"Ah, I see," said Anthony. "Pensioners. But I suppose you have reflected that to give alms to the able-bodied is to pauperise them."
"Hush," she whispered, scorning his economics. "Please make yourself invisible, and be quiet."
Then, taking a handful of seed, and leaning forward, softly, softly she began to intone—
"Tu-ite, tu-ite, Uccelli, fringuelli, Passeri, verdonelli, Venite, venite!"
and so, da capo, over and over again.
And the birds, hesitating, gaining confidence, holding back, hopping on, came nearer, nearer. A few, the boldest, entered the arbour . . . they all entered . . . they hesitated, hung back, hopped on. Now they were at her feet; now three were in her lap; others were on the table. On the table, in her lap, at her feet, she scattered seed. Then she took a second handful, and softly, softly, to a sort of lullaby tune,
"Perlino, Perlino, Perlino Piumino, Where is Perlino? Come, Perlino,"
she sang, her open hand extended.
A greenfinch new up to the table, flew down to her knee, flew up to her shoulder, flew down to her hand, and, perching on her thumb, began to feed.
And she went on with her soft, soft intoning.
"This is Perlino, So green, oh, so green, oh. He is the bravest heart, The sweetest singer, of them all. I 'm obliged to impart my information In the form of a chant; For if I were to speak it out, prose-wise, They would be frightened, they would fly away. But I hope you admire My fine contempt for rhyme and rhythm. Is this not the ninth wonder of the world? Would you or could you have believed, If you had n't seen it? That these wild birds, Not the sparrows only, But the shy, shy finches, Could become so tame, so fearless? Oh, it took time—and patience. One had to come every day, At the same hour, And sit very still, And softly, softly, Monotonously, monotonously, Croon, croon, croon, As I am crooning now. At first one cast one's seed At a distance— Then nearer, nearer, Till at last— Well, you see the result."
Her eyes laughed, but she was very careful not to move. Anthony, blotted against the leafy wall behind him, sat as still as a statue. Her eyes laughed. "Oh, such eyes!" thought he. Her red lips, smiling, took delicious curves. And the hand on which Perlino perched, with its slender fingers, its soft modelling, its warm whiteness, was like a thing carved of rose-marble and made alive.
"And Perlino," she resumed her chant—
"Perlino Piumino Is the bravest of them all. And now that he has made an end Of his handful of seed, I hope he will be so good As to favour us with a little music. Sometimes he will, And sometimes he just obstinately won't. Tu-ite, tu-ite, tu-ite, Andiamo, Perlino, tu-ite! Canta, di grazia, canta."
And after some further persuasion,—you will suspect me of romancing, but upon my word,—Perlino Piumino consented. Clinging to Susanna's thumb, he threw back his head, opened his bill, and poured forth his crystal song—a thin, bright, crystal rill, swift-flowing, winding in delicate volutions. And mercy, how his green little bosom throbbed.
"Is n't it incredible?" Susanna whispered. "It is wonderful to feel him. His whole body is beating like a heart."
And when his song was finished, she bent towards him, and—never, never so softly—touched the top of his green head with her lips.
"And, now—fly away, birdlings—back to your affairs," she said. "Good-bye until to-morrow."
She rose, and there was an instant whir of fluttering wings.
"Shall we walk?" she said to Anthony. She shook her frock, to dust the last grains of birdseed from it. "If we stay here, they will think there is more to come. And they 've had quite sufficient for one day."
She put up her sunshade, and they turned back into the alley of hortensias.
"You find me speechless," said Anthony. "Of course, it has n't really happened. But how—how do you produce so strong an illusion of reality? I could have sworn I saw a greenfinch feeding from your hand, I could have sworn I saw him cling there, and heard him sing his song. I could have sworn I saw you kiss him."
Susanna, under her white sunshade, laughed, softly, victoriously.
"Speaking with all moderation," he declared, "it is the most marvellous performance I have ever witnessed. If it had been a sparrow—or a pigeon—but—a greenfinch—!"
"There are very few birds that can't be tamed," she said. "You 've only got to familiarise them with your presence at a certain spot at a certain hour, and keep very still, and be very, very gentle in your movements, and croon to them, and bring them food. I have tamed wilder birds than greenfinches, in Italy—I have tamed goldfinches, blackcaps, and even an oriole. And if you have once tamed a bird, and made him your friend, he never forgets you. Season after season, when he returns from his migration, he recognises you, and takes up the friendship where it was put down. Until at last"—her voice sank, and she shook her head—"there comes a season when he returns no more."
They had strolled beyond the hortensias, into a shady avenue of elms. Round the trunk of one of these ran a circular bench. Susanna sat down. Anthony stood before her.
"I trust, at any rate," she said, whimsically smiling, "that the moral of my little exhibition has not been lost upon you?"
"A moral? Oh?" said he. "No. I had supposed it was beauty for beauty's sake."
"Ah, but beauty sometimes points a moral in spite of itself. The very obvious moral of this is that where there 's a will there 's a way."
She looked up, making her eyes grave; then smiled again.
"We must resume our plotting. I think I have found the way by which the Conte di Sampaolo can regain his inheritance."
"There are exactly two ways by which he can do that," he said. "One is to equip an army, and go to war with the King of Italy, and—a mere detail—conquer him. The other is to procure a wishing-cap and wish it. Which do you recommend?"
"No," said Susanna. "There is a third and simpler way."
She was tracing patterns on the ground with the point of her parasol.
"There is the way of marriage."
She completed a circle, and began to draw a star within it.
"You should go to Sampaolo, and marry your cousin. So"—her eyes on her drawing, she spoke slowly, with an effect supremely impersonal—"so you would come to your own again; and so a house divided against itself, an ancient noble house, would be reunited; and an ancient historic line, broken for a little, would be made whole."
She put the fifth point to her star.
Anthony stood off, half laughing, and held up his hands, in admiring protest.
"Dear lady, what a programme!" was his laughing ejaculation.
"I admit," said she, critically regarding the figure at her feet, "that at first blush it may seem somewhat fantastic. But it is really worth serious consideration. You are the heir to a great name, which has been separated from the estates that are its appanage, and to a great tradition, which has been interrupted. But the heir to such a name, to such a tradition, is heir also to great duties, to great obligations. He has no right to be passive, or to think only of himself. The thirty-fourth Count of Sampaolo owes it to his thirty-three predecessors—the descendant of San Guido owes it to San Guido—to bestir himself, to do the very utmost in his power to revive and maintain the tradition. He is a custodian, a trustee. He has no right to sit down, idle and contented, to the life of a country gentleman in England. He is the banner-bearer of his race. He has no right to leave the banner folded in a dark closet. He must unfurl his banner, and bear it bravely in the sight of the world. That is the justification, that is the mission, of noblesse. A great nobleman should not evade or hide his nobility—he should bear it nobly in the sight of the world. That is the mission of the Conte di Sampaolo—that is the work he was born to do. It seems to me that at present he is pretty thoroughly neglecting his work."
She shot a smile at him, then lowered her eyes again upon her encircled star.
"You preach a very eloquent sermon," said Anthony, "and in principle I acknowledge its soundness. But in practice—there is just absolutely nothing the Conte di Sampaolo can do."
"He can go to Vallanza, and marry his cousin," reiterated she. "Thus the name and the estates would be brought together again, and the tradition would be renewed."
She had slipped a ring from her finger, and was vaguely playing with it.
Anthony only laughed.
"Does n't my proposition deserve better than mere laughter?" said she.
"I should laugh," said he, with secret meaning, "on the wrong side of my mouth, if I thought you wished me to take it seriously." ("If I thought she seriously wished me to marry another woman!" he breathed, shuddering, to his soul.)
"Why should n't I wish you to take it seriously?" she asked, studying her ring.
"The marriage of cousins is forbidden by Holy Church," said he.
"She 's only your second or third cousin. The nearest Bishop would give you a dispensation," answered Susanna, twirling her ring round in the palm of her hand.
"There would, of course, be no question of the lady rejecting me," he laughed.
"You would naturally endeavour to make yourself agreeable to her, and to capture her affections," she retorted, slipping the ring back upon its finger, and clasping her hands. "Besides, she could hardly be indifferent to the circumstance that you have it in your power to regularise her position. She calls herself the Countess of Sampaolo. She could do so with a clear conscience if she were the wife of the legitimate Count."
"She can do so with a clear conscience as it is," said Anthony. "She has the patent of the Italian King."
"Pinchbeck to gold," said Susanna. "A title improvised yesterday—and a title dating from 1104! The real thing, and a tawdry imitation. Go to Sampaolo, make her acquaintance, fall in love with her, persuade her to fall in love with you, marry her,—and there will be the grand old House of Valdeschi itself again."
Her eyes glowed.
But Anthony only laughed.
"You counsel procedures incompatible," he said. "If I am the custodian of a tradition, which you would have me maintain, how better could I play it false, than by marrying, of all women, the granddaughter, the heiress and representative, of the man who upset it?"
"You would heal a family feud, and blot out a wrong," said she, drawing patterns again with her sunshade. "Magnanimity should be part of your tradition. You would not visit the sins of the fathers upon the children? You don't hold your cousin personally responsible?"
She looked up obliquely at him.
"Personally," he answered, "my cousin may be the most innocent soul alive. She is born to a ready-made situation, and accepts it. But it is a situation which I, if I am to be loyal to my tradition, cannot accept. It is the negation of my tradition. I am obliged to submit to it, but I can't accept it. My cousin is the embodiment of the anti-tradition. You say—marry her. That is like inviting the Pope to ally himself with the Antipope."
