"They 're immensely improved by a drop or two of Worcester sauce," said Adrian, with his mouth full. "Observe how, in the labyrinth of destiny, journeys end in the most romantic and improbable conjunctions. These fishlets from a southern sea—this sauce from a northern manufacturing town."
"And then her figure," thought Anthony; "that superb, tall, pliant figure,—the flow of it, the spring of it,—the lines it takes when she moves, when she walks,—its extraordinary union of strength with fineness."
"The longest night," said Adrian, "is followed by a dawn." He dropped three lumps of sugar into his tea-cup. "There 's a paragraph in this week's Beaux and Belles which says that sugar in tea is quite the correct thing again. Thank mercy. Tongue can never tell the hankerings my sweet-tooth has suffered during the years that sugar has been unfashionable.
"Nearest neighbours though they dwell, Neighbour Tongue can never tell What Neighbour Tooth has had to dree, Nearest neighbours though they be,"
he softly hummed. "But that's really from a poem about toothache, and does n't perhaps apply. Do you labour? Do you love?" he enquired.
"Love is such an ambiguous term," said Anthony, with languor.
"Yes—strength and fineness: those are her insistent notes," he was thinking. "She is strong, strong. She is strong as a perfect young animal is strong. Yet she is fine. She is fine as only, of all created beings, a fine woman can be fine—a woman delicate, sensitive, high-bred, fine in herself, and with all her belongings fine."
"Life," said Adrian, "is a thing a man should come by honestly; a thing the possession of which a man should justify; a thing a man should earn."
"Some favoured individuals, I have heard, inherit it from their forebears," said Anthony, as one loth to dogmatise, on the tone of a mere suggestion.
"Pish," answered Adrian, with absoluteness. "Our forebears affect my thesis only in so far as they did not forbear. At most, they touched the button. The rest—the adventurous, uncertain, interesting rest—we must do ourselves. We must earn our life; and then we should spend it—lavishly, like noble, freehanded gentlemen. Well, we earn our life by labour; and then, if we spend as the gods design, we spend our life in love. I could quote Browning, I could quote Byron, I could even quote What's-his-name, the celebrated German."
"You could—but you won't," interposed Anthony, with haste. "It is excellent to have a giant's strength, but tyrannous to use it like a giant."
"The puzzling thing, however," he reflected, "is that I can't in the least realise her as what she is. She is a widow, she has been married. I can't in the least think of her as a woman who has been married. Not that she strikes one exactly as a young girl, either,—she exhibits too plentiful a lack of young-girlish rawness and insipidity,—she 's a woman, she 's a femme faite. But I can't think of her as a woman who has passed through marriage. One feels a freshness, a bloom, a something untouched, intact. One feels the presence of certain inexperiences. And yet—well, by the card, one's feeling is mistaken."
Adrian sprinkled sugar and poured cream over a plateful of big red strawberries.
"All this—and Heaven too," he piously murmured.
Then, rosy face and blue eyes bright with anticipation, he tasted one. Slowly the brightness faded.
"Deceivers!" he cried, falling back in his seat, and shaking his fist at the tall glass dish from which he had helped himself. "Fair as Hyperion, false as dicers' oaths. Acid and watery—a mere sour bath. You may have them all." He pushed the dish towards Anthony. "I suppose it's too early in the season to hope for good ones. But this"—he charged a plate with bread, butter, and marmalade—"this honest, homely Scottish marmalade, this can always be depended upon to fill the crannies." And therewith he broke into song.
"To fill the crannies, The mannie's crannies,
Then hey for the sweeties of bonny Dundee!" he carolled lustily. "Let me see—I was saying?" he resumed. "Ah, yes, I was saying that the state of mind of a man like you is a thing I am utterly unable to conceive. And that 's funny, because it is generally true that the larger comprehends the less. But I look at you, and I think to myself, thinks I, 'There is a man—or at least the semblance of a man,—a breathing thing at least, with anthropoid features and dimensions,—who is never, never, never tormented by the feeling—'Now, tell me, what feeling do you conjecture I mean?"
"Don't know, I 'm sure," said Anthony, without much animation.
"'By the feeling that he ought to be bending over a sheet of paper, ruled in pretty parallels of fives, trying to embellish the same with semi-breves and crotchets.' That is what I think to myself, thinks I; and the thought leaves me gasping. I am utterly unable to conceive your state of mind."
"I shan't—barring happy accidents—see her again till Sunday; and to-day is only Friday," Anthony was brooding.
"Apropos," he said to Adrian, "I remember your telling me that Friday was unlucky."
"Tut," said Adrian. "That is n't apropos in the slightest degree. The difference that baffles me, I expect, is that I 've the positive, you 've the negative, temperament; I 've the active, you 've the passive; I 've the fertile, you 've the sterile. It's the difference between Yea and Nay, between Willy and Nilly. Serenely, serenely, you will drift to your grave, and never once know what it is to be consumed, harried, driven by a deep, inextinguishable, unassuageable craving to write a song. You 'll never know the heartburn, the unrest, the conscience-sickness, the self-abasement that I know when I 'm not writing one, nor the glorious anguish of exhilaration when I am. I can get no conception of your state of mind—any more than a nightingale could conceive the state of mind of a sparrow. In a sparrowish way, it must be rather blissful—no? We artists are the salt of the earth, of course; but every art knows its own bitterness, and—il faut souffrir pour etre sel."
"It's the difference between egotism rampant and modesty regardant," Anthony, with some grimness, returned. "I am content to sit in my place, and watch the pantomime. You long to get upon the stage. Your unassuageable craving to write a song is, in its essence, just an unassuageable craving to make yourself an object of attention. And that's the whole truth about you artists. I recollect your telling me that Friday was unlucky."
"Oh, how superficial you are," Adrian plaintively protested. "A man like me, you should understand, is meant for the world—for the world's delight, for mankind's wonder. And here unfortunate circumstances—my poverty and not my will—constrain me to stint the world of its due: to languish in this lost corner of Nowhere, like Wamba the son of Witless, the mere professed buffoon of a merer franklin. Well, my unassuageable craving to write a song is, in its essence, just a great, splendid, generous desire to indemnify the world. The world needs me—the world has me not—but the world shall have me. For the world's behoof, I will translate myself into semi-breves and crotchets. So there! Besides, to be entirely frank, I can't help it. Nothing human is perfect that does not exhibit somewhere a fine inconsequence. Thus I exhibit mine. I make music from a high sense of duty, to enrich the world; but at the same time I make it because I can't help making it. I make it as the bee makes honey, as the Jew makes money, spontaneously, inevitably. It is my nature to,—just as it 's the nature of fire to burn, and of dairy-maids to churn. It is the inherent, ineradicable impulse of my bounteous soul."
"You told me in so many words that Friday was unlucky," said Anthony.
"Well, and so it is," said Adrian.
"I don't agree with you. Friday, in my experience, is the luckiest day of the seven. All sorts of pleasant things have happened to me on Friday."
"That's merely because your sponsors in baptism happened to name you Tony," Adrian explained. "Friday, and the still more dread thirteen, are both lucky for people who happen to be named Tony. Because why? Because the blessed St. Anthony of Padua was born on a Friday, and went to his reward on a thirteenth—the thirteenth of June, this very month, no less." He allowed Anthony's muttered "A qui le dites-vous?" to pass unnoticed, and, making his voice grave, continued, "But for those of us who don't happen to be named Tony—unberufen! Take a man like me, for instance, an intellectual young fellow, with work to do, but delicate, and dependent for his strength upon the regular administration of sustaining nourishment. Well, Friday comes, and there he is, for twenty-four hours by the clock, obliged to keep up, as best he may, on fish and vegetables and suchlike kickshaws, when every fibre of his frame is crying out for meat, red meat. And now"—he pushed back his chair—"and now, dear heart, be brave. Steel yourself to meet adversity. A sorrow stoically borne is already half a sorrow vanquished. I must absent thee from thy felicity a while—-I must be stepping." He rose, and moved, with that dancing gait of his, to the door. From the threshold he remarked, "If you will come to my business-room about half an hour before luncheon, I shall hope to have the last bars polished off, and I 'll sing you something sweeter than ever plummet sounded. Lebe wohl."
"Yes," thought Anthony, left to himself, "barring happy accidents, I must wait till Sunday."
And he went into the park.
"The nuisance," he said to Patapouf, as he released him, "the nuisance of things happening early is that they 're just so much the less likely to happen late. The grudge I bear the Past is based upon the circumstance that it has taken just so much from the Future. Meanwhile, suggest the unthinking, let's enjoy the present. But virtually, as I need n't remind you, there is no such thing as the present. The present is an infinitesimal between two infinites. 'T is a line (a thing without breadth or thickness) moving across the surface of Eternity. The present is no more, by the time you have said, This is present. So, then, it were inordinate to hope to fall in with her again to-day, and you and I must face an anti-climax. Be thankful we have the memories of the morning to feed upon. And, if you desire a subject for meditation, observe how appetites are created. If we had not met her at all, we should not hunger and thirst in this way for another meeting."
He left the red collar round Patapouf's neck. The rest of the torn ribbon he carefully gathered up and put in his pocket-book.
"One should, however, give happy accidents a certain encouragement," he reflected, as he woke next morning. "She said it was her habit. We will seek her again in the hours immaculate."
He sought her far and near. He wandered the park till breakfast time. The appropriate scene was set: the familiar sheep were there, the trees, the birds, the dewy swards, the sunshine and the shadows: but—though, at each new turning, as each new prospect opened, expectancy anew looked eagerly from his eyes—the lady of the piece was ever missing.
"And yet you boasted it was your habit," bitterly he reproached his vision of her.
All day he held out to happy accidents what encouragement he might. All day he roamed the park, and, as the day dragged on, became a deeply dejected man. Even the certitude of seeing her to-morrow was of small comfort.
"Two minutes before Mass, and three minutes after—what is that?" he grumbled.
Towards five o'clock he took a resolution.
"There are such things as accidents, but there is also," he argued, "such a thing as design. Why is man endowed with free-will? I don't care how it may look, nor what they may think. I 'm going to call upon her, I 'm going to ask myself to tea."
In this, however, he reckoned without the keeper of her door.
"The ladies er ait, sir," announced that prim-lipped functionary.
"Now farewell hope," he mourned, as the door closed in his face. "There's nothing left for me to do but to go for a thundering long walk, and tire myself into oblivion. I will walk to Wetherleigh."
Head bent, eyes downcast, sternly resolved to banish her from his thought, he set forwards, with rapid, dogged steps. He had gone, it may be, a hundred yards, when a voice stopped him.
