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Clementina
by A.E.W. Mason
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One incident, indeed, is related which the chronicler thought to be curious, though he did not comprehend it. The Princess Clementina brought from her confessional box a wisp of straw which clung to her dress at the knee. Until Wogan had placed the King's ring upon her finger, she did not apparently remark it; but no sooner had that office been performed than she stooped, and with a friendly smile at her makeshift bridegroom, she plucked it from her skirt and let it fall beneath her foot.

And that was all. No words passed between them after the ceremony, for her Royal Highness went straight back to the little house in the garden, and that same forenoon set out for Rome.

She was not the only witness of the ceremony to take that road that day. For some three hours later, to be precise, at half-past two, Maria Vittoria stepped into her coach before the Pilgrim Inn. Wogan held the carriage door open for her. He was still in the bravery of his wedding clothes, and Maria Vittoria looked him over whimsically from the top of his peruke to his shoe-buckles.

"I came to see a fool-woman," said she, "and I saw a fool-man. Well, well!" and she suddenly lowered her voice to a passionate whisper. "Why, oh, why did you not take your fortunes in your hands at Peri?"

Wogan leaned forward to her. "Do you know so much?"

She answered him quickly. "I will never forgive you. Yes, I know." She forced her lips into a smile. "I suppose you are content. You have your black horse."

"You know of the horse, too," said Wogan, colouring to the edge of his peruke. "You know I have no further use for it."

"Say that again, and I will beg it of you."

"Nay, it is yours, then. I will send him after you to Rome."

"Will you?" said Maria Vittoria. "Why, then, I accept. There's my hand;" and she thrust it through the window to him. "If ever you come to Rome, the Caprara Palace stands where it did at your last visit. I do not say you will be welcome. No, I do not forgive you, but you may come. Having your horse, I could hardly bar the door against you. So you may come."

Wogan raised her hand to his lips.

"Aye," said she, with a touch of bitterness, "kiss my hand. You have had your way. Here are two people crossmated, and two others not mated at all. You have made four people entirely unhappy, and a kiss on the glove sets all right."

"Nay, not four," protested Wogan.

"Your manners," she continued remorselessly, ticking off the names upon her fingers, "will hinder you from telling me to my face the King is happy. And the Princess?"

"She was born to be a queen," replied Wogan, stubbornly. "Happiness, mademoiselle! It does not come by the striving after it. That's the royal road to miss it. You may build up your house of happiness with all your care through years, and you will find you have only built it up to draw down the blinds and hang out the hatchment above the door, for the tenant to inhabit it is dead."

Maria Vittoria listened very seriously till he came to the end. Then she made a pouting grimace. "That is very fine, moral, and poetical. Your Princess was born to be a queen. But what if her throne is set up only in your city of dreams? Well, it is some consolation to know that you are one of the four."

"Nay, I will make a shift not to plague myself upon the way the world treats you."

"Ah, but because it treats you well," cried she. "There will be work for you, hurryings to and fro, the opportunities of excelling, nights in the saddle, and perhaps again the quick red life of battlefields. It is well with you, but what of me, Mr. Wogan? What of me?" and she leaned back in her carriage and drove away. Wogan had no answer to that despairing question. He stood with his head bared till the carriage passed round a corner and disappeared, but the voice rang for a long while in his ears. And for a long while the dark eyes abrim with tears, and the tortured face, kept him company at nights. He walked slowly back to his lodging, and mounting a horse rode out of Bologna, and towards the Apennines.

On one of the lower slopes he came upon a villa just beyond a curve of the road, and reined in his horse. The villa nestled on the hillside below him in a terraced garden of oleander and magnolias, very pretty to the eye. Cypress hedges enclosed it; the spring had made it a bower of rose blossoms, and depths of shade out of whose green darkness glowed here and there a red statue like a tutelary god. Wogan dismounted and led his horse down the path to the door. He inquired for Lady Featherstone, and was shown into a room from the windows of which he looked down on Bologna, that city of colonnades. Lady Featherstone, however, had heard the tramp of his horse; she came running up from the garden, and without waiting to hear any particulars of her visitor, burst eagerly into the room.

"Well?" she said, and stopped and swayed upon the threshold. Wogan turned from the window towards her.

"Your Ladyship was wise, I think, to leave Bologna. The little house in the trees there had no such wide prospect as this."

He spoke rather to give her time than out of any sarcasm. She set a hand against the jamb of the door, and even so barely sustained her trifling weight. Her knees shook, her childlike face grew white as paper, a great terror glittered in her eyes.

"I am not the visitor whom you expect," continued Wogan, "nor do I bring the news which you would wish to hear;" and at that she raised a trembling hand. "I beg you—a moment's silence. Then I will hear you, Mr. Warner." She made a sort of stumbling run and reached a couch. Wogan shut the door and waited. He was glad that she had used the name of Warner. It recalled to him that evening at Ohlau when she had stood behind the curtain with a stiletto in her hand, and the three last days of his perilous ride to Schlestadt. He needed his most vivid recollections to steel his heart against her; for he was beginning to think it was his weary lot to go up and down the world causing pain to women. After a while she said, "Now your news;" and she held her hand lightly to her heart to await the blow.