"No, no," contended Susanna, arresting her sunshade in the midst of an intricate vermiculation. "For the Antipope must be in wilful personal rebellion; while your cousin is what she is, quite independently of her own will—perhaps in spite of it. Imagine me, for instance, in her place—me," she smiled, "the sole legitimist in Sampaolo. What could I do? I find myself in possession of stolen goods. I would, if I could, restore them at once to their rightful owner. But I can't—because I am only the tenant for life. I can't sell them, nor give them away, nor even, dying, dispose of them by will. I am only the tenant for life. After me, they must pass to the next heir. So, if I wish to restore them to their rightful owner, there 's but a single means of doing so open to me—I must induce the rightful owner to make me his wife."
She smiled again, mirthfully, but with conviction, with conclusiveness, as who should say, "I have proved my point."
"Ah," pronounced Anthony, with stress, though perhaps a trifle ambiguously, "if it were you, it would be different."
"In your cousin's case, to be sure," pursued Susanna, "there is one other means. You happen to be, on the Valdeschi side, her nearest kinsman, and therefore, until she marries and has children, you are her heir presumptive. Well, if she were to retire into a convent, taking vows of celibacy and poverty, then what they call the usufruct of her properties could be settled upon her heir presumptive for her lifetime, the properties themselves passing to him at her death."
"We will wish the young lady no such dreary fate," laughed Anthony. "Fortunately for her, she is not troubled by your scruples."
"How do you know she is n't?" asked Susanna.
"We can safely take it for granted," said he. "Besides, you have told me so yourself."
"I have told you so—?" she puzzled.
"You have told me that there is but one legitimist in Sampaolo. If my cousin were troubled by your scruples, she would make a second. And of the whole population of the island, can you suggest a less probable second?"
"They say that Queen Anne was at heart a Jacobite," Susanna reminded him. "Your cousin is young. One could lay the case before her, one could work upon her conscience. And, supposing her conscience to be once roused, then, if you could n't be brought to offer her your hand, she 'd have no choice but renunciation and the Cloister."
"Let us hope, therefore, that her conscience may remain comfortably asleep," said he. "For even to save her from the Cloister, I could not offer her my hand."
Susanna, leaning back against the rugged trunk of her elm, gazed down the long shaded avenue, and appeared to muse. Here and there, the sun, finding a way through the green cloud of leaves, a visible fillet of light in the dim atmosphere, dappled the brown earth with rose. In her white frock, her dark hair loose about her brow, a faint colour in her cheeks, her dark eyes musing, musing but half smiling at the same time, I think she looked very charming, very interesting, very warmly and richly feminine, I think she looked very lovely, very lovable; and I don't wonder that Anthony—as his eyes rested upon her, fed upon her—felt something violent happen in his heart.
"Occasion is everything—the occasion has come—the occasion has come," a silent voice seemed to incite him. And as it were unseen hands seemed to push him on.
The blood rushed tumultuously to his head.
"I 'm going to risk it, I 'm going to risk everything," he decreed, suddenly, recklessly.
"There are a thousand reasons why I could not offer her my hand," he said. "One reason is that I am in love with another woman."
His throat was dry, his voice sounded strained. His heart beat hard. He had burned his first bridge. He kept his eyes on her.
She continued to gaze down the avenue. I think she caught her breath, though.
"Oh—?" she said, after an instant, on a tone that tried in vain to be a tone of conventional politeness. She had been perfectly aware, of course, that it was bound to come. She had fancied herself perfectly prepared to cope with it, when it should come. But she had not expected it to come just yet. It took her off her guard.
"Yes," said he; "and you know whom I am in love with."
This time there could be no doubt that she caught her breath. She had overestimated her power of self-command, her talent for dissembling. She had known that it was bound to come; she had imagined that she could meet it lightly, humorously, that she could parry it, and never betray herself. And here she was, catching her breath, whilst her heart trembled and sank and sang within her. She bit her lip, in vexation; she closed her eyes, in ecstasy; she kept her face turned down the avenue, in fear.
Anthony's heart was leaping. A wild hope had kindled in it.
"I am in love with you—with you," he cried, in a voice that shook.
She did not speak, she did not look at him, but she caught her breath audibly, a long tremulous breath.
He knelt at her feet, he seized her hands. She did not withdraw them.
"I love you, I love you. Don't keep your face turned from me. Look at me. Answer me. I love you. Will you marry me?"
He felt her hands tremble in his. Her surrender of them—was it not fuel to the fire of his hope? He put his lips to them, he kissed them, he covered them with kisses. They were warm, and sweet to smell, faintly, terribly sweet to smell.
At last she drew them away. She shrunk away herself, back along her bench. She bit her lip, in chagrin at her weakness, her self-indulgence. She knew that she was losing ground, precious, indispensable, to that deep-laid, secret, cherished plot of hers. But her heart sang and sang, but a joy such as she had never dreamed of filled it. Oh, she had known that her heart would be filled with joy, when he should say, "I love you"; but she had never dreamed of a joy such as this. This was a joy the very elements of which were new to her; different, not in degree only, but in kind, from any joy she had experienced before. She could not so soon put it by, she could not yet bid herself be stern.
"Look at me. Answer me. I love you. Will you marry me?" he cried.
But she must bid herself be stern. "I must, I must," she thought. She made a mighty effort.
"No," she said, in a suffocated voice, painfully.
"Oh, look at me," he pleaded. "Why do you keep your face turned away? Why do you say no? I love you. Will you marry me? Say yes, say yes."
But she did not look at him.
"No. I can't. Don't ask me," she said.
"Why can't you? I love you. I adore you. Why should n't I ask you?"
The palest flicker of a smile passed over her face.
"I want you to marry your cousin," she said.
"Is that the only reason?"
"Is n't that a sufficient reason?"
Again there was the flicker of a smile.
"For heaven's sake, look at me. Don't keep your face turned away. Then you don't—you don't care for me—not an atom?"
"I"—she could not deny herself one instant of weakness more, one supreme instant; afterwards she would be stern in earnest, she would draw back—"I never meant to let you know I did."
And for the first time between two heart-beats her eyes met his, stayed with his.
For the time between two heart-beats, Time stood still, the world stood still, Time and the world ceased to be. Her eyes stayed with his. There was nothing else in all created space but her two eyes, her soft and deep, dark and radiant eyes. Far, far within them shone a light. Her soul came forth from its hiding place, and shining far, far within her eyes, showed itself to his soul, yielded itself to his soul.
"Then you do—you do," he cried. It was almost a wail. The universe reeled round him.
He had sprung to his feet. He threw himself on the bench beside her, facing her. He seized her hands again. He tried again to get her eyes.
"No, no, no," she said, freeing her hands, shrinking from him. "No. I don't—I don't."
"But you do. You said you did. You—you showed that you did."
He waited, triumphant, anxious, breathless.
"No, no, no. I did n't say it—I did n't mean it."
"But you did mean it. Your eyes . . ."
But when he remembered her eyes, speech deserted him. He could only gasp and tingle.
"No, no, no," she said. "I meant nothing. Please—please don't come so near. Stand up—there" (her hand indicated where), "and we will speak of it—reasonably."
Her hand remained suspended, enjoining obedience.
Anthony, perplexed, dashed a little, obeyed, and stood before her.
"We must be reasonable," she said. "I meant nothing. If I seemed moved, it was because—oh, because I was so taken by surprise, I suppose."
She was getting herself in hand. She looked at him quite fearlessly now, with eyes that pretended to forget they had ever been complaisant.
"The Count of Sampaolo," she argued calmly, "is not free to marry whom he will. He has his inheritance to regain, his mission to fulfil. I will never allow myself to be made an obstacle to that. He must marry no one but his cousin. I will never stand between him and her—between him and what is equally his interest and his duty."
But Anthony, too, was getting himself in hand.
"Look here," he said, with some peremptoriness. "You may just once for all eliminate my cousin from your calculations. I beg you to understand that even if you did n't exist, there could be no question of my cousin. No earthly consideration could induce me to make any sort of terms with that branch of my family—let alone a marriage. So!" A wave of the hand dismissed his cousin for ever to Crack-limbo. "But as you do exist, and as I happen to love you, and as I happen to have discovered—what I could never wildly have dared to hope—that you are not utterly indifferent to me, I may tell you that I intend to marry you—you—you. You imperial, adorable woman! You!"
Susanna hastily turned her eyes down the avenue.
"In fact," Anthony added, with serene presumption, "I have the honour to apprise you of our engagement."
She could n't repress a nervous little laugh. Then she rose.
"They 'll be expecting me at the house," she said, and moved in that direction.
"I 'm waiting for your congratulations," said he, walking beside her.
She gave another little laugh. And neither spoke again until they had reached the hall door, which he opened for her.
"Well?" he asked.
"Come back after luncheon," said she. "Come back at three o'clock—and I will tell you something."
"Own up—and name the day," said Miss Sandus, when she had heard Susanna's story. "There 's nothing left for you to do, my dear, but to make a clean breast of it, and name the happy day."
They were in the billiard-room, after luncheon. Miss Sandus was sipping coffee, while Susanna, cue in hand, more or less absently knocked about the balls. So that their remarks were punctuated by an erratic series of ivory toc-tocs.
"I 'm afraid if I own up," she answered, "there won't be any happy day. He swore that no earthly consideration could induce him to make any sort of terms with my branch of the family. Those were his very words."
Toc—she pocketed the red.
