, and a
Roman Catholic. What am I? Oh, I don't deny I 'm clever. But for the
rest? . . . My dear Marietta, I am simply, in one word, the victim
of a misplaced attachment."
"Non capisco Francese," said Marietta.
And after that, for I forget how many days, Peter and the Duchessa
did not meet; and so he sank low and lower in his mind.
Nothing that can befall us, optimists aver, is without its value;
and this, I have heard, is especially true if we happen to be literary
men. All is grist that comes to a writer's mill.
By his present experience, accordingly, Peter learned—and in the
regretful prose of some future masterpiece will perhaps be enabled to
remember—how exceeding great is the impatience of the lovesick, with
what febrile vehemence the smitten heart can burn, and to what
improbable lengths hours and minutes can on occasions stretch
He tried many methods of distraction.
There was always the panorama of his valley—the dark-blue lake,
pale Monte Sfiorito, the frowning Gnisi, the smiling uplands westward.
There were always the sky, the clouds, the clear sunshine, the
crisp-etched shadows; and in the afternoon there was always the
wondrous opalescent haze of August, filling every distance. There was
always his garden—there were the great trees, with the light sifting
through high spaces of feathery green; there were the flowers, the
birds, the bees, the butterflies, with their colour, and their
fragrance, and their music; there was his tinkling fountain, in its
nimbus of prismatic spray; there was the swift, symbolic Aco. And
then, at a half-hour's walk, there was the pretty pink-stuccoed
village, with its hill-top church, its odd little shrines, its
grim-grotesque ossuary, its faded frescoed house-fronts, its busy,
vociferous, out-of-door Italian life: —the cobbler tapping in his
stall; women gossiping at their toilets; children sprawling in the
dirt, chasing each other, shouting; men drinking, playing mora,
quarrelling, laughing, singing, twanging mandolines, at the tables
under the withered bush of the wine-shop; and two or three more
pensive citizens swinging their legs from the parapet of the bridge,
and angling for fish that never bit, in the impetuous stream below.
Peter looked at these things; and, it is to be presumed, he saw
them. But, for all the joy they gave him, he, this cultivator of the
sense of beauty, might have been the basest unit of his own purblind
Anglo-Saxon public. They were the background for an absent figure.
They were the stage-accessories of a drama whose action was arrested.
They were an empty theatre.
He tried to read. He had brought a trunkful of books to Villa
Floriano; but that book had been left behind which could fix his
He tried to write—and wondered, in a kind of daze, that any man
should ever have felt the faintest ambition to do a thing so thankless
and so futile.
"I shall never write again. Writing," he generalised, and
possibly not without some reason, "when it is n't the sordidest of
trades, is a mere fatuous assertion of one's egotism. Breaking stones
in the street were a nobler occupation; weaving ropes of sand were
better sport. The only things that are worth writing are
inexpressible, and can't be written. The only things that can be
written are obvious and worthless—the very crackling of thorns under
a pot. Oh, why does n't she turn up?"
And the worst of it was that at any moment, for aught he knew, she
might turn up. That was the worst of it, and the best. It kept hope
alive, only to torture hope. It encouraged him to wait, to watch, to
expect; to linger in his garden, gazing hungry-eyed up the lawns of
Ventirose, striving to pierce the foliage that embowered the castle;
to wander the country round-about, scanning every vista, scrutinising
every shape and shadow, a tweed-clad Gastibelza. At any moment,
indeed, she might turn up; but the days passed—the hypocritic
days—and she did not turn up.
Marietta, the kind soul, noticing his despondency, sought in
divers artless ways to cheer him.
One evening she burst into his sitting-room with the effect of a
small explosion, excitement in every line of her brown old face and
wiry little figure.
"The fireflies! The fireflies, Signorino!" she cried, with
"What fireflies?" asked he, with phlegm.
"It is the feast of St. Dominic. The fireflies have arrived. They
arrive every year on the feast of St. Dominic. They are the beads of
his rosary. They are St. Dominic's Aves. There are thousands of
them. Come, Signorino, Come and see."
Her black eyes snapped. She waved her hands urgently towards the
Peter languidly got up, languidly crossed the room, looked out.
There were, in truth, thousands of them, thousands and thousands
of tiny primrose flames, circling, fluttering, rising, sinking, in the
purple blackness of the night, like snowflakes in a wind, palpitating
like hearts of living gold—Jove descending upon Danae invisible.
"Son carin', eh?" cried eager Marietta.
"Hum—yes—pretty enough," he grudgingly acknowledged. "But even
so?" the ingrate added, as he turned away, and let himself drop back
into his lounging-chair. "My dear good woman, no amount of prettiness
can disguise the fundamental banality of things. Your fireflies—St.
Dominic's beads, if you like—and, apropos of that, do you know what
they call them in America? —they call them lightning-bugs, if you can
believe me—remark the difference between southern euphuism and
western bluntness —your fireflies are pretty enough, I grant. But
they are tinsel pasted on the Desert of Sahara. They are condiments
added to a dinner of dust and ashes. Life, trick it out as you will,
is just an incubus—is just the Old Man of the Sea. Language fails me
to convey to you any notion how heavily he sits on my poor shoulders.
I thought I had suffered from ennui in my youth. But the malady
merely plays with the green fruit; it reserves its serious ravages for
the ripe. I can promise you 't is not a laughing matter. Have you
ever had a fixed idea? Have you ever spent days and nights racking
your brain, importuning the unanswering Powers, to learn whether there
was —well, whether there was Another Man, for instance? Oh, bring
me drink. Bring me Seltzer water and Vermouth. I will seek nepenthe
at the bottom of the wine-cup."
Was there another man? Why should there not be? And yet was
there? In her continued absence, the question came back
persistently, and scarcely contributed to his peace of mind.
A few days later, nothing discouraged, "Would you like to have a
good laugh, Signorino?" Marietta enquired.
"Yes," he answered, apathetic.
"Then do me the favour to come," she said.
She led him out of his garden, to the gate of a neighbouring
meadow. A beautiful black-horned white cow stood there, her head
over the bars, looking up and down the road, and now and then uttering
a low distressful "moo."
"See her," said Marietta.
"I see her. Well—?" said Peter.
This morning they took her calf from her—to wean it," said
"Did they, the cruel things? Well-?" said he.
"And ever since, she has stood there by the gate, looking down the
road, waiting, calling."
"The poor dear. Well—?" said he.
"But do you not see, Signorino? Look at her eyes. She is
weeping—weeping like a Christian."
Peter looked-and, sure enough, from the poor cow's eyes tears were
falling, steadily, rapidly: big limpid tears that trickled down her
cheek, her great homely hairy cheek, and dropped on the grass: tears
of helpless pain, uncomprehending endurance. "Why have they done this
thing to me?" they seemed dumbly to cry.
"Have you ever seen a cow weep before? Is it comical, at least?"
demanded Marietta, exultant.
"Comical—?" Peter gasped. "Comical—!" he groaned . . . .
But then he spoke to the cow.
"Poor dear—poor dear," he repeated. He patted her soft warm
neck, and scratched her between the horns and along the dewlap.
"Poor dear—poor dear."
The cow lifted up her head, and rested her great chin on Peter's
shoulder, breathing upon his face.
"Yes, you know that we are companions in misery, don't you?" he
said. "They have taken my calf from me too—though my calf, indeed,
was only a calf in an extremely metaphorical sense—and it never was
exactly mine, anyhow—I daresay it's belonged from the beginning to
another man. You, at least, have n't that gall and wormwood added to
your cup. And now you must really try to pull yourself together.
It's no good crying. And besides, there are more calves in the sea
than have ever been taken from it. You'll have a much handsomer and
fatter one next time. And besides, you must remember that your loss
subserves someone else's gain—the farmer would never have done it if
it hadn't been to his advantage. If you 're an altruist, that should
comfort you. And you must n't mind Marietta,—you must n't mind her
laughter. Marietta is a Latin. The Latin conception of what is
laughable differs by the whole span of heaven from the Teuton. You
and I are Teutons."
"Teutons—?" questioned Marietta wrinkling her brow.
"Yes—Germanic," said he.
"But I thought the Signorino was English?"
"So he is."
"But the cow is not Germanic. White, with black horns, that is
the purest Roman breed, Signorino."
"Fa niente," he instructed her. "Cows and Englishmen, and all
such sentimental cattle, including Germans, are Germanic. Italians
are Latin—with a touch of the Goth and Vandal. Lions and tigers
growl and fight because they're Mohammedans. Dogs still bear without
abuse the grand old name of Sycophant. Cats are of the princely line
of Persia, and worship fire, fish, and flattery—as you may have
noticed. Geese belong indifferently to any race you like—they are
cosmopolitans; and I've known here and there a person who, without
distinction of nationality, was a duck. In fact, you're rather by way
of being a duck yourself: And now," he perorated, "never deny again
that I can talk nonsense with an aching heart."
"All the same," insisted Marietta, "it is very comical to see a
"At any rate," retorted Peter, "it is not in the least comical to
hear a hyaena laugh."
"I have never heard one," said she.
"Pray that you never may. The sound would make an old woman of
you. It's quite blood-curdling."
"Davvero?" said Marietta.
"Davvero," he assured her.
And meanwhile the cow stood there, with her head on his shoulder,
silently weeping, weeping.
He gave her a farewell rub along the nose.
"Good-bye," he said. "Your breath is like meadowsweet. So dry
your tears, and set your hopes upon the future. I 'll come and see
you again to-morrow, and I 'll bring you some nice coarse salt.
But when he went to see her on the morrow, she was grazing
peacefully; and she ate the salt he brought her with heart-whole
bovine relish—putting out her soft white pad of a tongue, licking it
deliberately from his hand, savouring it tranquilly, and crunching the
bigger grains with ruminative enjoyment between her teeth. So soon
consoled! They were companions in misery no longer. "I 'm afraid you
are a Latin, after all," he said, and left her with a sense of
That afternoon Marietta asked, "Would you care to visit the
He was seated under his willow-tree, by the river, smoking
cigarettes—burning superfluous time.
Marietta pointed towards Ventirose.
"Why?" said he.
"The family are away. In the absence of the family, the public
are admitted, upon presentation of their cards."
"Oho!" he cried. "So the family are away, are they?"
"Aha!" cried he. "The family are away. That explains everything.
Have—have they been gone long?"
"Since a week, ten days, Signorino."
"A week! Ten days!" He started up, indignant. "You secretive
wretch! Why have you never breathed a word of this to me?"
Marietta looked rather frightened.
"I did not know it myself, Signorino," was her meek apology. "I
heard it in the village this morning, when the Signorino sent me to
buy coarse salt."
"Oh, I see." He sank back upon his rustic bench. "You are
forgiven." He extended his hand in sign of absolution. "Are they
ever coming back?"
"What makes you think so?"
"But they will naturally come back."
"I felicitate you upon your simple faith. When?"
"Oh, fra poco. They have gone to Rome."
"To Rome? You're trifling with me. People do not go to Rome in
"Pardon, Signorino. People go to Rome for the feast of the
Assumption. That is the 15th. Afterwards they come back," said
"I withdraw my protest," said Peter. "They have gone to Rome for
the feast of the Assumption. Afterwards they will come back."
"Precisely, Signorino. But you have now the right to visit the
castle, upon presentation of your card. You address yourself to the
porter at the lodge. The castle is grand, magnificent. The Court of
Honour alone is thirty metres long."
Marietta stretched her hands to right and left as far as they
"Marietta," Peter enquired solemnly, "are you familiar with the
tragedy of 'Hamlet'?"
"You have never read it," he pursued, "in that famous edition from
which the character of the Prince of Denmark happened to be omitted?"
Marietta shook her head, wearily, patiently.
Wearily, patiently, "No, Signorino," she replied.
"Neither have I," said he, "and I don't desire to."
Marietta shrugged her shoulders; then returned gallantly to her
"If you would care to visit the castle, Signorino, you could see
the crypt which contains the tombs of the family of Farfalla, the
former owners. They are of black marble and alabaster, with
gilding—very rich. You could also see the wine-cellars. Many years
ago a tun there burst, and a serving man was drowned in the wine. You
could also see the bed in which Nabulione, the Emperor of Europe,
slept, when he was in this country. Also the ancient kitchen. Many
years ago, in a storm, the skeleton of a man fell down the chimney,
out upon the hearth. Also what is called the Court of Foxes. Many
years ago there was a plague of foxes; and the foxes came down from
the forest like a great army, thousands of them. And the lords of the
castle, and the peasants, and the village people, all, all, had to run
away like rabbits—or the foxes would have eaten them. It was in what
they call the Court of Foxes that the King of the foxes held his
court. There is also the park. In the park there are statues, ruins,
and white peacocks."
"What have I in common with ruins and white peacocks?" Peter
demanded tragically, when Marietta had brought her much-gesticulated
exposition to a close. "Let me impress upon you once for all that I
am not a tripper. As for your castle —you invite me to a
banquet-hall deserted. As for your park, I see quite as much of it as
I wish to see, from the seclusion of my own pleached garden. I
learned long ago the folly of investigating things too closely, the
wisdom of leaving things in the vague. At present the park of
Ventirose provides me with the raw material for day-dreams. It is a
sort of looking-glass country,—I can see just so far into it, and no
farther—that lies beyond is mystery, is potentiality—terra
incognita, which I can populate with monsters or pleasant phantoms,
at my whim. Why should you attempt to deprive me of so innocent a
"After the return of the family," said Marietta, "the public will
no longer be admitted. Meantime—"
"Upon presentation of my card, the porter will conduct me from
disenchantment to disenchantment. No, thank you. Now, if it were
the other way round, it would be different. If it were the castle and
the park that had gone to Rome, and if the family could be visited on
presentation of my card, I might be tempted."
"But that would be impossible, Signorino," said Marietta.
Beatrice walking with a priest—ay, I am not sure it would n't be
more accurate to say conspiring with a priest: but you shall judge.
They were in a room of the Palazzo Udeschini, at Rome—a reception
room, on the piano nobile. Therefore you see it: for are not all
reception-rooms in Roman palaces alike?
Vast, lofty, sombre; the walls hung with dark-green tapestry—a
pattern of vertical stripes, dark green and darker green; here and
there a great dark painting, a Crucifixion, a Holy Family, in a
massive dim-gold frame; dark-hued rugs on the tiled floor; dark pieces
of furniture, tables, cabinets, dark and heavy; and tall windows, bare
of curtains at this season, opening upon a court—a wide stone-eaved
court, planted with fantastic-leaved eucalyptus-trees, in the midst of
which a brown old fountain, indefatigable, played its sibilant
In the streets there were the smells, the noises, the heat, the
glare of August of August in Rome, "the most Roman of the months,"
they say; certainly the hottest, noisiest, noisomest, and most
glaring. But here all was shadow, coolness, stillness, fragrance-the
fragrance of the clean air coming in from among the eucalyptus-trees.
Beatrice, critical-eyed, stood before a pier-glass, between two of
the tall windows, turning her head from side to side, craning her neck
a little—examining (if I must confess it) the effect of a new hat.
It was a very stunning hat—if a man's opinion hath any pertinence;
it was beyond doubt very complicated. There was an upward-springing
black brim; there was a downward-sweeping black feather; there was a
defiant white aigrette not unlike the Shah of Persia's; there were
glints of red.
The priest sat in an arm-chair—one of those stiff, upright Roman
arm-chairs, which no one would ever dream of calling easy-chairs,
high-backed, covered with hard leather, studded with steel nails—and
watched her, smiling amusement, indulgence.
He was an oldish priest—sixty, sixty-five. He was small, lightly
built, lean-faced, with delicate-strong features: a prominent,
delicate nose; a well-marked, delicate jaw-bone, ending in a
prominent, delicate chin; a large, humorous mouth, the full lips
delicately chiselled; a high, delicate, perhaps rather narrow brow,
rising above humorous grey eyes, rather deep-set. Then he had
silky-soft smooth white hair, and, topping the occiput, a tonsure that
might have passed for a natural bald spot.
He was decidedly clever-looking; he was aristocratic-looking,
distinguished-looking; but he was, above all, pleasant-looking,
He wore a plain black cassock, by no means in its first youth
—brown along the seams, and, at the salient angles, at the
shoulders, at the elbows, shining with the lustre of hard service.
Even without his cassock, I imagine, you would have divined him for a
clergyman—he bore the clerical impress, that odd indefinable air of
clericism which everyone recognises, though it might not be altogether
easy to tell just where or from what it takes its origin. In the garb
of an Anglican —there being nothing, at first blush, necessarily
Italian, necessarily un-English, in his face—he would have struck
you, I think, as a pleasant, shrewd old parson of the scholarly
—earnest type, mildly donnish, with a fondness for gentle mirth.
What, however, you would scarcely have divined—unless you had
chanced to notice, inconspicuous in this sober light, the red sash
round his waist, or the amethyst on the third finger of his right
hand—was his rank in the Roman hierarchy. I have the honour of
presenting his Eminence Egidio Maria Cardinal Udeschini, formerly
Bishop of Cittareggio, Prefect of the Congregation of Archives and
That was his title ecclesiastical. He had two other titles. He
was a Prince of the Udeschini by accident of birth. But his third
title was perhaps his most curious. It had been conferred upon him
informally by the populace of the Roman slum in which his titular
church, St. Mary of the Lilies, was situated: the little Uncle of the
As Italians measure wealth, Cardinal Udeschini was a wealthy man.
What with his private fortune and official stipends, he commanded an
income of something like a hundred thousand lire. He allowed himself
five thousand lire a year for food, clothing, and general expenses.
Lodging and service he had for nothing in the palace of his family.
The remaining ninety-odd thousand lire of his budget . . . Well, we
all know that titles can be purchased in Italy; and that was no doubt
the price he paid for the title I have mentioned.
However, it was not in money only that Cardinal Udeschim paid. He
paid also in labour. I have said that his titular church was in a
slum. Rome surely contained no slum more fetid, none more perilous—a
region of cut-throat alleys, south of the Ghetto, along the Tiber
bank. Night after night, accompanied by his stout young vicar, Don
Giorgio Appolloni, the Cardinal worked there as hard as any
hard-working curate: visiting the sick, comforting the afflicted,
admonishing the knavish, persuading the drunken from their taverns,
making peace between the combative. Not infrequently, when he came
home, he would add a pair of stilettos to his already large collection
of such relics. And his homecomings were apt to be late—oftener than
not, after midnight; and sometimes, indeed, in the vague twilight of
morning, at the hour when, as he once expressed it to Don Giorgio,
"the tired burglar is just lying down to rest." And every Saturday
evening the Cardinal Prefect of Archives and Inscriptions sat for
three hours boxed up in his confessional, like any parish priest—in
his confessional at St. Mary of the Lilies, where the penitents who
breathed their secrets into his ears, and received his fatherly
counsels . . . I beg your pardon. One must not, of course, remember
his rags or his sores, when Lazarus approaches that tribunal.
But I don't pretend that the Cardinal was a saint; I am sure he
was not a prig. For all his works of supererogation, his life was a
life of pomp and luxury, compared to the proper saint's life. He wore
no hair shirt; I doubt if he knew the taste of the Discipline. He had
his weaknesses, his foibles—even, if you will, his vices. I have
intimated that he was fond of a jest. "The Sacred College," I heard
him remark one day, "has fifty centres of gravity. I sometimes fear
that I am its centre of levity." He was also fond of music. He was
also fond of snuff:
"'T is an abominable habit," he admitted. "I can't tolerate it at
all—in others. When I was Bishop of Cittareggio, I discountenanced
it utterly among my clergy. But for myself—I need not say there are
special circumstances. Oddly enough, by the bye, at Cittareggio each
separate member of my clergy was able to plead special circumstances
for himself I have tried to give it up, and the effort has spoiled my
temper—turned me into a perfect old shrew. For my friends' sake,
therefore, I appease myself with an occasional pinch. You see,
tobacco is antiseptic. It's an excellent preservative of the milk of
The friends in question kept him supplied with sound rappee. Jests
and music he was abundantly competent to supply himself. He played the
piano and the organ, and he sang—in a clear, sweet, slightly faded
tenor. Of secular composers his favourites were "the lucid Scarlatti,
the luminous Bach." But the music that roused him to enthusiasm was
Gregorian. He would have none other at St. Mary of the Lilies. He
had trained his priests and his people there to sing it admirably
—you should have heard them sing Vespers; and he sang it admirably
himself—you should have heard him sing a Mass—you should have heard
that sweet old tenor voice of his in the Preface and the Pater Noster.
So, then, Beatrice stood before a pier-glass, and studied her new
hat; whilst the Cardinal, amused, indulgent, sat in his high-backed
armchair, and watched her.
"Well—? What do you think?" she asked, turning towards him.
"You appeal to me as an expert?" he questioned.
His speaking-voice, as well as his singing-voice, was sweet, but
with a kind of trenchant edge upon it, a genial asperity, that gave it
"As one who should certainly be able to advise," said she.
Well, then—" said he. He took his chin into his hand, as if it
were a beard, and looked up at her, considering; and the lines of
amusement—the "parentheses"—deepened at either side of his mouth.
"Well, then, I think if the feather were to be lifted a little higher
in front, and brought down a little lower behind—"
"Good gracious, I don't mean my hat," cried Beatrice. "What in
the world can an old dear like you know about hats?"
There was a further deepening of the parentheses.
"Surely," he contended, "a cardinal should know much. Is it not
'the badge of all our tribe,' as your poet Byron says?"
Beatrice laughed. Then, "Byron—?" she doubted, with a look.
The Cardinal waved his hand—a gesture of amiable concession.
"Oh, if you prefer, Shakespeare. Everything in English is one or
the other. We will not fall out, like the Morellists, over an
attribution. The point is that I should be a good judge of hats."
He took snuff.
"It's a shame you haven't a decent snuff-box," Beatrice observed,
with an eye on the enamelled wooden one, cheap and shabby, from which
he helped himself.
"The box is but the guinea-stamp; the snuff's the thing.—Was it
Shakespeare or Byron who said that?" enquired the Cardinal.
Beatrice laughed again.
"I think it must have been Pulcinella. I'll give you a lovely
silver one, if you'll accept it."
"Will you? Really?" asked the Cardinal, alert.
"Of course I will. It's a shame you haven't one already."
"What would a lovely silver one cost?" he asked.
"I don't know. It does n't matter," answered she.
"But approximately? More or less?" he pursued.
"Oh, a couple of hundred lire, more or less, I daresay."
"A couple of hundred lire?" He glanced up, alerter. "Do you
happen to have that amount of money on your person?"
Beatrice (the unwary woman) hunted for her pocket—took out her
purse—computed its contents.
"Yes," she innocently answered.
The Cardinal chuckled—the satisfied chuckle of one whose
unsuspected tactics have succeeded.
"Then give me the couple of hundred lire."
He put forth his hand.
But Beatrice held back.
"What for?" she asked, suspicion waking.
"Oh, I shall have uses for it."
His outstretched hand—a slim old tapering, bony hand, in colour
like dusky ivory—closed peremptorily, in a dumb-show of receiving;
and now, by the bye, you could not have failed to notice the big
lucent amethyst, in its setting of elaborately-wrought pale gold, on
the third finger.
"Come! Give!" he insisted, imperative.
Rueful but resigned, Beatrice shook her head.