"Sh—sh! Please—please!" it whispered.
The grounds immediately appertaining to Craford New Manor are traversed by a brook. Springing from amidst a thicket of creepers up the hillside, it comes tumbling and winding, a series of miniature cascades, over brown rocks, between mossy banks shadowed by ferns and eglantine, through the sun-shot dimness of a grove of pine-trees, to fling itself with a final leap and flash (such light-hearted self-immolation) into the ornamental pond at the bottom of the lawn. It is a pretty brook, and pleasing to the ear, with its purl and tinkle of crisp water.
And now, as Anthony, heading for the Wetherleigh-wards exit of the park, approached the brook, to cross it,—"Sh, sh—please, please,"—a whisper stopped him.
There by the bank, under the tall pines, where sun and shadow chequered the russet carpet of pine-needles, there, white-robed, sat Susanna: white-robed, hatless, gloveless. She was waving her hand, softly, in a gesture invocative of caution; but her eyes smiled a welcome to him.
Anthony halted, waited,—his heart, I think, high-bearing.
"It is a blue tit," she explained, under her breath, eagerly. "The rarest bird that ever comes. He is bathing—there—see." She pointed.
Sure enough, in a little rock-formed pool a couple of yards up-stream, a tiny blue titmouse was vigorously enjoying his bath—ducking, fluttering, preening his plumage, ducking again, and sending off shooting-stars of spray, prismatic stars where they crossed the sunbeams.
"That is the delight of this bit of water," Susanna said, always with bated breath. "The birds for miles about come here to drink and bathe. All the rarer and timider birds, that one never sees anywhere else."
"Ah, yes. Very jolly, very interesting," said Anthony, not quite knowing what he said, perhaps, for his faculties, I hope, were singing a Te Deum. But—with that high nose of his, that cool grey eye, with that high collar too, and the general self-assurance of his toilet—no one could have appeared more composed or more collected.
"You speak without conviction," said Susanna. "Don't you care for birds?"
("Come! You must get yourself in hand," his will admonished his wit.)
"I beg your pardon," he said, "I care for them very much. They 're an indispensable feature of the landscape, and immensely serviceable to the agriculturist. But one cares for other things as well. And I had always fancied that the crowning virtue of this bit of water (since you mention it) was its amenability to the caprice of man."
"Men have caprices?" questioned she, surprise in her upward glance.
"At any rate," he answered, with allowance for her point, "your Scottish gardener has. At his caprice, he turns this torrent on or off, with a tap. For all its air of naturalness and frank impetuosity, it is an entirely artificial torrent; and your Scottish gardener turns it on and off with a tap."
"He sways the elements," murmured Susanna, as with awe. "Portentous being." Then, changing her note to one of gaiety, "Ecco," she cried, "Signor Cinciallegra has completed his ablutions—and ecco, he flies away. Won't you—won't you sit down?" she asked, as her eyes came back from the departing bird; and a motion of her hand made him free of the pine-needles.
"Thank you," responded Anthony, taking a place opposite her. "I 'm not sure," he added, "whether in honesty I ought n't to confess that I have just been calling upon you."
"Oh," she said, with the politest smile and bow. "I am so sorry to have missed your visit."
"You are very good." He bowed in his turn. "I wanted to consult you about a trifling matter of business," he informed her.
"A matter of business—?" she wondered; and her face became all attention.
"Exactly," said he. "I wanted to ask what you meant by stating that it was your habit always to be abroad in the hours immaculate? I happened by the merest chance to be abroad in them myself this morning. I examined every nook and cranny of them, I turned them inside out; but not one jot or tittle of you could I discover."
Susanna's eyes were pensive.
"I was speaking of Italy, was I not?" she replied. "I said, I think, that it was the habit of the people in my part of Italy. But, anyhow, one sometimes varies one's habits. And, after all, one sometimes makes statements that are rash."
"And one is always free to repudiate one's responsibilities," suggestively supplemented our young man.
"Fortunately," she agreed. "Moreover," she changed her ground, "one should not be too exclusive in one's sympathies, one should not be unfair to other hours. This present hour here now—is it not immaculate also? With its pure sky, and its odour of warm pines, its deep cool shadows, its patines of bright gold where the sun penetrates, and then, plashing through it, this curling, dimpling, artificial torrent? It is not the hour's fault if it happens to arrive somewhat late in the day—it had to wait its turn. Besides, if one can believe what one reads in books, it will be the very earliest of early hours—down there," (with the tip of a vertical finger she touched the earth), "at the Antipodes."
"To this present hour," said Anthony, with impressive slowness, "I personally owe so great a debt of thankfulness, it would be churlish of me even to hint a criticism. And yet—and yet—how shall I express it? Eppur' si muove. It moves, it hastes away;—while I could wish it to remain forever, fixed as the Northern Star. Do they know, in your part of Italy, any means by which the sparkling minutes can be prevailed upon to stay their flight?"
"That is a sort of knowledge," Susanna answered, with a movement of the head, "for which, I fear, one would have to go to a meta-physical and thrifty land like Germany. We are not in the least metaphysical or thrifty in my part of Italy. We allow the sparkling minutes to slip between our fingers, like gold between the fingers of a spendthrift. But—but we rather enjoy the feeling, as they slip."
"I wonder," Anthony hazarded, "whether you would take it very much amiss if—if I should make a remark?"
Susanna's eyes lighted, dangerously.
"I wonder," she said, on a key of dubious meditation.
"I am not easily put off," said he, with firmness. "I am moved to remark upon the astonishing facility with which you speak English. Now—do your worst."
"It would take more than that to provoke me to do my worst," she said. "English is as natural to me as my mother-tongue. I always had English governesses. Everyone has English governesses in Italy nowadays, you know."
"Yes," he said, "I know; and they are generally Irish, are they not? Of course you 've lived a great deal in England?" he surmised.
"On the contrary," she set him right, "this is my first visit here."
"Is it possible?" he marvelled. "I thought the true Oxford accent could only be acquired on the spot."
"Have I the true Oxford accent?" Susanna brightly doubted, eye-brows raised.
"Thank heaven," he gravely charged her, "thank heaven, kneeling, that you have n't the true Oxford manner. Does England," he asked, "seem very rum?"
"Yes," she answered, with immediate candour, "England seems very rum—but not so rum as it might, perhaps, if I had n't read so many English novels. English novels are the only novels you 're allowed to read, in my part of Italy, when you 're young."
"Ah," said Anthony, nodding, "that's because our English novelists are such dabs at the art of omission." And after the briefest pause, "Mere idle and impertinent curiosity," he postulated, "is one thing: honest neighbourly interest is another. If I were a bolder man, I should ask you point-blank what part of Italy your part of Italy is."
Susanna (all a soft whiteness, in her white frock, in the mellow penumbra of the pine-grove) leaned back, and softly laughed.
"My part of Italy? That is not altogether easy to tell," she said, considering. "In one sense, my part of Italy is Rome. I belong to a Roman family, and am politically a subject of the Holy Father,—what though, for the moment, his throne be usurped by the Duke of Savoy, and his prerogatives exercised by the Camorra. But then my part of Italy is also Venice. We are Venetians, if to have had a house in Venice for some four hundred years is sufficient to constitute folk Venetians. But the part of Italy where I most often live, the part I like best, is a part you will never have heard of—a little castaway island in the Adriatic, about fifty miles north from Ancona: a little mountainous island, all fragrant of rosemary and basil, all grey with olive-trees,—all grey, save where the grey is broken by the green of vineyards, or the white and green of villas with their gardens, or the white and red of villages, with their red roofs, and white walls and campanili,—all grey, and yet all blue and gold, between the blue sea and the blue sky, in the golden light,—the little, unknown, beautiful island of Sampaolo."
She was actress enough to look unconscious and unconcerned, as she pronounced the name of Sampaolo. Her eyes gazed dreamily far away, as if they could behold an air-vision of her island. At the same time, I suspect, they kept a vigilant side-watch on Anthony.
Did Anthony give never so slightly perceptible a start? Did his eyes quicken? Did he colour a little? At all events, we need not question, he was aware of a sudden throb of excitement,—on the spur of which, without stopping to reflect, "Really?" he exclaimed. "That is a very odd coincidence. Sampaolo—I know all about it."
"Indeed?" said Susanna, looking surprise. "You have been there? It is rarely visited by travellers—except commercial ones."
"No, I have never been there," he answered, so far truthfully enough. "But—but I know—I used to know—a man whose—a man who had," he concluded lamely. For, when he did stop to reflect, "If you care for an amusing situation," he reflected, "you 'll leave her in the dark touching your personal connection with Sampaolo."
Susanna, being quite in the light touching that connection, could not help smiling.
"I must play the game on his conditions, and feign ignorance of all that he does n't tell," she reminded herself. "But fancy his being so secretive!"
"I hope the 'man who had' reported favourably of us?" she threw out.
"H'm—yes," said Anthony, with deliberation. "The truth is, he reported nothing. He was one of those inarticulate fellows who travel everywhere, and can give no better account of their travels than just a catalogue of names. He chanced to let fall that he had visited Sampaolo, and I thus learned that such a place existed. I can't tell why, but the fact struck me, and stuck in my mind, and I have ever since been curious to know something about it."
"You said you knew all about it," Susanna complained, her eyes rebukeful, her tone a tone of disappointment.
"Oh, that was a manner of speaking," Anthony quibbled, plausible and unperturbed. "I meant that I knew of its existence—which, after all, is relatively a good deal, being vastly more than most people know."
"It would be worth your while," said Susanna, "the next time you find yourself in its vicinity, to do Sampaolo the honour of an inspection. It is easily reached. The Austrian-Lloyd coasting steamers from Venice call there once a week, and there is a boat every Monday and Thursday from Ancona. Sampaolo is an extremely interesting spot,—interesting by reason of its natural beauty, its picturesque population, and (to me, at least) by reason of its absurdly romantic, serio-comic, lamentable little history."
"Ah—?" said Anthony, but with a suspension of the voice, with a solicitude of eye and posture, that pressed her to continue.
"He is a poor dissembler," thought Susanna. "As if any mere chance outsider would care a fig to hear about Sampaolo. However, so much the better."
