By Jean Webster Author of "When Patty Went to College," etc.
With Illustrations by Orson Lowell
New York The Century Co. 1907
Copyright, 1907, by THE CENTURY CO.
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Copyright, 1906, 1907, by THE CROWELL PUBLISHING COMPANY
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Published April, 1907
THE DE VINNE PRESS
List of Illustrations
"Constance studied the mountains a moment" Frontispiece
"'Hello, Gustavo! Is that for me?'" 5
"The fourth girl, with gray eyes and yellow-brown hair, was sitting at ease on the balustrade" 23
"Giuseppe still made a feint of preoccupation" 29
"He had also shifted his position so that he might command the profile of the girl" 45
Beppo and the donkeys 67
"Constance clasped her hands in an ecstasy of admiration" 71
"Constance ahead on Fidilini, an officer marching at each side of her saddle" 85
"She seated herself in the deep embrasure of a window close beside Tony's parapet" 95
"The man bowed with a gesture which made her free of the book" 119
"She turned the pages and paused at the week's entries" 133
"Constance ripped the letter open and read it aloud" 149
"Nannie caught sight of the visitors first, and came running forward to meet them" 199
"The two mounted the steps of the jail and jerked the bell" 253
"Never before had he had such overwhelming reason to doubt his senses" 273
The courtyard of the Hotel du Lac, furnished with half a dozen tables and chairs, a red and green parrot chained to a perch, and a shady little arbor covered with vines, is a pleasant enough place for morning coffee, but decidedly too sunny for afternoon tea. It was close upon four of a July day, when Gustavo, his inseparable napkin floating from his arm, emerged from the cool dark doorway of the house and scanned the burning vista of tables and chairs. He would never, under ordinary circumstances, have interrupted his siesta for the mere delivery of a letter; but this particular letter was addressed to the young American man, and young American men, as every head waiter knows, are an unreasonably impatient lot. The court-yard was empty, as he might have foreseen, and he was turning with a patient sigh towards the long arbor that led to the lake, when the sound of a rustling paper in the summer house deflected his course. He approached the doorway and looked inside.
The young American man, in white flannels with a red guide-book protruding from his pocket, was comfortably stretched in a lounging chair engaged with a cigarette and a copy of the Paris Herald. He glanced up with a yawn—excusable under the circumstances—but as his eye fell upon the letter he sprang to his feet.
"Hello, Gustavo! Is that for me?"
"Ecco! She is at last arrive, ze lettair for which you haf so moch weesh." He bowed a second time and presented it. "Meestair Jayreen Ailyar!"
The young man laughed.
"I don't wish to hurt your feelings, Gustavo, but I'm not sure I should answer if my eyes were shut."
He picked up the letter, glanced at the address to make sure—the name was Jerymn Hilliard Jr.—and ripped it open with an exaggerated sigh of relief. Then he glanced up and caught Gustavo's expression. Gustavo came of a romantic race; there was a gleam of sympathetic interest in his eye.
"Oh, you needn't look so knowing! I suppose you think this is a love letter? Well it's not. It is, since you appear to be interested, a letter from my sister informing me that they will arrive tonight, and that we will pull out for Riva by the first boat tomorrow morning. Not that I want to leave you, Gustavo, but—Oh, thunder!"
He finished the reading in a frowning silence while the waiter stood at polite attention, a shade of anxiety in his eye—there was usually anxiety in his eye when it rested on Jerymn Hilliard Jr. One could never foresee what the young man would call for next. Yesterday he had rung the bell and demanded a partner to play lawn tennis, as if the hotel kept partners laid away in drawers like so many sheets.
He crumpled up the letter and stuffed it in his pocket.
"I say, Gustavo, what do you think of this? They're going to stay in Lucerne till the tenth—that's next week—and they hope I don't mind waiting; it will be nice for me to have a rest. A rest, man, and I've already spent three days in Valedolmo!"
"Si, signore, you will desire ze same room?" was as much as Gustavo thought.
"Ze same room? Oh, I suppose so."
He sank back into his chair and plunged his hands into his pockets with an air of sombre resignation. The waiter hovered over him, divided between a desire to return to his siesta, and a sympathetic interest in the young man's troubles. Never before in the history of his connection with the Hotel du Lac had Gustavo experienced such a munificent, companionable, expansive, entertaining, thoroughly unique and inexplicable guest. Even the fact that he was American scarcely accounted for everything.
The young man raised his head and eyed his companion gloomily.
"Gustavo, have you a sister?"
"A sister?" Gustavo's manner was uncomprehending but patient. "Si, signore, I have eight sister."