"Fudge," pronounced Miss Sandus. "Capital words for eating. He 'll gobble, he 'll bolt 'em. Give him the chance. It's astonishing how becoming it is to you young women to play billiards, how it brings out the grace of your blessed figures. Say, 'I, even I, am your cousin. Do you still decline to marry her?'—and see what he 'll do. No, no—you want to take it a little more to the right and lower down. That's it." (Toc-toc—Susanna made a cannon.) "He 'll jump at you. I know the man. There 's no possible question of it. So I must be thinking of the gown I 'm to wear as bridesmaid."
She laughed, and put down her cup.
Susanna, trying for another cannon, fluked another pocket.
"No," she said. "That would be to miss half the fun of the situation. The thing must be more dramatic. Besides, I want it to happen at Sampaolo. I want him to go to Sampaolo. And I want to tempt him and test him.
"'Not so, said she, but I will see If there be any faith in man.'"
she quoted (or misquoted?—I forget). "He shall go to Sampaolo and be tempted. With his own eyes he shall behold the heritage of the Valdeschi. Then he shall be approached by his cousin's friends,—by the reluctant but obedient Commendatore Fregi, for example,—and sorely tempted. I 've got rather a subtle little scheme. I 'll explain it to you later—he 'll be arriving at any moment now. He shall leave for Sampaolo to-morrow morning. You and I will leave the morning after, if you please. Only, of course, he's to know nothing about that—he's to suppose that we 're remaining here."
She attempted a somewhat delicate stroke off the cushion, and achieved it.
"Good shot," approved Miss Sandus. "But you are forgetting Mr. Willes. Mr. Willes will tell him."
"No, I 've not forgotten Mr. Willes," said Susanna. "I should n't very much mind letting Mr. Willes into my confidence. But I think on the whole I 'll make him take Mr. Willes with him."
"You 're nothing if not arbitrary," Miss Sandus laughed.
"I come of a line of tyrants," said Susanna. "And, anyhow, what's the good of possessing power, if you 're not to exercise and enjoy it?"
The clock on the mantelpiece began to strike three.
"Mr. Craford," announced a servant.
Miss Sandus fled from the room by a French window.
Susanna returned her cue to the rack.
Anthony had passed, I imagine, the longest hour and a half that he had ever passed, or will ever be likely to pass: the longest, the most agitated, the most elated, the most impatient.
Could he regard himself as accepted? Well, certainly, as the next thing to it. And, in any case, she had confessed that she cared for him.
"I never meant to let you know I did."
Oh, he heard it again and again. Again and again her eyes met his, as they had met them at that consummate moment, discovering her soul to him. Again and again he knelt before her, and kissed her hands, warm and soft, and sweet with that faint perfume which caused cataclysms in his heart.
He went home, he went in to luncheon. Somehow he must wear out the time till three o'clock.
"Come back at three o'clock—and I will tell you something."
What had she to tell him? What would he hear when he went back at three o'clock? Here was a question for hope and fear to play about.
Adrian prattled merrily over the luncheon table. I wonder how many of his words Anthony took in.
After luncheon he tramped about the park, counting the slow minutes,—kissing her hands, looking into her eyes, racking his brain with speculations as to what she might have to tell him, hoping, fearing, and counting the long slow minutes. And his tug at Susanna's doorbell coincided with the very first stroke of three from her billiard-room clock.
His throat was dry, his pulses pounded, his knees all but knocked together under him, as he followed the manservant across the hall, into her presence.
Susanna returned her cue to the rack.
Anthony stood near the door, an incarnate question.
"Well—?" he demanded, in a voice that was tense.
"Come in," she amiably welcomed him. "Sit down."
She pointed to a chair. She wore the same white frock that she had worn before luncheon, only she had stuck a red rose in her belt.
He did n't sit down, but he came forward, and stood by the fireplace.
"What an age, what an eternity it has been," he profoundly sighed. "I have grown grey waiting for this instant."
She studied him, with amusement.
"The grey is very skilfully concealed," she remarked.
"The grey is in my soul," said he, with the accent of tragedy. "Well—?" he again demanded.
"Well what?" teased she, arching her eye-brows innocently.
"Oh, come," he remonstrated. "Don't torture a defenceless animal. Seal my fate, pronounce my doom. I love you—love you—love you. Will you have me?"
She stood silhouetted against a window, the light sifting and shining through her hair.
"I have a condition to make," she said. "You must promise to comply with my condition—and then I can answer you."
Her dark eyes smiled into his, quizzically, but perhaps with a kind of tenderness too.
He came nearer.
"A condition? What's the condition?"
"No—you must promise first to agree to it," she said.
"A promise in the dark?" he objected.
"Oh, if you can't trust me!" she cried, with a little shrug.
"There's mischief in your eye," said he. "The man deserves what he gets, who makes promises in the dark."
"Then make the promise—and see whether you get what you deserve," she laughed.
"Mercy forbid that any man should get what he deserves," said he. "I am a suppliant for grace, not justice."
Susanna laughed again. She took her rose from her belt, and brushed her face with it, touched it with her lips.
"Do you care for roses?" she asked, with a glance of intellectual curiosity, as one who spoke solely for the purpose of acquiring knowledge.
"I should care for that rose," said he, vehemently.
She held it out to him, still laughing, but with a difference.
He seized the rose—and suddenly, over-mastered by his impulse, suddenly, violently, made towards her.
But she drew away, extending her hands to protect herself.
"I beg your pardon," he said, pulling himself up. "But you should make a conscientious effort to be a trifle less adorable."
He pressed her rose to his mouth, crushing it, breathing in its scent, trying to possess himself of the touch her mouth had left upon it.
She sank into the corner of a sofa, and leaned back among the cushions.
"Well, do you promise?" she asked, smiling up at him.
"Do you flatter yourself that you 're a trifle less adorable now?" asked he, smiling down.
"Do you promise?" she repeated, taking away her eyes.
"I clean forget what it was you wished me to promise," said he.
"You are to promise to comply with my condition. Do you?"
"I suppose I must," he answered, with a gesture of submission.
"But do you? You must say"—she made her voice sepulchral—"'I solemnly do.'"
She gave him her eyes again, held him with them.
He was rigid for a minute, gazing fixedly at her.
"I solemnly do," he said at last, relaxing. "What's the condition?"
"The condition is an easy one—only a little journey to make."
"A journey to make? Away from Craford?"
He stood off, suspicious, prepared to be defiant.
"Yes," said she, playing with the lace of one of her cushions.
"Not for worlds," said he. "Anything else. But I won't leave Craford."
"You have promised," said she.
"Ah, but I did n't dream there would be any question of my leaving Craford. There's a woman at Craford I 'm in love with. I won't leave Craford."
"You have solemnly promised," said she.
"Hang my promise," gaily he outfaced her.
"Promises are sacred." She looked serious.
"Not promises extorted in the dark," contended he.
"Give me back my rose," said she, putting forth her hand.
"No," said he, pressing the rose anew to his face.
"Yes," said she, her foolhardy hand awaiting it.
For, instead of giving her back her rose, he threw himself upon her hand, and had kissed it before she could catch it away.
She bit her lip, frowning, smiling.
"Then will you keep your promise?" she asked severely.
"If you insist upon it, I suppose I 'll have to," he grudgingly consented. "But a journey!" he sighed. "Ah, well. Where to?"
Her eyes gleamed, maliciously.
"To a very pleasant place," she said. "The journey is a pious pilgrimage."
"Craford, just now, is the only pleasant place on the face of the earth," vowed he. "A pious pilgrimage? Where to?"
He had, I think, some vague notion that she might mean a pilgrimage to the Holy Well of St. Winefride in Wales; though, for that matter, why not to the Holy Well of St. Govor in Kensington Gardens?
"A pious pilgrimage to the home of your ancestors," said Susanna. "The journey is a journey to the little, unknown, beautiful island of Sampaolo."
Her eyes gleamed, maliciously, exultantly.
But Anthony fell back, aghast.
"Sampaolo?" he cried.
"Yes," said she, quietly.
"Oh, I say!" He writhed, he groaned. "That is too much. Really!"
"That is my condition," said Susanna. Her mouth was firm.
"You don't mean it—you can't mean it." He frowned his incredulity.
"I mean it literally," she persisted. "You must make a journey to Sampaolo."
"But what's the sense of it?" he besought her. "Why on earth should you impose such a condition?" He frowned his incomprehension.
"Because you have asked me to be your wife," she answered.
He shook his head, mournfully, scornfully.
"If ever an explanation darkened counsel!" mournfully he jeered.
"You have asked me to be your wife. I reply that first you must make a journey to Sampaolo. Is that not simple?" said Susanna.
He was walking about the room.
"Do you mean to say "—he came to a standstill—"that if I make a journey to Sampaolo, you will be my wife?"
"I mean to say that I will never be your wife unless you do."
"But if I do—?"
She leaned back, smiling, among her cushions.
"That will depend upon the result of your journey."
He shook his head again.
"I 'm utterly at sea," he professed. "I have never heard anything that sounded so bewilderingly devoid of reason. Explain yourself. What is it all about?"
"Reflect for a moment," said she, assuming a tone argumentative. "Consider the embarrassment of my position. You ask me to be your wife. But if I consent, you give up your only chance of regaining your Italian patrimony—do you not? But a man should at least know what he is giving up. You should know what your patrimony consists of. You should know, as the saying is, what you 'stand to lose.' Therefore you must go to Sampaolo, and see it with your own eyes. Isola Nobile, Castel San Guido, the Palazzo Rosso, Villa Formosa—you must see them all, with their gardens and their pictures and their treasures. And then you must ask yourself in cold blood, 'Is that woman I left at Craford really worth it?'"
She smiled. But, as he made to speak, her hand commanded silence.