"You have caught me finely," she sighed, and gave.
"You should n't have jingled your purse—you should n't have
flaunted your wealth in my face," laughed the Cardinal, putting away
the notes. He took snuff again. "I think I honestly earned that
pinch," he murmured.
"At any rate," said Beatrice, laying what unction she could to her
soul, "I am acquainted with a dignitary of the Church, who has lost a
handsome silver snuffbox—beautiful repousse work, with his arms
engraved on the lid."
"And I," retaliated he, "I am acquainted with a broken-down old
doctor and his wife, in Trastevere, who shall have meat and wine at
dinner for the next two months—at the expense of a niece of mine. 'I
am so glad,' as Alice of Wonderland says, 'that you married into our
"Alice of Wonderland—?" doubted Beatrice.
The Cardinal waved his hand.
"Oh, if you prefer, Punch. Everything in English is one or the
Beatrice laughed. "It was the I of which especially surprised my
English ear," she explained.
"I am your debtor for two hundred lire. I cannot quarrel with you
over a particle," said he.
"But why," asked she, "why did you give yourself such superfluous
pains? Why couldn't you ask me for the money point-blank? Why lure
it from me, by trick and device?"
The Cardinal chuckled.
"Ah, one must keep one's hand in. And one must not look like a
Jesuit for nothing."
"Do you look like a Jesuit?"
"I have been told so."
"By whom—for mercy's sake?"
"By a gentleman I had the pleasure of meeting not long ago in the
train—a very gorgeous gentleman, with gold chains and diamonds
flashing from every corner of his person, and a splendid waxed
moustache, and a bald head which, I think, was made of polished pink
coral. He turned to me in the most affable manner, and said, 'I see,
Reverend Sir, that you are a Jesuit. There should be a fellow-feeling
between you and me. I am a Jew. Jews and Jesuits have an almost
equally bad name!'"
The Cardinal's humorous grey eyes swam in a glow of delighted
"I could have hugged him for his 'almost.' I have been wondering
ever since whether in his mind it was the Jews or the Jesuits who
benefited by that reservation. I have been wondering also what I
ought to have replied."
"What did you reply?" asked Beatrice, curious.
"No, no," said the Cardinal. "With sentiments of the highest
consideration, I must respectfully decline to tell you. It was too
flat. I am humiliated whenever I recall it."
"You might have replied that the Jews, at least, have the
advantage of meriting their bad name," she suggested.
"Oh, my dear child!" objected he. "My reply was flat—you would
have had it sharp. I should have hurt the poor well-meaning man's
feelings, and perhaps have burdened my own soul with a falsehood, into
the bargain. Who are we, to judge whether people merit their bad name
or not? No, no. The humiliating circumstance is, that if I had
possessed the substance as well as the show, if I had really been a
son of St. Ignatius, I should have found a retort that would have
effected the Jew's conversion."
"And apropos of conversions," said Beatrice, "see how far we have
strayed from our muttons."
"Our muttons—?" The Cardinal looked up, enquiring.
"I want to know what you think—not of my hat—but of my man."
"Oh—ah, yes; your Englishman, your tenant." The Cardinal nodded.
"My Englishman—my tenant—my heretic," said she.
"Well," said he, pondering, while the parentheses became marked
again,—"I should think, from what you tell me, that you would find
him a useful neighbour. Let me see . . . You got fifty lire out of
him, for a word; and the children went off, blessing you as their
benefactress. I should think that you would find him a valuable
neighbour—and that he, on his side, might find you an expensive one."
Beatrice, with a gesture, implored him to be serious.
"Ah, please don't tease about this," she said. "I want to know
what you think of his conversion?"
"The conversion of a heretic is always 'a consummation devoutly to
be desired,' as well, you may settle it between Shakespeare and Byron,
to suit yourself. And there are none so devoutly desirous of such
consummations as you Catholics of England —especially you women. It
is said that a Catholic Englishwoman once tried to convert the Pope."
"Well, there have been popes whom it would n't have hurt,"
commented Beatrice. "And as for Mr. Marchdale," she continued, "he
has shown 'dispositions.' He admitted that he could see no reason why
it should not have been Our Blessed Lady who sent us to the children's
aid. Surely, from a Protestant, that is an extraordinary admission?"
"Yes," said the Cardinal. "And if he meant it, one may conclude
that he has a philosophic mind."
"If he meant it?" Beatrice cried. "Why should he not have meant
it? Why should he have said it if he did not mean it?"
"Oh, don't ask me," protested the Cardinal. "There is a thing the
French call politesse. I can conceive a young man professing to agree
with a lady for the sake of what the French might call her beaux
"I give you my word," said Beatrice, "that my beaux yeux had
nothing to do with the case. He said it in the most absolute good
faith. He said he believed that in a universe like ours nothing was
impossible—that there were more things in heaven and earth than
people generally dreamed of—that he could see no reason why the
Blessed Virgin should not have sent us across the children's path.
Oh, he meant it. I am perfectly sure he meant it."
The Cardinal smiled—at her eagerness, perhaps.
"Well, then," he repeated, "we must conclude that he has a
"But what is one to do?" asked she. "Surely one ought to do
something? One ought to follow such an admission up? When a man is
so far on the way to the light, it is surely one's duty to lead him
"Without doubt," said the Cardinal.
"Well—? What can one do?"
The Cardinal looked grave.
"One can pray," he said.
"Emilia and I pray for his conversion night and morning."
"That is good," he approved.
"But that is surely not enough?"
"One can have Masses said."
"Monsignor Langshawe, at the castle, says a Mass for him twice a
"That is good," approved the Cardinal.
"But is that enough?"
"Why doesn't Monsignor Langshawe call upon him—cultivate his
acquaintance—talk with him—set him thinking?" the Cardinal
"Oh, Monsignor Langshawe!" Beatrice sighed, with a gesture. "He is
interested in nothing but geology—he would talk to him of nothing but
moraines—he would set him thinking of nothing but the march of
"Hum," said the Cardinal.
"Well, then—?" questioned Beatrice.
"Well, then, Carissima, why do you not take the affair in hand
"But that is just the difficulty. What can I what can a mere
woman—do in such a case?"
The Cardinal looked into his amethyst, as a crystal-gazer into his
crystal; and the lines about his humorous old mouth deepened and
"I will lend you the works of Bellarmine in I forget how many
volumes. You can prime yourself with them, and then invite your
heretic to a course of instructions."
"Oh, I wish you would n't turn it to a joke," said Beatrice.
"Bellarmine—a joke!" exclaimed the Cardinal. "It is the first
time I have ever heard him called so. However, I will not press the
"But then—? Oh, please advise me seriously. What can I do? What
can a mere unlearned woman do?"
The Cardinal took snuff. He gazed into his amethyst again,
beaming at it, as if he could descry something deliciously comical in
its depths. He gave a soft little laugh. At last he looked up.
"Well," he responded slowly, "in an extremity, I should think that
a mere unlearned woman might, if she made an effort, ask the heretic
to dinner. I 'll come down and stay with you for a day or two, and
you can ask him to dinner."
"You're a perfect old darling," cried Beatrice, with rapture.
"He'll never be able to resist you."'
"Oh, I 'm not undertaking to discuss theology with him," said the
Cardinal. "But one must do something in exchange for a couple of
hundred lire—so I'll come and give you my moral support."
"You shall have your lovely silver snuffbox, all the same," said
Mark the predestination!
"August 21 st.
"DEAR Mr. Marchdale: It will give me great pleasure if you can
dine with us on Thursday evening next, at eight o'clock, to meet my
uncle, Cardinal Udeschini, who is staying here for a few days.
"I have been re-reading 'A Man of Words.' I want you to tell me a
great deal more about your friend, the author.
BEATRICE DI SANTANGIOLO."
It is astonishing, what men will prize, what men will treasure.
Peter Marchdale, for example, prizes, treasures, (and imagines that
he will always prize and treasure), the perfectly conventional, the
perfectly commonplace little document, of which the foregoing is a
The original is written in rather a small, concentrated hand, not
overwhelmingly legible perhaps, but, as we say, "full of character,"
on paper lightly blueish, in the prescribed corner of which a tiny
ducal coronet is embossed, above the initials "B. S." curiously
interlaced in a cypher.
When Peter received it, and (need I mention?) approached it to his
face, he fancied he could detect just a trace, just the faintest
reminder, of a perfume—something like an afterthought of orris. It
was by no means anodyne. It was a breath, a whisper, vague, elusive,
hinting of things exquisite, intimate of things intimately feminine,
exquisitely personal. I don't know how many times he repeated that
manoeuvre of conveying the letter to his face; but I do know that when
I was privileged to inspect it, a few months later, the only perfume
it retained was an unmistakable perfume of tobacco.
I don't know, either, how many times he read it, searched it, as
if secrets might lie perdu between the lines, as if his gaze could
warm into evidence some sympathetic ink, or compel a cryptic
sub-intention from the text itself.
Well, to be sure, the text had cryptic subintentions; but these
were as far as may be from any that Peter was in a position to
conjecture. How could he guess, for instance, that the letter was an
instrument, and he the victim, of a Popish machination? How could he
guess that its writer knew as well as he did who was the author of "A
Man of Words"?
And then, all at once, a shade of trouble of quite another nature
fell upon his mind. He frowned for a while in silent perplexity. At
last he addressed himself to Marietta.
"Have you ever dined with a cardinal?" he asked.
"No, Signorino," that patient sufferer replied.
"Well, I'm in the very dickens of a quandary—son' proprio nel
dickens d'un imbarazzo." he informed her.
"Dickens—?" she repeated.
"Si—Dickens, Carlo, celebre autore inglese. Why not?" he asked.
Marietta gazed with long-suffering eyes at the horizon.
"Or, to put it differently," Peter resumed, "I've come all the way
from London with nothing better than a dinner jacket in my kit."
"Dina giacca? Cosa e?" questioned Marietta.
"No matter what it is—the important thing is what it is n't. It
is n't a dress-coat."
"Non e un abito nero," said Marietta, seeing that he expected her
to say something.
"Well—? You perceive my difficulty. Do you think you could make
me one?" said Peter.
"Make the Signorino a dress-coat? I? Oh, no, Signorino."
Marietta shook her head.
"I feared as much," he acknowledged. "Is there a decent tailor in
"Nor in the whole length and breadth of this peninsula, if you
come to that. Well, what am I to do? How am I to dine with a
cardinal? Do you think a cardinal would have a fit if a man were to
dine with him in a dina giacca?"
"Have a fit? Why should he have a fit, Signorino?" Marietta
"Would he do anything to the man? Would he launch the awful
curses of the Church at him, for instance?"
"Mache, Signorino!" She struck an attitude that put to scorn his
"I see," said Peter. "You think there is no danger? You advise
me to brazen the dina giacca out, to swagger it off?"
"I don't understand, Signorino," said Marietta.
"To understand is to forgive," said he; "and yet you can't trifle
with English servants like this, though they ought to understand,
ought n't they? In any case, I 'll be guided by your judgment. I'll
wear my dina giacca, but I'll wear it with an air! I 'll confer upon
it the dignity of a court-suit. Is that a gardener—that person
working over there?"
Marietta looked in the quarter indicated by Peter's nod.
"Yes, Signorino; ha is the same gardener who works here three days
every week," she answered.
"Is he, really? He looks like a pirate," Peter murmured.
"Like a pirate? Luigi?" she exclaimed.
"Yes," affirmed her master. "He wears green corduroy trousers,
and a red belt, and a blue shirt. That is the pirate uniform. He has
a swarthy skin, and a piercing eye, and hair as black as the Jolly
Roger. Those are the marks by which you recognise a pirate, even when
in mufti. I believe you said his name is Luigi?"
Yes, Signorino—Luigi Maroni. We call him Gigi."
"Is Gigi versatile?" asked Peter.
"Versatile—?" puzzled Marietta. But then, risking her own
interpretation of the recondite word, "Oh, no, Signorino. He is of
"Ah, he's of the country, is he? So much the better. Then he
will know the way to Castel Ventirose?"
But naturally, Signorino." Marietta nodded.
"And do you think, for once in a way, though not versatile, he
could be prevailed upon to divert his faculties from the work of a
gardener to that of a messenger?"
"A messenger, Signorino?" Marietta wrinkled up her brow.
"Ang—an unofficial postman. Do you think he could be induced to
carry a letter for me to the castle?"
"But certainly, Signorino. He is here to obey the Signorino's
orders." Marietta shrugged her shoulders, and waved her hands.
"Then tell him, please, to go and put the necessary touches to his
toilet," said Peter. "Meanwhile I'll indite the letter."
When his letter was indited, he found the piratical-looking Gigi
in attendance, and he gave it to him, with instructions.
Thereupon Gigi (with a smile of sympathetic intelligence,
inimitably Italian) put the letter in his hat, put his hat upon his
head, and started briskly off—but not in the proper direction: not in
the direction of the road, which led to the village, and across the
bridge, and then round upon itself to the gates of the park. He
started briskly off towards Peter's own toolhouse, a low red-tiled
pavilion, opposite the door of Marietta's kitchen.
Peter was on the point of calling to him, of remonstrating. Then
he thought better of it. He would wait a bit, and watch.
He waited and watched; and this was what he saw.
Gigi entered the tool-house, and presently brought out a ladder,
which he carried down to the riverside, and left there. Then he
returned to the tool-house, and came back bearing an armful of planks,
each perhaps a foot wide by five or six feet long. Now he raised his
ladder to the perpendicular, and let it descend before him, so that,
one extremity resting upon the nearer bank, one attained the further,
and it spanned the flood. Finally he laid a plank lengthwise upon the
hithermost rungs, and advanced to the end of it; then another plank;
then a third: and he stood in the grounds of Ventirose.
He had improvised a bridge—a bridge that swayed upwards and
downwards more or less dizzily about the middle, if you will —but an
entirely practicable bridge, for all that. And he had saved himself
at least a good three miles, to the castle and back, by the road.
Peter watched, and admired.
"And I asked whether he was versatile!" he muttered. "Trust an
Italian for economising labour. It looks like unwarrantable invasion
of friendly territory—but it's a dodge worth remembering, all the
He drew the Duchessa's letter from his pocket, and read it again,
and again approached it to his face, communing with that ghost of a
"Heavens! how it makes one think of chiffons," he exclaimed.
"Thursday—Thursday—help me to live till Thursday!"
But he had n't to live till Thursday—he was destined to see her
not later than the next afternoon.
You know with what abruptness, with how brief a warning, storms
will spring from the blue, in that land of lakes and mountains.
It was three o'clock or thereabouts; and Peter was reading in his
garden; and the whole world lay basking in unmitigated sunshine.
Then, all at once, somehow, you felt a change in things: the
sunshine seemed less brilliant, the shadows less solid, less sharply
outlined. Oh, it was very slight, very uncertain; you had to look
twice to assure yourself that it was n't a mere fancy. It seemed as
if never so thin a gauze had been drawn over the face of the sun, just
faintly bedimming, without obscuring it. You could have ransacked the
sky in vain to discover the smallest shred of cloud.
At the same time, the air, which had been hot all day—hot, but
buoyant, but stimulant, but quick with oxygen—seemed to become thick,
sluggish, suffocating, seemed to yield up its vital principle, and to
fall a dead weight upon the earth. And this effect was accompanied by
a sudden silence—the usual busy out-of-door country noises were
suddenly suspended: the locusts stopped their singing; not a bird
twittered; not a leaf rustled: the world held its breath. And if the
river went on babbling, babbling, that was a very part of the
silence—accented, underscored it.
Yet still you could not discern a rack of cloud anywhere in the
sky—still, for a minute or two . . . . Then, before you knew how it
had happened, the snow-summits of Monte Sfiorito were completely
lapped in cloud.
And now the cloud spread with astonishing rapidity—spread and
sank, cancelling the sun, shrouding the Gnisi to its waist, curling
in smoky wreaths among the battlements of the Cornobastone, turning
the lake from sapphire to sombre steel, filling the entire valley with
a strange mixture of darkness and an uncanny pallid light. Overhead
it hung like a vast canopy of leaden-hued cotton-wool; at the west it
had a fringe of fiery crimson, beyond which a strip of clear sky on
the horizon diffused a dull metallic yellow, like tarnished brass.
Presently, in the distance, there was a low growl of thunder; in a
minute, a louder, angrier growl—as if the first were a menace which
had not been heeded. Then there was a violent gush of wind—cold;
smelling of the forests from which it came; scattering everything
before it, dust, dead leaves, the fallen petals of flowers; making the
trees writhe and labour, like giants wrestling with invisible giants;
making the short grass shudder; corrugating the steel surface of the
lake. Then two or three big raindrops fell—and then, the deluge.
Peter climbed up to his observatory—a square four-windowed
turret, at the top of the house—thence to watch the storm and exult
in it. Really it was splendid—to see, to hear; its immense wild
force, its immense reckless fury. Rain had never rained so hard, he
thought. Already, the lake, the mountain slopes, the villas and
vineyards westward, were totally blotted out, hidden behind walls and
walls of water; and even the neighbouring lawns of Ventirose, the
confines of his own garden, were barely distinguishable, blurred as by
a fog. The big drops pelted the river like bullets, sending up
splashes bigger than themselves. And the tiled roof just above his
head resounded with a continual loud crepitation, as if a multitude
of iron-shod elves were dancing on it. The thunder crashed, roared,
reverberated, like the toppling of great edifices. The lightning tore
through the black cloud-canopy in long blinding zig-zags. The wind
moaned, howled, hooted—and the square chamber where Peter stood shook
and rattled under its buffetings, and was full of the chill and the
smell of it. Really the whole thing was splendid.
His garden-paths ran with muddy brooklets; the high-road beyond
his hedge was transformed to a shallow torrent . . . . And, just at
that moment, looking off along the highroad, he saw something that
brought his heart into his throat.
Three figures were hurrying down it, half-drowned in the rain
—the Duchessa di Santangiolo, Emilia Manfredi, and a priest.
In a twinkling, Peter, bareheaded, was at his gate.
"Come in—come in," he called.
"We are simply drenched—we shall inundate your house," the
Duchessa said, as he showed them into his sitting-room.
They were indeed dripping with water, soiled to their knees with
"Good heavens!" gasped Peter, stupid. "How were you ever out in
such a downpour?"
She smiled, rather forlornly.
"No one told us that it was going to rain, and we were off for a
good long walk—for pleasure."
"You must be wet to the bone—you must be perishing with cold," he
cried, looking from one to another.
"Yes, I daresay we are perishing with cold," she admitted.
"And I have no means of offering you a fire—there are no
fireplaces," he groaned, with a gesture round the bleak Italian room,
to certify their absence.
"Is n't there a kitchen?" asked the Duchessa, a faint spark of
raillery kindling amid the forlornness of her smile.
Peter threw up his hands.
"I had lost my head. The kitchen, of course. I 'll tell Marietta
to light a fire."
He excused himself, and sought out Marietta. He found her in her
housekeeper's room, on her knees, saying her rosary, in obvious
terror. I 'm afraid he interrupted her orisons somewhat brusquely.
"Will you be so good as to start a rousing fire in the kitchen
—as quickly as ever it can be done?"
And he rejoined his guests.
"If you will come this way—" he said.
Marietta had a fire of logs and pine-cones blazing in no time. She
courtesied low to the Duchessa, lower still to the priest —in fact,
Peter was n't sure that she did n't genuflect before him, while he
made a rapid movement with his hand over her head: the Sign of the
He was a little, unassuming-looking, white haired priest, with a
remarkably clever, humorous, kindly face; and he wore a remarkably
shabby cassock. The Duchessa's chaplain, Peter supposed. How should
it occur to him that this was Cardinal Udeschini? Do Cardinals (in
one's antecedent notion of them) wear shabby cassocks, and look
humorous and unassuming? Do they go tramping about the country in the
rain, attended by no retinue save a woman and a fourteen-year-old
girl? And are they little men—in one's antecedent notion? True, his
shabby cassock had red buttons, and there was a red sash round his
waist, and a big amethyst glittered in a setting of pale gold on his
annular finger. But Peter was not sufficiently versed in fashions
canonical, to recognise the meaning of these insignia.
How, on the other hand, should it occur to the Duchessa that Peter
needed enlightenment? At all events, she said to him, "Let me
introduce you;" and then, to the priest, "Let me present Mr.
Marchdale—of whom you have heard before now."
The white-haired old man smiled sweetly into Peter's eyes, and
gave him a slender, sensitive old hand.
"E cattivo vento che non e buono per qualcuno—debbo a questa
burrasca la pregustazione d' un piacere," he said, with a mingling of
ceremonious politeness and sunny geniality that was of his age and
Peter—instinctively—he could not have told why—put a good deal
more deference into his bow, than men of his age and race commonly put
into their bows, and murmured something about "grand' onore."
Marietta placed a row of chairs before the raised stone hearth,
and afterwards, at her master's request, busied herself preparing
"But I think you would all be wise to take a little brandy first,"
Peter suggested. "It is my despair that I am not able to provide you
with a change of raiment. Brandy will be the best substitute,
The old priest laughed, and put his hand upon the shoulder of
"You have spared this young lady an embarrassing avowal. Brandy is
exactly what she was screwing her courage to the point of asking for."
"Oh, no!" protested Emilia, in a deep Italian voice, with
But Peter fetched a decanter, and poured brandy for everyone.
"I drink to your health—c'est bien le cas de le dire. I hope you
will not have caught your deaths of cold," he said.
"Oh, we are quite warm now," said the Duchessa. "We are snug in
an ingle on Mount Ararat."
"Our wetting will have done us good—it will make us grow. You
and I will never regret that, will we, Emilietta?" said the priest.
A lively colour had come into the Duchessa's cheeks; her eyes
seemed unusually bright. Her hair was in some disorder, drooping at
the sides, and blown over her brow in fine free wavelets. It was dark
in the kitchen, save for the firelight, which danced fantastically on
the walls and ceiling, and struck a ruddy glow from Marietta's copper
pots and pans. The rain pattered lustily without; the wind wailed in
the chimney; the lightning flashed, the thunder volleyed. And Peter
looked at the Duchessa—and blessed the elements. To see her seated
there, in her wet gown, seated familiarly, at her ease, before his
fire, in his kitchen, with that colour in her cheeks, that brightness
in her eyes, and her hair in that disarray—it was unspeakable; his
heart closed in a kind of delicious spasm. And the fragrance, subtle,
secret, evasive, that hovered in the air near her, did not diminish
"I wonder," she asked, with a comical little glance upwards at
him, "whether you would resent it very much if I should take off my
hat—because it's a perfect reservoir, and the water will keep
trickling down my neck."
His joy needed but this culmination that she should take off her
"Oh, I beg of you—" he returned fervently.
"You had better take yours off too, Emilia," said the Duchessa.
"Admire masculine foresight," said the priest. "I took mine off
when I came in."
"Let me hang them up," said Peter.
It was wonderful to hold her hat in his hand—it was like holding
a part of herself. He brushed it surreptitiously against his face, as
he hung it up. Its fragrance—which met him like an answering caress,
almost—did not lessen his emotion.
Then Marietta brought the tea, with bread-and-butter, and toast,
and cakes, and pretty blue china cups and saucers, and silver that
glittered in the firelight.