"Yes," she said, and again she seemed rapt in dreamy contemplation of an air-vision. "The natural beauty of Sampaolo is to my thinking unparalleled. At a distance, as your ship approaches it, Sampaolo lies on the horizon like a beautiful soft cloud, all vague rose-colours and purples, a beautiful soft pinnacle of cloud. Then gradually, as you come nearer, the cloud changes, crystallises; and Sampaolo is like a great wonderful carving, a great wonderful carved jewel, a cameo cut on the sea, with a sort of aureole about it, an opalescence of haze and sunshine. Nearer still, its aspect is almost terrible, a scene of breath-taking precipices, spire-like mountains, wild black gorges, ravines; but, to humanise it, you can count at least twenty villages, villages clinging to every hillside, perched on almost every hill-top, each with its group of cypresses, like sentinels, and its campanile. At last you pass between two promontories, the Capo del Turco and the Capo del Papa, from the summits of which two great Crucifixes look down, and you enter the Laguna di Vallanza, a land-locked bay, tranquil as a lake. And there, floating on the water as it seems, there is a palace like a palace in Fairyland, a palace of white marble, all stately colonnades and terraces, yet looking, somehow, as light as if it were built of the sea's foam. This is one of the palaces—the summer palace—of the Counts of Sampaolo. It seems to float on the water, but it really occupies a tiny mite of an islet, called Isola Nobile; and connected with Isola Nobile by marble bridges are two other tiny Islets, laid out in gardens, Isola Fratello and Isola Sorella. The Counts of Sampaolo are one of the most ancient and illustrious families in Europe, the Valdeschi della Spina, descendants of San Guido Valdeschi, a famous soldier-saint of the Twelfth Century. They have another palace in the town of Vallanza, their winter palace, the Palazzo Rosso; and a splendid old mediaeval castle, Castel San Guido, on the hill behind the town; and two or three delightful villas in different parts of the island. A highly enviable family, are they not? Orange-trees are in blossom at Sampaolo the whole year round, in blossom and in fruit at the same time. The olive orchards of Sampaolo are just so many wildernesses of wild flowers: violets, anemones, narcissus; irises, white ones and purple ones; daffodils, which we call asphodels; hyacinths, tulips, arums, orchids—oh, but a perfect riot of wild flowers. In the spring the valleys of Sampaolo are pink with blossoming peach-trees and almond-trees, where they are not scarlet with pomegranates. Basil, rosemary, white heather, you can pluck where you will. And everywhere that they can find a footing, oleanders grow, the big double red ones, great trees of them, such wonder-worlds of colour, such fountains of perfume. The birds of Sampaolo never cease their singing—they sing as joyously in December as in June. And the nightingales of Sampaolo sing all day, as well as all night. Tiu, tiu, tiu—will, will, will—weep, weep, weep—I can hear them now. But I must stop, or I shall go on for ever. Believe me, the beauties of Sampaolo are very great."
It was a long speech, but it had had an attentive listener. It was a long speech, but it had been diversified by the varying modulations of Susanna's voice, the varying expressions of her face, by little pauses, hesitations, changes of time and of rhythm, by occasional little gestures.
It had had an attentive, even an absorbed listener: one who, already interested in the speaker, happened to have a quite peculiar interest in her theme. As she spoke, I think Anthony beheld his own air-vision of Sampaolo; I fancy the familiar park of Craford, the smooth, well-groomed, well-fed English landscape, melted away; I doubt if he saw anything of the actual save the white form, the strenuous face, the shining eyes, of his informant.
But now, her voice ceasing, suddenly the actual came back—the brown brook swirling at their feet, the tall pines whispering above, the warm pine-incense, the tesserae of sun and shadow dancing together on the carpet of pine-needles, as the tassels overhead swung in the moving air.
"You paint Elysium," he said. "You paint a veritable Island of the Blessed."
Susanna's eyes clouded.
"Once upon a time Sampaolo was a veritable Island of the Blessed," she answered sadly. "But now no more. Since its union with what they call the Kingdom of Italy, Sampaolo has been, rather, an Island of the Distressed."
"Ah—?" said Anthony, again on a tone, with a mien, that pressed her to continue.
But all at once, as if recalled from an abstraction, Susanna gave a little laugh,—what seemed a slightly annoyed, half-apologetic little laugh,—and lifted her hands in a gesture of deprecation, of self-reprehension.
"I beg your pardon," she said. "I can't think how I have allowed myself to become so tiresome. One prates of one's parish pump."
"Tiresome?" cried out Anthony, in spontaneous protest. "I can't tell you how much you interest me."
"He is the poorest of poor dissemblers," thought Susanna.
"You are extremely civil," she said. "But how can the condition of our parish pump possibly interest a stranger?"
"H'm," thought Anthony, taken aback, "I expect my interest does seem somewhat improbable."
So, speciously, he sought to justify it.
"For more reasons than a few," he alleged. "To begin with, if I dared, I should say because it is your parish pump." He ventured a little bow. "But, in the next place, because it is an Italian parish pump, and somehow everything connected with Italy interests one. Then, because it is the parish pump of Sampaolo, and I have always been curious about Sampaolo. And finally, because it is a human parish pump—et nihil humanum . . . . So please go on. How did Sampaolo come to be an Island of the Distressed?"
"He 's not such a poor dissembler, after all,—when roused to action," thought Susanna. "But perhaps we have had enough Sampaolo for one session. I must leave him with an appetite for more."
"Hark," she said, raising a finger, while her face became intent. "Is n't that a skylark?"
Somewhere—just where one could n't tell at first—a bird was singing. Many birds were singing, innumerable birds were chirruping, all about. But this bird's song soared clear above the others, distinct from them, away from them, creating for itself a kind of airy isolation. It was an exquisitely sweet, liquid song, it was jocund, joyous, and it was sustained for an astonishing length of time. It went on and on and on, never faltering, never pausing, in soft trills and gay roulades, shrill skirls or flute-like warblings, a continuous outpour, for I don't know how many minutes. It was a song marvellously apposite to the bright day and the wide countryside. The freshness of the air, the raciness of the earth, the green of grass and trees, the laughing sunlight,—one might have fancied it was the spirits of all these singing together in unison.
"It's a skylark, sure enough," said Anthony, looking skywards. "But where the mischief is he?"
And they gave eyes and ears to trying to determine, searching the empyrean. Now his voice seemed to come from the west, now from the north, the south, the east; it was the most deceptive, the most elusive thing.
"Ah—there he is," Anthony cried, of a sudden, and pointed.
"Where? Where?" breathlessly asked Susanna, anxious as if life and death hung on the question.
"There—look!" said Anthony, pointing again.
High, high up in the air, directly over their heads, they could discern a tiny speck of black against the blue of the sky. They sat with their necks craned back as far as they would go, and gazed at it like people transfixed, whilst the sky pulsated to their dazzled sight.
"It is incredible," said Susanna. "A mere pin-point in that immensity, yet he fills it full with his hosannas."
But the pin-point grew bigger, the hosannas louder; the bird was descending.
"Literally it is music coming down upon us from heaven," she said.
"Yes—but when it reaches us, it will stop, we shall lose it," said Anthony. "It is music too ethereal to survive the contact of this gross planet."
Singing, singing, the bird sank, with folded wings; and sure enough, the very instant he touched the earth, his song stopped short—a bubble pricked, a light extinguished.
"He has come to drink and bathe," said Susanna.
He was hopping towards the water, on the other side of the brook, for a poet the most prosaic-looking fellow, in the soberest brown coat. Evidently he did n't dream that he was not alone. The trees had no doubt hidden his watchers. But now Susanna's voice startled him. With one wild glance at them, and a wild twitter of surprise, self-rebuke, consternation, he bounded into the air, and in a second was a mere speck again.
"Oh, how silly of him," Susanna sighed. "Does he think we are dragons?"
"No," said Anthony. "He would n't be half so frightened if he thought we were dragons. He thinks we are much worse."
"Oh—?" guilelessly questioned she. "What is that?"
"He thinks we are human beings," Anthony explained.
Susanna laughed, but it was rather a rueful laugh.
"Anyhow," she said, "he 'll not come back so long as we remain here. Yet he is hot and thirsty—and who knows from what a distance he may have flown, just for this disappointment? Don't you think it would be gracious on our part if we were to remove the cause of his alarm?"
She rose, and led the way out of the pine-grove, towards her house. When they reached the open, it was to discover, walking together from the opposite direction, Adrian and Miss Sandus,—Adrian bending towards his companion in voluble discourse, which he pointed and underlined by copious gesticulation.
"Enter Rumour, painted full of tongues," Anthony murmured, more or less in his sleeve.
But at sight of him, Adrian halted, and struck an attitude.
"Oh, the underhand, the surreptitious villain!" he cried out. Then he turned his pink face towards Susanna. "Lady, beauteous lady, vision of loveliness," he saluted her, bowing to the ground. "But oh, to think of that dark, secret villain! He 's gone and made your acquaintance without waiting for me to introduce him, which I was so counting upon doing to-morrow morning. Already he groans and totters under the weight of obligations I 've heaped upon him. I wanted to add one more—and now he 's gone and circumvented me."
"You will add one more if you 'll be so good as to introduce me to Miss Sandus," said Anthony.
And when the introduction was accomplished, he proceeded to make himself as agreeable to that lady as he possibly could. In the first place, he liked her appearance, he liked her brisk, frank manner; and then, is n't it always well to have a friend near the rose?
The result was that when she and Susanna were alone, Miss Sandus succinctly remarked, "My dear, your cousin is a trump."
The shadows were long, as he and Adrian strolled back to Craford Old Manor.
"Well, now, Truepenny," Adrian began, "now that you 've met her, speak out, and tell me on your heart and conscience how she impresses you."
"She seems all right," was Anthony's temperate reply.
"All right?" cried Adrian, looking scorn and pity. "My dear Malaprop, she 's just simply the nicest person of her sex within the confines of the Solar System. She is to other women what—well, I 'll name no names—what somebody I could name is to other men. And with such eyes—hey? Are they bright? Are they sharp? Are they trusty? Are they knowing?"
"I expect she can see with them," said Anthony.
"See with them," Adrian sniffed. "I 'll tell you what she can do—she can see round a corner with them. And then such pretty little ears, besides. Did you notice her ears?"
"I noticed she was n't earless," Anthony admitted.
"Earless," cried Adrian. "Her ears are like roses and white lilies. Earless, says he. I 'll bet three-halfpence you 'll presently be denying that she 's witty."
"She seems witty enough," assented Anthony.
"Witty," Adrian scoffed, cutting a caper to signify his disdain for the weak expression. "Witty is n't the word for it. And then, with all her years, she 's so young, is n't she? She breathes the fresh, refreshing savour of an unspoiled soul."
"Yes, she's young—for the time being," Anthony agreed. "By the bye, do you know where she comes from?"