"No, no," she said. "You have not seen them yet, so you can't tell. When you have seen them, you will very likely thank me for leaving you free to-day. You will think, with a shudder, 'Good heavens, what a narrow escape! What if she had taken me at my word?' Then you can offer yourself to your cousin, and let us hope she 'll accept you."
Again, as he made to speak, her hand silenced him.
"But if," she went on, "if, by any chance, you should not thank me,—if, in cold blood, with your eyes open, you should decide that the woman you left at Craford is worth it,—why, then you can return to her, and renew your suit. And she'll have the satisfaction of knowing that you know what's she costing you."
Anthony stood over her, looked down upon her.
"This is the most awful nonsense," he said, with a grave half-laugh.
"It is my condition," said she. "You must start for Sampaolo to-morrow morning."
"You 'll never really send me on such a fool's errand," he protested.
"You have promised," said she.
"You won't hold me to the promise."
"If I release you from it," she warned him, her eyes becoming dangerous, "there must be no more talk of marriage between you and me."
He flung away from her, and resumed his walk about the room. He gazed distressfully into space, as if appealing to invisible arbiters.
"This is too childish—and too cruel," he complained. "I 'm not an idiot. I don't need an object-lesson. I am not utterly without imagination. I can see Sampaolo with my mind's eye. And seeing it, I decide in cold blood that not for forty million Sampaolos would I give up the woman I adore. There—I 've made the journey, and come back. Now I renew my suit. Will you have me?"
He stood over her again.
"There must be no more talk of having or not having between you and me—till you have kept your promise," said Susanna, coldly avoiding his gaze.
Anthony clenched his fists, ground his teeth.
"What folly—what obstinacy—what downright wanton capriciousness," in anger he muttered.
"And yet, two minutes ago, this man said he loved me," Susanna murmured, meaningly, to the ceiling.
"If I were n't unfortunate enough to love you, I should n't mind your—your perfectly barbarous unkindness."
He glared at her. But she met his glare with a smile that disarmed it. And, in spite of himself, he smiled too.
"Will you start to-morrow?" she asked, softly, coaxingly.
"This is outrageous," he said. "How long do you expect me to stay?"
"Oh, for that," she considered, "I shall be very moderate. A week will do. A diligent sightseer should be able to see Sampaolo pretty thoroughly in a week."
"A week," he calculated, "and I suppose one must allow at least another week for getting there and back. So you exile me for a fortnight?"
His tone and his eyes pleaded with her.
"A fortnight is not much," said she, lightly.
"No," he gloomily acquiesced. "It is only fourteen lifetimes to a man who happens to be in love."
"Men are reputed to be stronger than women," she reproached him, with a look. "If a mere woman can stand a fortnight——!"
Anthony gasped—and sprang towards her.
"No, no," she cried, shrinking away.
"Do you happen to be in love?" he said, restraining himself.
She looked at him very kindly.
"I will tell you that, when you come back—if you come back," she promised.
"If I come back!" he derided. Then, with eagerness, "You will write to me? I may write to you?" he stipulated.
"Oh, no—by no means. There must be no sort of communication between us. You must give yourself every chance to forget me—and to think of your cousin."
"I won't go," said Anthony.
He planted himself in a chair, facing her, and assumed the air of a fixture.
But Susanna rose.
"Good-bye, then," she said, and held out her hand.
"What do you mean?" said he.
But he took her hand, and kept it.
"All is over between us—if you won't go."
But she left her hand in his.
"You will write to me?"
He caressed the warm soft fingers.
"But I may write to you?"
He kissed the fragrant fingers.
At last, slowly, gently, she drew her hand away.
"Oh, if it will give you any satisfaction to write to me, I suppose you may," she conceded. "But remember—you must n't expect your letters to be answered."
She went back to her place in the corner of the sofa.
He left his chair, and stood over her again.
"I love you," he said.
She smiled and played with the lace of her cushion.
"So you remarked before," she said.
"I love you," said he, with fervour.
"By the bye," she said, "I forgot to mention that you are to take Mr. Willes with you."
"Oh—?" puzzled Anthony. "Willes? Why?"
"For several reasons," said Susanna. "But will one suffice?"
"What's the one?"
She looked up at him, and laughed.
"Because I wish it."
Anthony laughed too.
"You are conscious of your power," he said.
"Yes," she admitted. "So you will take Mr. Willes?"
"You have said you wished it."
And then, for a while, neither spoke, but I fancy their eyes carried on the conversation.
It was nearly time to dress for dinner when Anthony returned to Craford Old Manor.
Adrian, his collar loosened, his hair towzled, his head cocked critically to one side, was in his business-room, seated at his piano, playing over and over again a single phrase, and now and then making a little alteration in it, which he would hurriedly jot down in a manuscript music-book, laid open on a table at his elbow.
"Are n't you going for a holiday this summer?" Anthony asked, with languor, lounging in.
"Hush-sh-sh!" said Adrian, intent upon his manuscript, waving an admonitory hand.
"It's time to dress," said Anthony. He lighted a cigarette.
Adrian strummed through his phrase again, brows knitted, looking intensely judicial. Then he swung round on his piano-stool.
"Hey? What did you say?" he questioned, his blue eyes vague, his pink face blank.
"I merely asked whether you were n't going for a holiday this summer," Anthony repeated, between two outputs of smoke.
"And you interrupt a heaven-sent musician, when you see the fit's upon him, merely to ask an irrelevant thing like that," Adrian reproved him. "I was holding an assize, a gaol-delivery. That phrase was on trial before me for its life. In art, sir, one should imitate the methods of a hanging judge. Put every separate touch on trial for its life, and deem it guilty till it can prove itself innocent. Yea, even though these same touches be dear to you as her children to a mother. Such is the high austerity of art. I thought you said it was time to dress."
"So it is," said Anthony. "Are n't you going for a holiday this summer?"
Adrian closed his music-book, and got up.
"Of course I am," he answered.
"When?" said Anthony.
"In September, as usual," said Adrian.
"I was wondering," said Anthony, twiddling his cigarette, "whether you would mind taking your holiday a little earlier than usual this year—in August, for instance?"
"Why?" asked Adrian, with caution.
"It would suit me better, I could spare you better," Anthony said.
Adrian eyed him suspiciously.
"In August? We 're in August now, are n't we?"
"I believe so," said Anthony. "Either August or late July. One could find out from the almanac, I suppose. It would suit me very well if you could take your holiday now—at once."
Adrian's suspicion became acute.
"What are you up to? What do you want to get rid of me for?"
"I don't want to get rid of you. On the contrary—I 'll go with you, if you like."
Adrian scrutinized him searchingly, suspicion reinforced by astonishment. All at once his eyes flashed.
"Aha!" he cried. "I see what you 've been at. You 've been trying to philander with the Nobil Donna Susanna Torrebianca—and she 's sent you about your business. Oh, I 've seen how things were going." He winked and nodded.
"Nothing of the sort," said Anthony. "You might tell Wickersmith to pack our things. We 'll take the eight-fifteen up to-morrow morning. That will get us to Victoria in time for the eleven o'clock Continental express."
"Oh? We 're going abroad?" asked Adrian.
"I suppose so. Where else is there to go?" said Anthony.
"I could have told you beforehand," Adrian consoled him, "that you had n't the ghost of a chance with her. You grim, glum, laconic sort of men are n't at all the sort that would appeal to a rich, poetic, southern nature like Madame Torrebianca's. She would be attracted by an exuberant, expansive, warm, sunny sort of man,—a man genial and fruity, like old wine,—sweet and tender and mellow, like ripe peaches. If it were n't that I sternly discountenance the imperilling of business interests by mixing them up with personal sentiment, I should very probably have paid court to her myself. And now I expect you have lost me a tenant. I expect she 'll not care to renew the lease."
"Don't know, I 'm sure," said Anthony. "You might ask her. We 're dining with her to-night. That would make a graceful dinner-table topic."
Adrian's blue eyes grew round.
"We 're dining with her to-night?"
That did n't at all fit his theory of the case.
"At least I am," affirmed Anthony, dropping the end of his cigarette into an ash-tray. "And she said I might bring you, if you 'd promise to be good."
"The—deuce!" ejaculated Adrian, in something between a whisper and a whistle. "But—then—why—what—what under the sun are you going abroad for?"
"A mere whim—a sheer piece of perversity—a sleeveless errand," Anthony answered. "So now we might set about sweeping and garnishing ourselves," he suggested, moving towards the door.
Susanna was very beautiful, I think, in a rose-coloured dinner-gown (rose-coloured chiffon, with accessories of drooping old pale-yellowish lace), a spray of scarlet geranium in her hair, pearls round her throat, and, as you could now and then perceive, high-heeled scarlet slippers on her feet.
She was very beautiful, very pleasant and friendly; and if she seemed, perhaps, a thought less merry, a thought more pensive, than her wont—if sometimes, for a second or two, she seemed to lose herself, while her eyes gazed far away, and her lips remained slightly parted—I doubt if Anthony liked her any the less for this.
But what he pined for was a minute alone with her; and that appeared to be by no means forthcoming. After dinner they all went out upon the terrace, where it was lighted by the open French windows of the drawing-room, and reposed in wicker chairs, whilst they sipped their coffee. He looked at her, and his heart grew big—with grief, with resentment, with delight, with despair, with hope. "She cares for me—she has said it, she has shown it. But then why does she send me on this egregious wild-goose chase? She cares for me. But then why does n't she arrange to give me a minute alone with her to-night?"
In the end,—well, was it Adrian, or was it Miss Sandus, whom he had to thank for their minute alone?
"Why does nobody say, 'Dear kind Mr. Willes, do be nice, and sing us something'?" Adrian plaintively inquired.
Anthony grasped the skirts of happy chance.