"Will you do me the honour of pouring the tea?" Peter asked the
So she poured the tea, and Peter passed it. As he stood close to
her, to take it—oh, but his heart beat, believe me! And once, when
she was giving him a cup, the warm tips of her fingers lightly touched
his hand. Believe me, the touch had its effect. And always there was
that heady fragrance in the air, like a mysterious little voice,
"I wonder," the old priest said, "why tea is not more generally
drunk by us Italians. I never taste it without resolving to acquire
the habit. I remember, when I was a child, our mothers used to keep
it as a medicine; and you could only buy it at the chemists' shops."
"It's coming in, you know, at Rome—among the Whites," said the
"Among the Whites!" cried he, with a jocular simulation of
disquiet. "You should not have told me that, till I had finished my
cup. Now I shall feel that I am sharing a dissipation with our
"That should give an edge to its aroma," laughed she. "And
besides, the Whites aren't all responsible for our spoliation —some
of them are not so white as your fancy paints them. They'd be very
decent people, for the most part—if they were n't so vulgar."
"If you stick up for the Whites like that when I am Pope, I shall
excommunicate you," the priest threatened. "Meanwhile, what have you
to say against the Blacks?"
"The Blacks, with few exceptions, are even blacker than they're
painted; but they too would be fairly decent people in their way—if
they were n't so respectable. That is what makes Rome impossible as a
residence for any one who cares for human society. White society is
so vulgar—Black society is so deadly dull."
"It is rather curious," said the priest, "that the chief of each
party should wear the colour of his adversary. Our chief dresses in
white, and their chief can be seen any day driving about the streets
And Peter, during this interchange of small-talk, was at liberty
to feast his eyes upon her.
"Perhaps you have not yet reached the time of life where men begin
to find a virtue in snuff?" the priest said, producing a smart silver
snuff box, tapping the lid, and proffering it to Peter.
"On the contrary—thank you," Peter answered, and absorbed his
pinch like an adept.
"How on earth have you learned to take it without a paroxysm?"
cried the surprised Duchessa.
"Oh, a thousand years ago I was in the Diplomatic Service," he
explained. "It is one of the requirements."
Emilia Manfredi lifted her big brown eyes, filled with girlish
wonder, to his face, and exclaimed, "How extraordinary!"
"It is n't half so extraordinary as it would be if it were true,
my dear," said the Duchessa.
"Oh? Non e poi vero?" murmured Emilia, and her eyes darkened with
Peter meanwhile was looking at the snuffbox, which the priest
still held in his hand, and admiring its brave repousse work of
leaves and flowers, and the escutcheon engraved on the lid. But what
if he could have guessed the part he had passively played in obtaining
it for its possessor—or the part that it was still to play in his own
epopee? Mark again the predestination!
"The storm is passing," said the priest.
"Worse luck!" thought Peter.
For indeed the rain and the wind were moderating, the thunder had
rolled farther away, the sky was becoming lighter.
"But there's a mighty problem before us still," said the Duchessa.
"How are we to get to Ventirose? The roads will, be ankle-deep with
"If you wish to do me a very great kindness—" Peter began.
"Yes—?" she encouraged him.
"You will allow me to go before you, and tell them to come for you
with a carriage."
"I shall certainly allow you to do nothing of the sort," she
replied severely. "I suppose there is no one whom you could send?"
"I should hardly like to send Marietta. I 'm afraid there is no
one else. But upon my word, I should enjoy going myself."
She shook her head, smiling at him with mock compassion.
"Would you? Poor man, poor man! That is an enjoyment which you
will have to renounce. One must n't expect too much in this sad
"Well, then," said Peter, "I have an expedient. If you can walk a
somewhat narrow plank—?"
"Yes—?" questioned she.
"I think I can improvise a bridge across the river."
"I believe the rain has stopped," said the priest, looking towards
Peter, manning his soul for the inevitable, got up, went to the
door, opened it, stuck out his head.
"Yes," he acknowledged, while his heart sank within him, "the rain
And now the storm departed almost as rapidly as it had arrived. In
the north the sky was already clear, blue and hard-looking —a wall of
lapis-lazuli. The dark cloud-canopy was drifting to the south.
Suddenly the sun came out, flashing first from the snows of Monte
Sfiorito, then, in an instant, flooding the entire prospect with a
marvellous yellow light, ethereal amber; whilst long streamers of
tinted vapour—columns of pearl-dust, one might have fancied—rose to
meet it; and all wet surfaces, leaves, lawns, tree-trunks, housetops,
the bare crags of the Gnisi, gleamed in a wash of gold.
Puffs of fresh air blew into the kitchen, filling it with the keen
sweet odour of wet earth. The priest and the Duchessa and Emilia
joined Peter at the open door.
"Oh, your poor, poor garden!" the Duchessa cried.
His garden had suffered a good deal, to be sure. The flowers lay
supine, their faces beaten into the mud; the greensward was littered
with fallen leaves and twigs—and even in one or two places whole
branches had been broken from the trees; on the ground about each
rose-bush a snow of pink rose-petals lay scattered; in the paths there
were hundreds of little pools, shining in the sun like pools of fire.
"There's nothing a gardener can't set right," said Peter, feeling
no doubt that here was a trifling tax upon the delights the storm had
"And oh, our poor, poor hats!" said the Duchessa, eyeing ruefully
those damaged pieces of finery. "I fear no gardener can ever set them
"It sounds inhospitable," said Peter, "but I suppose I had better
go and build your bridge."
So he threw a ladder athwart the river, and laid the planks in
place, as he had seen Gigi do the day before.
"How ingenious—and, like all great things, how simple," laughed
Peter waved his hand, as who should modestly deprecate applause.
But, I 'm ashamed to own, he didn't disclaim the credit of the
"It will require some nerve," she reflected, looking at the narrow
planks, the foaming green water. "However—"
And gathering in her skirts, she set bravely forward, and made the
transit without mishap. The priest and Emilia, gathering in their
skirts, made it after her.
She paused on the other side, and looked back, smiling.
"Since you have discovered so efficacious a means of cutting short
the distance between our places of abode," she said, "I hope you will
not fail to profit by it whenever you may have occasion—on Thursday,
"Thank you very much," said Peter.
"Of course," she went on, "we may all die of our wetting yet. It
would perhaps show a neighbourly interest if you were to come up
to-morrow, and take our news. Come at four o'clock; and if we're
alive . . . you shall have another pinch of snuff," she promised,
"I adore you," said Peter, under his breath. "I'll come with
great pleasure," he said aloud.
"Marietta," he observed, that evening, as he dined, "I would have
you to know that the Aco is bridged. Hence, there is one symbol the
fewer in Lombardy. But why does—you mustn't mind the Ollendorfian
form of my enquiry—why does the chaplain of the Duchessa wear red
"The chaplain of the Duchessa—?" repeated Marietta, wrinkling up
"Ang—of the Duchessa di Santangiolo. He wore red stockings, and
shoes with silver buckles. Do you think that's precisely
decorous—don't you think it 's the least bit light-minded—in an
"He—? Who—?" questioned Marietta.
"But the chaplain of the Duchessa—when he was here this
"The chaplain of the Duchessa!" exclaimed Marietta. "Here this
afternoon? The chaplain of the Duchessa was not here this afternoon.
His Eminence the Lord Prince Cardinal Udeschini was here this
"What!" gasped Peter.
"Ang," said Marietta.
"That was Cardinal Udeschini—that little harmless-looking,
sweet-faced old man!" Peter wondered.
"Sicuro—the uncle of the Duca," said she.
"Good heavens!" sighed he. "And I allowed myself to hobnob with
him like a boon-companion."
"Gia," said she.
"You need n't rub it in," said he. "For the matter of that, you
yourself entertained him in your kitchen."
"Scusi?" said she.
"Ah, well—it was probably for the best," he concluded. "I
daresay I should n't have behaved much better if I had known."
"It was his coming which saved this house from being struck by
lightning," announced Marietta.
"Oh—? Was it?" exclaimed Peter.
"Yes, Signorino. The lightning would never strike a house that
the Lord Prince Cardinal was in."
"I see—it would n't venture—it would n't presume. Did—did it
strike all the houses that the Lord Prince Cardinal was n't in?"
"I do not think so, Signorino. Ma non fa niente. It was a
terrible storm—terrible, terrible. The lightning was going to
strike this house, when the Lord Prince Cardinal arrived."
"Hum," said Peter. "Then you, as well as I, have reason for
regarding his arrival as providential."
"I think something must have happened to my watch," Peter said,
Indeed, its hands moved with extraordinary, with exasperating
"It seems absurd that it should do no good to push them on," he
He would force himself, between twice ascertaining their position,
to wait for a period that felt like an eternity, walking about
miserably, and smoking flavourless cigarettes; —then he would stand
amazed, incredulous, when, with a smirk (as it almost struck him) of
ironical complacence, they would attest that his eternity had lasted
something near a quarter of an hour.
"And I had professed myself a Kantian, and made light of the
objective reality of Time! thou laggard, Time!" he cried, and shook
his fist at Space, Time's unoffending consort.
"I believe it will never be four o'clock again," he said, in
despair, finally; and once more had out his watch. It was half-past
three. He scowled at the instrument's bland white face. "You have no
bowels, no sensibilities—nothing but dry little methodical jog-trot
wheels and pivots!" he exclaimed, flying to insult for relief.
"You're as inhuman as a French functionary. Do you call yourself a
sympathetic comrade for an impatient man?" He laid it open on his
rustic table, and waited through a last eternity. At a quarter to
four he crossed the river. "If I am early—tant pis!" he decided,
choosing the lesser of two evils, and challenging Fate.
He crossed the river, and stood for the first time in the grounds
of Ventirose—stood where she had been in the habit of standing,
during their water-side colloquies. He glanced back at his house and
garden, envisaging them for the first time, as it were, from her point
of view. They had a queer air of belonging to an era that had passed,
to a yesterday already remote. They looked, somehow, curiously small,
moreover—the garden circumscribed, the two-storied house, with its
striped sunblinds, poor and petty. He turned his back upon them—left
them behind. He would have to come home to them later in the day, to
be sure; but then everything would be different. A chapter would have
added itself to the history of the world; a great event, a great step
forward, would have definitely taken place. He would have been
received at Ventirose as a friend. He would be no longer a mere
nodding acquaintance, owing even that meagre relationship to the
haphazard of propinquity. The ice-broken, if you will, but still
present in abundance—would have been gently thawed away. One era had
passed; but then a new era would have begun.
So he turned his back upon Villa F'loriano, and. set off,
high-hearted, up the wide lawns, under the bending trees —whither,
on four red-marked occasions, he had watched her disappear—towards
the castle, which faced him in its vast irregular picturesqueness.
There were the oldest portions, grimly mediaeval, a lakeside
fortress, with ponderous round towers, meurtrieres, machiolations, its
grey stone walls discoloured in fantastic streaks and patches by
weather-stains and lichens, or else shaggily overgrown by creepers.
Then there were later portions, rectangular, pink-stuccoed, with
rusticated work at the corners, and, on the blank spaces between the
windows, quaint allegorical frescoes, faded, half washed-out. And
then there were entirely modern-looking portions, of gleaming marble,
with numberless fanciful carvings, spires, pinnacles,
reliefs—wonderfully light, gay, habitable, and (Peter thought)
beautiful, in the clear Italian atmosphere, against the blue Italian
"It's a perfect house for her," he said. "It suits her—like an
appropriate garment; it almost seems to express her."
And all the while, as he proceeded, her voice kept sounding in his
ears; scraps of her conversation, phrases that she had spoken, kept
coming back to him.
One end of the long, wide marble terrace had been arranged as a
sort of out-of-door living-room. A white awning was stretched
overhead; warm-hued rugs were laid on the pavement; there were wicker
lounging-chairs, with bright cushions, and a little table, holding
books and things.
The Duchessa rose from one of the lounging-chairs, and came
forward, smiling, to meet him.
She gave him her hand—for the first time.
It was warm—electrically warm; and it was soft—womanly soft; and
it was firm, alive—it spoke of a vitality, a temperament. Peter was
sure, besides, that it would be sweet to smell; and he longed to bend
over it, and press it with his lips. He might almost have done so,
according to Italian etiquette. But, of course, he simply bowed over
it, and let it go.
"Mi trova abbandonata," she said, leading the way back to the
terrace-end. There were notes of a peculiar richness in her voice,
when she spoke Italian; and she dwelt languorously on the vowels, and
rather slurred the consonants, lazily, in the manner Italian women
have, whereby they give the quality of velvet to their tongue. She
was not an Italian woman; Heaven be praised, she was English: so this
was just pure gain to the sum-total of her graces. "My uncle and my
niece have gone to the village. But I 'm expecting them to come home
at any moment now—and you'll not have long, I hope, to wait for your
She flashed a whimsical little smile into his eyes. Then she
returned to her wicker chair, glancing an invitation at Peter to
place himself in the one facing her. She leaned back, resting her
head on a pink silk cushion.
Peter, no doubt, sent up a silent prayer that her uncle and her
niece might be detained at the village for the rest of the afternoon.
By her niece he took her to mean Emilia: he liked her for the kindly
euphemism. "What hair she has!" he thought, admiring the loose brown
masses, warm upon their background of pink silk.
"Oh, I'm inured to waiting," he replied, with a retrospective mind
for the interminable waits of that interminable day.
The Duchessa had taken a fan from the table, and was playing with
it, opening and shutting it slowly, in her lap. Now she caught
Peter's eyes examining it, and she gave it to him. (My own suspicion
is that Peter's eyes had been occupied rather with the hands that held
the fan, than with the fan itself—but that's a detail.)
"I picked it up the other day, in Rome," she said. "Of course,
it's an imitation of the French fans of the last century, but I
thought it pretty."
It was of white silk, that had been thinly stained a soft yellow,
like the yellow of faded yellow rose-leaves. It was painted with
innumerable plump little cupids, flying among pale clouds. The sticks
were of mother-of=pearl. The end-sticks were elaborately incised, and
in the incisions opals were set, big ones and small ones, smouldering
with green and scarlet fires.
"Very pretty indeed," said Peter, "and very curious. It's like a
great butterfly's wing is n't it? But are n't you afraid of opals?"
"Afraid of opals?" she wondered. "Why should one be?"
"Unless your birthday happens to fall in October, they're reputed
to bring bad luck," he reminded her.
"My birthday happens to fall in June but I 'll never believe that
such pretty things as opals can bring bad luck," she laughed, taking
the fan, which he returned to her, and stroking one of the bigger
opals with her finger tip.
"Have you no superstitions?" he asked.
"I hope not—I don't think I have," she answered. "We're not
allowed to have superstitions, you know—nous autres Catholiques."
"Oh?" he said, with surprise. "No, I did n't know."
"Yes, they're a forbidden luxury. But you—? Are you
superstitious? Would you be afraid of opals?"
"I doubt if I should have the courage to wear one. At all events,
I don't regard superstitions in the light of a luxury. I should be
glad to be rid of those I have. They're a horrible inconvenience.
But I can't get it out of my head that the air is filled with a swarm
of malignant little devils, who are always watching their chance to do
us an ill turn. We don't in the least know the conditions under which
they can bring it off; but it's legendary that if we wear opals, or
sit thirteen at table, or start an enterprise on Friday, or what not,
we somehow give them their opportunity. And one naturally wishes to
be on the safe side."
She looked at him with. doubt, considering.
"You don't seriously believe all that?" she said.
"No, I don't seriously believe it. But one breathes it in with
the air of one's nursery, and it sticks. I don't believe it, but I
fear it just enough to be made uneasy. The evil eye, for instance.
How can one spend any time in Italy, where everybody goes loaded with
charms against it, and help having a sort of sneaking half-belief in
the evil eye?"
She shook her head, laughing.
"I 've spent a good deal of time in Italy, but I have n't so much
as a sneaking quarter-belief in it."
"I envy you your strength of mind," said he. "But surely, though
superstition is a luxury forbidden to Catholics, there are plenty of
good Catholics who indulge in it, all the same?"
"There are never plenty of good Catholics," said sire. "You
employ a much-abused expression. To profess the Catholic faith, to
go to Mass on Sunday and abstain from meat on Friday, that is by no
means sufficient to constitute a good Catholic. To be a good Catholic
one would have to be a saint, nothing less—and not a mere formal
saint, either, but a very real saint, a saint in thought and feeling,
as well as in speech and action. Just in so far as one is
superstitious, one is a bad Catholic. Oh, if the world were populated
by good Catholics, it would be the Millennium come to pass."
"It would be that, if it were populated by good Christians
—wouldn't it?" asked Peter.
"The terms are interchangeable," she answered sweetly, with a
half-comical look of defiance.
"Mercy!" cried he. "Can't a Protestant be a good Christian too?"
"Yes," she said, "because a Protestant can be a Catholic without
"Oh—?" he puzzled, frowning.
"It's quite simple," she explained. "You can't be a Christian
unless you're a Catholic. But if you believe as much of Christian
truth as you've ever had a fair opportunity of learning, and if you
try to live in accordance with Christian morals, you are a Catholic,
you're a member of the Catholic Church, whether you know it or not.
You can't be deprived of your birthright, you see."
"That seems rather broad," said Peter; "and one had always heard
that Catholicism was nothing if not narrow."
"How could it be Catholic if it were narrow?" asked she. "However,
if a Protestant uses his intelligence, and is logical, he'll not
remain an unconscious Catholic long. If he studies the matter, and is
logical, he'll wish to unite himself to the Church in her visible
body. Look at England. See how logic is multiplying converts year by
"But it's the glory of Englishmen to be illogical," said Peter,
with a laugh. "Our capacity for not following premisses to their
logical consequences is the principal source of our national
greatness. So the bulk of the English are likely to resist conversion
for centuries to come—are they not? And then, nowadays, one is so
apt to be an indifferentist in matters of religion—and Catholicism is
so exacting. One remains a Protestant from the love of ease."
"And from the desire, on the part of a good many Englishmen at
least, to sail in a boat of their own—not to get mixed up with a lot
of foreign publicans and sinners—no?" she suggested.
"Oh, of course, we're insular and we're Pharisaical," admitted
"And as for one's indifference," she smiled, "that is most
probably due to one's youth and inexperience. One can't come to
close quarters with the realities of life—with sorrow, with great
joy, with temptation, with sin or with heroic virtue, with death, with
the birth of a new soul, with any of the awful, wonderful realities of
life—and continue to be an indifferentist in matters of religion, do
"When one comes to close quarters with the awful, wonderful
realities of life, one has religious moments," he acknowledged. "But
they're generally rather fugitive, are n't they?"
"One can cultivate them—one can encourage them," she said. "If
you would care to know a good Catholic," she added, "my niece, my
little ward, Emilia is one. She wants to become a Sister of Mercy, to
spend her life nursing the poor."
"Oh? Would n't that be rather a pity?" Peter said. "She's so
extremely pretty. I don't know when I have seen prettier brown eyes
"Well, in a few years, I expect we shall see those pretty brown
eyes looking out from under a sister's coif. No, I don't think it
will be a pity. Nuns and sisters, I think, are the happiest people in
the world—and priests. Have you ever met any one who seemed happier
than my uncle, for example?"
"I have certainly never met any one who seemed sweeter, kinder,"
Peter confessed. "He has a wonderful old face."
"He's a wonderful old man," said she. "I 'm going to try to keep
him a prisoner here for the rest of the summer—though he will have it
that he's just run down for a week. He works a great deal too hard
when he's in Rome. He's the only Cardinal I've ever heard of, who
takes practical charge of his titular church. But here in the country
he's out-of-doors all the blessed day, hand in hand with Emilia. He's
as young as she is, I believe. They play together like children—and
make—me feel as staid and solemn and grown-up as one of Mr. Kenneth
Peter laughed. Then, in the moment of silence that followed, he
happened to let his eyes stray up the valley.
"Hello!" he suddenly exclaimed. "Someone has been painting our
The Duchessa turned, to look; and she too uttered an exclamation.
By some accident of reflection or refraction, the snows of Monte
Sfiorito had become bright green, as if the light that fell on them
had passed through emeralds. They both paused, to gaze and marvel for
a little. Indeed, the prospect was a pleasing one, as well as a
surprising—the sunny lawns, the high trees, the blue lake, and then
that bright green mountain.
"I have never known anything like those snow-peaks for sailing
under false colours," Peter said. "I have seen them every colour of
the calendar, except their native white."
"You must n't blame the poor things," pleaded the Duchessa. "They
can't help it. It's all along o' the distance and the atmosphere and
She closed her fan, with which she had been more or less idly
playing throughout their dialogue, and replaced it on the table.
Among the books there—French books, for the most part, in yellow
paper—Peter saw, with something of a flutter (he could never see it
without something of a flutter), the grey-and-gold binding of "A Man
The Duchessa caught his glance.
"Yes," she said; "your friend's novel. I told you I had been
"Yes," said he.
"And—do you know—I 'm inclined to agree with your own
enthusiastic estimate of it?" she went on. "I think it's
extremely—but extremely—clever; and more—very charming, very
beautiful. The fatal gift of beauty!"
And her smile reminded him that the application of the tag was his
"Yes," said he.
"Its beauty, though," she reflected, "is n't exactly of the
obvious sort—is it? It does n't jump at you, for instance. It is
rather in the texture of the work, than on the surface. One has to
look, to see it."
"One always has to look, to see beauty that is worth seeing," he
safely generalised. But then—he had put his foot in the stirrup—his
hobby bolted with him. "It takes two to make a beautiful object. The
eye of the beholder is every bit as indispensable as the hand of the
artist. The artist does his work—the beholder must do his. They are
collaborators. Each must be the other's equal; and they must also be
like each other—with the likeness of opposites, of complements. Art,
in short, is entirely a matter of reciprocity. The kind of beauty
that jumps at you is the kind you end by getting heartily tired
of—is the skin-deep kind; and therefore it is n't really beauty at
all—it is only an approximation to beauty—it may be only a
simulacrum of it."
Her eyes were smiling, her face was glowing, softly, with
interest, with friendliness and perhaps with the least suspicion of
something else—perhaps with the faintest glimmer of suppressed
amusement; but interest was easily predominant.
"Yes," she assented . . . . But then she pursued her own train of
ideas. "And—with you—I particularly like the woman —Pauline. I
can't tell you how much I like her. I—it sounds extravagant, but
it's true—I can think of no other woman in the whole of fiction whom
I like so well—who makes so curiously personal an appeal to me. Her
wit—her waywardness —her tenderness—her generosity—everything.
How did your friend come by his conception of her? She's as real to
me as any woman I have ever known she's more real to me than most of
the women I know—she's absolutely real, she lives, she breathes.
Yet I have never known a woman resembling her. Life would be a
merrier business if one did know women resembling her. She seems to
me all that a woman ought ideally to be. Does your friend know women
like that—the lucky man? Or is Pauline, for all her convincingness,
a pure creature of imagination?"
"Ah," said Peter, laughing, "you touch the secret springs of my
friend's inspiration. That is a story in itself. Felix Wildmay is a
perfectly commonplace Englishman. How could a woman like Pauline be
the creature of his imagination? No—she was a 'thing seen.' God made
her. Wildmay was a mere copyist. He drew her, tant bien que mal, from
the life from a woman who's actually alive on this dull globe to-day.
But that's the story."
The Duchessa's eyes were intent.