"Do I know? I should rather think I know," said Adrian, swaggering. "She has n't a secret from me. She comes from Westmoreland. They 're an old Westmoreland family. But she lives in Kensington. She has one of those jolly old houses in Kensington Square. Historic, romantic, poetic Kensington Square, where burning Sappho loved and sang, and Thackeray wrote the What-do-you-call-'ems. Who fears to speak of Ninety-eight? That's her number. Ninety-eight, Kensington Square, W. And whenever I have occasion to run up to town, mind, I 'm not to think of going to an hotel, I 'm to drive straight to Ninety-eight, and it will be her joy to take me in. So it sometimes pays to be charming, after all."
"I see," said Anthony.
"You see? The deuce you do. What do you see?" asked Adrian, opening his blue eyes wide, and peering about, as one who would fain see too.
"You patter of Miss Sandus," said Anthony.
Adrian came to a standstill, and raised his hands towards heaven.
"Now I call upon the choirs of blessed Cherubim and Seraphim," he exclaimed. "I call upon them to suspend their singing for an instant, and to witness this. He sees that I patter of Miss Sandus. What perspicuity. And he just a mortal man, like anybody—nay, by all accounts, just a bluff country squire. Ah, what a noble understanding. Well, then, my dear Hawkshaw, since there's no concealing anything from you,—fine mouche, allez!—I own up. I patter of Miss Sandus."
"Do you happen to know where Madame Torrebianca comes from?" Anthony asked.
"Oho!" cried Adrian. "It's Madame Torrebianca that you 've been raving about. Ah, yes. Oh, I concede at once that Madame Torrebianca is very nice too. None readier than I to do her homage. But for fun and devilment give me Peebles. Give me old ladies, or give me little girls. You 're welcome to the betwixts and the betweens. Old ladies, who have passed the age of folly, or little girls, who have n't reached it. But women in the prime of their womanhood are always thinking of fashion-plates and curling-irons and love and shopping. Name me, if you can, four vainer, tiresomer, or more unfruitful topics. Have you never waked in your bed at midnight to wonder how it has come to pass that I, at my time of life, with my attractions, am still a bachelor? To wonder what untold disappointment, what unwritten history of sorrow, has left me the lonely, brooding celibate you see? I 'll lift the veil—a moment of epanchement. It's because I 've never met a marriageable woman who had n't her noddle stuffed with curling-irons and fashion-plates and love and shopping."
"Do you happen to know where she comes from?" Anthony repeated.
"She—? Who?" asked Adrian, looking vague. Then, as Anthony vouchsafed no answer, but merely twirled his stick, and gazed with indifferent eyes at the horizon, "Oh—Madame Torrebianca?" he conjectured. "Still harping on my daughter? Of course I know where she comes from. She comes from the land where the love of the turtle now melts into sweetness, now maddens to crime—as who should say a land of Guildhall banquets. She comes from Italy. Have you ever eaten ortolans in Italy?"
"Do you happen to know what part of Italy?" Anthony persisted.
"From Rome, the pomp and pageant of imperial Rome," returned Adrian promptly. "I 've got it in the lease. Nothing like having things in leases. The business instinct—what? Put it in black and white, says I. 'La Nobil Donna Susanna Torrebianca, of the Palazzo Sebastiani, via Quattro Fontane, Rome, party of the second part.' A beau vers, is n't it? The lilt, the swelling cadence, the rich rhyme, the hidden alliterations,—and then the sensitive, haunting pathos, the eternal verities adumbrated by its symbolism. I 've stood upon Achilles' tomb, and heard Troy doubted. Time—that monster-mother, who brings forth her children only to devour them—Time shall doubt of . . ."
"Rome may be the official sort of address she gives to land-agents and people," Anthony interposed. "But the part of Italy where she really lives is a little castaway island in the Adriatic, some fifty miles north from Ancona,—the little, unknown, beautiful island of Sampaolo."
Adrian came to a standstill again, and dropped his jaw in sign of astonishment.
"Oh, come. Not really?" he gasped at length.
"Yes, really," said Anthony.
"My eye!" Adrian exclaimed.
"It is odd, is n't it?" said Anthony.
"Odd?" cried Adrian. "It's—it—it beggars the English tongue."
"Well, if it beggars yours, it is doing pretty well," said Anthony.
"You goose," said Adrian, resuming his walk. "Can you actually suppose that I 've passed all these golden days and weeks in friendly hob-nobbings with her, and not learned that she came from the island of Sampaolo? A fellow of penetration, like me? I appeal to your honour—is it likely?"
"Why the devil have you never told me?" Anthony demanded, with asperity.
"You 've never asked me—you 've never given me a chance. You talk, when you have me for a listener, you talk such an uninterrupted stream, it's a miracle if I ever get a word in edgewise," Adrian explained.
"I trust, at least, that you 've been equally taciturn with her," said Anthony.
"My good Absolute, I am the soul of taciturnity," Adrian boasted, expanding his chest, and thumping it. "This bosom is a sealed sanctuary for the confidences of those who confide in me. Besides, when I 'm with Madame Torrebianca, believe me, we have other subjects of conversation than the poor Squire o' Craford."
"You see," said Anthony, "for the lark of the thing, I should like, for the present, to leave her in ignorance of my connection with Sampaolo."
"That's right," cried Adrian. "Dupe, cozen, jockey the trustful young creature. Do. There 's a great-hearted gentleman. You need n't fear my undeceiving her. I know my place; I know who holds the purse-strings; I know which side my bread is buttered on. Motley's my wear. So long as you pay my wages, you may count upon my connivance."
"I shall see her to-morrow morning at Mass. I wonder whether I am in love with her," Anthony was thinking.
He gave her holy water at the door of the chapel, and her eyes acknowledged it with a glance that sent something very pleasant into his heart.
Then, with an impulse of discretion, to efface himself, he knelt at the first prie-dieu he came to. But Susanna, instead of going forward, knelt at the prie-dieu next to his.
The chapel at Craford is a dim, brown little room,—the same room that in the days of persecution had been a "secret" chapel, where priests and people worshipped at the peril of their lives. You enter it from the hall by a door that was once a sliding panel. In the old days there was no window, but now there is a window, a small one, lancet-shaped, set with stained glass, opening into the court. Save for the coloured light that came through this, and the two candles burning on the altar, the chapel was quite dark. The Mass was said by an old Capuchin, Father David, from the convent at Wetherleigh; it was served by Adrian.
You know "the hidden and unutterable sweetness of the Mass."
For Anthony, kneeling there with Susanna, the sweetness of the Mass was strangely intensified. He did not look at her, he looked at the altar, or sometimes at his prayer-book; but the sense that she was beside him possessed every atom of his consciousness. Her kneeling figure, her white profile, her hair, her hat, her very frock,—he could see them, somehow, without looking; his eye preserved a permanent vision of them. Yet they did not distract his thoughts from the altar. He followed with devout attention the Act that was being consummated there; the emotion of her presence merged with and became part of the emotion of the Mass. They were offering the Holy Sacrifice side by side, they were offering it together, they were sharing the Sacred Mystery. It seemed to him that by this they were drawn close to each other, and placed in a new relation, a relation that was far beyond the mere acquaintanceship of yesterday, that in a very special and beautiful way was intimate. The priest crossed the sanctuary, and they stood together for the Gospel; the bell was rung, and together they bowed their heads for the Elevation. They knelt side by side in body, but in spirit was it not more than this? In spirit, for the time, were they not absolutely at one?—united, commingled, in the awe and the wonder, the worship and the love, of the Presence that had come, that was filling the dim and silent little chapel with a light eyes were not needed to see, with a music ears were not needed to hear, that had transformed the poor little altar into a painless Calvary, whence were diffused all peace, all grace, all benediction? They knelt side by side, adoring together, breathing together the air that was now in very deed the air of Heaven. And it seemed to Anthony as if the Presence smiled upon them, and sanctioned and sanctified the thing that was in his heart.
"Domine, non sum dignus," solemnly rose the voice of the priest, "Domine, non sum dignus . . ."
It was the supreme moment.
They went forward, and side by side knelt at the rail of the sanctuary.
Alas, the uncertain glory of an English June. That night the weather changed. Monday was grey and cold, the beginning of a cold grey week, a week of rain and wind, of low skies and scudding clouds; the sad-coloured sea flecked with angry white, the earth sodden; leaves, torn from their trees, scurrying down the pathways; and Adrian, of all persons, given over to peevishness and lamentations.
"Oh, I brazenly confess it—I 'm a fair-weather friend," he said, as he looked disconsolately forth from the window of his business-room, (a room, by the bye, whereof the chief article of furniture was a piano-a-queue). "Bring me sunshine and peaches, and I 'll be as sweet as bright Apollo's lute strung with his hair. But this sort of gashly, growsy, grim, sour, shuddery weather turns me into a broken-hearted vixen. I could sit down and cry. I could lie down and die. I could rise up and snap your head off. I am filled with verjuice and vitriol. Oh, me! Oh, my!"
He stamped backwards and forwards, in nervous exasperation. He went to the piano, and brought his hands down in a discordant clang upon the keys.
"Can't anybody silence those stupid birds?" he cried, moving back to the window, through which the merry piping of a robin was audible. "How inept, how spiteful, of them to go on singing, singing, in the face of such odious weather. Tell Wickersmith or someone to take a gun and an umbrella, and to go out and shoot them. And the wind—the strumpet wind," he cried. "All last night it gurgled and howled and hooted in my chimney like a drunken banshee, and nearly frightened me to death. And me a musician. And me the gentlest of God's creatures—who never did any harm, but killed the mice in father's barn. I ask you, as a man of the world, is it delicate, is it fair? Drip, drip, drip—swish, swish, swash,—ugh, the rain! If it could guess how I despise it!" He made a face and shook his fist at it. "Do you think the weather knows how disagreeable it is? We all know how disagreeable other people can be, but so few of us know how disagreeable we ourselves can be. Do you think the weather knows? Do you think it's behaving in this way purposely to vex me?"
But for Anthony it was a period not without compensations. He saw Susanna nearly every day. On Tuesday she and Miss Sandus were his guests at dinner; on Wednesday he and Adrian were her guests at luncheon; on Thursday, at tea-time, they paid their visit of digestion; on Friday, the rain holding up for a few hours in the afternoon, he and Susanna went for a walk on the cliffs.