"Dear kind Mr. Willes, do be nice, and sing us something," he said at once.
"I 'll play your accompaniments," volunteered Miss Sandus.
And she and the songster went into the drawing-room.
"Thank heaven," said Anthony, under his breath, but fervently, gazing hard at Susanna.
She gave a little laugh.
"What are you laughing at?" he asked.
"At your sudden access of piety," said she.
"At any rate," said he, "I owe no thanks to you. For all you cared, apparently, we should have spent the whole of this last precious evening surrounded by strangers."
"Mamam, dites-moi ce qu'on sent Quand on aime,"
came the voice of Adrian from within.
"If you talk, we can't hear the music," said Susanna.
"Bother the music," responded Anthony.
"It was you who asked him to sing," she said.
"Bother his singing. This is my last evening with you. Do you think a woman has the right to be as gloriously beautiful as you are to-night? Do you think it's fair to the feelings of a poor wretched man, who adores her, and whom she, in mere wanton wickedness, is sending to the uttermost ends of the earth?"
Susanna had her fan of white feathers in her lap. She caressed it.
"I want to ask you something," said Anthony.
"What is it?" said she.
"A piece of information, to help me on my journey. Will you give it me?"
"If I can, of course," said she, putting her fan on the table.
"You promise?" said he.
"If I have any information that can be of use to you, I 'll give it with pleasure," she agreed.
"Very good. That's a promise," said he. "Now then, for my question. I love you. Do you love me?"
He looked hard at her.
She laughed, in acknowledgment that she had been fairly caught. Then her eyes softened.
"Yes," she said.
But before he could move, she had sprung up, and disappeared through one of the French windows, joining Miss Sandus and Adrian at the piano.
In her flight, however, she forgot her fan. It lay where she had left it on the table.
Anthony picked it up, pressed it to his face. He closed his eyes, and kept it pressed to his face. Its fragrance was more than a mere fragrance—there was something of herself in it, something poignantly, intimately personal.
By and by he put the fan in his pocket, in the inside pocket of his coat—feathers downwards, the better to conceal it. Then he too joined the group at the piano.
In their sitting-room in the Hotel de Rome, at Vallanza, Anthony and Adrian were waiting for their breakfast. It is evident, therefore, that Susanna's will had prevailed, and a fool's errand was in process of accomplishment. The fool, no doubt, to the last moment, had renewed his protests, his pleadings, his refusals; but, at each fresh outburst, coldly, firmly, the lady had reiterated her ultimatum, "Then all is over between you and me." And in the end, very conscious of his folly, very much incensed by her perversity, disgusted, dejected, and, as his travelling-companion had occasion to observe, in the very devil of a temper, he had left Victoria by the eleven o'clock Continental express. "Never forget," Miss Sandus whispered in his ear, as he paid her his adieux, "never forget that sound old adage—'journeys end in lovers meeting.'" This was oracular, and he had no opportunity to press for an interpretation; but it was clearly intended as of good omen. At the same time, in another part of the room, Susanna was whispering to Adrian. As Adrian never again expressed the slightest curiosity anent the motive of their hegira, I am led to wonder whether Susanna had admitted him to her confidence. She had intimated that she should n't especially mind doing so; and it is certain that he, from that time forth, now and then smiled at the sky with an eye that looked very knowing.
Those who have recently visited Sampaolo will remember the Hotel de Rome as a small, new, spick-and-span establishment, built at the corner of the Piazza San Guido and the Riva Vittorio Emmanuele, and presenting none of that "local colour in the shape of dirt and discomfort" which we are warned to expect in Italy, if we depart from the track beaten by the tourist. I am told that the modern Italian commercial gentleman (who is often a German, and not infrequently a Jew) has learned some of the tourist's exactions. It is thanks to him, presumably, that even at out-of-the-way Vallanza there exists a decent inn.
Our friends' sitting-room was on the first floor, a corner room, having two sets of windows. One set commanded the Piazza, with its grey old church (the Cathedral of St. Paul and St. Guy), its detached campanile, its big central fountain, and, occupying the entire eastern side, the crumbling frescoed front of the Palazzo Rosso. The other set looked across the Riva, and its double row of palms, out upon the bay, with its anchored ships, its fishing-boats, its encircling olive-covered hills, dotted high and low by villages and villas, and its embosomed Islets, Isola Nobile, Isola Fratello, Isola Sorella, the whole wide prospect glowing in the sun.
The Piazza, which opens to the north, lay in cool blue shadow; and just now a market was in progress there, a jumble-scene of merchandise, animals, and humanity; men, women, and children, dogs and donkeys, goats, calves, pigs, poultry; vegetables and fruit—quartered melons, with green rind, black seeds, and rosy flesh, great golden pumpkins, onions in festoons, figs in pyramids; boots, head-gear, and rough shop-made clothing, for either sex; cheap jewellery also; and every manner of requisite for the household, from pots and pans of wrought copper, brass lamps, iron bedsteads and husk-filled bedding, to portraits in brilliant oleograph of King and Queen and the inevitable Garibaldi. The din was stupendous. Humanity hawked, chaffered, haggled, laughed, vituperated. Donkeys brayed, calves mooed, dogs barked, ducks quacked, pigs squealed. A dentist had set up his chair near the fountain, and was brawling proffers of relief to the tooth-distressed. Sometimes a beglamoured sufferer would allow himself to be taken in hand; and therewith, above the general blare and blur of noise, rose clear and lusty a series of shameless Latin howls. The town-crier, in a cocked hat, wandered hither and thither, like a soul in pain, feebly beating his drum, and droning out a nasal proclamation to which, so far as was apparent, no one listened. The women, for the most part, wore bright-coloured skirts,—striped green and red, or blue and yellow,—and long black veils, covering the head, and falling below the waist; the men, dark jerseys, corduroy trousers, red belts in lieu of braces, and red fishers' caps with tassels that dangled over the ear. Two such men, at this moment, passed up the Piazza arm-in-arm, singing. I don't know what their song was, but they had good voices, and while one of them carried the melody, the other sang a second.
Anthony, morose and listless, Adrian, all agog with excitement, had been looking down upon this spectacle for some minutes in silence. It was their first glimpse of daylit Sampaolo. They had arrived from Venice last night after dark.
But now, as the men passed singing, Adrian was moved to utterance.
"Italia, oh, Italia!" he exclaimed. "I thought I knew my Italy. I thought I had visited my Italy every year or two, for more years than you could shake a stick at. But this is too Italian to be true. This is not Italy—this is Italian opera."
"It's an infernal bore, whatever it is," he declared.
"Fie, fie," Adrian chid him. "Infernal? That is not at all a nice word. Don't let me hear it a second time. How animated and southern and picturesque that arracheur-de-dents is, is n't he? What distinction he confers upon the scene. Have you no teeth that need attending to? I should love to see you operated on by a practitioner like that, in the fresh air, under the azure canopy of heaven, in the eye of the world, fearless and unashamed. The long, rather rusty building opposite, with the pictures fading from its walls, is none other than the Palazzo Rosso, the cradle of your race. It can be visited between ten and four. I 've had a talk with our landlord's daughter—such a pretty girl. Her name—what do you suppose her name is? Her name is Pia. She has nice hair and eyes, and is a perfect cornucopia of information.—Ah, at last!" he sighed, pressing his hand to his heart, as the door opened, and the waiter appeared, bearing a tray.
Then, as the waiter set out the contents of his tray upon the table, Adrian, bending forward, examined them with the devoutness, with the intentness, of an impassioned connoisseur.
"Grilled ham, gallantine of chicken aux truffes, mortadella, an omelette aux fines herbes, coffee, hot milk, whipped cream, bread, figs, apricots," he enumerated. "And if it had n't been for my talk with the landlord's daughter, do you know what we should have had? We should have had coffee and bread and praeterea nihil. That's what we should have had," he pronounced tragically, shaking his head in retrospective consternation at the thing escaped. "Oh, these starveling Continental breakfasts! But I threw myself upon Pia's clemency. I paid her compliments upon her hair, upon her toilet. I called her Pia mia. I said that if I had only met her earlier in life, I should have been a very different person. I appealed to the woman in her. I explained to her that my hollow-cheeked companion, with the lack-lustre eye, was a star-crossed lover, and must be treated with exceptional tenderness. I said that nothing mitigated the tormento d'amore like beginning the day with a sustaining meal. I said you were a man of an unbounded stomach. I said you were subject to paroxysms of the most violent rage, and if you did n't get the proper variety and quantity of food, you 'd smash the furniture. I smiled upon her with my bonniest, blithest eyne. I ogled her. I chucked her under the chin. I did nothing of the sort. I was extremely dignified. But I told her of a dream I had last night—oh, such a lovely dream—and she was melted. What do you suppose I dreamed of? I dreamed of plump, juicy English sausages."
His face grew wistful, his voice sank. He piled his plate with ham and omelette.
"You 'd better write a song about it," fleered Anthony. "'The Homesick Glutton's Dream.'" Then, making a face, "Why did you order coffee?" he grumbled. "Why did n't you order tea?"
"Tut, don't be peevish," said Adrian. "Sit up, and tie your table-napkin round your neck, and try to be polite when the kind gentleman speaks to you. I did order tea. But tea at Sampaolo is regarded in the light of a pharmaceutical preparation. Pia said she thought I might be able to procure some at the farmacia. This omelette really is n't bad. You 'd better take some—before it disappears in the darkness."
But Anthony declined the omelette—and it disappeared in the darkness.