"Eight! Merciful saints. How do you manage to be so cheerful?"
"Tree is married, signore, one uvver is betrofed, one is in a convent, one is dead and two is babies."
"I see—they're pretty well disposed of; but the babies will grow up, Gustavo, and as for that betrothed one, I should still be a little nervous if I were you; you can never be sure they are going to stay betrothed. I hope she doesn't spend her time chasing over the map of Europe making appointments with you to meet her in unheard of little mountain villages where the only approach to Christian reading matter is a Paris Herald four days old, and then doesn't turn up to keep her appointments?"
Gustavo blinked. His supple back achieved another bow.
"Sank you," he murmured.
"And you don't happen to have an aunt?"
"An aunt, signore?" There was vagueness in his tone.
"Yes, Gustavo, an aunt. A female relative who reads you like an open book, who sees your faults and skips your virtues, who remembers how dear and good and obliging your father was at your age, who hoped great things of you when you were a baby, who had intended to make you her heir but has about decided to endow an orphan asylum—have you, Gustavo, by chance an aunt?"
"I do not think you grasp my question. An aunt—the sister of your father, or perhaps your mother."
A gleam of illumination swept over Gustavo's troubled features.
"Ecco! You would know if I haf a zia—a aunt—yes, zat is it. A aunt. Sicuramente, signore, I haf ten—leven aunt."
"Eleven aunts! Before such a tragedy I am speechless; you need say no more, Gustavo, from this moment we are friends."
He held out his hand. Gustavo regarded it dazedly; then, since it seemed to be expected, he gingerly presented his own. The result was a shining newly-minted two-lire piece. He pocketed it with a fresh succession of bows.
"Grazie tanto! Has ze signore need of anysing?"
"Have I need of anysing?" There was reproach, indignation, disgust in the young man's tone. "How can you ask such a question, Gustavo? Here am I, three days in Valedolmo, with seven more stretching before me. I have plenty of towels and soap and soft-boiled eggs, if that is what you mean; but a man's spirit cannot be nourished on soap and soft-boiled eggs. What I need is food for the mind—diversion, distraction, amusement—no, Gustavo, you needn't offer me the Paris Herald again. I already know by heart the list of guests in every hotel in Switzerland."
"Ah, it is diversion zat you wish? Have you seen zat ver' beautiful Luini in ze chapel of San Bartolomeo? It is four hundred years old."
"Yes, Gustavo, I have seen the Luini in the chapel of San Bartolomeo. I derived all the pleasure to be got out of it the first afternoon I came."
"Ze garden of Prince Sartonio-Crevelli? Has ze signore seen ze cedar of Lebanon in ze garden of ze prince?"
"Yes, Gustavo, the signore has seen the cedar of Lebanon in the garden of the prince, also the ilex tree two hundred years old and the india-rubber plant from South America. They are extremely beautiful but they don't last a week."
"Have you swimmed in ze lake?"
"It is lukewarm, Gustavo."
The waiter's eyes roved anxiously. They lighted on the lunette of shimmering water and purple mountains visible at the farther end of the arbor.
"Zere is ze view," he suggested humbly. "Ze view from ze water front is consider ver' beautiful, ver' nice. Many foreigners come entirely for him. You can see Lago di Garda, Monte Brione, Monte Baldo wif ze ruin castle of ze Scaliger, Monte Maggiore, ze Altissimo di Nago, ze snow cover peak of Monte—"
Mr. Jerymn Hilliard Jr. stopped him with a gesture.
"That will do; I read Baedeker myself, and I saw them all the first night I came. You must know at your age, Gustavo, that a man can't enjoy a view by himself; it takes two for that sort of thing—Yes, the truth is that I am lonely. You can see yourself to what straits I am pushed for conversation. If I had your command of language, now, I would talk to the German Alpine climbers."
An idea flashed over Gustavo's features.
"Ah, zat is it! Why does not ze signore climb mountains? Ver' helful; ver' diverting. I find guide."
"You needn't bother. Your guide would be Italian, and it's too much of a strain to talk to a man all day in dumb show." He folded his arms with a weary sigh. "A week of Valedolmo! An eternity!"
Gustavo echoed the sigh. Though he did not entirely comprehend the trouble, still he was of a generously sympathetic nature.
"It is a pity," he observed casually, "zat you are not acquaint wif ze Signor Americano who lives in Villa Rosa. He also finds Valedolmo undiverting. He comes—but often—to talk wif me. He has fear of forgetting how to spik Angleesh, he says."
The young man opened his eyes.
"What are you talking about—a Signor Americano here in Valedolmo?"