"The story-? Tell me the story," she pronounced in a breath, with
And her eyes waited, intently.
"Oh," said Peter, "it's one of those stories that can scarcely be
told. There's hardly any thing to take hold of. It's without
incident, without progression—it's all subjective —it's a drama in
states of mind. Pauline was a 'thing seen,' indeed; but she wasn't a
thing known: she was a thing divined. Wildmay never knew her—never
even knew who she was—never knew her name—never even knew her
nationality, though, as the book shows, he guessed her to be an
Englishwoman, married to a Frenchman. He simply saw her, from a
distance, half-a-dozen times perhaps. He saw her in Paris, once or
twice, at the theatre, at the opera; and then later again, once or
twice, in London; and then, once more, in Paris, in the Bois. That
was all, but that was enough. Her appearance—her face, her eyes,
her smile, her way of carrying herself, her way of carrying her head,
her gestures, her movements, her way of dressing—he never so much as
heard her voice—her mere appearance made an impression on him such as
all the rest of womankind had totally failed to make. She was
exceedingly lovely, of course, exceedingly distinguished,
noble-looking; but she was infinitely more. Her face her whole
person—had an expression! A spirit burned in her—a prismatic,
aromatic fire. Other women seemed dust, seemed dead, beside her. She
was a garden, inexhaustible, of promises, of suggestions. Wit,
capriciousness, generosity, emotion—you have said it—they were all
there. Race was there, nerve. Sex was there—all the mystery, magic,
all the essential, elemental principles of the Feminine, were there:
she was a woman. A wonderful, strenuous soul was there: Wildmay saw
it, felt it. He did n't know her —he had no hope of ever knowing
her—but he knew her better than he knew any one else in the world.
She became the absorbing subject of his thoughts, the heroine of his
dreams. She became, in fact, the supreme influence of his life."
The Duchessa's eyes had not lost their intentness, while he was
speaking. Now that he had finished, she looked down at her hands,
folded in her lap, and mused for a moment in silence. At last she
looked up again.
"It's as strange as anything I have ever heard," she said, "it's
furiously strange—and romantic—and interesting. But —but—" She
frowned a little, hesitating between a choice of questions.
"Oh, it's a story all compact of 'buts,'" Peter threw out
She let the remark pass her—she had settled upon her question.
"But how could he endure such a situation?" she asked. "How could
he sit still under it? Did n't he try in any way—did n't he make any
effort at all—to—to find her out—to discover who she was—to get
introduced to her? I should think he could never have rested—I
should think he would have moved heaven and earth."
"What could he do? Tell me a single thing he could have done,"
said Peter. "Society has made no provision for a case like his. It
's absurd—but there it is. You see a woman somewhere; you long to
make her acquaintance; and there's no natural bar to your doing
so—you 're a presentable man she's what they call a lady—you're
both, more or less, of the same monde. Yet there 's positively no way
known by which you can contrive it—unless chance, mere fortuitous
chance, just happens to drop a common acquaintance between you, at the
right time and place. Chance, in Wildmay's case, happened to drop
all the common acquaintances they may possibly have had at a
deplorable distance. He was alone on each of the occasions when he
saw her. There was no one he could ask to introduce him; there was no
one he could apply to for information concerning her. He could n't
very well follow her carriage through the streets—dog her to her
lair, like a detective. Well—what then?"
The Duchessa was playing with her fan again.
"No," she agreed; "I suppose it was hopeless. But it seems rather
hard on the poor man—rather baffling and tantalising."
"The poor man thought it so, to be sure," said Peter; "he fretted
and fumed a good deal, and kicked against the pricks. Here, there,
now, anon, he would enjoy his brief little vision of her—then she
would vanish into the deep inane. So, in the end—he had to take it
out in something—he took it out in writing a book about her. He
propped up a mental portrait of her on his desk before him, and
translated it into the character of Pauline. In that way he was able
to spend long delightful hours alone with her every day, in a kind of
metaphysical intimacy. He had never heard her voice—but now he
heard it as often as Pauline opened her lips. He owned her —he
possessed her—she lived under his roof—she was always waiting for
him in his study. She is real to you? She was inexpressibly,
miraculously real to him. He saw her, knew her, felt her, realised
her, in every detail of her mind, her soul, her person—down to the
very intonations of her speech—down to the veins in her hands, the
rings on her fingers—down to her very furs and laces, the frou-frou
of her skirts, the scent upon her pocket-handkerchief. He had
numbered the hairs of her head, almost."
Again the Duchessa mused for a while in silence, opening and
shutting her fan, and gazing into its opals.
"I am thinking of it from the woman's point of view," she said, by
and by. "To have played such a part in a man's life—and never to
have dreamed it! Never even, very likely, to have dreamed that such a
man existed—for it's entirely possible she didn't notice him, on
those occasions when he saw her. And to have been the subject of such
a novel—and never to have dreamed that, either! To have read the
novel perhaps—without dreaming for an instant that there was any sort
of connection between Pauline and herself! Or else—what would almost
be stranger still—not to have read the novel, not to have heard of
it! To have inspired such a book, such a beautiful book —yet to
remain in sheer unconscious ignorance that there was such a book! Oh,
I think it is even more extraordinary from the woman's point of view
than from the man's. There is something almost terrifying about it.
To have had such an influence on the destiny of someone you've never
heard of! There's a kind of intangible sense of a responsibility."
"There is also, perhaps," laughed Peter, "a kind of intangible
sense of a liberty taken. I'm bound to say I think Wildmay was
decidedly at his ease. To appropriate in that cool fashion the
personality of a total stranger! But artists are the most
unprincipled folk unhung. Ils prennent leur bien la, ou ils le
"Oh, no," said the Duchessa, "I think she was fair game. One can
carry delicacy too far. He was entitled to the benefits of his
discovery—for, after all, it was a discovery, was n't it? You have
said yourself how indispensable the eye of the beholder is—'the
seeing eye.' I think, indeed, the whole affair speaks extremely well
for Mr. Wildmay. It is not every man who would be capable of so
purely intellectual a passion. I suppose one must call his feeling for
her a passion? It indicates a distinction in his nature. He can
hardly be a mere materialist. But—but I think it's heart-rending
that he never met her."
"Oh, but that's the continuation of the story," said Peter. "He
did meet her in the end, you know."
"He did meet her!" cried the Duchessa, starting up, with a sudden
access of interest, whilst her eyes lightened. "He did meet her? Oh,
you must tell me about that."
And just at this crisis the Cardinal and Emilia appeared, climbing
the terrace steps.
"Bother!" exclaimed the Duchessa, under her breath. Then, to
Peter, "It will have to be for another time—unless I die of the
After the necessary greetings were transacted, another elderly
priest joined the company; a tall, burly, rather florid man,
mentioned, when Peter was introduced to him, as Monsignor Langshawe.
"This really is her chaplain," Peter concluded. Then a servant
"Ah, Diamond, Diamond, you little know what mischief you might
have wrought," he admonished himself, as he walked home through the
level sunshine. "In another instant, if we'd not been interrupted,
you would have let the cat out of the bag. The premature escape of
the cat from the bag would spoil everything."
And he hugged himself, as one snatched from peril, in a qualm of
retroactive terror. At the same time he was filled with a kind of
exultancy. All that he had hoped had come to pass, and more, vastly
more. Not only had he been received as a friend at Ventirose, but he
had been encouraged to tell her a part at least of the story by which
her life and his were so curiously connected; and he had been snatched
from the peril of telling her too much. The day was not yet when he
could safely say, "Mutato nomine. . . . ." Would the day ever be?
But, meanwhile, just to have told her the first ten lines of that
story, he could not help feeling, somehow advanced matters
tremendously, somehow put a new face on matters.
"The hour for which the ages sighed may not be so far away as you
think," he said to Marietta. "The curtain has risen upon Act Three.
I fancy I can perceive faint glimmerings of the beginning of the
All that evening, something which he had not been conscious of
noticing especially when it was present to him—certainly he had paid
no conscious attention to its details—kept recurring and recurring to
Peter's memory: the appearance of the prettily-arranged terrace-end at
Ventirose: the white awning, with the blue sky at its edges, the sunny
park beyond; the warm-hued carpets on the marble pavement; the wicker
chairs, with their bright cushions; the table, with its books and
bibelots—the yellow French books, a tortoise-shell paperknife, a
silver paperweight, a crystal smelling-bottle, a bowlful of drooping
poppies; and the marble balustrade, with its delicate tracery of
leaves and tendrils, where the jessamine twined round its pillars.
This kept recurring, recurring, vividly, a picture that he could
see without closing his eyes, a picture with a very decided sentiment.
Like the gay and gleaming many-pinnacled facade of her house, it
seemed appropriate to her; it seemed in its fashion to express her.
Nay, it seemed to do more. It was a corner of her every-day
environment; these things were the companions, the witnesses, of
moments of her life, phases of herself, which were hidden from Peter;
they were the companions and witnesses of her solitude, her privacy;
they were her confidants, in a way. They seemed not merely to express
her, therefore, but to be continually on the point—I had almost said
of betraying her. At all events, if he could only understand their
silent language, they would prove rich in precious revelations. So he
welcomed their recurrences, dwelt upon them, pondered them, and got a
deep if somewhat inarticulate pleasure from them.
On Thursday, as he approached the castle, the last fires of sunset
were burning in the sky behind it—the long irregular mass of
buildings stood out in varying shades of blue, against varying, dying
shades of red: the grey stone, dark, velvety indigo; the pink stucco,
pink still, but with a transparent blue penumbra over it; the white
marble, palely, scintillantly amethystine. And if he was interested
in her environment, now he could study it to his heart's content: the
wide marble staircase, up which he was shown, with its crimson carpet,
and the big mellow painting, that looked as if it might be a Titian,
at the top; the great saloon, in which he was received, with its
polished mosaic floor, its frescoed ceiling, its white-and-gold
panelling, its hangings and upholsteries of yellow brocade, its
satinwood chairs and tables, its bronzes, porcelains, embroideries,
its screens and mirrors; the long dining-hall, with its high pointed
windows, its slender marble columns supporting a vaulted roof, its
twinkling candles in chandeliers and sconces of cloudy Venetian glass,
its brilliant table, its flowers and their colours and their scents.
He could study her environment to his heart's content, indeed —or
to his heart's despair. For all this had rather the effect of
chilling, of depressing him. It was very splendid; it was very
luxurious and cheerful; it was appropriate and personal to her, if you
like; no doubt, in its fashion, in its measure, it, too, expressed
her. But, at that rate, it expressed her in an aspect which Peter had
instinctively made it his habit to forget, which he by no means found
it inspiriting to remember. It expressed, it emphasised, her wealth,
her rank; it emphasised the distance, in a worldly sense, between her
and himself, the conventional barriers.
And she . . .
She was very lovely, she was entirely cordial, friendly, she was
all that she had ever been—and yet—and yet—Well, somehow, she
seemed indefinably different. Somehow, again, the distance, the
barriers, were emphasised. She was very lovely, she was entirely
cordial, friendly, she was all that she had ever been; but, somehow,
to-night, she seemed very much the great lady, very much the duchess .
. . .
"My dear man," he said to himself, "you were mad to dream for a
single instant that there was the remotest possibility of anything
The only other guests, besides the Cardinal and Monsignor
Langshawe, were an old Frenchwoman, with beautiful white hair, from
one of the neighbouring villas, Madame de Lafere, and a young, pretty,
witty, and voluble Irishwoman, Mrs. O'Donovan Florence, from an hotel
at Spiaggia. In deference, perhaps, to the cloth of the two
ecclesiastics, none of the women were in full evening-dress, and there
was no arm-taking when they went in to dinner. The dinner itself was
of a simplicity which Peter thought admirable, and which, of course,
he attributed to his Duchessa's own good taste. He was not yet
familiar enough with the Black aristocracy of Italy, to be aware that
in the matter of food and drink simplicity is as much the criterion of
good form amongst them, as lavish complexity is the criterion of good
form amongst the English-imitating Whites.
The conversation, I believe, took its direction chiefly from the
initiative of Mrs. O'Donovan Florence. With great sprightliness and
humour, and with an astonishing light-hearted courage, she rallied the
Cardinal upon the neglect in which her native island was allowed to
languish by the powers at Rome. "The most Catholic country in three
hemispheres, to be sure," she said; "every inch of its soil soaked
with the blood of martyrs. Yet you've not added an Irish saint to the
Calendar for I see you're blushing to think how many ages; and you've
taken sides with the heretic Saxon against us in our struggle for
Home Rule—which I blame you for, though, being a landowner and a bit
of an absentee, I 'm a traitorous Unionist myself."
The Cardinal laughingly retorted that the Irish were far too fine,
too imaginative and poetical a race, to be bothered with material
questions of government and administration. They should leave such
cares to the stolid, practical English, and devote the leisure they
would thus obtain to the further exercise and development of what
someone had called "the starfire of the Celtic nature." Ireland
should look upon England as her working-housekeeper. And as for the
addition of Irish saints to the Calendar, the stumbling-block was
their excessive number. "'T is an embarrassment of riches. If we
were once to begin, we could never leave off till we had canonised
nine-tenths of the dead population."
Monsignor Langshawe, at this (making jest the cue for earnest),
spoke up for Scotland, and deplored the delay in the beatification of
Blessed Mary. "The official beatification," he discriminated, "for
she was beatified in the heart of every true Catholic Scot on the day
when Bloody Elizabeth murdered her."
And Madame de Lafere put in a plea for Louis XVI,
Marie-Antoinette. and the little Dauphin.
"Blessed Mary—Bloody Elizabeth," laughed the Duchessa, in an
aside to Peter; "here is language to use in the presence of a
"Oh, I'm accustomed to 'Bloody Elizabeth,'" said he. "Was n't it
a word of Cardinal Newman's?"
"Yes, I think so," said she. "And since every one is naming his
candidate; for the Calendar, you have named mine. I think there never
was a saintlier saint than Cardinal Newman."
"What is your Eminence's attitude towards the question of mixed
marriages?" Mrs. O'Donovan Florence asked.
Peter pricked up his ears.
"It is not the question of actuality in Italy that it is in
England," his Eminence replied; "but in the abstract, and other
things equal, my attitude would of course be one of disapproval."
"And yet surely," contended she, "if a pious Catholic girl marries
a Protestant man, she has a hundred chances of converting him?"
"I don't know," said the Cardinal. "Would n't it be safer to let
the conversion precede the marriage? Afterwards, I 'm afraid, he
would have a hundred chances of inducing her to apostatise, or, at
least, of rendering her lukewarm."
"Not if she had a spark of the true zeal," said Mrs. O'Donovan
Florence. "Any wife can make her husband's life a burden to him, if
she will conscientiously lay herself out to do so. The man would be
glad to submit, for the sake of peace in his household. I often sigh
for the good old days of the Inquisition; but it's still possible, in
the blessed seclusion of the family circle, to apply the rack and the
thumbscrew in a modified form. I know a dozen fine young Protestant
men in London whom I'm labouring to convert, and I feel I 'm defeated
only by the circumstance that I'm not in a position to lead them to
the altar in the full meaning of the expression."
"A dozen?" the Cardinal laughed. "Aren't you complicating the
question of mixed marriages with that of plural marriage?"
"'T was merely a little Hibernicism, for which I beg your
Eminence's indulgence," laughed she. "But what puts the most spokes
in a proselytiser's wheel is the Faith itself. If we only deserved
the reputation for sharp practice and double dealing which the
Protestants have foisted upon us, it would be roses, roses, all the
way. Why are we forbidden to let the end justify the means? And
where are those accommodements avec le ciel of which we've heard?
We're not even permitted a few poor accommodements avec le monde."
"Look at my uncle's face," whispered the Duchessa to Peter. The
Cardinal's fine old face was all alight with amusement. "In his
fondness for taking things by their humorous end, he has met an
"It will be a grand day for the Church and the nations, when we
have an Irish Pope," Mrs. O'Donovan Florence continued. "A good,
stalwart, militant Irishman is what's needed to set everything right.
With a sweet Irish tongue, he'd win home the wandering sheep; and
with a strong Irish arm, he'd drive the wolves from the fold. It's he
that would soon sweep the Italians out of Rome."
"The Italians will soon be swept out of Rome by the natural
current of events," said the Cardinal. "But an Irish bishop of my
acquaintance insists that we have already had many Irish Popes,
without knowing it. Of all the greatest Popes he cries, 'Surely, they
must have had Irish blood.' He's perfectly convinced that Pius the
Ninth was Irish. His very name, his family-name, Ferretti, was merely
the Irish name, Farrity, Italianised, the good bishop says. No one
but an Irishman, he insists, could have been so witty."
Mrs. O'Donovan Florence looked intensely thoughtful for a moment .
. . . Then, "I 'm trying to think of the original Irish form of
Udeschini," she declared.
At which there was a general laugh.
"When you say 'soon,' Eminence, do you mean that we may hope to
see the Italians driven from Rome in our time?" enquired Madame de
"They are on the verge of bankruptcy—for their sins," the
Cardinal answered. "When the crash comes—and it can't fail to come
before many years—there will necessarily be a readjustment. I do not
believe that the conscience of Christendom will again allow Peter to
be deprived of his inheritance."
"God hasten the good day," said Monsignor Langshawe.
"If I can live to see Rome restored to the Pope, I shall die
content, even though I cannot live to see France restored to the
King," said the old Frenchwoman.
"And I—even though I cannot live to see Britain restored to the
Faith," said the Monsignore.
The Duchessa smiled at Peter.
"What a hotbed of Ultramontanes and reactionaries you have fallen
into," she murmured.
"It is exhilarating," said he, "to meet people who have
"Even when you regard their convictions as erroneous?" she asked.
"Yes, even then," he answered. "But I'm not sure I regard as
erroneous the convictions I have heard expressed to-night."
"Oh—?" she wondered. "Would you like to see Rome restored to the
"Yes," said he, "decidedly—for aesthetic reasons, if for no
"I suppose there are aesthetic reasons," she assented. "But we,
of course, think there are conclusive reasons in mere justice."
"I don't doubt there are conclusive reasons in mere justice, too,"
After dinner, at the Cardinal's invitation, the Duchessa went to
the piano, and played Bach and Scarlatti. Her face, in the soft
candlelight, as she discoursed that "luminous, lucid" music, Peter
thought . . . But what do lovers always think of their ladies' faces,
when they look up from their pianos, in soft candlelight?
Mrs. O'Donovan Florence, taking her departure, said to the
Cardinal, "I owe your Eminence the two proudest days of my life. The
first was when I read in the paper that you had received the hat, and
I was able to boast to all my acquaintances that I had been in the
convent with your niece by marriage. And the second is now, when I
can boast forevermore hereafter that I've enjoyed the honour of making
my courtesy to you."
"So," said Peter, as he walked home through the dew and the
starlight of the park, amid the phantom perfumes of the night, "so
the Cardinal does n't approve of mixed marriages and, of course, his
niece does n't, either. But what can it matter to me? For alas and
alas—as he truly said—it's hardly a question of actuality."
And he lit a cigarette.
"So he did meet her, after all?" the Duchessa said.
"Yes, he met her in the end," Peter answered.
They were seated under the gay white awning, against the bright
perspective of lawn, lake, and mountains, on the terrace at
Ventirose, where Peter was paying his dinner-call. The August day
was hot and still and beautiful—a day made of gold and velvet and
sweet odours. The Duchessa lay back languidly, among the crisp silk
cushions, in her low, lounging chair; and Peter, as he looked at her,
told himself that he must be cautious, cautious.
"Yes, he met her in the end," he said.
"Well—? And then—?" she questioned, with a show of eagerness,
smiling into his eyes. "What happened? Did she come up to his
expectations? Or was she just the usual disappointment? I have been
pining—oh, but pining—to hear the continuation of the story."
She smiled into his eyes, and his heart fluttered. "I must be
cautious," he told himself. "In more ways than one, this is a
crucial moment." At the same time, as a very part of his caution, he
must appear entirely nonchalant and candid.
"Oh, no—tutt' altro," he said, with an assumption of nonchalant
airiness and candid promptness. "She 'better bettered' his
expectations—she surpassed his fondest. She was a thousand times
more delightful than he had dreamed—though, as you know, he had
dreamed a good deal. Pauline de Fleuvieres turned out to be the
feeblest, faintest echo of her."
The Duchessa meditated for an instant.
"It seems impossible. It's one of those situations in which a
disenchantment seems the foregone conclusion," she said, at last.
"It seems so, indeed," assented Peter; "but disenchantment, there
was none. She was all that he had imagined, and infinitely more. She
was the substance—he had imagined the shadow. He had divined her, as
it were, from a single angle, and there were many angles. Pauline was
the pale reflection of one side of her—a pencil-sketch in profile."
The Duchessa shook her head, marvelling, and smiled again.
"You pile wonder upon wonder," she said. "That the reality should
excel the poet's ideal! That the cloud-capped towers which looked
splendid from afar, with all the glamour of distance, should prove to
be more splendid still, on close inspection! It's dead against the
accepted theory of things. And that any woman should be nicer than
that adorable Pauline! You tax belief. But I want to know what
happened. Had she read his book?"
"Nothing happened," said Peter. "I warned you that it was a drama
without action. A good deal happened, no doubt, in Wildmay's secret
soul. But externally, nothing. They simply chatted
together—exchanged the time o' day—like any pair of acquaintances.
No, I don't think she had read his book. She did read it afterwards,
"And liked it?"
"Yes—she said she liked it."
"Well—? But then-?" the Duchessa pressed him, insistently. "When
she discovered the part she had had in its composition—? Was n't she
overwhelmed? Wasn't she immensely interested —surprised—moved?"
She leaned forward a little. Her eyes were shining. Her lips
were slightly parted, so that between their warm rosiness Peter could
see the exquisite white line of her teeth. His heart fluttered again.
"I must be cautious, cautious," he remembered, and made a strenuous
"act of will" to steady himself.
"Oh, she never discovered that," he said.
"What!" exclaimed the Duchessa. Her face fell. Her eyes
darkened—with dismay, with incomprehension. "Do you—you
don't—mean to say that he didn't tell her?" There was reluctance to
believe, there was a conditional implication of deep reproach, in her
Peter had to repeat his act of will.
"How could he tell her?" he asked.
She frowned at him, with reproach that was explicit now, and a
kind of pained astonishment.
"How could he help telling her?" she cried. "But—but it was the
one great fact between them. But it was a fact that intimately
concerned her—it was a fact of her own destiny. But it was her right
to be told. Do you seriously mean that he did n't tell her? But why
did n't he? What could have possessed him?"
There was something like a tremor in her voice. "I must appear
entirely nonchalant and candid," Peter remembered.
"I fancy he was possessed, in some measure, by a sense of the
liberty he had taken by a sense of what one might, perhaps, venture
to qualify as his 'cheek.' For, if it was n't already a liberty to
embody his notion of her in a novel—in a published book, for daws to
peck at—it would have become a liberty the moment he informed her
that he had done so. That would have had the effect of making her a
kind of involuntary particeps criminis."
"Oh, the foolish man!" sighed the Duchessa, with a rueful shake of
the head. "His foolish British self-consciousness! His British
inability to put himself in another person's place, to see things from
another's point of view! Could n't he see, from her point of view,
from any point of view but his own, that it was her right to be told?