"Come, cheer up, goodman Dull," Adrian exhorted him, selecting the truffled portions from a plateful of gallantine. "'Men have died, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.' Ginger is still hot in the mouth, and there are more fish in the sea than have ever yet nibbled at your bait and spurned it. Do you know why there are no mosquitoes at Sampaolo, and no bandits? There are none—Pia gave me her word for it, Pia mia gave me her pretty feminine word. But do you know why? Pia told me why. The wind, Signore. The wind blows them away—away, away, and far away, over the bright blue sea. Every afternoon we get a wind, sweeping in from the north. Sometimes it is only a venticello, sometimes a temporale, sometimes an orogano terribile, but it is always sufficient to blow away the mosquitoes and the bandits. Pia told me so. Sweet Pia."
"Humph," said Anthony.
"Humph, by all means," Adrian hastened to agree. "I have a sort of humphy feeling myself—a sort of unsatisfied yearning, that is scarcely akin to pain, and resembles sorrow only as the mist resembles the rain. I think it may be imputed to inadequate nourishment. I think I will try some of that mortadella, if you 'll be so good as to pass it. Thank you. And another cup of coffee, with plenty of whipped cream on top, please. How cruel dairymaids must be, to whip such nice stuff as cream. But they 're cruel only to be kind, are n't they?—cruel to the cream, to be kind to us, the dear creatures. If you 'd give up smoking and drinking, you 'd have a healthy appetite yourself. Come! Be comforted. Cast off this green and yellow melancholy. Take me for your exemplar. I too, when I first visited my ancestral home, I too was filled with horror and resentment. I entered it screaming, as I am credibly informed, kicking and screaming, protesting with all the passion of latent genius, with all the force of a brand-new pair of lungs. But I 've enjoyed it very well ever since. Ah, the strange tale of Man. Conceived in sin, brought forth in pain, to live and amuse himself in an impenetrable environment of mystery—in an impenetrable fog. And never to see, of all things, his own face! To see the faces of others, to see the telescopic stars and the microscopic microbes, yet never to see his own face. And even the reflection, the shadow of it, which he can see in a looking-glass, even that he perforce sees a rebours. You can't deny it's rum. But if I had a face as long as yours, I solemnly believe, I should deem it likewise providential."
"To think, to think," Anthony, long-faced, was brooding, "that she in mere wilfulness has condemned me to a whole mortal week of this."
"We lunch," said Adrian, "at one, though Pia suggested twelve, and dine at seven, though Pia suggested six. At four we shall have a little goute—caffe con pasticceria—to take the place of tea. And now, if you can tear yourself from the pleasures of the table, let's be up and doing. We 'll begin with the Cathedral, and if we look sharp, we 'll be in time to hear a Mass. There are Masses every half hour till ten. Then the Palazzo Rosso. After luncheon and a brief siesta, Isola Nobile. And after our caffe con pasticceria, a donkey-ride in the country."
When they had heard their Mass, they were approached by the Sacristan, a little, shrunken, brown old man in a cassock, who offered to serve them as a guide. The church was very dim and very silent. Here and there a woman knelt at prayer; here and there a candle burned. The Sacristan removed the frontal from the High Altar, to show them the golden reliquary that enshrines the dust of San Guido, and unveiled the three fine altar-pieces, attributed to Giacomo Fiorentino, "San Guido Shipwrecked," "San Guide's Return," and "The Good Death of San Guido." He showed them also, in its glass case, the Sword of the Golden Thorn, reciting its history; and finally he conducted them to the crypt, where, under masses of sculptured ner'-antico, emblazoned with their armorials, some five-and-twenty generations of Valdeschi lie entombed. What were Anthony's emotions? He must have had emotions.
At the Palazzo Rosso they were invited to write their names and nationality in the visitors' book; and then a silver-haired, soft-voiced, gentle-mannered servitor in livery led them up the grand marble staircase and through an endless suite of airy, stately rooms—rooms with floors of polished concrete, displaying elaborate patterns, with tapestried walls and frescoed ceilings, with sparse but ancient and precious articles of furniture, chandeliers of Venetian glass, Venetian mirrors, and innumerable paintings, many of them portraits.
"It's astonishing," said Adrian, "how, by some occult process of selection, in spite of perpetual marriage with new blood, in spite of the thousand vicissitudes of time and circumstance, in a given family a particular feature will persist. There 's the Habsburg lip, for instance. And here is the Valdeschi nose. From generation to generation, from century to century, one can recognize in these dead forefathers of yours the identical nose that is on your face to-day."
It was quite true. Again and again you saw repeated the same high-bridged, slenderly aquiline nose.
"Sala del trono," announced their cicerone (only, he pronounced it Sa' do truno).
And there, sure enough, at the end of a vast chamber, was "the great scarlet throne, with the gilded coronet topping the canopy above," just as Susanna had described it. What were Anthony's emotions?
But the white-haired serving-man (as Adrian noticed) from time to time allowed his eyes to fix themselves studiously upon Anthony's face, and appeared to fall into a muse. Now he stopped before a high white-and-gold double-door. "The entrance to the private apartments," he said, and placed his hand upon the fancifully-wrought ormolu door-knob.
"Are the public admitted to the private apartments," Anthony doubted, holding back.
"No, Signore," said the old man. "But I think, if the Signore will pardon me, that the Signore's Excellency will be a connection of the family."
Anthony all but jumped.
"Why on earth should you think that?" he wondered.
"It's the persistent feature," said Adrian, in English, with a chuckle. "The Signore's Excellency is betrayed by the Signore's Excellency's beak."
"If the Signore will pardon me, I observed that the Signore's name, when he wrote in the visitors' book, was Crahforrdi of England," the old man explained. "But the Crahforrdi of England are a house cognate to ours. The consort of the Conte who was Conte when I had the honour of entering the family, nearly sixty years ago, was a Crahforrdi of England, a lordessa. Moreover it is in the Signore's face. If the Signori will favour me, it will give me great pleasure to show them what they will think is the Signore's own portrait."
In size and shape the private apartments were simply a continuation of the state apartments, but they were furnished in modern fashion, with a great deal of luxury, and, in so far as the enveloping brown hollands would permit one to opine, with a great deal of taste. "The family occupy this palace during the cold months only. In summer they make a villegglatura to Isola Nobile. Therefore you do not see these rooms at their best," the old man apologized. In what he described as the gabine'o segre'o of the Countess, over the fireplace, hung the full-length, life-size portrait of a gentleman, in the dress of eighteen-forty-something—high stock, flowered waistcoat, close-fitting buff trousers, and full-bottomed blue frock-coat, very tight above the hips.
"Count Antonio the Seventeenth, the last of our tyrants. The Signori will be aware that we were tyrants of Sampaolo for many centuries," said the old man, not without a touch of pride. Then, bowing to Anthony, "One would think properly the portrait of your Excellency."
Indeed, the face of the last of the tyrants and his grandson's face were surprisingly alike.
"Conte Antonio Decimose'mo was Conte when, as a lad, I had the honour to join the family," the old servant went on. "It was he who had for consort the Lordessa Crahforrdi of England. After his death, there was the Revolution, by which we annexed to Sampaolo another island called Sardinia. The Lordessa was taken prisoner in these rooms, with the Conte-figlio, and banished from the country. Then the King of Sardinia was elected tyrant of both islands, and the government was removed from Vallanza to Turin. That was many years ago, fifty years ago. When the Pope died, the government was again removed, and now it is at Rome."
"Oh? Is the Pope dead?" Adrian questioned.
"Che si, Signore—dupo lung' anni," the old man assured him.
They strolled about the town for a little, before returning to the hotel—through the narrow cobble-paved streets, with their alternations of splendour and squalor, their palaces, churches, hovels, their dark little shops, their neglected shrines, their vociferous population, their heterogeneous smells—and along the Riva, with its waterside bustle, its ships loading and unloading, and its unexampled view of bay and mountains.
"Do you see this stick?" asked Adrian, holding up his walking-stick.
"What about it?" asked Anthony.
"I 'm coming to that," said Adrian. "But first you must truthfully answer a question. Which end of this stick would you prefer to be—the bright silver handle or the earth-stained ferrule?"
"Don't know," said Anthony, with an air of weariness.
"Don't you?" marvelled Adrian. "How funny. Well, then, you must understand that this stick is but an emblem—a thing's sign. Now for the thing signified. Have you ever paused to moralize over the irony that determines the fates of families? Take, for example, a family that begins with a great man—a great soldier, a great saint, for instance—and then for evermore thereafter produces none but mediocrities. I hope you perceive the irony of that. But contrariwise, take a family that goes on for centuries producing mediocrities, and suddenly ends with the production of a genius. Take my family, just for a case in point. Here I come of a chain of progenitors reaching straight back to Adam; and of not one of them save Adam and myself, has the world ever heard. And even Adam owes his celebrity not in the least to his personal endowments, but solely to the unique character of his position. The First Man could n't help getting a certain reputation, would he, n'ould he. But from Adam to Adrian—silence. Then sudden silvery music. And Adrian—mark the predestination—Adrian is childless. He is the last link. With him the chain, five thousand years long, stops. He is the sudden brilliant flare-up of the fire before it goes out. Well, now, tell me—which end of this stick would you prefer to be? The shining silver handle, or the dull iron other end?"