The sea-wind buffetted their faces, it lifted Susanna's hair and blew stray locks about her temples, it summoned a lively colour to her cheeks. Anthony could admire the resolute lines, the forceful action, of her strong young body, as she braced herself to march against it. From the turf under their feet rose the keen odour of wet earth, and the mingled scents of clover and wild thyme. All round them sand-martins wheeled and swerved, in a flight that was like aerial skating. Far below, and beyond the dark-green of Rowland Marshes, which followed the winding of the cliffs like a shadow, stretched the grey sea, with its legions of white horses.
"What a sense one gets, from here, of the sea's immensity," Susanna said. "I think the horizon is a million miles away."
"It is," affirmed Anthony, with conclusiveness, as one possessing exact knowledge. Then, in a minute, "And, as we are speaking in round numbers, are you aware that it's a million years since I last had the pleasure of a word with you?"
Susanna's dark eyes grew big.
"A million years? Is it really," she doubted, in astonishment.
"Really and truly," asseverated he.
"A million years! How strange," she murmured, as one in a maze.
"Truth is often strange," said he.
"Yes—but this is particularly strange," she pointed out. "Because, first, we have only known each other a week. And, secondly, I was under the impression that you had had 'a word with me' yesterday—and again the day before yesterday—and again the day before that."
"I beg your pardon," said he. "I have not had a word with you since we sat by the brink of your artificial streamlet last Saturday afternoon; and that, speaking in round numbers, was a million years ago. As for yesterday, and the day before yesterday, and the day before that,—I don't count it having a word with you when we are surrounded by strangers."
"Strangers—?" wondered Susanna.
"Yes," said he. "That fellow Willes, and your enchanting friend Miss Sandus."
Susanna gave one of her light trills of laughter.
"We can't discuss our private affairs before them," said Anthony; "and I 've been pining to discuss our private affairs."
"Have we private affairs?" Susanna questioned, in surprise.
"Of course we have," said he. "Everybody has. And it is to discuss them that I have inveigled you into taking this walk with me. Does n't the sort of English weather you 're at present getting a taste of make you wish you had never left Italy?"
"Oh," she acquainted him, "it sometimes rains in Italy."
"Does it, indeed?" he enquired, opening his eyes. "But never—surely never—at Sampaolo?"
"Yes, even sometimes at Sampaolo," she laughed. "And mercy, how the wind can blow there! This is nothing to it. I don't think you have any winds in England so violent as our temporali."
Anthony nodded, with satisfaction.
"Please go on," he urged. "I have been longing to hear more about Sampaolo."
"Oh?" said Susanna, looking sceptical. "I feared I had wearied you inexcusably with Sampaolo."
"Every syllable you pronounced," vowed he, "was of palpitating interest, and you broke off at the most palpitating moment. You were on the point of telling me how, from an Island of the Blessed, Sampaolo came to be an Island of the Distressed—when we were interrupted by a skylark."
"That would be a terribly long story," Susanna premonished him, shaking her head.
"I adore terribly long stories," he declared. "And have we not before us the whole of future time?"
"Sampaolo came to be an Island of the Distressed," said she, "because, some half-century ago, the Sampaolesi got infected with an idea that was then a kind of epidemic—the idea of Italian unity. So they had a revolution, overthrew their legitimate sovereign, gave up their Independence, and united themselves to the 'unholy and unhappy State' which has since assumed the name of the Kingdom of Italy."
"That is not a terribly long story," Anthony complained. "I 'm afraid you are suppressing some of the details."
"Yes," she at once acknowledged, "I daresay I 'm suppressing a good many of the details."
"That's not ingenuous," said he, "nor—nor kind."
"It was not unkindly meant," said she.
"But Sampaolo," he questioned, "had, then, been independent? Go on. Be communicative, be copious; tell me all about it."
"For more than seven hundred years," answered Susanna, "Sampaolo had been independent. The Counts of Sampaolo were counts regnant, holding the island by feudal tenure from the Pope, who was their suzerain, and to whom they paid a tribute. They were counts regnant and lords paramount, tiranni, as they were called in mediaeval Italy; they had their own coinage, their own flag, their own little army; and though some of the noble Sampaolese families bore the title of prince or duke at Rome, they ranked only as barons at Sampaolo, and were subjects of the Count."
A certain enthusiasm rang in her voice. They walked on for some paces in silence.
"In the Palazzo Rosso at Vallanza, to this day," she continued, "you will be shown the throne-room, with the great scarlet throne, and the gilded coronet topping the canopy above it. But the Counts of Sampaolo were good men and wise rulers; and, under them, for more than seven hundred years, the island was free, prosperous, and happy. And though many times the Turks tried to take it, and many times the Venetians, and though sometimes the Pope tried to take it back, when the Pope happened to be a difficult Pope, the Sampaolesi, who were splendid fighters, always managed to hold their own."
Again they took some paces in silence.
"Then"—her voice had modulated—"then the idea of Italian unity was preached to them, and in 1850 they had a revolution; and foolish, foolish Sampaolo voluntarily submitted itself to the reign of Victor Emmanuel. And ever since,"—her eyes darkened,—"what with the impossible taxes, the military conscription, the corrupt officials, the Camorra, Sampaolo has been in a very wretched plight indeed. But—pazienza!" She gave her shoulders a light little shrug. "The Kingdom of Italy will not last forever."
"We will devoutly hope not," concurred Anthony. "Meanwhile, I am glad to note that in politics you are a true-blue reactionary."
"In Sampaolese politics," said she, "reaction would be progress. Before 1850 the people of Sampaolo were prosperous, now they are miserably poor; were pious, now they are horribly irreligious; were governed by honest gentlemen, now they form part of a nation that is governed by its criminal classes."
"And what became of the honest gentlemen?" Anthony enquired. "What did the counts do, after they were—'hurled,' I believe, is the consecrated expression—after they were hurled from their scarlet thrones?"
"Ah," said Susanna, seriously, "there you bring me to the chapter of the story that is shameful."
"Oh—?" said he, looking up.
"The revolution at Sampaolo was headed by the Count's near kinsman," she said. "The present legitimate Count of Sampaolo is an exile. His title and properties are held by a cousin, who has no more right to them, no more shadow of a right, of a moral right, than—than I have."
"Ah," said Anthony. And then, philosophically, "A very pretty miniature of an historical situation," he commented. "Orleans and Bourbon, Hanover and Stuart. A count in possession, and a count over the water, an usurper and a pretender."
"Exactly," she assented, "save that the Count in possession happens to be a Countess—the grand-daughter of the original usurper, whose male line is extinct. Oh, the history of Sampaolo has been highly coloured. A writer in some English magazine once described it as a patchwork of melodrama and opera-bouffe. It ended, if you like, in melodrama and opera-bouffe, but it began in pure romance and chivalry."
"Don't stop," said Anthony. "Tell me about the beginning."
"I can tell you that," announced Susanna, smiling, "in the words of your own English historian, Alban Butler."
She paused for an instant, as if to make sure of her memory, and then, smiling, recited—
"'In the year 1102 or 1103,' he says, in his Life of St. Guy Valdescus of The Thorn, as he Anglicises San Guido Valdeschi della Spina, 'when the Saint was returning from the Holy Land, where he had been a crusader, he was shipwrecked, by the Providence of God, upon the island of Ilaria, in the Adriatic Sea; and he was greatly afflicted by the discovery that the inhabitants of that country were almost totally ignorant of the truths of our Holy Religion, while the little knowledge they possessed was confused with many diabolical superstitions. They still invoked the daemons of pagan mythology, and sacrilegiously included our Divine Lord and His Blessed Mother in the number of these. Now, St. Guy had distinguished himself in the Crusade alike for his valour in action, for the edifying character of his conversation, and for the devotion and recollection with which he performed the exercises of religion; and he was surnamed Guy of the Thorn for that he had caused to be fixed in the hilt of his sword a sharp thorn, or spine, which, when he fought, should prick the flesh of his hand, and thus keep him in mind of the pious purpose for which he was fighting, and that it behoved a soldier of the Cross to fight, not in private anger or martial pride, but in Christian zeal and humility. When, therefore, after his shipwreck, and after many other perils and adventures by sea and land, the Saint finally arrived at Rome, of which city his family were patricians, and where his venerable mother, as well as his wife and children, eagerly awaited his return, he was received with every sign of favour by the Pope, Pascal the Second, who commended him warmly upon the good reports he had had of him, and asked him to choose his own reward. St. Guy answered that for his reward he prayed he might be sent back to the island of Ilaria, with a bishop and a sufficient company of priests, there to spread the pure light of the Faith among the unfortunate natives. Whereupon the Pope created him Count and Governor of the country, the heathen name of which he changed to St. Paul, and gave him as the emblem of his authority a sword in the hilt of which was fixed a thorn of gold. This holy relic, under the name of the Spina d'Oro, is preserved, for the reverence of the faithful. In the cathedral of the city of Vallanza, where the descendants of St. Guy still reign as lieutenants of the Sovereign Pontiff.'—There," concluded Susanna, with a little laugh, "that is the Reverend Alban Butler's account of the matter."
"I stand dumb with admiration," professed Anthony, his upcast hand speaking volumes, "before your powers of memory. Fancy being able to quote Alban Butler word for word, like that!"
"When I was young," Susanna explained, "I was made by my English governess to learn many of Butler's Lives by heart, and, as an Ilarian, the Life of San Guido interested me particularly. He was canonised, by the way, by Adrian the Fourth—the English Pope. As a consequence of that, the Valdeschi have always had a great fondness for England, and have often married English wives—English Catholics, of course. An Englishwoman was Countess of Sampaolo when the end came, the patchwork end."
"Ah, yes," said Anthony, "the patchwork end—tell me about that."
"The end," Susanna answered, "was an act of shameful treachery on the part of one of the descendants of San Guido towards another, his immediate kinsman, and the rightful head of the family. And now it is melodrama and opera-bouffe as much as ever you will. It is a revolution in a tea-cup. It is the ancient story of the Wicked Uncle."
"Yes?" said Anthony.
"It is perfectly trite," said Susanna, "and it would be perfectly absurd, if it were n't rather tragic, or perfectly tragic, if it were n't rather absurd."
She thought for a moment. Anthony waited, attentive.