That the matter affected her in one way, as much as it affected him
in another? That since she had influenced—since she had contributed
to—his life and his art as she had, it was her right to know it?
Couldn't he see that his 'cheek,' his real 'cheek,' began when he
withheld from her that great strange chapter of her own history? Oh,
he ought to have told her, he ought to have told her."
She sank back in her chair, giving her head another rueful shake,
and gazed ruefully away, over the sunny landscape, through the mellow
atmosphere, into the golden-hazy distance.
Peter looked at her—and then, quickly, for caution's sake, looked
"But there were other things to be taken into account," he said.
The Duchessa raised her eyes. "What other things?" they gravely
"Would n't his telling her have been equivalent to a declaration
of love?" questioned he, looking at the signet-ring on the little
finger of his left hand.
"A declaration of love?" She considered for a moment. "Yes, I
suppose in a way it would," she acknowledged. "But even so?" she
asked, after another moment of consideration. "Why should he not have
made her a declaration of love? He was in love with her, wasn't he?"
The point of frank interrogation in her eyes showed clearly,
showed cruelly, how detached, how impersonal, her interest was.
"Frantically," said Peter. For caution's sake, he kept HIS eyes
on the golden-hazy peaks of Monte Sfionto. "He had been in love with
her, in a fashion, of course, from the beginning. But after he met
her, he fell in love with her anew. His mind, his imagination, had
been in love with its conception of her. But now he, the man, loved
her, the woman herself, frantically, with just a downright common
human love. There were circumstances, however, which made it
impossible for him to tell her so."
"What circumstances?" There was the same frank look of
interrogation. "Do you mean that she was married?"
"No, not that. By the mercy of heaven," he pronounced, with
energy, "she was a widow."
The Duchessa broke into an amused laugh.
"Permit me to admire your piety," she said.
And Peter, as his somewhat outrageous ejaculation came back to
him, laughed vaguely too.
"But then—?" she went on. "What else? By the mercy of heaven,
she was a widow. What other circumstance could have tied his tongue?"
"Oh," he answered, a trifle uneasily, "a multitude of
circumstances. Pretty nearly every conventional barrier the world
has invented, existed between him and her. She was a frightful swell,
for one thing."
"A frightful swell—?" The Duchessa raised her eyebrows.
"Yes," said Peter, "at a vertiginous height above him—horribly
'aloft and lone' in the social hierarchy." He tried to smile.
"What could that matter?" the Duchessa objected simply. "Mr.
Wildmay is a gentleman."
"How do you know he is?" Peter asked, thinking to create a
"Of course, he is. He must be. No one but a gentleman could have
had such an experience, could have written such a book. And besides,
he's a friend of yours. Of course he's a gentleman," returned the
"But there are degrees of gentleness, I believe," said Peter. "She
was at the topmost top. He—well, at all events, he knew his place.
He had too much humour, too just a sense of proportion, to
contemplate offering her his hand."
"A gentleman can offer his hand to any woman—under royalty," said
"He can, to be sure—and he can also see it declined with thanks,"
Peter answered. "But it wasn't merely her rank. She was horribly
rich, besides. And then—and then—! There were ten thousand other
impediments. But the chief of them all, I daresay, was Wildmay's fear
lest an avowal of his attachment should lead to his exile from her
presence—and he naturally did not wish to be exiled."
"Faint heart!" the Duchessa said. "He ought to have told her. The
case was peculiar, was unique. Ordinary rules could n't apply to it.
And how could he be sure, after all, that she would n't have despised
the conventional barriers, as you call them? Every man gets the wife
he deserves—and certainly he had gone a long way towards deserving
her. She could n't have felt quite indifferent to him—if he had told
her; quite indifferent to the man who had drawn that magnificent
Pauline from his vision of her. No woman could be entirely proof
against a compliment like that. And I insist that it was her right
to know. He should simply have told her the story of his book and of
her part in it. She would have inferred the rest. He needn't have
mentioned love—the word."
"Well," said Peter, "it is not always too late to mend. He may
tell her some fine day yet."
And in his soul two voices were contending.
"Tell her—tell her—tell her! Tell her now, at once, and abide
your chances," urged one. "No—no—no—do nothing of the kind,"
protested the second. "She is arguing the point for its abstract
interest. She is a hundred miles from dreaming that you are the
man—hundreds of miles from dreaming that she is the woman. If she
had the least suspicion of that, she would sing a song as different as
may be. Caution, caution."
He looked at her—warm and fragrant and radiant, in her soft,
white gown, in her low lounging-chair, so near, so near to him —he
looked at her glowing eyes, her red lips, her rich brown hair, at the
white-and-rose of her skin, at the delicate blue veins in her
forehead, at her fine white hands, clasped loosely together in her
lap, at the flowing lines of her figure, with its supple grace and
strength; and behind her, surrounding her, accessory to her, he was
conscious of the golden August world, in the golden August weather—of
the green park, and the pure sunshine, and the sweet, still air, of
the blue lake, and the blue sky, and the mountains with their
dark-blue shadows, of the long marble terrace, and the gleaming marble
facade of the house, and the marble balustrade, with the jessamine
twining round its columns. The picture was very beautiful—but
something was wanting to perfect its beauty; and the name of the
something that was wanting sang itself in poignant iteration to the
beating of his pulses. And he longed and longed to tell her; and he
dared not; and he hesitated . . . .
And while he was hesitating, the pounding of hoofs and the
grinding of carriage-wheels on gravel reached his ears—and so the
situation was saved, or the opportunity lost, as you choose to think
it. For next minute a servant appeared on the terrace, and announced
Mrs. O'Donovan Florence.
And shortly after that lady's arrival, Peter took his leave.
Well, Trixie, and is one to congratulate you?" asked Mrs.
"Congratulate me—? On what?" asked Beatrice.
"On what, indeed!" cried the vivacious Irishwoman. "Don't try to
pull the wool over the eyes of an old campaigner like me."
Beatrice looked blank.
"I can't in the least think what you mean," she said.
"Get along with you," cried Mrs. O'Donovan Florence; and she
brandished her sunshade threateningly. "On your engagement to
Mr.—what's this his name is?—to be sure."
She glanced indicatively down the lawn, in the direction of
Peter's retreating tweeds.
Beatrice had looked blank. But now she looked—first, perhaps,
for a tiny fraction of a second, startled—then gently,
"My poor Kate! Are you out of your senses?" she enquired, in
accents of concern, nodding her head, with a feint of pensive pity.
"Not I," returned Mrs. O'Donovan Florence, cheerfully confident.
"But I 'm thinking I could lay my finger on a long-limbed young
Englishman less than a mile from here, who very nearly is. Hasn't he
asked you yet?"
"Es-to bete?" Beatrice murmured, pitifully nodding again.
"Ah, well, if he has n't, it's merely a question of time when he
will," said Mrs. O'Donovan Florence. "You've only to notice the
famished gaze with which he devours you, to see his condition. But
don't try to hoodwink me. Don't pretend that this is news to you."
"News!" scoffed Beatrice. "It's news and nonsense—the product of
your irrepressible imagination. Mr. What's-this-his-name-is, as you
call him, and I are the barest acquaintances. He's our temporary
neighbour—the tenant for the season of Villa Floriano—the house you
can catch a glimpse of, below there, through the trees, on the other
side of the river."
"Is he, now, really? And that's very interesting too. But I
wasn't denying it." Mrs. O'Donovan Florence smiled, with derisive
sweetness. "The fact of his being the tenant of the house I can catch
a glimpse of, through the trees, on the other side of the river,
though a valuable acquisition to my stores of knowledge, does n't
explain away his famished glance unless, indeed, he's behind with the
rent: but even then, it's not famished he'd look, but merely anxious
and persuasive. I'm a landlord myself. No, Trixie, dear, you've made
roast meat of the poor fellow's heart, as the poetical Persians
express it; and if he has n't told you so yet with his tongue, he
tells the whole world so with his eyes as often as he allows them to
rest on their loadstone, your face. You can see the sparks and the
smoke escaping from them, as though they were chimneys. If you've
not observed that for yourself, it can only be that excessive modesty
has rendered you blind. The man is head over ears in love with you.
Nonsense or bonsense, that is the sober truth."
"I 'm sorry to destroy a romance, Kate," she said; "but alas for
the pretty one you 've woven, I happen to know that, so far from being
in love with me, Mr. Marchdale is quite desperately in love with
another woman. He was talking to me about her the moment before you
"Was he, indeed?—and you the barest acquaintances!" quizzed Mrs.
O'Donovan Florence, pulling a face. "Well, well," she went on
thoughtfully, "if he's in love with another woman, that settles my
last remaining doubt. It can only be that the other woman's
Beatrice shook her head, and laughed again.
"Is that what they call an Irishism?" she asked, with polite
"And an Irishism is a very good thing, too—when employed with
intention," retorted her friend. "Did he just chance, now, in a
casual way, to mention the other woman's name, I wonder?"
"Oh, you perverse and stiff-necked generation!" Beatrice laughed.
"What can his mentioning or not mentioning her name signify? For
since he's in love with her, it's hardly likely that he's in love with
you or me at the same time, is it?"
"That's as may be. But I'll wager I could make a shrewd guess at
her name myself. And what else did he tell you about her? He's told
me nothing; but I'll warrant I could paint her portrait. She's a fine
figure of a young Englishwoman, brown-haired, grey-eyed, and she
stands about five-feet-eight in her shoes. There's an expression of
great malice and humour in her physiognomy, and a kind of
devil-may-care haughtiness in the poise of her head. She's a bit of a
grande dame, into the bargain—something like an Anglo-Italian
duchess, for example; she's monstrously rich; and she adds, you'll be
surprised to learn, to her other fascinations that of being a widow.
Faith, the men are so fond of widows, it's a marvel to me that we're
ever married at all until we reach that condition;—and there, if you
like, is another Irishism for you. But what's this? Methinks a rosy
blush mantles my lady's brow. Have I touched the heel of Achilles?
She IS a widow? He TOLD you she was a widow? . . . But—bless us
and save us!—what's come to you now? You're as white as a sheet.
What is it?"
"Good heavens!" gasped Beatrice. She lay back in her chair, and
stared with horrified eyes into space. "Good—good heavens!"
Mrs. O' Donovan Florence leaned forward and took her hand.
"What is it, my dear? What's come to you?" she asked, in alarm.
Beatrice gave a kind of groan.
"It's absurd—it's impossible," she said; "and yet, if by any
ridiculous chance you should be right, it's too horribly horrible."
She repeated her groan. "If by any ridiculous chance you are right,
the man will think that I have been leading him on!"
"LEADING HIM ON!" Mrs. O'Donovan Florence suppressed a shriek of
ecstatic mirth. "There's no question about my being right," she
averred soberly. "He wears his heart behind his eyeglass; and whoso
runs may read it."
"Well, then—" began Beatrice, with an air of desperation . . .
"But no," she broke off. "YOU CAN'T be right. It's impossible,
impossible. Wait. I'll tell you the whole story. You shall see for
"Go on," said Mrs. O'Donovan Florence, assuming an attitude of
devout attention, which she retained while Beatrice (not without
certain starts and hesitations) recounted the fond tale of Peter's
novel, and of the woman who had suggested the character of Pauline.
"But OF COURSE!" cried the Irishwoman, when the tale was finished;
and this time her shriek of mirth, of glee, was not suppressed. "Of
course—you miracle of unsuspecting innocence! The man would never
have breathed a whisper of the affair to any soul alive, save to his
heroine herself—let alone to you, if you and she were not the same.
Couple that with the eyes he makes at you, and you've got assurance
twice assured. You ought to have guessed it from the first syllable
he uttered. And when he went on about her exalted station and her
fabulous wealth! Oh, my ingenue! Oh, my guileless lambkin! And you
Trixie Belfont! Where's your famous wit? Where are your famous
"BUT DON'T YOU SEE," wailed Beatrice, "don't you see the utterly
odious position this leaves me in? I've been urging him with all my
might to tell her! I said . . . oh, the things I said!" She
shuddered visibly. "I said that differences of rank and fortune could
n't matter." She gave a melancholy laugh. "I said that very likely
she'd accept him. I said she couldn't help being . . . Oh, my dear,
my dear! He'll think—of course, he can't help thinking—that I was
encouraging him—that I was coming halfway to meet him."
"Hush, hush! It's not so bad as that," said Mrs. O'Donovan
Florence, soothingly. "For surely, as I understand it, the man
doesn't dream that you knew it was about himself he was speaking. He
always talked of the book as by a friend of his; and you never let him
suspect that you had pierced his subterfuge."
Beatrice frowned for an instant, putting this consideration in its
place, in her troubled mind. Then suddenly a light of intense, of
immense relief broke in her face.
"Thank goodness!" she sighed. "I had forgotten. No, he does n't
dream that. But oh, the fright I had!"
"He'll tell you, all the same," said Mrs. O'Donovan Florence.
"No, he'll never tell me now. I am forewarned, forearmed. I 'll
give him no chance," Beatrice answered.
"Yes; and what's more, you'll marry him," said her friend.
"Kate! Don't descend to imbecilities," cried Beatrice.
"You'll marry him," reiterated Mrs. O'Donovan Florence, calmly.
"You'll end by marrying him—if you're human; and I've seldom known a
human being who was more so. It's not in flesh and blood to remain
unmoved by a tribute such as that man has paid you. The first thing
you'll do will be to re-read the novel. Otherwise, I'd request the
loan of it myself, for I 'm naturally curious to compare the wrought
ring with the virgin gold—but I know it's the wrought ring the virgin
gold will itself be wanting, directly it's alone. And then the poison
will work. And you'll end by marrying him."
"In the first place," replied Beatrice, firmly, "I shall never
marry any one. That is absolutely certain. In the next place, I
shall not re-read the novel; and to prove that I shan't, I shall
insist on your taking it with you when you leave to-day. And finally,
I'm nowhere near convinced that you're right about my being . . .
well, you might as well say the raw material, the rough ore, as the
virgin gold. It's only a bare possibility. But even the possibility
had not occurred to me before. Now that it has, I shall be on my
guard. I shall know how to prevent any possible developments."
"In the first place," said Mrs. O'Donovan Florence, with equal
firmness, "wild horses couldn't induce me to take the novel. Wait
till you're alone. A hundred questions about it will come flocking to
your mind; you'd be miserable if you had n't it to refer to. In the
next place, the poison will work and work. Say what you will, it's
flattery that wins us. In the third place, he'll tell you. Finally,
you'll make a good Catholic of him, and marry him. It's absurd, it's
iniquitous, anyhow, for a young and beautiful woman like you to remain
a widow. And your future husband is a man of talent and distinction,
and he's not bad-looking, either. Will you stick to your title, now,
I wonder? Or will you step down, and be plain Mrs. Marchdale?
No—the Honourable Mrs.—excuse me—'Mr. and the Honourable Mrs.
Marchdale.' I see you in the 'Morning Post' already. And will you
continue to live in Italy? Or will you come back to England?"
"Oh, my good Kate, my sweet Kate, my incorrigible Kate, what an
extravagantly silly Kate you can be when the mood takes you,"
"Kate me as many Kates as you like, the man is really not
bad-looking. He has a nice lithe springy figure, and a clean
complexion, and an open brow. And if there's a suggestion of
superciliousness in the tilt of his nose, of scepticism in the twirl
of his moustaches, and of obstinacy in the squareness of his chin—ma
foi, you must take the bitter with the sweet. Besides, he has decent
hair, and plenty of it—he'll not go bald. And he dresses well, and
wears his clothes with an air. In short, you'll make a very handsome
couple. Anyhow, when your family are gathered round the evening lamp
to-night, I 'll stake my fortune on it, but I can foretell the name of
the book they'll find Trixie Belfont reading," laughed Mrs. O'Donovan
For a few minutes, after her friend had left her, Beatrice sat
still, her head resting on her hand, and gazed with fixed eyes at
Monte Sfiorito. Then she rose, and walked briskly backwards and
forwards, for a while, up and down the terrace. Presently she came to
a standstill, and leaning on the balustrade, while one of her feet
kept lightly tapping the pavement, looked off again towards the
The prospect was well worth her attention, with its blue and green
and gold, its wood and water, its misty-blushing snows, its
spaciousness and its atmosphere. In the sky a million fluffy little
cloudlets floated like a flock of fantastic birds, with
mother-of-pearl tinted plumage. The shadows were lengthening now.
The sunshine glanced from the smooth surface of the lake as from
burnished metal, and falling on the coloured sails of the
fishing-boats, made them gleam like sails of crimson silk. But I
wonder how much of this Beatrice really saw.
She plucked an oleander from one of the tall marble urns set along
the balustrade, and pressed the pink blossom against her face, and,
closing her eyes, breathed in its perfume; then, absent-minded, she
let it drop, over the terrace, upon the path below.
"It's impossible," she said suddenly, aloud. At last she went
into the house, and up to her rose-and-white retiring-room. There she
took a book from the table, and sank into a deep easy-chair, and began
to turn the pages.
But when, by and by, approaching footsteps became audible in the
stone-floored corridor without, Beatrice hastily shut the book, thrust
it back upon the table, and caught up another so that Emilia Manfredi,
entering, found her reading Monsieur Anatole France's "Etui de nacre."
"Emilia," she said, "I wish you would translate the I Jongleur de
Notre Dame' into Italian."
Peter, we may suppose, returned to Villa Floriano that afternoon
in a state of some excitement.
"He ought to have told her—"
"It was her right to be told—"
"What could her rank matter—"
"A gentleman can offer his hand to any woman—"
"She would have despised the conventional barriers—"
"No woman could be proof against such a compliment—"
The case was peculiar—ordinary rules could not apply to it—"
"Every man gets the wife he deserves—and he had certainly gone a
long way towards deserving her—"
"He should simply have told her the story of his book and of her
part in it—he need n't have mentioned love—she would have
The Duchessa's voice, clear and cool and crisp-cut, sounded
perpetually in his ears; the words she had spoken, the arguments she
had urged, repeated and repeated themselves, danced round and round,
in his memory.
"Ought I to have told her—then and there? Shall I go to her and
tell her to-morrow?"
He tried to think; but he could not think. His faculties were in
a whirl—he could by no means command them. He could only wait,
inert, while the dance went on. It was an extremely riotous dance.
The Duchessa's conversation was reproduced without sequence, without
coherence—scattered fragments of it were flashed before him fitfully,
in swift disorder. If he would attempt to seize upon one of those
fragments, to detain and fix it, for consideration—a speech of hers,
a look, an inflection—then the whole experience suddenly lost its
outlines, his recollection of it became a jumble, and he was left, as
it were, intellectually gasping.
He walked about his garden, he went into the house, he came out,
he walked about again. he went in and dressed for dinner, he sat on
his rustic bench, he smoked cigarette after cigarette.
"Ought I to have told her? Ought I to tell her to-morrow?"
At moments there would come a lull in the turmoil, an interval of
quiet, of apparent clearness; and the answer would seem perfectly
"Of course, you ought to tell her. Tell her—and all will be
well. She has put herself in the supposititious woman's place, and
she says, 'He ought to tell her.' She says it earnestly, vehemently.
That means that if she were the woman, she would wish to be told.
She will despise the conventional barriers —she will be touched, she
will be moved. 'No woman could be proof against such a compliment.'
Go to her to-morrow, and tell her—and all will be well."
At these moments he would look up towards the castle, and picture
the morrow's consummation; and his heart would have a convulsion.
Imagination flew on the wings of his desire. She stood before him in
all her sumptuous womanhood, tender and strong and glowing. As he
spoke, her eyes lightened, her eyes burned, the blood came and went in
her cheeks; her lips parted. Then she whispered something; and his
heart leapt terribly; and he called her name—"Beatrice! Beatrice!"
Her name expressed the inexpressible—the adoring passion, the wild
hunger and wild triumph of his soul. But now she was moving towards
him —she was holding out her hands. He caught her in his arms—he
held her yielding body in his arms. And his heart leapt terribly,
terribly. And he wondered how he could endure, how he could live
through, the hateful hours that must elapse before tomorrow would be
But "hearts, after leaps, ache." Presently the whirl would begin
again; and then, by and by, in another lull, a contrary answer would
seem equally plain.
"Tell her, indeed? My dear man, are you mad? She would simply be
amazed, struck dumb, by your presumption. I can see from here her
incredulity—I can see the scorn with which she would wither you. It
has never dimly occurred to her as conceivable that you would venture
to be in love with her, that you would dare to lift your eyes to
her—you who are nothing, to her who is all. Yes—nothing, nobody.
In her view, you are just a harmless nobody, whose society she
tolerates for kindness' sake—and faute de mieux. It is precisely
because she deems you a nobody—because she is profoundly conscious of
the gulf that separates you from her—that she can condescend to be
amiably familiar. If you were of a rank even remotely approximating
to her own, she would be a thousand times more circumspect.
Remember—she does not dream that you are Felix Wildmay. He is a
mere name to her; and his story is an amusing little romance,
perfectly external to herself, which she discusses with entirely
impersonal interest. Tell her by all means, if you like Say, 'I am
Wildmay—you are Pauline.' And see how amazed she will be, and how
incensed, and how indignant."
Then he would look up at the castle stonily, in a mood of
desperate renunciation, and vaguely meditate packing his belongings,
and going home to England.
At other moments a third answer would seem the plain one:
something between these extremes of optimism and pessimism, a
compromise, it not a reconciliation.
"Come! Let us be calm, let us be judicial. The consequences of
our actions, here below, if hardly ever so good as we could hope, are
hardly ever so bad as we might fear. Let us regard this matter in the
light of that guiding principle. True, she does n't dream that you
are Wildmay. True, if you were abruptly to say to her, 'I am
Wildmay—you are the woman,' she would be astonished—even, if you
will, at first, more or less taken aback, disconcerted. But
indignant? Why? What is this gulf that separates you from her? What
are these conventional barriers of which you make so much? She is a
duchess, she is the daughter of a lord, and she is rich. Well, all
that is to be regretted. But you are neither a plebeian nor a pauper
yourself. You are a man of good birth, you are a man of some parts,
and you have a decent income. It amounts to this—she is a great
lady, you are a small gentleman. In ordinary circumstances, to be
sure, so small a gentleman could not ask so great a lady to become his
wife. But here the circumstances are not ordinary. Destiny has
meddled in the business. Small gentleman though you are, an unusual
and subtle relation-ship has been established between you and your
great lady. She herself says, 'Ordinary rules cannot apply—he ought
to tell her.' Very good: tell her. She will be astonished, but she
will see that there is no occasion for resentment. And though the
odds are, of course, a hundred to one that she will not accept you,
still she must treat you as an honourable suitor. And whether she
accepts you or rejects you, it is better to tell her and to have it
over, than to go on forever dangling this way, like the poor cat in
the adage. Tell her—put your fate to the touch—hope nothing, fear
nothing—and bow to the event."
But even this temperate answer provoked its counter-answer.
"The odds are a hundred to one, a thousand to one, that she will
not accept you. And if you tell her, and she does not accept you, she
will not allow you to see her any more, you will be exiled from her
presence. And I thought, you did not wish to be exiled from her
presence, You would stake, then, this great privilege, the privilege
of seeing her, of knowing her, upon a. chance that has a thousand to
one against it. You make light of the conventional barriers—but the
principal barrier of them all, you are forgetting. She is a Roman
Catholic, and a devout one. Marry a Protestant? She would as soon
think of marrying a Paynim Turk."