"The King married this morning the Princess Clementina," said Wogan. Lady Featherstone did not move her hand; she still waited. It was just to hinder this marriage that she had come to Italy, but her failure was at this moment of no account. She heard of it with indifference; it had no meaning to her. She waited. Wogan's mere presence at the villa told her there was more to come. He continued:—

"Last night Mr. Whittington came with the King to Bologna—you understand, no doubt, why;" and she nodded without moving her eyes from his face. She made no pretence as to the part she had played in the affair. All the world might know it. That was a matter at this moment of complete indifference. She waited.

"The King and Mr. Whittington came at nine of the night to the little house which you once occupied. I was there, but I was not there alone. Can your Ladyship conjecture whom I brought there? Your Ladyship, as I learned last night from Mr. Whittington's own lips, had paid a visit secretly, using a key which you had retained to the house on an excuse that you had left behind jewels of some value. You saw her Highness the Princess. You told her a story of the King and Mlle. de Caprara. I rode to Rome, and when the King came last night Mlle. de Caprara was with the Princess. I had evidence against Mr. Whittington, a confession of one of the soldiers of the Governor of Trent, the leader of a party of five who attacked me at Peri. No doubt you know of that little matter too;" and again Lady Featherstone nodded.

"Thus your double plot—to set the King against the Princess, and the Princess against the King—doubly failed."

"Go on," said Lady Featherstone, moistening her dry lips. Wogan told her how from the little sitting-room on the ground-floor he had seen the King and Whittington cross the lawn; he described his interview with the King, and how he had come quietly down the stairs.

"I went into the garden," he went on, "and touched Whittington on the elbow. I told him just what I have explained to you. I said, 'You are a coward, a liar, a slanderer of women,' and I beat him on the mouth."

Lady Featherstone uttered a cry and drew herself into an extraordinary crouching attitude, with her eyes blazing steadily at him. He thought she meant to spring at him; he looked at that hand upon her heart to see whether it held a weapon hidden in the fold of her bosom.

"Go on," she said; "and he?"

"He answered me in the strangest quiet way imaginable. 'You insulted Lady Featherstone at Ohlau, Mr. Wogan,' said he, 'one evening when she hid behind your curtain. It was a very delicate piece of drollery, no doubt. But I shall be glad to show you another, view of it.' It is strange how that had rankled in his thoughts. I liked him for it,—upon my soul, I did,—though it was the only thing I liked in him."

"Go on," said Lady Featherstone. Mr. Wogan's likes or dislikes were of no more interest to her than the failure of her effort to hinder the marriage.

"We went to the bottom of the garden where there is a little square of lawn hedged in with myrtle-trees. The night was very dark, so we stripped to our shirts. From the waist upwards we were visible to each other as a vague glimmer of white, and thus we fought, foot to foot, among the myrtle-trees. We could not see so much as our swords unless they clashed more than usually hard, and a spark struck from them. We fought by guesswork and feel, and in the end luck served me. I drove my sword through his chest until the hilt rang upon his breast-bone."

Then just a movement from Lady Featherstone as though she drew up her feet beneath her.

"He lived for perhaps five minutes. He was in great distress lest harm should come to you; and since there was no one but his enemy to whom he could speak, why, he spoke to his enemy. I promised him, madam, that with his death the story should be closed, if you left Italy within the week."

"And he?" she interrupted,—"he died there. Well?"

"You know the laurel hedge by the sun-dial? There is an out-house where the gardener keeps his tools. I found a spade there, and beneath that laurel hedge I buried him."

Lady Featherstone rose to her feet. She spoke no word; she uttered no cry; her face was white and terrible. She stood rigid like one paralysed; then she swayed round and fell in a swoon upon the floor. And as she fell, something bright slipped from her hand and dropped at Wogan's feet. He picked it up. It was a stiletto. He stood looking down at the childish figure with a queer compassionate smile upon his face. "She could love," said he; "yes, she could love."

He walked out of the house, led his horse back onto the road and mounted it. The night was gathering; there were purple shadows upon the Apennines. Wogan rode away alone.



EPILOGUE

Sir Charles Wogan had opportunities enough to appreciate in later years the accuracy of Maria Vittoria's prophecy. "Here are two people cross-mated," said she, and events bore her out. The jealousies of courtiers no doubt had their share in the estrangement of that unhappy couple, but that was no consolation to Wogan, who saw, within so short a time of that journey into Italy, James separated from the chosen woman, and the chosen woman herself seeking the seclusion of a convent. As his reward he was made Governor of La Mancha in Spain, and no place could have been found with associations more suitable to this Irishman who turned his back upon his fortunes at Peri. At La Mancha he lived for many years, writing a deal of Latin verse, and corresponding with many distinguished men in England upon matters of the intellect. Matters of the heart he left alone, and meddled with no more. Nor did any woman ever ride on his black horse into his city of dreams. He lived and died a bachelor. The memory of that week when he had rescued his Princess and carried her through the snows was to the last too vivid in his thoughts. The thunderous roll of the carriage down the slopes, the sparks striking from the wheels, the sound of Clementina's voice singing softly in the darkness of the carriage, the walk under the stars to Ala, the coming of the dawn about that lonely hut, high-placed amongst the pines. These recollections bore him company through many a solitary evening. Somehow the world had gone awry. Clementina, withdrawn into her convent, was, after all, "wasted," as he had sworn she should not be. James was fallen upon a deeper melancholy, and diminished hopes. He himself was an exile alone in his white patio in Spain. In only one point was Maria Vittoria's prophecy at fault. She had spoken of two who were to find no mates, and one of the two was herself. She married five years later.

THE END

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