"In 1850," she narrated, "Count Antonio the Seventeenth died, leaving a widow, who was English, and an only son, a lad of twelve, who should naturally have succeeded his father as Guido the Eleventh. But Count Antonio had a younger brother, also named Guido, who coveted the succession for himself, and had long been intriguing to secure it—organising secret societies among the people, to further the idea of Italian unity, and bargaining with the King of Sardinia for the price he should receive if he contrived to bring the Sampaolesi to give up their independence. Well," she went on, with a slight effect of effort, "while his brother lay dying, Guido, spying his opportunity, was especially active. 'Now,' he said to the people, 'is the time to strike. If, at my brother's death, his son succeeds him, we shall have a regency, and the regent will be a foreigner and a woman. Now is the time to terminate this petty despotism forever, to repudiate the suzerainty of the Pope, and to join in the great movement of Italia Riunita. To the Palace! Let us seize the Englishwoman and her son, and banish them from the island. Let us hoist the tricolour, and proclaim ourselves Italians, and subjects of the King. To the Palace!' So, while that poor lady"—her voice quavered a little—"while that poor lady was kneeling at the bedside of her dead husband,"—her voice sank,—"a great mob of insurgents broke into the Palazzo Rosso, singing 'Fuori l'Italia lo straniero,' seized her and the little Count, dragged them to the sea-front, and put them aboard a ship that was leaving for Trieste."
She paused for a few seconds.
"Then there was a plebiscite," she proceeded, "and Sampaolo solemnly transformed itself into a province of the Kingdom of Sardinia."
She paused again.
"And the Wicked Uncle," she again proceeded, "received his price from Turin. First, he was appointed Prefect of Sampaolo for life. Secondly, the little Count and his mother were summoned to take the oath of fidelity to the King, and as they did not turn up to do so, having gone to her people in England, they were declared to have outlawed themselves, and to be 'civilly dead', their properties, accordingly, passing to the next heir, who, of course, was Guido himself. Thirdly, Guido was created Count of Sampaolo by royal patent, the Papal dignity being pronounced 'null and not recognisable in the territories of the King.' It is Guido's granddaughter who is Countess of Sampaolo to-day."
She terminated her narration with a motion of the hand, as if she were tossing something from her. Anthony waited a little before he spoke.
"And the little Count?" he said, at length.
"The little Count," said Susanna, "went through the formality of suing his uncle for the recovery of his estates—or, rather, his mother, as his guardian, did so for him. But as the action had to be tried in the law-courts at Turin, I need n't tell you how it ended. In fact, it was never tried at all. For at the outset the judges decided that the suitor would have no standing before them until he had taken the oath of allegiance to the King, and renounced his allegiance to the Pope. He was 'civilly dead'—he must civilly resuscitate himself. As he refused to do this, his cause was dismissed, unheard."
"And then—?" said Anthony.
"Then the little Count returned to England, and grew to be a big count, and married an Englishwoman, and had a son, and died. He was adopted by his mother's brother, an English country gentleman, who, surviving him, and being a bachelor, adopted his son in turn. The son, however, dropped his title of Count, a title more than seven hundred years old, and assumed the name of his benevolent great-uncle. I 'm not sure," she reflected, "that I quite approve of his dropping that magnificent old title."
"Oh, he very likely found it an encumbrance, living in England, as an Englishman—especially if he was n't very rich," said Anthony. "He very likely felt that it rendered him rather uncomfortably conspicuous. Besides, a man does n't actually drop a title—he merely puts it in his pocket—he can always take it out again. You don't, I suppose," he asked, with a skilfully-wrought semblance of indifference, "happen to remember the name that he assumed?"
"Of course, I happen to remember it," replied Susanna. "As you must perceive, the history of Sampaolo is a matter I have studied somewhat profoundly. How could I forget so salient a fact as that? The name that he assumed," she said, her air elaborately detached, "was Craford."
But Anthony evinced not the slightest sign of a sensation.
"Craford?" he repeated. "Ah, indeed? That is a good name, a good old south-country Saxon name."
"Yes," agreed Susanna; "but it is not so good as Antonio Francesco Guido Maria Valdeschi della Spina, Conte di Sampaolo."
"It is not so long, at any rate," said he.
"Nor so full of colour," supplemented she.
"As I hinted before, a name like a herald's tabard might be something of an inconvenience in work-a-day England," he returned. Then he smiled, rather sorrily. "So you 've known all there was to be known from the beginning, and my laborious dissimulation has been useless?"
"Not useless," she consoled him, her eyes mirthfully meeting his. "It has amused me hugely."
"You've—if you don't mind the expression—you've jolly well taken me in," he owned, with a laconic laugh.
"Yes," laughed she, her chin in the air.
And for a few minutes they walked on without speaking.
The wind buffetted their faces, it wafted stray locks of hair about Susanna's temples, it smelt of the sea and the rain-clouds, though it could not blow away the nearer, friendlier smell of the wet earth, nor the sweetness of the clover and wild thyme. All round them, sand-martins performed their circling, swooping evolutions. In great squares fenced by hurdles, flocks of sheep nibbled the wet grass. Far beneath, the waters stretched grey to the blurred horizon, where they and the low grey sky seemed one.
But I think our young man and woman were oblivious of things external, absorbed in their private meditations and emotions. They walked on without speaking, till a turn in the cliff-line brought them in sight of the little town of Blye, at the cliffs' base, where it rose from the surrounding green of Rowland Marshes like a smoky red island.
"Blye," said Anthony, glancing down.
"Yes," said Susanna. "I had no idea we had come so far."
"I 'm afraid we have come too far. I 'm afraid I have allowed you to tire yourself," said he, with anxiety.
"Tired!" she protested. "Could one ever get tired walking in such exhilarating air as this?"
And, indeed, her colour, her bright eyes, her animated carriage, put to scorn his apprehension.
"But we must turn back, all the same," she added, "or—we shall not be home for tea."
She spoke in bated accents, and made a grave face, as if to miss tea were to miss a function sacrosanct.
Anthony laughed, and they turned back.
"It's a bit of a coincidence," he remarked presently, "that, coming from Sampaolo, you should just have chanced to take a house at Craford."
"Nothing could be simpler," said Susanna. "I wished to pass the summer in England, and was looking for a country house. The agent in London mentioned Craford New Manor, among a number of others, and Miss Sandus and I came down to see it. The prospect of finding myself the tenant of my exiled sovereign rather appealed to me—appealed to my sense of romance and to my sense of humour. And then,"—her eyes brightened,—"when we met your perfectly irresistible Mr. Willes, hesitation was impossible. He kept breaking out with little snatches of song, while he was showing us over the place; and afterwards he invited us to his music-room, (or I think he called it his business-room), and sang properly to us—his own compositions. He even permitted me to play some of his accompaniments."
"I 'm sure he did—I see my Adrian," he said. "Well, I owe him more than he 's aware of."
"Your Excellency is the legitimate Count of Sampaolo," said Susanna. "Antonio, by the Grace of God, and the favour of the Holy See, Count of Sampaolo—thirty-fourth count, and eighteenth of the name. I am your very loyal subject. Let's conspire together for your restoration."
"You told me the other day that you were a subject of the Pope," Anthony objected.
"That is during this interregnum," she explained. "The Pope is our liege lord's liege lord, and, in our liege lord's absence, our homage reverts to him. I will never, at all events, admit myself to be a subject of the Duke of Savoy. Let's plot for your restoration."
"My 'restoration,' if that is n't too sounding a term, is a thing past praying for," said Anthony. "But I don't know that I should very keenly desire it, even if it were n't."
"What!" cried she. "Would n't it be fun to potentate it on a scarlet throne?"
"Not such good fun, I fancy, as it is to squire it in these green meadows," he responded. "Are n't scarlet thrones apt to be upholstered with worries and responsibilities?"
"Are n't green meadows sown thick with worries and responsibilities?" asked Susanna.
"Very likely," he consented. "But for a moderate stipend I can always hire a man like Willes to reap and deal with them for me."
"Could n't you hire 'a man like Willis' to extract them from your scarlet cushions? Potentates have grand viziers. Mr. Willes would make a delicious grand vizier," she reflected, with a kind of wistfulness.
"He would indeed," said Anthony. "And we should have comic opera again with interest."
"But you only look at it from a selfish point of view," said Susanna. "Think of poor Sampaolo—under the old regime, an Island of the Blessed."
"Seriously, is there at Sampaolo, the faintest sentiment in favour of a return to the old regime?" he asked.
"Seriously, and more 's the pity, not the faintest," Susanna confessed. "I believe I am the only legitimist in the island—save a few priests and nuns, and they don't count. I am the entire legitimist party."
She turned towards him, making a little bow.
"Yet there is every manner of discontent with the present regime," she said. "The taxes, the conscription, the difficulties put in the way of commerce, the monstrous number of officials, and the corruption of them one and all, are felt and hated by everyone. Under the old regime, for example," she illustrated, "Vallanza was a free port,—now we have to pay both a national duty and a municipal duty on exports as well as imports; nothing was taxed but land, and that very lightly—now nearly everything is taxed, even salt, even a working-man's tools, even a peasant's necessary donkey, so that out of every lira earned the government takes from forty to sixty centimes; the fisheries of Sampaolo, which are very valuable, were reserved for the Sampaolesi,—now they are open to all Italy, and Sampaolo, an island, cannot compete with Ancona, on the railway. In Sampaolo to-day, if you have any public business to transact, from taking out a dog license to seeking justice in the law-courts, every official you have to deal with, including the judges, expects his buonamano. If you post a letter, it is an even chance whether the Post-Office young men won't destroy the letter and steal the stamps; while, if you go to the Post-Office to buy stamps, it is highly possible that they will playfully sell you forged ones."
She gave a bitter little laugh.
"The present Prefect of Sampaolo," she continued her illustrations, "formerly kept a disreputable public house, a sailors' tavern, at Ancona. He is known to be a Camorrista; and though his salary is only a few thousand lire, he lives with the ostentation of a parvenu millionaire, and no one doubts where he gets his money. These evils are felt by everyone. But the worst evil of all is the condition of the Church. In the old days the Sampaolesi were noted for their piety; now, even in modern irreligious Italy, you would seek far to unearth a people so flagrantly irreligious. From high to low the men are atheists; and the few men who are not, have to be very careful how they show it. It is as much as a tradesman's trade is worth, as much as an employe's place is worth, to go to Mass; the one will sit behind a deserted counter, the other will learn that his services are no longer needed. The present regime is liked by no one save the officials who benefit by it; but it tickles the vanity of the Sampaolesi to call themselves citizens of a Great Power; and so, though many are republicans, many socialists, none are legitimists. They would prefer any burden to the burden of insignificance; and under the reign of the Valdeschi, though free, prosperous, and happy, Sampaolo was insignificant."
"You paint a very sad state of things," said Anthony.
"Believe me," said Susanna, "my painting is pale beside the reality."
"And, apparently, a hopeless state," he added.