In the end, no doubt, a kind of exhaustion followed upon his
excitement. Questions and answers suspended themselves; and he could
only look up towards Ventirose, and dumbly wish that he was there.
The distance was so trifling—in five minutes he could traverse
it—the law seemed absurd and arbitrary, which condemned him to sit
apart, free only to look and wish.
It was in this condition of mind that Marietta found him, when she
came to announce dinner.
Peter gave himself a shake. The sight of the brown old woman,
with her homely, friendly face, brought him back to small things, to
actual things; and that, if it was n't a comfort, was, at any rate, a
"Dinner?" he questioned. "Do peris at the gates of Eden DINE?"
"The soup is on the table," said Marietta.
He rose, casting a last glance towards the castle.
Towers and battlements . . .
Bosomed high in tufted trees,
Where perhaps some beauty lies,
The cynosure of neighbouring eyes."
He repeated the lines in an undertone, and went in to dinner. And
then the restorative spirit of nonsense descended upon him.
"Marietta," he asked, "what is your attitude towards the question
of mixed marriages?"
Marietta wrinkled her brow.
"Mixed marriages? What is that, Signorino?"
"Marriages between Catholics and Protestants," he explained.
"Protestants?" Her brow was still a network. "What things are
"They are things—or perhaps it would be less invidious to say
people—who are not Catholics—who repudiate Catholicism as a deadly
and soul-destroying error."
"Jews?" asked Marietta.
"No—not exactly. They are generally classified as Christians.
But they protest, you know. Protesto, protestare, verb, active,
first conjugation. 'Mi pare che la donna protesta troppo,' as the
poet sings. They're Christians, but they protest against the Pope and
"The Signorino means Freemasons," said Marietta.
"No, he does n't," said Peter. "He means Protestants."
"But pardon, Signorino," she insisted; "if they are not Catholics,
they must be Freemasons or Jews. They cannot be Christians.
Christian—Catholic: it is the same. All Christians are Catholics."
"Tu quoque!" he cried. "You regard the terms as interchangeable?
I 've heard the identical sentiment similarly enunciated by another.
Do I look like a Freemason?"
She bent her sharp old eyes upon him studiously for a moment. Then
she shook her head.
"No," she answered slowly. "I do not think that the Signorino
looks like a Freemason."
"A Jew, then?"
"Mache! A Jew? The Signorino!" She shrugged derision.
"And yet I'm what they call a Protestant," he said.
"No," said she.
"Yes," said he. "I refer you to my sponsors in baptism. A
regular, true blue moderate High Churchman and Tory, British and
Protestant to the backbone, with 'Frustrate their Popish tricks' writ
large all over me. You have never by any chance married a Protestant
yourself?" he asked.
"No, Signorino. I have never married any one. But it was not for
the lack of occasions. Twenty, thirty young men courted me when I was
a girl. But—mica!—I would not look at them. When men are young
they are too unsteady for husbands; when they are old they have the
Admirably philosophised," he approved. But it sometimes happens
that men are neither young nor old. There are men of thirty-five—I
have even heard that there are men of forty. What of them?"
"There is a proverb, Signorino, which says, Sposi di quarant' anni
son mai sempre tiranni," she informed him.
"For the matter of that," he retorted, "there is a proverb which
says, Love laughs at locksmiths."
"Non capisco," said Marietta.
"That's merely because it's English," said he. "You'd understand
fast enough if I should put it in Italian. But I only quoted it to
show the futility of proverbs. Laugh at locksmiths, indeed! Why, it
can't even laugh at such an insignificant detail as a Papist's
prejudices. But I wish I were a duke and a millionaire. Do you know
any one who could create me a duke and endow me with a million?"
"No, Signorino," she answered, shaking her head.
"Fragrant Cytherea, foam-born Venus, deathless Aphrodite, cannot,
goddess though she is," he complained. "The fact is, I 'm feeling
rather undone. I think I will ask you to bring me a bottle of
Asti-spumante—some of the dry kind, with the white seal. I 'll try
to pretend that it's champagne. To tell or not to tell—that is the
'A face to lose youth for, to occupy age
With the dream of, meet death with—
And yet, if you can believe me, the man who penned those lines had
never seen her. He penned another line equally pat to the situation,
though he had never seen me, either
'Is there no method to tell her in Spanish?"
But you can't imagine how I detest that vulgar use of 'pen' for
'write'—as if literature were a kind of pig. However, it's perhaps
no worse than the use of Asti for champagne. One should n't be too
fastidious. I must really try to think of some method of telling her
Marietta went to fetch the Asti.
When Peter rose next morning, he pulled a grimace at the departed
"You are a detected cheat," he cried, "an unmasked impostor. You
live upon your reputation as a counsellor—'tis the only reason why we
bear with you. La nuit porte conseil! Yet what counsel have you
brought to me?—and I at the pass where my need is uttermost. Shall I
go to her this afternoon, and unburden my soul—or shall I not? You
have left me where you found me—in the same fine, free, and liberal
state of vacillation. Discredited oracle!"
He was standing before his dressing-table, brushing his hair. The
image in the glass frowned back at him. Then something struck him.
"At all events, we'll go this morning to Spiaggia, and have our
hair cut," he resolved.
So he walked to the village, and caught the ten o'clock omnibus
for Spiaggia. And after he had had his hair cut, he went to the
Hotel de Russie, and lunched in the garden. And after luncheon, of
course, he entered the grounds of the Casino, and strolled backwards
and forwards, one of a merry procession, on the terrace by the
lakeside. The gay toilets of the women, their bright-coloured hats
and sunshades, made the terrace look like a great bank of monstrous
moving flowers. The band played brisk accompaniments to the steady
babble of voices, Italian, English, German. The pure air was shot
with alien scents—the women's perfumery, the men's cigarette-smoke.
The marvellous blue waters crisped in the breeze, and sparkled in the
sun; and the smooth snows of Monte Sfiorito loomed so near, one felt
one could almost put out one's stick and scratch one's name upon them
. . . . And here, as luck would have it, Peter came face to face with
Mrs. O'Donovan Florence.
"How do you do?" said she, offering her hand.
"How do you do?" said he.
"It's a fine day," said she.
"Very," said he.
"Shall I make you a confidence?" she asked.
"Do," he answered.
"Are you sure I can trust you?" She scanned his face dubiously.
"Try it and see," he urged.
"Well, then, if you must know, I was thirsting to take a table and
call for coffee; but having no man at hand to chaperon me, I dared
"Je vous en prie'' cried Peter, with a gesture of gallantry; and
he led her to one of the round marble tables. "Due caffe," he said to
the brilliant creature (chains, buckles, ear-rings, of silver
filigree, and head-dress and apron of flame-red silk) who came to
learn their pleasure.
"Softly, softly," put in Mrs. O'Donovan Florence. "Not a drop of
coffee for me. An orange-sherbet, if you please. Coffee was a figure
of speech—a generic term for light refreshments."
Peter laughed, and amended his order.
"Do you see those three innocent darlings playing together, under
the eye of their governess, by the Wellingtonia yonder?" enquired the
"The little girl in white and the two boys?" asked Peter.
"Precisely," said she. "Such as they are, they're me own."
"Really?" he responded, in the tone of profound and sympathetic
interest we are apt to affect when parents begin about their
"I give you my word for it," she assured him. "But I mention the
fact, not in a spirit of boastfulness, but merely to show you that I
'm not entirely alone and unprotected. There's an American at our
hotel, by the bye, who goes up and down telling every one who'll
listen that it ought to be Washingtonia, and declaiming with tears in
his eyes against the arrogance of the English in changing Washington
to Wellington. As he's a respectable-looking man with grown-up
daughters, I should think very likely he's right."
"Very likely," said Peter. "It's an American tree, is n't it?"
"Whether it is n't or whether it is," said she, "one thing is
undeniable: you English are the coldest-blooded animals south of the
"Oh—? Are we?" he doubted.
"You are that," she affirmed, with sorrowing emphasis.
"Ah, well," he reflected, "the temperature of our blood does n't
matter. We're, at any rate, notoriously warm-hearted."
"Are you indeed?" she exclaimed. "If you are, it's a mighty quiet
kind of notoriety, let me tell you, and a mighty cold kind of warmth."
"You're all for prudence and expediency. You're the slaves of
your reason. You're dominated by the head, not by the heart. You're
little better than calculating-machines. Are you ever known, now, for
instance, to risk earth and heaven, and all things between them, on a
sudden unthinking impulse?"
"Not often, I daresay," he admitted.
"And you sit there as serene as a brazen statue, and own it
without a quaver," she reproached him.
"Surely," he urged, "in my character of Englishman, it behooves me
to appear smug and self-satisfied?"
"You're right," she agreed. "I wonder," she continued, after a
moment's pause, during which her eyes looked thoughtful, "I wonder
whether you would fall upon and annihilate a person who should venture
to offer you a word of well-meant advice."
"I should sit as serene as a brazen statue, and receive it without
a quaver," he promised.
"Well, then," said she, leaning forward a little, and dropping her
voice, "why don't you take your courage in both hands, and ask her?"
"Be guided by me—and do it," she said.
"Do what?" he puzzled.
"Ask her to marry you, of course," she returned amiably. Then,
without allowing him time to shape an answer, "Touche!" she cried, in
triumph. "I 've brought the tell-tale colour to your cheek. And you
a brazen statue! 'They do not love who do not show their love.' But,
in faith, you show yours to any one who'll be at pains to watch you.
Your eyes betray you as often as ever you look at her. I had n't
observed you for two minutes by the clock, when I knew your secret as
well as if you 'd chosen me for your confessor. But what's holding
you back? You can't expect her to do the proposing. Now curse me for
a meddlesome Irishwoman, if you will—but why don't you throw
yourself at her feet, and ask her, like a man?"
"How can I?" said Peter, abandoning any desire he may have felt to
beat about the bush. Nay, indeed, it is very possible he welcomed,
rather than resented, the Irishwoman's meddling.
"What's to prevent you?" said she.
"Everything," said he.
"Everything is nothing. That?"
"Dear lady! She is hideously rich, for one thing."
"Getaway with you!" was the dear lady's warm expostulation. "What
has money to do with the question, if a man's in love? But that's the
English of it—there you are with your cold-blooded calculation. You
chain up your natural impulses as if they were dangerous beasts. Her
money never saved you from succumbing to her enchantments. Why should
it bar you from declaring your passion."
"There's a sort of tendency in society," said Peter, "to look upon
the poor man who seeks the hand of a rich woman as a fortunehunter."
"A fig for the opinion of society," she cried. "The only opinion
you should consider is the opinion of the woman you adore. I was an
heiress myself; and when Teddy O'Donovan proposed to me, upon my
conscience I believe the sole piece of property he possessed in the
world was a corkscrew. So much for her ducats!"
"Men, after coffee, are frequently in the habit of smoking," said
she. "You have my sanction for a cigarette. It will keep you in
"Thank you," said Peter, and lit his cigarette.
"And surely, it's a countenance you'll need, to be going on like
that about her money. However—if you can find a ray of comfort in
the information—small good will her future husband get of it, even if
he is a fortunehunter: for she gives the bulk of it away in charity,
and I 'm doubtful if she keeps two thousand a year for her own
"Really?" said Peter; and for a breathing-space it seemed to him
that there was a ray of comfort in the information.
"Yes, you may rate her at two thousand a year," said Mrs.
O'Donovan Florence. "I suppose you can match that yourself. So the
The ray of comfort had flickered for a second, and gone out.
"There are unfortunately other disparities," he remarked gloomily.
"Put a name on them," said she.
"There's her rank."
His impetuous adviser flung up a hand of scorn.
"Her rank, do you say?" she cried. "To the mischief with her
rank. What's rank to love? A woman is only a woman, whether she
calls herself a duchess or a dairy-maid. A woman with any spirit
would marry a bank manager, if she loved him. A man's a man. You
should n't care that for her rank."
"That" was a snap of Mrs. O' Donovan Florence's fingers.
"I suppose you know," said Peter, "that I am a Protestant."
"Are you—you poor benighted creature? Well, that's easily
remedied. Go and get yourself baptised directly."
She waved her hand towards the town, as if to recommend his
immediate procedure in quest of a baptistery.
Peter laughed again.
"I 'm afraid that's more easily said than done."
"Easy!" she exclaimed. "Why, you've only to stand still and let
yourself be sprinkled. It's the priest who does the work. Don't tell
me," she added, with persuasive inconsequence, "that you'll allow a
little thing like being in love with a woman to keep you back from
professing the true faith."
"Ah, if I were convinced that it is true," he sighed, still
"What call have you to doubt it? And anyhow, what does it matter
whether you 're convinced or not? I remember, when I was a
school-girl, I never was myself convinced of the theorems of Euclid;
but I professed them gladly, for the sake of the marks they brought;
and the eternal verities of mathematics remained unshaken by my
"Your reasoning is subtle," laughed Peter. "But the worst of it
is, if I were ten times a Catholic, she wouldn't have me. So what's
"You never can tell whether a woman will have you or not, until
you offer yourself. And even if she refuses you, is that a ground
for despair? My own husband asked me three times, and three times I
said no. And then he took to writing verses—and I saw there was but
one way to stop him. So we were married. Ask her; ask her again—and
again. You can always resort in the end to versification. And now,"
the lady concluded, rising, "I have spoken, and I leave you to your
fate. I'm obliged to return to the hotel, to hold a bed of justice.
It appears that my innocent darlings, beyond there, innocent as they
look, have managed among them to break the electric light in my
sitting-room. They're to be arraigned before me at three for an
instruction criminelle. Put what I 've said in your pipe, and smoke
it—'tis a mother's last request. If I 've not succeeded in
determining you, don't pretend, at least, that I haven't encouraged
you a bit. Put what I 've said in your pipe, and see whether, by
vigorous drawing, you can't fan the smouldering fires of encouragement
into a small blaze of determination."
Peter resumed his stroll backwards and forwards by the lakeside.
Encouragement was all very well; but . . . "Shall I —shall I not?
Shall I—shall I not? Shall I—shall I not?" The eternal question
went tick-tack, tick-tack, to the rhythm of his march. He glared at
vacancy, and tried hard to make up his mind.
"I'm afraid I must be somewhat lacking in decision of character,"
he said, with pathetic wonder.
Then suddenly he stamped his foot.
"Come! An end to this tergiversation. Do it. Do it," cried his
"I will," he resolved all at once, drawing a deep breath, and
clenching his fists.
He left the Casino, and set forth to walk to Ventirose. He could
not wait for the omnibus, which would not leave till four. He must
strike while his will was hot.
He walked rapidly; in less than an hour he had reached the tall
gilded grille of the park. He stopped for an instant, and looked up
the straight avenue of chestnuts, to the western front of the castle,
softly alight in the afternoon sun. He put his hand upon the pendent
bell-pull of twisted iron, to summon the porter. In another second he
would have rung, he would have been admitted . . . . And just then
one of the little demons that inhabit the circumambient air, called
his attention to an aspect of the situation which he had not thought
"Wait a bit," it whispered in his ear. "You were there only
yesterday. It can't fail, therefore, to seem extraordinary, your
calling again to-day. You must be prepared with an excuse, an
explanation. But suppose, when you arrive, suppose that (like the
lady in the ballad) she greets you with 'a glance of cold
surprise'—what then, my dear? Why, then, it's obvious, you can't
allege the true explanation—can you? If she greets you with a glance
of cold, surprise, you 'll have your answer, as it were, before the
fact you 'll know that there's no manner of hope for you; and the time
for passionate avowals will automatically defer itself. But then—?
How will you justify your visit? What face can you put on?"
"H'm," assented Peter, "there's something in that."
"There's a great deal in that," said the demon. "You must have an
excuse up your sleeve, a pretext. A true excuse is a fine thing in
its way; but when you come to a serious emergency, an alternative
false excuse is indispensable."
"H'm," said Peter.
However, if there are demons in the atmosphere, there are gods in
the machine—(Paraschkine even goes so far as to maintain that there
are more gods in the machine than have ever been taken from it.")
While Peter stood still, pondering the demon's really rather cogent
intervention, his eye was caught by something that glittered in the
grass at the roadside.
"The Cardinal's snuff-box," he exclaimed, picking it up.
The Cardinal had dropped his snuff-box. Here was an excuse, and
to spare. Peter rang the bell.
And, like the lady in the ballad, sure enough, she greeted his
arrival with a glance of cold surprise.
At all events, eyebrows raised, face unsmiling, it was a glance
that clearly supplemented her spoken "How do you do?" by a tacit
(perhaps self-addressed?) "What can bring him here?"
You or I, indeed, or Mrs. O'Donovan Florence, in the fulness of
our knowledge, might very likely have interpreted it rather as a
glance of nervous apprehension. Anyhow, it was a glance that
perfectly checked the impetus of his intent. Something snapped and
gave way within him; and he needed no further signal that the occasion
for passionate avowals was not the present.
And thereupon befell a scene that was really quite too absurd,
that was really childish, a scene over the memory of which, I must
believe, they themselves have sometimes laughed together; though, at
the moment, its absurdity held, for him at least, elements of the
He met her in the broad gravelled carriage-sweep, before the great
hall-door. She had on her hat and gloves, as if she were just going
out. It seemed to him that she was a little pale; her eyes seemed
darker than usual, and graver. Certainly—cold surprise, or nervous
apprehension, as you will—her attitude was by no means cordial. It
was not oncoming. It showed none of her accustomed easy,
half-humorous, wholly good-humoured friendliness. It was decidedly
the attitude of a person standing off, shut in, withheld.
"I have never seen her in the least like this before," he thought,
as he looked at her pale face, her dark, grave eyes; "I have never
seen her more beautiful. And there is not one single atom of hope for
"How do you do?" she said, unsmiling and waited, as who should
invite him to state his errand. She did not offer him her hand but,
for that matter, (she might have pleaded), she could not, very well:
for one of her hands held her sunshade, and the other held an
embroidered silk bag, woman's makeshift for a pocket.
And then, capping the first pang of his disappointment, a kind of
anger seized him. After all, what right had she to receive him in
this fashion?—as if he were an intrusive stranger. In common
civility, in common justice, she owed it to him to suppose that he
would not be there without abundant reason.
And now, with Peter angry, the absurd little scene began.
Assuming an attitude designed to be, in its own way, as reticent
as hers, "I was passing your gate," he explained, "when I happened to
find this, lying by the roadside. I took the liberty of bringing it
He gave her the Cardinal's snuff box, which, in spite of her
hands' preoccupation, she was able to accept.
"A liberty!" he thought, grinding his teeth. "Yes! No doubt she
would have wished me to leave it with the porter at the lodge. No
doubt she deems it an act of officiousness on my part to have found it
And his anger mounted.
"How very good of you," she said. "My uncle could not think where
he had mislaid it."
"I am very fortunate to be the means of restoring it," said he.
Then, after a second's suspension, as she said nothing (she kept
her eyes on the snuffbox, examining it as if it were quite new to
her), he lifted his hat, and bowed, preparatory to retiring down the
"Oh, but my uncle will wish to thank you," she exclaimed, looking
up, with a kind of start. "Will you not come in? I—I will see
whether he is disengaged."
She made a tentative movement towards the door. She had thawed
But even as she thawed, Peter, in his anger, froze and stiffened.
"I will see whether he is disengaged." The expression grated. And
perhaps, in effect, it was not a particularly felicitous expression.
But if the poor woman was suffering from nervous apprehension—?
"I beg you on no account to disturb Cardinal Udeschini," he
returned loftily. "It is not a matter of the slightest consequence."
And even as he stiffened, she unbent.
"But it is a matter of consequence to him, to us," she said,
faintly smiling. "We have hunted high and low for it. We feared it
was lost for good. It must have fallen from his pocket when he was
walking. He will wish to thank you."
"I am more than thanked already," said Peter. Alas (as Monsieur
de la Pallisse has sagely noted), when we aim to appear dignified, how
often do we just succeed in appearing churlish.
And to put a seal upon this ridiculous encounter, to make it
irrevocable, he lifted his hat again, and turned away.
"Oh, very well," murmured the Duchessa, in a voice that did not
reach him. If it had reached him, perhaps he would have come back,
perhaps things might have happened. I think there was regret in her
voice, as well as despite. She stood for a minute, as he tramped down
the avenue, and looked after him, with those unusually dark, grave
eyes. At last, making a little gesture—as of regret? despite?
impatience?—she went into the house.
"Here is your snuff-box," she said to the Cardinal.
The old man put down his Breviary (he was seated by an open
window, getting through his office), and smiled at the snuff box
fondly, caressing it with his finger. Afterwards, he shook it, opened
it, and took a pinch of snuff.
"Where did you find it?" he enquired.
"It was found by that Mr. Marchdale," she said, "in the road,
outside the gate. You must have let it drop this morning, when you
were walking with Emilia."
"That Mr. Marchdale?" exclaimed the Cardinal. "What a
"A coincidence—?" questioned Beatrice.
"To be sure," said he. "Was it not to Mr. Marchdale that I owed
it in the first instance?"
"Oh—? Was it? I had fancied that you owed it to me."
"Yes—but," he reminded her, whilst the lines deepened about his
humorous old mouth, "but as a reward of my virtue in conspiring with
you to convert him. And, by the way, how is his conversion
The Cardinal looked up, with interest.
"It is not progressing at all. I think there is no chance of it,"
answered Beatrice, in a tone that seemed to imply a certain
"Oh—?" said the Cardinal.
"No," said she.
"I thought he had shown 'dispositions'?" said the Cardinal.
"That was a mistake. He has shown none. He is a very tiresome
and silly person. He is not worth converting," she declared
"Good gracious!" said the Cardinal.
He resumed his office. But every now and again he would pause,
and look out of the window, with the frown of a man meditating
something; then he would shake his head significantly, and take
Peter tramped down the avenue, angry and sick.
Her reception of him had not only administered an instant
death-blow to his hopes as a lover, but in its ungenial aloofness it
had cruelly wounded his pride as a man. He felt snubbed and
humiliated. Oh, true enough, she had unbent a little, towards the
end. But it was the look with which she had first greeted him—it was
the air with which she had waited for him to state his errand—that
stung, and rankled, and would not be forgotten.
He was angry with her, angry with circumstances, with life, angry
"I am a fool—and a double fool—and a triple fool," he said. "I
am a fool ever to have thought of her at all; a double fool ever to
have allowed myself to think so much of her; a triple and quadruple
and quintuple idiot ever to have imagined for a moment that anything
could come of it. I have wasted time enough. The next best thing to
winning is to know when you are beaten. I acknowledge myself beaten.
I will go back to England as soon as I can get my boxes packed."
He gazed darkly round the familiar valley, with eyes that abjured
Olympus, no doubt, laughed.
"I shall go back to England as soon as I can get my boxes packed."
But he took no immediate steps to get them packed.
"Hope," observes the clear-sighted French publicist quoted in the
preceding chapter, "hope dies hard."
Hope, Peter fancied, had received its death-blow that afternoon.
Already, that evening, it began to revive a little. It was very much
enfeebled; it was very indefinite and diffident; but it was not dead.