They were conveyed to Isola Nobile in one of those long slender Sampaolese vipere—boats that are a good deal like gondolas, except that they have no felze, and carry a short mast at the bow, with a sail that is only spread when the wind is directly aft. I suppose the palace at Isola Nobile is one of the most beautiful in the world, with its four mellow-toned marble facades rising sheer out of the water, with its long colonnades, its graceful moresque windows, and the variety, profusion, and lace-like delicacy of its carved and incised details. Here again they had to write their names in the visitors' book, and again a servant (this time a young and rather taciturn person) led them through countless vast and splendid rooms, far more splendid than those at the Palazzo Rosso, rooms rich with porphyry, alabaster, mosaics, gilded flourishes and arabesques of stucco, and containing many treasures of painting and sculpture, some of which, I believe, even the sceptical Morellists allow to be actually the handiwork of the artists to whom they are ascribed. But so far from there being any question of their visiting the private apartments at Isola Nobile, their guide, at one point in their progress, sprang forward and hurriedly closed a door that had stood open, and through which they had caught a glimpse of a pleasantly furnished library. By and by they were passed on to a gardener, who showed them the gardens on Isola Fratello and Isola Sorella, with their camphor-trees and cedars, their oranges, oleanders, magnolias, laurels, their terraces, whence thousands of lizards whisked away at the approach of Man, their fountains, grottoes, temples, their peacocks, flamingoes, and tame ring-doves, and always, always, with that wonderful outlook upon the bay and its girdle of sun-bathed hills. The gardener plucked many flowers for them, so that they returned to Vallanza with armfuls of roses, lilies, oleanders, and jessamine.
Later that afternoon, Adrian having gone alone for his donkey-ride in the country (more power to the back of the donkey!), Anthony was seated by the open window of his bedroom, in a state of deep depression. All at once, between the two promontories that form the entrance to the bay, the Capo del Papa and the Capo del Turco, appeared, heading for Vallanza, a white steamer, clearly, from its size and lines, a yacht—a very bright and gay object to look upon, as it gleamed in the sun and crisped the blue waters. And all at once, his eye automatically following it, Anthony experienced a perfectly inexplicable lightening of the heart,—as if, indeed, the white yacht were bringing something good to him. It was absurd, but he could not help it. Somehow, his depression left him, and a feeling almost of joyousness took its place.
"She said she loved me—she said she loved me," he remembered. "And at the farthest," he reflected, "at the farthest I shall be with her again in nine little days."
He got out the fan that he had stolen, and pressed it to his face. He got out his writing-materials, and wrote her a long, cheerful, impassioned letter.
His change of mood was all the more noteworthy, perhaps, because the yacht chanced to be the Fiorimondo, bearing the Countess of Sampaolo and her suite from Venice, whither it had proceeded two days before, upon orders telegraphed from Paris.
Adrian, coming in, saw Anthony's letter, superscribed and stamped, lying on the table.
"I 'm posting a lot of stuff of my own," he said. "Shall I post this with it?"
Had Susanna admitted him to her confidence? How otherwise could it have befallen, as it did, that she received Anthony's letter, which was of course addressed to Craford, at Isola Nobile no later than that very evening?
She read it, smiling.
"Which of the many villas that overlook the bay and are visible from my window, with their white walls and dark-green gardens,—which is yours?" he questioned. "All day I have been wondering. That is the single thing that really stirs me here, that really gives me a feeling—its association with you. All day I have been hearing a sonnet of Ronsard's—do you remember it?—Voicy le bois. But I wish I knew which villa is your villa, which garden is your garden. Why did n't I find out before I was driven from Paradise? I could easily find out here by inquiring, I suppose. But your name is too sacred. I can't profane it by speaking it aloud to people who might not bare their heads at the sound of it."
And on another page (the letter was eight pages long) he said:—
"It is all very beautiful, of course,—the way the town piles itself up against the hillside, the pink and yellow and lilac blondeur of the houses, the olive gardens, the radiant sky overhead,—it is all very picturesque and beautiful. But I am not hungry for beauty—at least, for this beauty. If you were here with me,—ah, then indeed! But you are not here, and I am hungry for Craford. There was a time when Craford used to seem to me the tritest spot in Europe, and the thought of Italy was luminous of everything romantic, of everything to be desired. There was a time when nothing gave me such joy as to wake and remember, 'I am in Italy—in Italy—in Italy!'—in Rome or Florence or Venice, as the case might be. But the times have changed, have changed. You were in Italy in those days, and now you are at Craford. Italy is dust and ashes. I hunger for Craford as the only place in the world where life is life."
And on still another page:—
"I can't deny that I got a certain emotion in the grey old Cathedral. For so many generations one's people were baptized there, married there, buried there. And then how many times must you have worshipped there, heard holy Mass there. They showed us the relics of San Guido and the Spina d'Oro, of course, and—well, one is n't made of wood. I tried to make up my mind in what part of the church you usually knelt, which prie-dieu was your prie-dieu,—I 'm afraid without any very notable success. But one felt something like a faint afterglow of your presence, and it made one's heart beat. Again at the Palazzo Rosso, under the eyes of all those motionless and silent, dead and gone Valdeschi, in their armour, in their ruffs and puffs and periwigs, one could n't be entirely wooden. The servant who showed us about, an old man who said he had been in the family for I forget how many hundred years, hailed me as a 'cognate,' having recognized the name of Craford, and thereupon inducted us into the appartamenti segreti, to exhibit a portrait of my grandsire. Wood itself, I dare say, must have vibrated a little at that. In the throne-room I was suddenly caught up and whisked away, back to a rainy afternoon at Craford; and I walked beside you on the cliffs, and heard your voice, and rejoiced in the sense of your nearness to me, and in your adorable beauty, as you breasted the wind, with the sea and the sky for a background. (Do you remember? Do you remember how keen and sweet the air was, with the scent of the wild thyme? and how the sand-martins circled round us?) As we passed through the long, bare, imposing rooms, something like a shadow of you seemed to flit before us. Or if I glanced out of one of the tall windows, it seemed as if you had just passed under them, along the Riva or across the Piazza. As for Isola Nobile, if I regret that it is n't mine, that is chiefly because I should be glad to be in a position to offer so very lordly and lovely a pleasure-house to you."
Towards the end he wrote:—
"I look at the sea and I realize that it is continuous from here to England, from here to Rowland Marshes; and it seems somehow to connect us, to keep us in touch. Perhaps you, too, are looking at it at this same moment. I fancy you walking on your terrace, and looking off upon the grey-blue sea. It seems somehow to connect us. But there is no grey in the blue of the sea here—it is blue, blue, unmitigated, almost dazzling blue, save where in the sun it turns to quite dazzling white, or in the deeper shadows takes on tints that are almost crimson, tints of lie-de-vin. Oh, why are n't you here? If you were here, I think a veil would fall from before my eyes, and I should see everything differently. I could imagine myself loving Sampaolo—if you were here. In nine days—nine days! And to-morrow it will be only eight days, and the day after to-morrow only seven. Only do I say? I count in that fashion to keep my courage up. Nine days! Why can't those nine eternities be annihilated from the calendar? Why does n't some kind person kill me, and then call me back to life in nine days? Oh, it was cruel of you, cruel, cruel."
Susanna looked out of her window, across the dark bay, to where the electric lamps along the Riva threw wavering fronds of light upon the water. She kissed her hand, and wafted the kiss (as nearly as the darkness would let her guess) in the direction of the Piazza San Guido. Then she went into the library, and hunted for a volume of Ronsard.
There are two men, as they that know Sampaolo will not need to be reminded, two young men, who, during the summer months, pervade the island. In winter they go to Rome, or to Nice, or to England for the hunting; but in summer they pervade Sampaolo, where they have a villa just outside Vallanza, as well as the dark old palace of their family in the town.
The twin brothers, Franco and Baldo del Ponte—who that has once met them can ever forget them? To begin with, they are giants—six-feet-four, and stalwart in proportion. Then they are handsome giants, with good, strong, regular features, close-cropped brown hair that tends to curl, and hearty open-air complexions. Then they are jolly, pleasant-tempered, simple-minded and clean-minded giants. Then they are indefatigable giants—indefatigable in the pursuit of open-air amusements: now in their sailing-boats, now in their motor-cars, or on horse-back, or driving their four-in-hands. And finally, being Italians, they are Anglophile giants;—like so many of the Italian aristocracy, they are more English than the English. They are rigorously English in their dress, for instance; they have all their clothes from London, and these invariably of the latest mode. They give English names to their sailing-boats—the Mermaid, the Seagull. They employ none but Englishmen in their stables, which are of English design, with English fittings. They have English dogs,—fox-terriers, bull-terriers, collies,—also with English names, Toby, Jack, Spark, Snap, and so forth. They speak English with only the remotest trace of foreignness—were they not educated at Eton, and at Trinity College, Cambridge? And they would fain Anglicise, not merely the uniform of the Italian police, but the Italian constitution. "What Italy needs," they will assure you, looking wondrous wise, "is a House of Peers." Their Italian friends laugh at them a good deal; but I suspect that under the laughter there is a certain admiration, if not even (for, as Italian fortunes go, theirs is an immense one) a certain envy.
Is all this apropos of boots, you wonder? No, for behold—
After breakfast, on the following morning, Adrian was alone, enjoying a meditative digestion, in the sitting-room at the Hotel de Rome, when he saw come bowling along the Riva, turn rattling into the Piazza, and draw up at the inn door, a very English-looking dog-cart, driven by a huge young man in tweeds, with an apparent replica of himself beside him, and an English-looking groom behind. The two huge young men descended; he who had driven said something inaudible to the groom; and the groom, touching his hat, answered: "Yes, my lord."
"So," thought Adrian, "we are not the only Britons in this island. I wonder who my lord is."
And then, nothing if not consequent, he began to sing, softly to himself—
"Lord of thy presence, and no land besi-i-ide . . ."
And he was still softly carolling that refrain, when the door of the sitting-room was opened.
"Marchese del Ponte, Marchese Baldo del Ponte," announced the waiter, with sympathetic exhilaration, flourishing his inseparable napkin.