"Some day the Kingdom of Italy must end in a tremendous smash-up. Afterwards, perhaps, there will be a readjustment. Our hope is in that," said she.
"Meanwhile, you make it clear, I am afraid," he argued, "that we should gain only our labour for our pains in plotting a restoration."
"We should have the excitement of plotting," laughingly argued she.
"A plotter's best reward, like an artist's, you suggest, is the pleasure he takes in his work. But now you are inciting me to look at it again from the selfish point of view, for which a moment ago you were upbraiding me," he reminded her.
"Do look at it from the selfish point of view," inconsistent and unashamed, she urged. "Think of your lands, your houses, your palaces and gardens, Castel San Guido, Isola Nobile, think of your pictures, your jewels, the thousand precious heirlooms that are rightly yours, think of your mere crude money. How can you bear the thought that these are in the possession of a stranger—these, your inheritance, the inheritance of nearly eight hundred years? Oh, if I were in your place, the wrong of it would fill the universe for me. I could not endure it."
"One has no choice but to endure it," said he. "One benumbs resentment with a fatalistic 'needs must.'"
"One would do better to inflame resentment with a defiant 'where there 's a will there 's a way,'" Susanna answered.
"The way is not plain to see."
"No—but we must discover the way. That"—she smiled—"shall be the aim of our plotting."
And again for some time they walked on without speaking.
"If she could only guess how little my heart's desire is centred upon the lands and houses of Sampaolo," thought Anthony, "how entirely it is centred upon something much nearer home. I wonder what she would do if I should tell her."
And at that thought his heart winced with delight and terror.
He looked sidewise at her. Her dark hair curled about her temples, and drooped in a loose mass behind; her dark eyes shone; there was a warm colour in her cheeks. Her head held high, her body defined itself in lines of strength and beauty, as she walked by the cliff's edge, resisting the wind, with the sea and the sky for background. He looked at her, and wondered what would happen if he should tell her; and his heart glowed with delight, and winced with delight and terror,—glowed with delight in the supreme reality of her presence, winced with delight and terror at the imagination of telling her.
And then the suspended rain came down in a sudden pelting shower; and Anthony put up his umbrella. To keep in its shelter, they had to walk very close to each other, their arms touching sometimes. I daresay they were both pretty wet when they reached Craford New Manor, but I don't think either minded much.
Miss Sandus, who met them in the hall, insisted that Susanna must go upstairs and change; but to Anthony she said, "There 'll be tea in a minute or two," and led the way to the drawing-room, the big, oblong, sombre red-and-gold drawing-room, with its heavy furniture, its heavy red damask hangings, its heavy gilded woodwork, its heavy bronzes and paintings.
Wet as he was, he followed, and sat down, with his conductress, before the huge red-marble fireplace, in which a fire of logs was blazing—by no means unwelcome on this not-uncharacteristic English summer's day.
"Well, you 've had a good sousing—had you a good walk?" asked the little brisk old woman, in her pleasant light old voice.
"Yes—to Blye, or nearly," said Anthony. "The rain only caught us towards the end. But what I stand in need of now is your sympathy and counsel."
She sat back in a deep easy chair, her pretty little hands folded in her lap, her pretty little feet, in dainty slippers, high-heeled and silver-buckled, resting on a footstool. It was a pretty as well as a kind and clever face that smiled enquiringly up at him, from under her soft abundance of brown hair.
"What's the matter?" she asked.
"Nothing much. I 'm merely in love," he answered.
Miss Sandus sat forward.
"In love? That's delightful. Whom with? With me? Is this a declaration? Or a confidence?"
She fixed him with her humorous bright old eyes.
"It's both. Of course, I 'm in love with you. Everyone who knows you is that," he predicated. "But also," he added, on a key of profound melancholy, "if you will forgive my forcing the confidence upon you, also with her."
He glanced indicatively ceilingwards.
"H'm," Miss Sandus considered, looking into the fire, "also with her."
"Yes," said Anthony.
"H'm," repeated Miss Sandus. "You go a bit fast. How long have you known her?"
"All my life. I never lived until I knew her," he averred.
"It was inevitable that you should say that—men always say that," the lady generalised. "I heard it for the first time fifty-five years ago."
"Then, I expect, there must be some truth in it," was Anthony's deduction. "Anyhow, I have known her long enough. One does n't need time in these affairs. One recognises a perfect thing—one recognises one's affinity. One knows when one is hit. I 'm in love with her. Give me your sympathy and counsel."
"You have my sympathy. What counsel do you wish?"
"What shall I do?" asked Anthony. "Drown myself? Take to drink?"
"I should n't drown myself," said Miss Sandus. "Drowning is so wet and chilly; and I 'm told it's frightfully unbecoming, into the bargain. As for drink, I hear it's nothing like what it's cracked up to be."
"I daresay it is n't," admitted Anthony, with a sigh. "I suppose there's not the ghost of a chance for me?" he gloomed.
"H'm," said Miss Sandus.
"I suppose it would be madness on my part to speak to her?" he pursued.
"That would depend a good deal, I should think, on the nature of what you said," his counsellor suggested, smiling.
"If I said point-blank I loved her—?"
Miss Sandus looked hard at the fire, her brows drawn together, pondering. Her brows were drawn together, but the vis comica played about her lips.
"I think, if I were in your place, I should try it," she decided at last.
"Would you?" said Anthony, surprised, encouraged. But, in a second, despondency had closed round him again. "You see," he signified, "the situation is uncommonly delicate—one 's at a double and twisted disadvantage."
"How so?" Miss Sandus asked, looking up.
"She's established here for the summer. I, of all men, must n't be the one to make Craford impossible for her."
"I see," said Miss Sandus. "Yes, there's that to be thought of."
"There 's such a deuced lot of things to be thought of," said he, despairingly.
"Let's hear the deuced lot," said the lady, with business-like cheerfulness.
"Well, to begin with," he brought out painfully, "there 's the fact that she 's rich."
"Yes, she's rich," conceded Miss Sandus. "Does that diminish her attractions?"
"You know what I mean," groaned Anthony, with no heart for trifling.
"For the matter of that, are n't you rich yourself?" Miss Sandus retorted.
"Rich!" he cried. "I totter on the brink of destitution."
"Oh?" she murmured. "I 'd imagined you were by way of being rather an extensive land owner."
"So I am," said he. "And my rather extensive lands, what with shrinkages and mortgages, with wages, pensions, subscriptions, and general expenses,—I doubt if they yield a net income of fifteen hundred a year. And I 've not a stiver else in the world."
"Poor, poor young man," she laughingly commiserated him. "And yet I hardly think you 're poor enough to let the fact of her wealth weigh with you. If a man has enough for himself, it does n't matter how much more his wife may have, since he 'll not depend upon her for his support. I should n't lie awake o' nights, bothering about the money question."
Anthony got up, and stood at the end of the fireplace, with his elbow on the mantel.
"You 're awfully good," he said, looking down at the gracious little old figure in the easy chair.
"I 'm an old woman," said she. "All old women love a lover. You renew the romance of things for us. You transport us back, a century or so, to our hot youth, when George the Third was king, and we were lovers ourselves. Et in Arcadia ego—but I 've lost my Greek."
"You 'll never lose your Pierian," said Anthony, bowing.
He took her hand, bent over it, and touched it with his lips.
"If flattery can make friends, you 'll not lack 'em," said she, with a pretty, pleased old blush.
"But I 've not yet emptied my sack," said he, relapsing into gloom. "There's a further and perhaps a greater difficulty."
"Let's hear the further difficulty," cheerily proposed Miss Sandus. Then, as he appeared to hesitate, "Has it anything to do with her former marriage?"
"You divine my thoughts," he replied, in an outburst. "Yet," he more lightly added, "you know, I don't in the least believe in her former marriage. She seems so—well, if not exactly girlish, so young, so immaculately fresh, it's impossible to believe in. None the less, of course, it 's an irrevocable fact, and it's a complication. I must n't intrude on sacred ground. If she still grieves . . ."
A gesture conveyed the rest.
"Look here," said Miss Sandus, abruptly. "I'm going to betray a trust. Think what you will of me, I 'm going to violate a confidence. She does n't grieve, she has never grieved. Your intuitions about her are right to the letter. She was never married, except in name—it was purely a marriage of convenience—the man was a complete nonentity. Don't ask me the whys and the wherefores. But make what you will of that which I 've been indiscreet enough to tell you."
"I think you are an angel out of Heaven," cried Anthony, with ardour. "If you could know the load you have lifted from my heart, the balm you have poured into it."
"If you have n't wealth," Miss Sandus went on, summing the issue up, "you have a good position and—a beau nom. You have more than one indeed, if all I hear be true. You 're both of the old religion, you 're both at the mating age. In every way it would be a highly suitable match. Wait for a good occasion—occasion's everything. Wait for—what does the poet say?—for the time and the place and the loved one all together, and tell her that you love her. And now—here comes the tea."
And with the tea came Susanna, in a wonderful rustling blue-grey confection of the material that is known, I believe, as voile; and immediately after Susanna, Adrian.
Adrian was clearly in a state of excitement. His hair was ruffled, his pink face showed a deeper flush, his lips were parted, his bosom heaved.
He halted near the threshold, he threw up his hands, he rolled his eyes, he nodded. It was patent that something had happened.
"Oh, my dears! my dears!" he gasped.
His dears attended, curious, expectant. But as he stood silent, and merely cast intensely significant glances from one to the other, and thence to the walls and ceiling, Anthony, constituting himself spokesman for the company, asked, "Well—? What's the row?"
"Oh, my dears!" Adrian repeated, and advanced a few steps further into the room, his hands still raised.
"What is it?" besought Susanna, breathless.
"Oh, my dearie dears!" he gasped.
He sank upon a chair.
"I must have a cup of tea before I can speak. Perhaps a cup of tea will pull me together."
Susanna hastily poured and brought him a cup of tea.
"Ministering angel!" was his acknowledgment. He tasted his tea. "But oh—unkind—you 've forgotten the sugar." He gazed helplessly at the tea-table.
Anthony brought him the sugar-bowl.
"Are those cruffins?" he asked, eyeing a dish on the cake-stand.
"They 're mumpers," said Miss Sandus, pushing the cake-stand towards him. "But you 're keeping us on tenter-hooks."
"I 'm so sorry. It's beyond my control. I must eat a mumpet. Perhaps then I 'll be able to tell you all about it."
He ate his mumpet—with every sign of relish; he sipped his tea; his audience waited. In the end he breathed a deep, long sigh.