It amounted, perhaps, to nothing more than a vague kind of feeling
that he would not, on the whole, make his departure for England quite
so precipitate as, in the first heat of his anger, the first chill of
his despair, he had intended. Piano, piano! He would move slowly,
he would do nothing rash.
But he was not happy, he was very far from happy. He spent a
wretched night, a wretched, restless morrow. He walked about a great
deal—about his garden, and afterwards, when the damnable iteration of
his garden had become unbearable, he walked to the village, and took
the riverside path, under the poplars, along the racing Aco, and
followed it, as the waters paled. and broadened, for I forget how
many joyless, unremunerative miles.
When he came home, fagged out and dusty, at dinner time, Marietta
presented a visiting card to him, on her handsomest salver. She
presented it with a flourish that was almost a swagger.
Twice the size of an ordinary visiting-card, the fashion of it was
IL CARDLE UDESCHINI
Sacr: Congr: Archiv: et Inscript: Praef:
And above the legend, was pencilled, in a small oldfashioned hand,
wonderfully neat and pretty:—
"To thank Mr. Marchdale for his courtesy in returning my
"The Lord Prince Cardinal Udeschini was here," said Marietta.
There was a swagger in her accent. There was also something in her
accent that seemed to rebuke Peter for his absence.
"I had inferred as much from this," said he, tapping the card. "We
English, you know, are great at putting two and two together."
"He came in a carriage," said Marietta.
"Not really?" said her master.
"Ang—veramente," she affirmed.
"Was—was he alone?" Peter asked, an obscure little twinge of hope
stirring in his heart.
"No. Signorino." And then she generalised, with untranslatable
magniloquence: "Un amplissimo porporato non va mai solo."
Peter ought to have hugged her for that amplissimo porporato. But
he was selfishly engrossed in his emotions.
"Who was with him?" He tried to throw the question out with a
casual effect, an effect of unconcern.
"The Signorina Emelia Manfredi was with him," answered Marietta,
little recking how mere words can stab.
"Oh," said Peter.
"The Lord Prince Cardinal Udeschini was very sorry not to see the
Signorino," continued Marietta.
"Poor man—was he? Let us trust that time will console him," said
But, "I wonder," he asked himself, "I wonder whether perhaps I was
the least bit hasty yesterday? If I had stopped, I should have saved
the Cardinal a journey here to-day—I might have known that he would
come, these Italians are so punctilious —and then, if I had
stopped—if I had stopped—possibly —possibly—"
Possibly what? Oh, nothing. And yet, if he had stopped . . .
well, at any rate, he would have gained time. The Duchessa had
already begun to thaw. If he had stopped . . . He could formulate
no precise conclusion to that if; but he felt dimly remorseful that he
had not stopped, he felt that he had indeed been the least bit hasty.
And his remorse was somehow medicine to his reviving hope.
"After all, I scarcely gave things a fair trial yesterday," he
And the corollary of that, of course, was that he might give
things a further and fairer trial some other day.
But his hope was still hard hurt; he was still in a profound
"The Signorino is not eating his dinner," cried Marietta, fixing
him with suspicious, upbraiding eyes.
"I never said I was," he retorted.
"The Signorino is not well?" she questioned, anxious.
"Oh, yes—cosi, cosi; the Signorino is well enough," he answered.
"The dinner"—you could perceive that she brought herself with
difficulty to frame the dread hypothesis—"the dinner is not good?"
Her voice sank. She waited, tense, for his reply.
"The dinner," said he, "if one may criticise without eating it,
the dinner is excellent. I will have no aspersions cast upon my
"Ah-h-h!" breathed Marietta, a tremulous sigh of relief.
"It is not the Signorino, it is not the dinner, it is the world
that is awry," Peter went on, in reflective melancholy. "'T is the
times that are out of joint. 'T is the sex, the Sex, that is not
well, that is not good, that needs a thorough overhauling and
"Which sex?" asked Marietta.
"The sex," said Peter. "By the unanimous consent of rhetoricians,
there is but one sex the sex, the fair sex, the unfair sex, the gentle
sex, the barbaric sex. We men do not form a sex, we do not even form
a sect. We are your mere hangers-on, camp-followers, satellites—your
things, your playthings—we are the mere shuttlecocks which you toss
hither and thither with your battledores, as the wanton mood impels
you. We are born of woman, we are swaddled and nursed by woman, we
are governessed by woman; subsequently, we are beguiled by woman,
fooled by woman, led on, put off, tantalised by woman, fretted and
bullied by her; finally, last scene of all, we are wrapped in our
cerements by woman. Man's life, birth, death, turn upon woman, as
upon a hinge. I have ever been a misanthrope, but now I am seriously
thinking of becoming a misogynist as well. Would you advise me to-do
"A misogynist? What is that, Signorino?" asked Marietta.
"A woman-hater," he explained; "one who abhors and forswears the
sex; one who has dashed his rose-coloured spectacles from his eyes,
and sees woman as she really is, with no illusive glamour; one who has
found her out. Yes, I think I shall become a misogynist. It is the
only way of rendering yourself invulnerable, 't is the only safe
course. During my walk this afternoon, I recollected, from the
scattered pigeon-holes of memory, and arranged in consequent order, at
least a score of good old apothegmatic shafts against the sex. Was it
not, for example, in the grey beginning of days, was it not woman
whose mortal taste brought sin into the world and all our woe? Was
not that Pandora a woman, who liberated, from the box wherein they
were confined, the swarm of winged evils that still afflict us? I
will not remind you of St. John Chrysostom's golden parable about a
temple and the thing it is constructed over. But I will come straight
to the point, and ask whether this is truth the poet sings, when he
informs us roundly that 'every woman is a scold at heart'?"
Marietta was gazing patiently at the sky. She did not answer.
"The tongue," Peter resumed, "is woman's weapon, even as the fist
is man's. And it is a far deadlier weapon. Words break no
bones—they break hearts, instead. Yet were men one-tenth part so
ready with their fists, as women are with their barbed and envenomed
tongues, what savage brutes you would think us —would n't you?—and
what a rushing trade the police-courts would drive, to be sure. That
is one of the good old cliches that came back to me during my walk.
All women are alike —there's no choice amongst animated
fashion-plates: that is another. A woman is the creature of her
temper; her husband, her children, and her servants are its victims:
that is a third. Woman is a bundle of pins; man is her pin-cushion.
When woman loves, 't is not the man she loves, but the man's
flattery; woman's love is reflex self-love. The man who marries puts
himself in irons. Marriage is a bird-cage in a garden. The birds
without hanker to get in; but the birds within know that there is no
condition so enviable as that of the birds without. Well, speak up.
What do you think? Do you advise me to become a misogynist?"
"I do not understand, Signorino," said Marietta.
"Of course, you don't," said Peter. "Who ever could understand
such stuff and nonsense? That's the worst of it. If only one could
understand, if only one could believe it, one might find peace, one
might resign oneself. But alas and alas! I have never had any real
faith in human wickedness; and now, try as I will, I cannot imbue my
mind with any real faith in the undesirability of woman. That is why
you see me dissolved in tears, and unable to eat my dinner. Oh, to
think, to think," he cried with passion, suddenly breaking into
English, "to think that less than a fortnight ago, less than one
little brief fortnight ago, she was seated in your kitchen, seated
there familiarly, in her wet clothes, pouring tea, for all the world
as if she was the mistress of the house!"
Days passed. He could not go to Ventirose—or, anyhow, he thought
he could not. He reverted to his old habit of living in his garden,
haunting the riverside, keeping watchful, covetous eyes turned towards
the castle. The river bubbled and babbled; the sun shone strong and
clear; his fountain tinkled; his birds flew about their affairs; his
flowers breathed forth their perfumes; the Gnisi frowned, the uplands
westward laughed, the snows of Monte Sfiorito sailed under every
colour of the calendar except their native white. All was as it had
ever been—but oh, the difference to him. A week passed. He caught
no glimpse of the Duchessa. Yet he took no steps to get his boxes
And then Marietta fell ill.
One morning, when she came into his room, to bring his tea, and to
open the Venetian blinds that shaded his windows, she failed to salute
him with her customary brisk "Buon giorno, Signorino."
Noticing which, and wondering, he, from his pillow, called out,
"Buon' giorno, Marietta."
"Buon' giorno, Signorino," she returned but in a whisper.
"What's the matter? Is there cause for secrecy?" Peter asked.
"I have a cold, Signorino," she whispered, pointing to her chest.
"I cannot speak."
The Venetian blinds were up by this time; the room was full of
sun. He looked at her. Something in her face alarmed him. It
seemed drawn and set, it seemed flushed.
"Come here," he said, with a certain peremptoriness. "Give me
She wiped her brown old hand backwards and forwards across her
apron; then gave it to him.
It was hot and dry.
"Your cold is feverish," he said. "You must go to bed, and stay
there till the fever has passed."
"I cannot go to bed, Signorino," she replied.
"Can't you? Have you tried?" asked he.
"No, Signorino," she admitted.
"Well, you never can tell whether you can do a thing or not, until
you try," said he. "Try to go to bed; and if at first you don't
succeed, try, try again."
"I cannot go to bed. Who would do the Signorino's work?" was her
"Hang the Signorino's work. The Signorino's work will do itself.
Have you never observed that if you conscientiously neglect to do
your work, it somehow manages to get done without you? You have a
feverish cold; you must keep out of draughts; and the only place where
you can be sure of keeping out of draughts, is bed. Go to bed at
She left the room.
But when Peter came downstairs, half an hour later, he heard her
moving in her kitchen.
"Marietta!" he cried, entering that apartment with the mien of
Nemesis. "I thought I told you to go to bed."
Marietta cowered a little, and looked sheepish, as one surprised
in the flagrant fact of misdemeanour.
"Yes, Signorino," she whispered.
"Well—? Do you call this bed?" he demanded.
"No, Signorino," she acknowledged.
"Do you wish to oblige me to put you to bed?" he asked.
"Oh, no, Signorino," she protested, horror in her whisper.
"Then go to bed directly. If you delay any longer, I shall accuse
you of wilful insubordination."
"Bene, Signorino," reluctantly consented Marietta.
Peter strolled into his garden. Gigi, the gardener, was working
"The very man I most desired to meet," said Peter, and beckoned to
him. "Is there a doctor in the village?" he enquired, when Gigi had
"Yes, Signorino. The Syndic is a doctor—Dr. Carretaji."
"Good," said Peter. "Will you go to the village, please, and ask
Dr. Carretaji if he can make it convenient to call here to-day?
Marietta is not well."
"And stop a bit," said Peter. "Are there such things as women in
"Ah, mache, Signorino! But many, many," answered Gigi, rolling
his dark eyes sympathetically, and waving his hands.
"I need but one," said Peter. "A woman to come and do Marietta's
work for a day or two—cook, and clean up, and that sort of thing. Do
you think you could procure me such a woman?"
"There is my wife, Signorino," suggested Gigi. "If she would
content the Signorino?"
"Oh? I was n't aware that you were married. A hundred
felicitations. Yes, your wife, by all means. Ask her to come and
rule as Marietta's vicereine."
Gigi started for the village.
Peter went into the house, and knocked at Marietta's bed-room
door. He found her in bed, with her rosary in her hands. If she
could not work, she would not waste her time. In Marietta's simple
scheme of life, work and prayer, prayer and work, stood, no doubt, as
alternative and complementary duties.
"But you are not half warmly enough covered up," said Peter.
He fetched his travelling-rug, and spread it over her. Then he
went to the kitchen, where she had left a fire burning, and filled a
bottle with hot water.
"Put this at your feet," he said, returning to Marietta.
"Oh, I cannot allow the Signorino to wait on me like this," the
old woman mustered voice to murmur.
"The Signorino likes it—it affords him healthful exercise," Peter
Dr. Carretaji came about noon, a fat middleaged man, with a fringe
of black hair round an ivory-yellow scalp, a massive watch-chain
(adorned by the inevitable pointed bit of coral), and podgy, hairy
hands. But he seemed kind and honest, and he seemed to know his
"She has a catarrh of the larynx, with, I am afraid, a beginning
of bronchitis," was his verdict.
"Is there any danger?" Peter asked.
"Not the slightest. She must remain in bed, and take frequent
nourishment. Hot milk, and now and then beef-tea. I will send some
medicine. But the great things are nourishment and warmth. I will
call again to-morrow."
Gigi's wife came. She was a tall, stalwart, blackbrowed,
red-cheeked young woman, and her name (Gigi's eyes flashed proudly,
as he announced it) her name was Carolina Maddalena.
Peter had to be in and out of Marietta's room all day, to see.
that she took her beef-tea and milk and medicine regularly. She dozed
a good deal. When she was awake, she said her rosary.
But next day she was manifestly worse.
"Yes—bronchitis, as I feared," said the doctor. "Danger? No
—none, if properly looked after. Add a little brandy to her milk,
and see that she has at least a small cupful every half-hour. I think
it would be easier for you if you had a nurse. Someone should be with
her at night. There is a Convent of Mercy at Venzona. If you like, I
will telephone for a sister."
"Thank you very much. I hope you will," said Peter.
And that afternoon Sister Scholastica arrived, and established
herself in the sick-room. Sister Scholastica was young, pale,
serene, competent. But sometimes she had to send for Peter.
"She refuses to take her milk. Possibly she will take it from
you," the sister said.
Then Peter would assume a half-bluff (perhaps half-wheedling?)
tone of mastery.
"Come, Marietta! You must take your, milk. The Signorino wishes
it. You must not disobey the Signorino."
And Marietta, with a groan, would rouse herself, and take it,
Peter holding the cup to her lips.
On the third day, in the morning, Sister Scholastica said, "She
imagines that she is worse. I do not think so myself. But she keeps
repeating that she is going to die. She wishes to see a priest. I
think it would make her feel easier. Can you send for the Parrocco?
Please let him know that it is not an occasion for the Sacraments.
But it would do her good if he would come and talk with her."
And the doctor, who arrived just then, having visited Marietta,
confirmed the sister's opinion.
"She is no worse—she is, if anything, rather better. Her malady
is taking its natural course. But people of her class always fancy
they are going to die, if they are ill enough to stay in bed. It is
the panic of ignorance. Yes, I think it would do her good to see a
priest. But there is not the slightest occasion for the Sacraments."
So Peter sent Gigi to the village for the Parrocco. And Gigi came
back with the intelligence that the Parrocco was away, making a
retreat, and would not return till Saturday. To-day was Wednesday.
"What shall we do now?" Peter asked of Sister Scholastica.
"There is Monsignor Langshawe, at Castel Ventirose," said the
"Could I ask him to come?" Peter doubted.
"Certainly," said the sister. "In a case of illness, the nearest
priest will always gladly come."
So Peter despatched Gigi with a note to Monsignor Langshawe.
And presently up drove a brougham, with Gigi on the box beside the
coachman. And from the brougham descended, not Monsignor Langshawe,
but Cardinal Udeschini, followed by Emilia Manfredi.
The Cardinal gave Peter his hand, with a smile so sweet, so
benign, so sunny-bright—it was like music, Peter thought; it was
like a silent anthem.
"Monsignor Langshawe has gone to Scotland, for his holiday. I
have come in his place. Your man told me of your need," the Cardinal
"I don't know how to thank your Eminence," Peter murmured, and
conducted him to Marietta's room.
Sister Scholastica genuflected, and kissed the Cardinal's ring,
and received his Benediction. Then she and Peter withdrew, and went
into the garden.
The sister joined Emilia, and they walked backwards and forwards
together, talking. Peter sat on his rustic bench, smoked cigarettes,
Nearly an hour passed.
At length the Cardinal came out.
Peter rose, and went forward to meet him.
The Cardinal was smiling; but about his eyes there was a
"Mr. Marchdale," he said, "your housekeeper is in great distress
of conscience touching one or two offences she feels she has been
guilty of towards you. They seem to me, in frankness, somewhat
trifling. But I cannot persuade her to accept my view. She will not
be happy till she has asked and received your pardon for them."
"Offences towards me?" Peter wondered. "Unless excess of patience
with a very trying employer constitutes an offence, she has been
guilty of none."
"Never mind," said the Cardinal. "Her conscience accuses her
—she must satisfy it. Will you come?"
The Cardinal sat down at the head of Marietta's bed, and took her
"Now, dear," he said, with the gentleness, the tenderness, of one
speaking to a beloved child, "here is Mr. Marchdale. Tell him what
you have on your mind. He is ready to hear and to forgive you."
Marietta fixed her eyes anxiously on Peter's face.
"First," she whispered, "I wish to beg the Signorino to pardon all
this trouble I am making for him. I am the Signorino's servant; but
instead of serving, I make trouble for him."
She paused. The Cardinal smiled at Peter.
Peter answered, "Marietta, if you talk like that, you will make
the Signorino cry. You are the best servant that ever lived. You are
putting me to no trouble at all. You are giving me a chance—which I
should be glad of, except that it involves your suffering—to show my
affection for you, and my gratitude."
"There, dear," said the Cardinal to her, "you see the Signorino
makes nothing of that. Now the next thing. Go on."
I have to ask the Signorino's forgiveness for my impertinence,"
"Impertinence—?" faltered Peter. "You have never been
"Scusi, Signorino," she went on, in her whisper. "I have
sometimes contradicted the Signorino. I contradicted the Signorino
when he told me that St. Anthony of Padua was born in Lisbon. It is
impertinent of a servant to contradict her master. And now his most
high Eminence says the Signorino was right. I beg the Signorino to
Again the Cardinal smiled at Peter.
"You dear old woman," Peter half laughed, half sobbed, "how can
you ask me to forgive a mere difference of opinion? You—you dear
The Cardinal smiled, and patted Marietta's hand.
"The Signorino is too good," Marietta sighed.
"Go on, dear," said the Cardinal.
"I have been guilty of the deadly sin of evil speaking. I have
spoken evil of the Signorino," she went on. "I said—I said to
people—that the Signorino was simple—that he was simple and
natural. I thought so then. Now I know it is not so. I know it is
only that the Signorino is English."
Once more the Cardinal smiled at Peter.
Again Peter half laughed, half sobbed.
"Marietta! Of course I am simple and natural. At least, I try to
be. Come! Look up. Smile. Promise you will not worry about these
things any more."
She looked up, she smiled faintly.
"The Signorino is too good," she whispered.
After a little interval of silence, "Now, dear," said the
Cardinal, "the last thing of all."
Marietta gave a groan, turning her head from side to side on her
"You need not be afraid," said the Cardinal. "Mr. Marchdale will
certainly forgive you."
"Oh-h-h," groaned Marietta. She stared at the ceiling for an
The Cardinal patted her hand. "Courage, courage," he said.
"Oh—Signorino mio," she groaned again, "this you never can
forgive me. It is about the little pig, the porcellino. The
Signorino remembers the little pig, which he called Francesco?"
"Yes," answered Peter.
"The Signorino told me to take the little pig away, to find a home
for him. And I told the Signorino that I would take him to my nephew,
who is a farmer, towards Fogliamo. The Signorino remembers?"
"Yes," answered Peter. "Yes, you dear old thing. I remember."
Marietta drew a deep breath, summoned her utmost fortitude.
"Well, I did not take him to my nephew. The—the Signorino ate
Peter could hardly keep from laughing. He could only utter a kind
of half-choked "Oh?"
"Yes," whispered Marietta. "He was bought with the Signorino's
money. I did not like to see the Signorino's money wasted. So I
deceived the Signorino. You ate him as a chicken-pasty."
This time Peter did laugh, I am afraid. Even the Cardinal —well,
his smile was perilously near a titter. He took a big pinch of snuff.
"I killed Francesco, and I deceived the Signorino. I am very
sorry," Marietta said.
Peter knelt down at her bedside.
"Marietta! Your conscience is too sensitive. As for killing
Francesco—we are all mortal, he could not have lived forever. And as
for deceiving the Signorino, you did it for his own good. I remember
that chicken-pasty. It was the best chicken-pasty I have ever tasted.
You must not worry any more about the little pig."
Marietta turned her face towards him, and smiled.
"The Signorino forgives his servant?" she whispered.
Peter could not help it. He bent forward, and kissed her brown
"She will be easier now," said the Cardinal. "I will stay with
her a little longer."
Peter went out. The scene had been childish—do you say?
—ridiculous, almost farcical indeed? And yet, somehow, it seemed to
Peter that his heart was full of unshed tears. At the same time, as
he thought of the Cardinal, as he saw his face, his smile, as he heard
the intonations of his voice, the words he had spoken, as he thought
of the way he had held Marietta's hand and patted it—at the same time
a kind of strange joy seemed to fill his heart, a strange feeling of
exaltation, of enthusiasm.
"What a heavenly old man," he said.
In the garden Sister Scholastica and Emilia were still walking
They halted, when Peter came out; and Emilia said, "With your
consent, Signore, Sister Scholastica has accepted me as her
lieutenant. I will come every morning, and sit with Marietta during
the day. That will relieve the sister, who has to be up with her at
And every morning after that, Emilia came, walking through the
park, and crossing the river by the ladder-bridge, which Peter left
now permanently in its position. And once or twice a week, in the
afternoon, the Cardinal would drive up in the brougham, and, having
paid a little visit to Marietta, would drive Emilia home.
In the sick-room Emilia would read to Marietta, or say the rosary
Marietta mended steadily day by day. At the end of a fortnight
she was able to leave her bed for an hour or two in the afternoon,
and sit in the sun in the garden. Then Sister Scholastica went back
to her convent at Venzona. At the end of the third week Marietta
could be up all day. But Gigi's stalwart Carolina Maddalena continued
to rule as vicereine in the kitchen. And Emilia continued to come
"Why does the Duchessa never come?" Peter wondered. "It would be
decent of her to come and see the poor old woman."
Whenever he thought of Cardinal Udeschini, the same strange
feeling of joy would spring up in his heart, which he had felt when
he had left the beautiful old man with Marietta, on the day of his
first visit. In the beginning he could only give this feeling a very
general and indefinite expression. "He is a man who renews one's
faith in things, who renews one's faith in human nature." But
gradually, I suppose, the feeling crystallised; and at last, in due
season, it found for itself an expression that was not so indefinite.
It was in the afternoon, and he had just conducted the Cardinal
and Emilia to their carriage. He stood at his gate for a minute, and
watched the carriage as it rolled away.
"What a heavenly old man, what a heavenly old man," he thought.
Then, still looking after the carriage, before turning back into
his garden, he heard himself repeat, half aloud
"Nor knowest thou what argument
Thy life to thy neighbour's creed hath lent."
The words had come to his lips, and were pronounced, were
addressed to his mental image of the Cardinal, without any conscious
act of volition on his part. He heard them with a sort of surprise,
almost as if some one else had spoken them. He could not in the least
remember what poem they were from, he could not even remember what
poet they were by. Were they by Emerson? It was years since he had
read a line of Emerson's.
All that evening the couplet kept running in his head. And the
feeling of joy, of enthusiasm, in his heart, was not so strange now.
But I think it was intensified.
The next time the Cardinal arrived at Villa Floriano, and gave
Peter his hand, Peter did not merely shake it, English fashion, as he
had hitherto done.
The Cardinal looked startled.
Then his eyes searched Peter's face for a second, keenly
interrogative. Then they softened; and a wonderful clear light shone
in them, a wonderful pure, sweet light.