The two huge young men entered. The room seemed all at once to contract, and become half its former size.
"Ah, Count," said one of them, advancing, and getting hold of Adrian's hand. "How do you do? I am the Marchese del Ponte; this is my brother, the Marchese Baldo. Welcome to Sampaolo. We are your connections, you know. Our ancestors have intermarried any time these thousand years."
Adrian's rosy face was wreathed in his most amiable smiles.
"How do you do? I 'm very glad to see you. Won't you take chairs?" he responded, and hospitably pushed chairs forward. "But I 'm afraid," he added, shaking his head, still smiling, "I 'm afraid I 'm not a count."
"Ah, yes," said Baldo, "we know you don't use your title."
"You 're a count all right, whether you use your title or not," said Franco. "Noblesse is in the bone. You can't get rid of it."
"Your great-grandmother was a Ponte," said Baldo, "and our own grandmother was a Valdeschi, your grandfather's cousin."
"Really?" said Adrian, pleasantly. "But I 'm afraid," he explained to Franco, "that there is n't any noblesse in my bones. I 'm afraid I 'm just a plain commoner."
"Oh, you refer to the Act of Proscription—I understand," said Franco. "But that was utterly invalid—a mere piece of political stage-play. The Italian government had no more power to proscribe your title than it would have to proscribe an English peerage,—no jurisdiction. It could create a new Count of Sampaolo, which it did; but it could n't abolish the dignity of the existing Count—a dignity that was ancient centuries before the Italian government was dreamed of. You 're a count all right."
"I see," said Adrian. "And are you, then," he inferred, with sprightly interest, "agin the government?"
The familiar formula appeared to tickle the two young Anglophiles inordinately. They greeted it with deep-chested laughter.
"We 're not exactly agin the government," Baldo answered, "but we believe in remodelling it. What Italy needs"—he looked a very Solon; and his brother nodded concurrence in his opinion—-"is a House of Lords."
"I see—I see," said Adrian.
"We want you to come and stay with us," said Franco. "We 've a villa half a mile up the Riva. You 'd be more comfortable there than here, and it would give us the greatest pleasure to have you."
"The greatest possible pleasure," cordially echoed Baldo.
"You 're exceedingly good," said Adrian. "And I should be most happy. But I 'm afraid—"
"Not another word," protested Franco. "You 'll come. That' s settled."
"That's settled," echoed Baldo.
"We 'll send down for your traps this afternoon," said Franco. "Have you a man with you? No? Then we 'll send Grimes. He 'll pack for you, and bring up your traps. But we hope to carry you off with us now—in time for luncheon."
"I don't know how to thank you," said Adrian. "But I 'm afraid—I hate to destroy an illusion, yet in honesty I must—I 'm afraid I 'm not the person you take me for. I 'm afraid there's a misapprehension. I—"
"Oh, we 'll respect your incog all right, if that's what's troubling you," promised Baldo. "You shall be Mr. Anthony Craford."
"Craford of Craford," Franco corrected him.
"But there it is," said Adrian. "Now see how I 'm forced to disappoint you. I 'm awfully sorry, but I 'm not Mr. Anthony Craford—no, nor Craford of Craford, either."
"What?" puzzled Franco.
"Not Craford?" puzzled Baldo.
"No," said Adrian, sadly. "I 'm awfully sorry, but my name is Willes."
"Willes?" said Franco. "But it was Craford in the visitors' book at the Palazzo Rosso. That's how we knew you were here."
"My brother is the Hereditary Constable of the Palace," said Baldo. "It is now merely an honorary office. But the visitors' book is brought to him whenever there have been any visitors."
"And we inquired for Craford downstairs," supplemented Franco. "And they said you were at home, and showed us up."
"I 'm awfully sorry," repeated Adrian. "But Craford and I are as distinct as night and morning. Craford has gone out for a solitary walk. My name is Willes. Craford and I are travelling together."
"Oh, I see," cried Franco; and slapping his thigh, "Ho, ho, ho," he laughed.
"Ho, ho, ho," laughed Baldo. "We were jolly well sold."
"We—ho, ho—we got the wrong sow by the ear," laughed Franco.
"We put the saddle on the wrong horse—ho, ho," laughed Baldo.
"We 're delighted to make your acquaintance, all the same," said Franco.
"And we hold you to your promise—you 're to come and stay with us—you and Craford both," said Baldo.
"Yes—there 's no getting out of that. We count upon you," said Franco.
"So far as I 'm concerned, I should be charmed," said Adrian. "But I can't speak for Craford. He 's a bit run down and out of sorts. I 'm not sure whether he 'll feel that he 's in a proper state for paying visits. But here he comes."
He inclined his head towards a window, through which Anthony could be seen crossing the Piazza.
"By Jove!" exclaimed Franco. "I should have known him for a Valdeschi anywhere. He 's exactly like a portrait of his grandfather in the Palazzo Rosso."
"By Jove, so he is," exclaimed Baldo.
And, to Adrian's surprise, when the introductions were accomplished, and the invitation was repeated to him, Anthony at once accepted.
"I 've given orders for my four-in-hand to come round here and pick us up," said Franco. "Shall we all go for a spin, and get an appetite for luncheon?"
"In the afternoon, if there 's a breeze, I propose a sail," said Baldo. "I 've just got a new boat out from England, schooner-rigged, the Spindrift. I 've not yet really had a fair chance to try her."
"Do you go in for tennis?" asked Franco. "We 've got a court at the villa."
"I don't know whether you care for swimming," said Baldo. "You get a fairly decent dive-off from the landing-stage at the end of our garden. The water here is pooty good. My brother and I generally go for a swim before dinner."
"Ah, here 's Tom with the four-in-hand," said Franco. And then, with a readiness for self-effacement that was surely less British than the language in which it found expression, "Would you care to take the ribbons, Count?" he asked. And when Anthony had declined, "Would you, Willes?" he proceeded.
"Not just at the start, thanks," said Adrian. "I should like to watch 'em step a bit first."
The hypocrite. As if he would have known what to do with the ribbons, had they been given to him.
So Franco took them himself, while Baldo blew the horn.
"Have you visited Castel San Guido yet?" Franco questioned. "Shall we make that our objective?"
They drove up and up, round and round the winding road that leads to Castel San Guido, where it clings to the almost vertical mountainside. For the greater part the road was bordered by olive orchards, but sometimes there were vineyards, sometimes groves of walnut-trees, clumps of stone-pines, or fields of yellowing maize, and everywhere there were oleanders growing wild, and always there was the view.
Castel San Guido is very like a hundred other mediaeval castles, a grim old fortress, with walls of I forget what prodigious thickness, with round towers pierced by sinister-looking meutrieres, and crowned by battlements, with bare stone courts, stone halls, cold and dimly lighted, and a dismantled stone chapel. But I dare say the descendant of San Guido (not being made of wood) had his emotions. And the view was magnificent—Vallanza below, its red roofs burning in the sun, the purple bay, the olive-mantled hills, with a haze of gold-dust and pearl-dust brooding over them, and white-walled villages shining in twenty improbable situations, with their dark cypresses and slender campanili.
They had toiled up slowly, but they came spinning back at a tremendous pace, down the steep gradients, round the perilous curves, while Franco, his jaws shut tight, his brows drawn together, gave all his attention to his horses, Baldo merrily wound his horn, Anthony smoked cigarettes, and Adrian, for dear life, with his heart in his mouth, held hard to the seat-rail at his side. I think he pushed a very genuine ouf, when, without accident, they had regained the level ground.
The Villa del Ponte is a long grey rectangular building, as severe in outward aspect as a barrack or a prison, in a garden that stretches right away to the sea-wall, a garden full of palms, oranges, tall, feathery eucalyptus-trees, and lizards, perfectly Italian. But no sooner do you pass the portal of the house, than you leave Italy, as on a magic-carpet, and find yourself in the seventh circle of England, amid English furniture, English books, English periodicals, daily, weekly, monthly, (the Pink 'un perhaps the most conspicuous), and between walls embellished by English sporting-pictures and the masks and brushes of English foxes. "We hunt a good bit, you know," said Franco. "We've a little box in Northamptonshire, and hunt with the Pytchley. We both have the button." One was n't in the least surprised when an English voice, proceeding from the smuggest of smooth-shaven English countenances, informed my lord that luncheon was served.
After luncheon they sailed in the Spindrift. After that, (to Adrian's delight, I hope) they had tea, with plenty of buttered toast. Then they played tennis. Then they went for a breathless whirl along the Riva in a motor-car. Then they swam. And after dinner they played billiards, while Franco and Baldo smoked short pipes, and sipped whiskey and soda—but a half-pennyworth of whiskey, as Adrian noticed, to an intolerable deal of soda. Blood will tell, and theirs, in spite of everything, was abstemious Italian blood.
"Now, Commendatore," said Susanna, making her face grave, "listen, and you shall hear"—but then her gravity broke down—"of the midnight ride of Paul Revere," she concluded, laughing.
She raised her eyes to his, aglow with that tender, appealing, mocking, defiant smile of hers. He, poor man, smiled too, though not very happily, I fear—nay, even with a kind of suspicious bewilderment, as one who sniffs brewing mischief, but knows not of what particular variety it will be. They were seated in the shade and the coolness of a long open colonnade at Isola Nobile, while, all round them, the August morning, like a thing alive, pulsated with warmth and light, and the dancing waves of the bay lapped musically against the walls below. The Commendatore was clad in stiffly-starched white duck, and held a white yachting-cap in his hand. Susanna wore a costume of some cool gauzy tissue, pearl-grey, with white ruffles that looked as impalpable as froth.