"I 've had an experience—I 've had the experience of my life," he said.
"Yes—?" said they.
"I could n't lose an instant—I had to run—to tell you of it. I felt it would consume me if I could n't share it."
Their faces proclaimed their eagerness to hear.
"May I have another cup?" he asked Susanna.
This time, however, he rose, and went to the table.
"The world is so strange," he said.
"Come! we 're waiting for the experience of your life," said Anthony.
"You must n't hurry me—you must n't worry me," Adrian remonstrated. "I 'm in a very over-wrought condition. You must let me approach it in my own way."
"I believe the flighty creature has forgotten it," said Anthony.
"Flighty creature?" Adrian levelled eyes black with reproach upon him. Then turning to the ladies: "That shows how he misunderstands me. Just because I had a witty mother,—just because I 'm not a stolid, phlegmatic ox of a John Bull,—just because I 'm sensitive and impressionable,—he calls me flighty. But you know better, don't you? You, with all your fine feminine instincts and perceptions, you know that I 'm really as steady and as serious as the pyramids of Egypt. Even my very jokes have a moral purpose—and what I teach in them, I learned in sorrow. Flighty!" He shot another black glance at the offender, and held out his cup for a third filling.
"Blessings be on the man who invented tea," he devoutly murmured. "On Friday especially"—he appealed to Susanna—"is n't it a boon? I don't know how one could get through Friday without it. You poor dear fortunate Protestants"—he directed his remark to Miss Sandus—"have no conception how frequently Friday comes. I think there are seven Fridays in the week."
Susanna was softly laughing, where (in that wonderful, crisp, fresh, close-fitting, blue-grey gown, with its frills and laces and embroideries) she sat in the corner of a long, red-damask-covered sofa, by the prettily decked tea-table. Anthony, standing near her, looking down at her, was conscious of a great content in his heart, and of a great craving. "How splendid she is. Was there ever such hair? Were there ever such eyes, such lips? Was there ever such a frock? And then that faint, faint, faintest perfume, like a remembrance of violets!" I daresay something to this effect was vaguely singing itself to his thoughts.
"But the experience of your life? The experience of your life?" Miss Sandus insisted.
"He's clean forgotten it," Anthony assured her.
"Forgotten it? Tush," Adrian flung back, with scorn. "But you 're all so precipitate. One has to collect one's faculties. There are fifty possible ways of telling a thing—one must select the most effective. And then, if you come to that, life has so many experiences, and so many different sorts of experience. Life, to the man with an open eye, is just one sequence of many-coloured astonishments. I never could and never shall understand how it is possible for people to be bored. What do you say "—he looked towards the piano—"to my singing you a little song?"
"You 're inimitable—but you 're inimitably exasperating." Miss Sandus gave him up, with a resigned toss of the head.
"Do sing us a little song," Susanna begged.
He set off, dancing, in the direction of the instrument. But midway there he stopped, and half turned round, poising, as it were, in his flight.
"Grave or gay? Sacred or profane?" he asked from over his shoulder.
"Anything—what you will," Susanna answered.
"I 'll sing you a little Ave Maria," he decided. Whereupon, instead of proceeding, he turned his back squarely upon the piano, and squarely faced his hearers.
"When a musician composes an Ave Maria," he instructed them, "what he ought to try for is exactly what those nice old Fifteenth Century painters in Italy tried for when they painted their Annunciations. He should try to represent what one would have heard, if one had been there, just as they tried to represent what one would have seen. Now, how was it? What would one have heard? What did our Blessed Lady herself hear? Look. It was the springtime, and it was the end of the day. And she sat in her garden. And God sent His Angel to announce the 'great thing' to her. But she must not be frightened. She, so dear to God, the little maid of fifteen, all wonder and shyness and innocence, she must not be frightened. She sat in her garden, among her lilies. Birds were singing round her; the breeze was whispering lightly in the palm-trees; near-by a brook was plashing; from the village came the rumour of many voices. All the pleasant, familiar sounds of nature and of life were in the air. She sat there, thinking her white thoughts, dreaming her holy day-dreams. And, half as if it were a day-dream, she saw an Angel come and kneel before her. But she was not frightened—for it was like a day-dream—and the Angel's face was so beautiful and so tender and so reverent, she could not have been frightened, even if it had seemed wholly real. He knelt before her, and his lips moved, but, as in a dream, silently. All the familiar music of the world went on—the bird-songs, the whisper of the wind, the babble of the brook, the rumour of the village. They all went on—there was no pause, no hush, no change—nothing to startle her—only, somehow, they seemed all to draw together, to become a single sound. All the sounds of earth and heaven, the homely, familiar sounds of earth, but the choiring of the stars too, all the sounds of the universe, at that moment, as the Angel knelt before her, drew together into a single sound. And 'Hail,' it said, 'hail Mary full of grace!'"
For a minute, after he had finished, Adrian stood still, and no one spoke. Then he returned to the fireside, and sank back into his chair.
"What a beautiful—what a divinely beautiful—idea," Susanna said at last, with feeling.
"Beautiful," emphatically chimed in Protestant Miss Sandus.
"Stand still, true poet that you are,—I know you, let me try and name you," laughed Anthony, from the hearth-rug.
"Chrysostom—he should be named Chrysostom," said Miss Sandus.
"The world is a garden of beautiful ideas," was Adrian's modest acceptance of these tributes. "One only has to cull them. But now"—he rose—"I must toddle home. Are you going my way?" he inquired of Anthony.
"What?" protested Miss Sandus. "You're leaving us, without telling the experience of your life—the experience that you 'had to run' to tell us!"
"And without singing us your song," protested Susanna.
Adrian wrung his hands.
"Oh, cruel ladies!" he complained. "How can you be so unjust? I have told you the experience of my life. And as for singing my song—"
"He can always leave off singing when he hears a master talk," put in Anthony.
"As for singing my song," said Adrian, ignoring him, "I must go home and try to write it."
And then the weather changed again. The clouds drifted away, the sun came back, the sunshine was like gold that had been washed and polished. The landscape smiled with a new radiance, gay as if it had never gloomed. The grass was greener, the flowers were brighter, the birds sang louder and clearer. The sea, with its shimmer and sheen, was like blue silk; the sky was like blue velvet. The trees lifted up their arms, greedy for the returned light and warmth, the sweeter air.
Susanna, at noon-day, in her pine grove, by her brookside, was bending down, peering intently into the transparent water.
Anthony, seeking, found her there.
"Books in the running brooks. I interrupt your reading?" he suggested, as one ready, at a hint, to retire.
"No," said she, looking up—giving, for a second, her eyes to his, her dark, half-laughing eyes. "It is not a book—it is the genius of the place."
She pointed to where, at her feet, the hurrying stream rested an instant, to take breath, in a deep, dusky little pool, overhung by a tangle of eglantine.
"See how big he is, and how old and grey and grim, and how motionless and silent. It seems almost discourteous of him, almost contemptuous, not to show any perturbation when one intrudes upon him, does n't it?"
The genius of the place, floating in the still water, his fixed small beady eyes just above the surface, was a big grey frog.
"Books in the running brooks indeed, none the less," Susanna went on, meditating. "Brooks—even artificial ones—are so mysterious, are n't they? They are filled with so many mysterious living things—frogs and tadpoles and newts and strange water-insects, nixies and pixies. Undines and Sabrinas fair and water-babies; and such strange plants grow in them; and who can guess the meaning of the tales they tell, in that never-ceasing, purling tongue of theirs? . . . And Signor Ranocchio? What do you suppose he is thinking of, as he floats there, so still, so saturnine, so indifferent to us? He is plainly in a deep, deep reverie. How wise he looks—a grey, wise old water-hermit, with his head full of strange, unimaginable water-secrets, and strange, ancient water-memories. Perhaps he is—what was his name?—the god of streams himself, the old pagan god of streams, disguised as a frog for some wicked old pagan-godish adventure. Perhaps that 's why he is n't afraid of us—mere mortals. You 'd expect a mere frog to leap away or plunge under, would n't you?"
Again, for a second, she gave Anthony her eyes. They were filled with pensiveness and laughter.
In celebration of the sun's return, she wore a white frock (some filmy crinkled stuff, crepe-de-chine perhaps), and carried a white sunshade, a thing all frills and furbelows. This she opened, as, leaving the shadow of the pines, she moved by the brook-side, down the lawn, where the unimpeded sun shone hot, towards the pond.
"The eighth wonder of the world—an olive-tree that bears roses," she remarked.
Her glance directed his to a gnarled old willow, growing by the pond. Indeed, with the wryness of its branches, the grey-green of its leaves, you might almost have mistaken it for an olive-tree. A rose-vine had clambered up to the topmost top of it, and spread in all directions, so that everywhere, vivid against the grey-green, hung red roses.
"And now, if you will come, I 'll show you the ninth wonder of the world," she promised. She led him down a long wide pathway, bordered on each side by hortensias in full blossom, two swelling hedges of fire, where purple dissolved into blue and crimson, blue into a hundred green, mauve, and violet overtones and undertones of blue, and crimson into every palest, vaguest, most elusive, and every intensest red the broken sunbeam bleeds upon the spectrum.
"But this," she said, "though you might well think it so, is not the ninth wonder of the world."
"I think the ninth wonder of the world, as well as the first and last, is walking beside me," said Anthony, in silence, to the sky.
The path ended in an arbour, roofed and walled with rose-vines; and herein were garden-chairs and a table.
"Shall we sit here a little?" proposed Susanna.
She put down her sunshade, and they established themselves under the roof of roses. On the table stood a Chinese vase, red and gold, with a dragon-handled cover.
"Occasion 's everything, beyond a doubt," thought Anthony. "But the rub is to know an occasion when you see it. Is this an occasion?"
He looked at her, and his heart trembled, and held him back.
"Oh, the fragrance of the roses," said Susanna. "How do they do it? A pinch of sunshine, a drop or two of dew, a puff of air, a handful of brown earth—and out of these they distil what seems as if it were the very smell of heaven."
But she spoke in tones noticeably hushed, as if fearing to be overheard.
Anthony looked round.
A moment ago there had not been a bird in sight (though, of course, the day was thridded through and through with the notes of those who were out of sight). But now, in the path before the arbour, all facing towards it, there must have been a score of birds—three or four sparrows, a pair of chaffinches, and then greenfinches, greenfinches, greenfinches. They were all facing expectantly towards the arbour, hopping towards it, hesitating, hopping on again, coming nearer, nearer.
Susanna, moving softly, lifted the dragon-handled cover from the Chinese vase. It was full of birdseed.