"Benedicat te Omnipotens Deus, Pater, et Filius, et Spiritus
Sanctus," he said, making the Sign of the Cross.
Up at the castle, Cardinal Udeschini was walking backwards and
forwards on the terrace, reading his Breviary.
Beatrice was seated under the white awning, at the terrace-end,
doing some kind of needlework.
Presently the Cardinal came to a standstill near her, and closed
his book, putting his finger in it, to keep the place.
"It will be, of course, a great loss to Casa Udeschini, when you
marry," he remarked.
Beatrice looked up, astonishment on her brow.
"When I marry?" she exclaimed. "Well, if ever there was a
thunderbolt from a clear sky!"
And she laughed.
"Yes-when you marry," the Cardinal repeated, with conviction. "You
are a young woman—you are twenty-eight years old. You will, marry.
It is only right that you should marry. You have not the vocation
for a religious. Therefore you must marry. But it will be a great
loss to the house of Udeschini."
"Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof," said Beatrice,
laughing again. "I haven't the remotest thought of marrying. I shall
"Il ne faut jamais dire a la fontaine, je ne boirai pas de ton
eau," his Eminence cautioned her, whilst the lines of humour about
his mouth emphasised themselves, and his grey eyes twinkled. "Other
things equal, marriage is as much the proper state for the laity, as
celibacy is the proper state for the clergy. You will marry. It
would be selfish of us to oppose your marrying. You ought to marry.
But it will be a great loss to the family—it will be a great
personal loss to me. You are as dear to me as any of my blood. I am
always forgetting that we are uncle and niece by courtesy only."
"I shall never marry. But nothing that can happen to me can ever
make the faintest difference in my feeling for you. I hope you know
how much I love you?" She looked into his eyes, smiling her love.
"You are only my uncle by courtesy? But you are more than an
uncle—you have been like a father to me, ever since I left my
The Cardinal returned her smile.
"Carissima," he murmured. Then, "It will be a matter of the
utmost importance to me, however," he went on, "that, when the time
comes, you should marry a good man, a suitable man—a man who will
love you, whom you will love—and, if possible, a man who will not
altogether separate you from me, who will perhaps love me a little
too. It would send me in sorrow to my grave, if you should marry a
man who was not worthy of you."
"I will guard against that danger by not marrying at all," laughed
"No—you will marry, some day," said the Cardinal. "And I wish
you to remember that I shall not oppose your marrying—provided the
man is a good man. Felipe will not like it—Guido will pull a long
nose—but I, at least, will take your part, if I can feel that the man
is good. Good men are rare, my dear; good husbands are rarer still.
I can think, for instance, of no man in our Roman nobility, whom I
should be content to see you marry. Therefore I hope you will not
marry a Roman. You would be more likely to marry one of your own
countrymen. That, of course, would double the loss to us, if it should
take you away from Italy. But remember, if he is a man whom I can
think worthy of you, you may count upon me as an ally."
He resumed his walk, reopening his Breviary.
Beatrice resumed her needlework. But she found it difficult to
fix her attention on it. Every now and then, she would leave her
needle stuck across its seam, let the work drop to her lap, and, with
eyes turned vaguely up the valley, fall, apparently, into a muse.
"I wonder why he said all that to me?" was the question that kept
By and by the Cardinal closed his Breviary, and put it in his
pocket. I suppose he had finished his office for the day. Then he
came and sat down in one of the wicker chairs, under the awning. On
the table, among the books and things, stood a carafe of water, some
tumblers, a silver sugar-bowl, and a crystal dish full of fresh
pomegranate seeds. It looked like a dish full of unset rubies. The
Cardinal poured some water into a tumbler, added a lump of sugar and a
spoonful of pomegranate seeds, stirred the mixture till it became
rose-coloured, and drank it off in a series of little sips.
"What is the matter, Beatrice?" he asked, all at once.
Beatrice raised her eyes, perplexed.
"The matter—? Is anything the matter?"
"Yes," said the Cardinal; "something is the matter. You are
depressed, you are nervous, you are not yourself. I have noticed it
for many days. Have you something on, your mind?"
"Nothing in the world," Beatrice answered, with an appearance of
great candour. "I had not noticed that I was nervous or depressed."
"We are entering October," said the Cardinal. "I must return to
Rome. I have been absent too long already. I must return next week.
But I should not like to go away with the feeling that you are
"If a thing were needed to make me unhappy, it would be the
announcement of your intended departure," Beatrice said, smiling.
"But otherwise, I am no more unhappy than it is natural to be. Life,
after all, is n't such a furiously gay business as to keep one
perpetually singing and dancing—is it? But I am not especially
"H'm," said the Cardinal. Then, in a minute, "You will come to
Rome in November, I suppose?" he asked.
"Yes—towards the end of November, I think," said Beatrice.
The Cardinal rose, and began to walk backwards and forwards again.
In a little while the sound of carriage-wheels could be heard, in
the sweep, round the corner of the house.
The Cardinal looked at his watch.
"Here is the carriage," he said. "I must go down and see that
poor old woman . . . . Do you know," he added, after a moment's
hesitation, "I think it would be well if you were to go with me."
A shadow came into Beatrice's eyes.
"What good would that do?" she asked.
"It would give her pleasure, no doubt. And besides, she is one of
your parishioners, as it were. I think you ought to go. You have
never been to see her since she fell ill."
"Oh—well," said Beatrice.
She was plainly unwilling. But she went to put on her things.
In the carriage, when they had passed the village and crossed the
bridge, as they were bowling along the straight white road that led to
the villa, "What a long time it is since Mr. Marchdale has been at
Ventirose," remarked the Cardinal.
"Oh—? Is it?" responded Beatrice, with indifference.
"It is more than three weeks, I think—it is nearly a month," the
"Oh—?" said she.
"He has had his hands full, of course; he has had little leisure,"
the Cardinal pursued. "His devotion to his poor old servant has been
quite admirable. But now that she is practically recovered, he will
"Yes," said Beatrice.
"He is a young man whom I like very much," said the Cardinal. "He
is intelligent; he has good manners; and he has a fine sense of the
droll. Yes, he has wit—a wit that you seldom find in an Anglo-Saxon,
a wit that is almost Latin. But you have lost your interest in him?
That is because you despair of his conversion?"
"I confess I am not greatly interested in him," Beatrice answered.
"And I certainly have no hopes of his conversion."
The Cardinal smiled at his ring. He opened his snuffbox, and
inhaled a long deliberate pinch of snuff.
"Ah, well—who can tell?" he said. "But—he will be free now, and
it is so long since he has been at the castle—had you not better ask
him to luncheon or dinner?"
"Why should I?" answered Beatrice. "If he does not come to
Ventirose, it is presumably because he does not care to come. If he
does care to come, he needs no invitation. He knows that he is at
liberty to call whenever he likes."
"But it would be civil, it would be neighbourly, to ask him to a
meal," the Cardinal submitted.
"And it would put him in the embarrassing predicament of having
either to accept against his will, or to decline and appear
ungracious," submitted Beatrice. "No, it is evident that Ventirose
does not amuse him."
"Bene," said the Cardinal. "Be it as you wish."
But when they reached Villa Floriano, Peter was not at home.
"He has gone to Spiaggia for the day," Emilia informed them.
Beatrice, the Cardinal fancied, looked at once relieved and
Marietta was seated in the sun, in a sheltered corner of the
While Beatrice talked with her, the Cardinal walked about.
Now it so happened that on Peter's rustic table a book lay open,
The Cardinal saw the book. He halted in his walk, and glanced
round the garden, as if to make sure that he was not observed. He
tapped his snuff—box, and took a pinch of snuff. Then he appeared to
meditate for an instant, the lines about his mouth becoming very
marked indeed. At last, swiftly, stealthily, almost with the air of a
man committing felony, he slipped his snuff-box under the open book,
well under it, so that it was completely covered up.
On the way back to Ventirose, the Cardinal put his hand in his
"Dear me!" he suddenly exclaimed. "I have lost my snuff box
again." He shook his head, as one who recognises a fatality. "I am
always losing it."
"Are you sure you had it with you?" Beatrice asked.
"Oh, yes, I think I had it with me. I should have missed it
before this, if I had left it at home. I must have dropped it in Mr.
"In that case it will probably be found," said Beatrice.
Peter had gone to Spiaggia, I imagine, in the hope of meeting Mrs.
O'Donovan Florence; but the printed visitors' list there told him that
she had left nearly a fortnight since. On his return to the villa, he
was greeted by Marietta with the proud tidings that her Excellency the
Duchessa di Santangiolo had been to see her.
"Oh—? Really?" he questioned lightly. (His heart, I think,
dropped a beat, all the same.)
"Ang," said Marietta. "She came with the most Eminent Prince
Cardinal. They came in the carriage. She stayed half an hour. She
was very gracious."
"Ah?" said Peter. "I am glad to hear it."
"She was beautifully dressed," said Marietta.
"Of that I have not the shadow of a doubt," said he.
"The Signorina Emilia drove away with them," said she.
"Dear, dear! What a chapter of adventures," was his comment.
He went to his rustic table, and picked up his book.
"How the deuce did that come there?" he wondered, discovering the
It was, in truth, an odd place for it. A cardinal may
inadvertently drop his snuff box, to be sure. But if the whole
College of Cardinals together had dropped a snuff box, it would
hardly have fallen, of its own weight, through the covers of an open
book, to the under-side thereof, and have left withal no trace of its
"Solid matter will not pass through solid matter, without
fraction—I learned that at school," said Peter.
The inference would be that someone had purposely put the snuff
The Cardinal himself? In the name of reason, why?
A wild surmise darted through Peter's soul. Could it be? Could it
conceivably be? Was it possible that—that—was it possible, in fine,
that this was a kind of signal, a kind of summons?
Oh, no, no, no. And yet—and yet—
No, certainly not. The idea was preposterous. It deserved, and
(I trust) obtained, summary deletion.
"Nevertheless," said Peter, "it's a long while since I have
darkened the doors of Ventirose. And a poor excuse is better than
none. And anyhow, the Cardinal will be glad to have his snuff."
The ladder-bridge was in its place.
He crossed the Aco.
He crossed the Aco, and struck bravely forward, up the smooth
lawns, under the bending trees, towards the castle.
The sun was setting. The irregular mass of buildings stood out in
varying shades of blue, against varying, dying shades of red.
Half way there, Peter stopped, and looked back.
The level sunshine turned the black forests of the Gnisi to
shining forests of bronze, and the foaming cascade that leapt down
its side to a cascade of liquid gold. The lake, for the greater part,
lay in shadow, violet-grey through a pearl-grey veil of mist; but
along the opposite shore it caught the light, and gleamed a crescent
of quicksilver, with roseate reflections. The three snow-summits of
Monte Sfiorito, at the valley's end, seemed almost
insubstantial—floating forms of luminous pink vapour, above the hazy
horizon, in a pure sky intensely blue.
A familiar verse came into Peter's mind.
"Really,"' he said to himself, "down to the very 'cataract leaping
in glory,' I believe they must have pre-arranged the scene, feature
for feature, to illustrate it." And he began to repeat the vivid,
musical lines, under his breath . . .
But about midway of them he was interrupted.
"It's not altogether a bad sort of view—is it?" a voice asked,
Peter faced about.
On a marble bench, under a feathery acacia; a few yards away, a
lady was seated, looking at him, smiling.
Peter's eyes met hers—and suddenly his heart gave a jump. Then it
stood dead still for a second. Then it flew off, racing perilously.
Oh, for the best reasons in the world. There was something in her
eyes, there was a glow, a softness, that seemed—that seemed . . .
But thereby hangs my tale.
She was dressed in white. She had some big bright-yellow
chrysanthemums stuck in her belt. She wore no hat. Her hair, brown
and warm in shadow, sparkled, where the sun touched it, transparent
and iridescent, like crinkly threads of glass.
"You do not think it altogether bad—I hope?" she questioned,
arching her eyebrows slightly, with a droll little assumption of
Peter's heart was racing—but he must answer her.
"I was just wondering," he answered, with a tolerably successful
feint of composure, "whether one might not safely call it altogether
"Oh—?" she exclaimed.
She threw back her head, and examined the prospect critically.
Afterwards, she returned her gaze to Peter, with an air of polite
readiness to defer to his opinion.
"It is not too sensational? Not too much like a landscape on the
"We must judge it leniently," said he; "we must remember that it
is only unaided Nature. Besides," he added, "to be meticulously
truthful, there is a spaciousness, there is a vivacity in the light
and colour, there is a sense of depth and atmosphere, that we should
hardly find in a landscape on the stage."
"Yes—perhaps there is," she admitted thoughtfully.
And with that, they looked into each other's eyes, and laughed.
"Are you aware," the lady asked, after a brief silence, "that it
is a singularly lovely evening."
"I have a hundred reasons for thinking it so," Peter answered,
with the least approach to a meaning bow.
In the lady's face there flickered, perhaps, for half a second,
the faintest light, as of a comprehending and unresentful smile. But
she went on, with fine detachment
"How calm and still it is. The wonderful peace of the day's
compline. It seems as if the earth had stopped breathing—does n't
it? The birds have already gone to bed, though the sun is only just
setting. It is the hour when they are generally noisiest; but they
have gone to bed—the sparrows and the finches, the snatchers and the
snatched-from, are equal in the article of sleep. That is because
they feel the touch of autumn. How beautiful it is, in spite of its
sadness, this first touch of autumn—it is like sad distant music.
Can you analyse it, can you explain it? There is no chill, it is
quite warm, and yet one knows somehow that autumn is here. The birds
know it, and have gone to bed. In another month they will be flying
away, to Africa and the Hesperides—all of them except the sparrows,
who stay all winter. I wonder how they get on during the winter, with
no goldfinches to snatch from?"
She turned to Peter with a look of respectful enquiry, as one
appealing to an authority for information.
"Oh, they snatch from each other, during the winter," he
explained. "It is thief rob thief, when honest victims are not
forthcoming. And—what is more to the point—they must keep their
beaks in, against the return of the goldfinches with the spring."
The Duchessa—for I scorn to deceive the trustful reader longer;
and (as certain fines mouches, despite my efforts at concealment, may
ere this have suspected) the mysterious lady was no one else—the
Duchessa gaily laughed.
Yes," she said, "the goldfinches will return with the spring. But
isn't that rather foolish of them? If I were a goldfinch, I think I
should make my abode permanent in the sparrowless south."
"There is no sparrowless south," said Peter. "Sparrows, alas,
abound in every latitude; and the farther south you go, the fiercer
and bolder and more impudent they become. In Africa and the
Hesperides, which you have mentioned, they not infrequently attack the
caravans, peck the eyes out of the camels, and are sometimes even
known to carry off a man, a whole man, vainly struggling in their
inexorable talons. There is no sparrowless south. But as for the
goldfinches returning —it is the instinct of us bipeds to return.
Plumed and plumeless, we all return to something, what though we may
have registered the most solemn vows to remain away."
He delivered his last phrases with an accent, he punctuated them
with a glance, in which there may have lurked an intention.
But the Duchessa did not appear to notice it.
"Yes—true—so we do," she assented vaguely. "And what you tell
me of the sparrows in the Hesperides is very novel and
impressive—unless, indeed, it is a mere traveller's tale, with which
you are seeking to practise upon my credulity. But since I find you
in this communicative vein, will you not push complaisance a half-inch
further, and tell me what that thing is, suspended there in the sky
above the crest of the Cornobastone—that pale round thing, that looks
like the spectre of a magnified half-crown?"
Peter turned to the quarter her gaze indicated.
"Oh, that," he said, "is nothing. In frankness, it is only what
the vulgar style the moon."
"How odd," said she. "I thought it was what the vulgar style the
And they both laughed again.
The Duchessa moved a little; and thus she uncovered, carved on the
back of her marble bench, and blazoned in red and gold, a coat of
She touched the shield with her finger.
"Are you interested in canting heraldry?" she asked. "There is no
country so rich in it as Italy. These are the arms of the Farfalla,
the original owners of this property. Or, seme of twenty roses gules;
the crest, on a rose gules, a butterfly or, with wings displayed; and
the motto—how could the heralds ever have sanctioned such an
unheraldic and unheroic motto?
Mi cantano al cuore
La gioja e l' amore.
They were the great people of this region for countless
generations, the Farfalla. They were Princes of Ventirose and
Patricians of Milan. And then the last of them was ruined at Monte
Carlo, and killed himself there, twenty-odd years ago. That is how all
their gioja and amore ended. It was the case of a butterfly literally
broken upon a wheel. The estate fell into the hands of the Jews, as
everything more or less does sooner or later; and they—if you can
believe me—they were going to turn the castle into an hotel, into one
of those monstrous modern hotels, for other Jews to come to, when I
happened to hear of it, and bought it. Fancy turning that splendid
old castle into a Jew-infested hotel! It is one of the few castles in
Italy that have a ghost. Oh, but a quite authentic ghost. It is
called the White Page—il Paggio Bianco di Ventirose. It is the ghost
of a boy about sixteen. He walks on the ramparts of the old keep, and
looks off towards the lake, as if he were watching a boat, and
sometimes he waves his arms, as if he were signalling. And from head
to foot he is perfectly white, like a statue. I have never seen him
myself; but so many people say they have, I cannot doubt he is
authentic. And the Jews wanted to turn this haunted castle into an
hotel . . . As a tribute to the memory of the Farfalla, I take pains
to see that their arms, which are carved, as you see them here, in at
least a hundred different places, are remetalled and retinctured as
often as time and the weather render it necessary."
She looked towards the castle, while she spoke; and now she rose,
with the design, perhaps, of moving in that direction.
Peter felt that the moment had come for actualities.
"It seems improbable," he began,—and I 'm afraid you will think
there is a tiresome monotony in my purposes; but I am here again to
return Cardinal Udeschini's snuff box. He left it in my garden."
"Oh—?" said the Duchessa. "Yes, he thought he must have left it
there. He is always mislaying it. Happily, he has another, for
emergencies. It was very good of you to trouble to bring it back."
She gave a light little laugh..
"I may also improve this occasion," Peter abruptly continued, "to
make my adieux. I shall be leaving for England in a few days now."
The Duchessa raised her eyebrows.
"Really?" she said. "Oh, that is too bad," she added, by way of
comment. "October, you know, is regarded as the best month of all the
twelve, in this lake country."
"Yes, I know it," Peter responded regretfully.
"And it is a horrid month in England," she went on.
"It is an abominable month in England," he acknowledged.
"Here it is blue, like larkspur, and all fragrant of the vintage,
and joyous with the songs of the vintagers," she said. "There it is
dingy-brown, and songless, and it smells of smoke."
"Yes," he agreed.
"But you are a sportsman? You go in for shooting?" she
"No," he answered. "I gave up shooting years ago."
"Oh—? Hunting, then?"
"I hate hunting. One is always getting rolled on by one's horse."
"Ah, I see. It—it will be golf, perhaps?"
"No, it is not even golf."
"Don't tell me it is football?"
"Do I look as if it were football?"
"It is sheer homesickness, in fine? You are grieving for the
purple of your native heather?"
"There is scarcely any heather in my native county. No," said
Peter, "no. To tell you the truth, it is the usual thing. It is an
histoire de femme."
"I 'might have guessed it," she exclaimed. "It is still that
"That everlasting woman—?" Peter faltered.
"To be sure," said she. "The woman you are always going on about.
The woman of your novel. This woman, in short."
And she produced from behind her back a hand that she had kept
there, and held up for his inspection a grey-and-gold bound book.
"MY novel—?" faltered he. (But the sight of it, in her
possession, in these particular circumstances, gave him a thrill that
was not a thrill of despair.)
"Your novel," she repeated, smiling sweetly, and mimicking his
tone. Then she made a little moue. "Of course, I have known that
you were your friend Felix Wildmay, from the outset."
"Oh," said Peter, in a feeble sort of gasp, looking bewildered.
"You have known that from the outset?" And his brain seemed to reel.
"Yes," said she, "of course. Where would the fun have been,
otherwise? And now you are going away, back to her shrine, to renew
your worship. I hope you will find the courage to offer her your
Peter's brain was reeling. But here was the opportunity of his
"You give me courage," he pronounced, with sudden daring. "You
are in a position to help me with her. And since you know so much, I
should like you to know more. I should like to tell you who she is."
"One should be careful where one bestows one's confidences," she
warned him; but there was something in her eyes, there was a glow, a
softness, that seemed at the same time to invite them.
"No," he said, "better than telling you who she is, I will tell
you where I first saw her. It was at the Francais, in December, four
years ago, a Thursday night, a subscription night. She sat in one of
the middle boxes of the first tier. She was dressed in white. Her
companions were an elderly woman, English I think, in black, who wore
a cap; and an old man, with white moustache and imperial, who looked
as if he might be a French officer. And the play—."
He broke off, and looked at the Duchessa. She kept her eyes down.
"Yes—the play?" she questioned, in a low voice, after a little
"The play was Monsieur Pailleron's 'Le monde ou l'on s'ennuie',"
"Oh," said she, still keeping her eyes down. Her voice was still
very low. But there was something in it that made Peter's heart leap.
"The next time I saw her," he began . . .
But then he had to stop. He felt as if the beating of his heart
must suffocate him.
"Yes—the next time?" she questioned.
He drew a deep breath. He began anew—
"The next time was a week later, at the Opera. They were giving
Lohengrin. She was with the same man and woman, and there was
another, younger man. She had pearls round her neck and in her hair,
and she had a cloak lined with white fur. She left before the opera
was over. I did not see her again until the following May, when I saw
her once or twice in London, driving in the Park. She was always with
the same elderly Englishwoman, but the military-looking old Frenchman
had disappeared. And then I saw her once more, a year later, in
Paris, driving in the Bois."
The Duchessa kept her eyes down. She did not speak.
Peter waited as long as flesh-and-blood could wait, looking at
"Well?" he pleaded, at last. "That is all. Have you nothing to
say to me?"
She raised her eyes, and for the tiniest fraction of a second they
gave themselves to his. Then she dropped them again.
"You are sure," she asked, "you are perfectly sure that when,
afterwards, you met her, and came to know her as she really is —you
are perfectly sure there was no disappointment?"
"Disappointment!" cried Peter. "She is in every way immeasurably
beyond anything that I was capable of dreaming. Oh, if you could see
her, if you could hear her speak, if you could look into her eyes—if
you could see her as others see her—you would not ask whether there
was a disappointment. She is . . . No; the language is not yet
invented, in which I could describe her."
The Duchessa smiled, softly, to herself.
"And you are in love with her—more or less?" she asked.
"I love her so that the bare imagination of being allowed to tell
her of my love almost makes me faint with joy. But it is like the
story of the poor squire who loved his queen. She is the greatest of
great ladies. I am nobody. She is so beautiful, so splendid, and so
high above me, it would be the maddest presumption for me to ask her
for her love. To ask for the love of my Queen! And yet—Oh, I can
say no more. God sees my heart. God knows how I love her."
"And it is on her account—because you think your love is
hopeless—that you are going away, that you are going back to
"Yes," said he.
She raised her eyes again, and again they gave themselves to his.
There was something in them, there was a glow, a softness . . .
"Don't go," she said.
Up at the castle—Peter had hurried down to the villa, dressed,
and returned to the castle to dine—he restored the snuff-box to
"I am trebly your debtor for it," said the Cardinal.