"Sicuramente, in zat rose-color villa wif ze cypress trees and ze terrazzo on ze lake. His daughter, la Signorina Costantina, she live wif him—ver' yong, ver' beautiful—" Gustavo rolled his eyes and clasped his hands—"beautiful like ze angels in Paradise—and she spik Italia like I spik Angleesh."
Jerymn Hilliard Jr. unfolded his arms and sat up alertly.
"You mean to tell me that you had an American family up your sleeve all this time and never said a word about it?" His tone was stern.
"Scusi, signore, I have not known zat you have ze plaisir of zer acquaintance."
"The pleasure of their acquaintance! Good heavens, Gustavo, when one ship-wrecked man meets another ship-wrecked man on a desert island must they be introduced before they can speak?"
"And why, may I ask, should an intelligent American family be living in Valedolmo?"
"I do not know, signore. I have heard ze Signor Papa's healf was no good, and ze doctors in Americk' zay say to heem, 'you need change, to breave ze beautiful climate of Italia.' And he say, 'all right, I go to Valedolmo.' It is small, signore, but ver' famosa. Oh, yes, molto famosa. In ze autumn and ze spring foreigners come from all ze world—Angleesh, French, German—tutti! Ze Hotel du Lac is full. Every day we turn peoples away."
"So! I seem to have struck the wrong season.—But about this American family, what's their name?"
"La familia Veeldair from Nuovo York."
"Veeldair." He shook his head. "That's not American, Gustavo, at least when you say it. But never mind, if they come from New York it's all right. How many are there—just two?"
"But no! Ze papa and ze signorina and ze—ze—" he rolled his eyes in search of the word—"ze aunt!"
"Another aunt! The sky appears to be raining aunts today. What does she do for amusement—the signorina who is beautiful as the angels?"
Gustavo spread out his hands.
"Valedolmo, signore, is on ze frontier. It is—what you say—garrison citta. Many soldiers, many officers—captains, lieutenants, wif uniforms and swords. Zay take tea on ze terrazzo wif ze Signor Papa and ze Signora Aunt, and most specialmente wif ze Signorina Costantina. Ze Signor Papa say he come for his healf, but if you ask me, I sink maybe he come to marry his daughter."
"I see! And yet, Gustavo, American papas are generally not so keen as you might suppose about marrying their daughters to foreign captains and lieutenants even if they have got uniforms and swords. I shouldn't be surprised if the Signor Papa were just a little nervous over the situation. It seems to me there might be an opening for a likely young fellow speaking the English language, even if he hasn't a uniform and sword. How does he strike you?"
"I'm glad you agree with me. It is now five minutes past four; do you think the American family would be taking a siesta?"
"I do not know, signore." Gustavo's tone was still patient.
"And whereabouts is the rose-colored villa with the terrace on the lake?"
"It is a quarter of a hour beyond ze Porta Sant' Antonio. If ze gate is shut you ring at ze bell and Giuseppe will open. But ze road is ver' hot and ver' dusty. It is more cooler to take ze paf by ze lake. Straight to ze left for ten minutes and step over ze wall; it is broken in zat place and quite easy."
"Thank you, that is a wise suggestion; I shall step over the wall by all means." He jumped to his feet and looked about for his hat. "You turn to the left and straight ahead for ten minutes? Good-bye then till dinner. I go in search of the Signorina Costantina who is beautiful as the angels in Paradise, and who lives in a rose-colored villa set in a cypress grove on the shores of Lake Garda—not a bad setting for romance, is it, Gustavo?—Dinner, I believe, is at seven o'clock?"
"Si, signore, at seven; and would you like veal cooked Milanese fashion?"
"Nothing would please me more. We have only had veal Milanese fashion five times since I came."
He waved his hand jauntily and strolled whistling down the arbor that led to the lake. Gustavo looked after him and shook his head. Then he took out the two-lire piece and rang it on the table. The metal rang true. He shrugged his shoulders and turned back indoors to order the veal.
The terrace of Villa Rosa juts out into the lake, bordered on three sides by a stone parapet, and shaded above by a yellow-ochre awning. Masses of oleanders hang over the wall and drop pink petals into the blue waters below. As a study in color the terrace is perfect, but, like the court-yard of the Hotel du Lac, decidedly too hot for mid-afternoon. To the right of the terrace, however, is a shady garden set in alleys of cypress trees, and separated from the lake by a strip of beach and a low balustrade. There could be no better resting place for a warm afternoon.
It was close upon four—five minutes past to be accurate—and the usual afternoon quiet that enveloped the garden had fled before the garrulous advent of four girls. Three of them, with black eyes and blacker hair, were kneeling on the beach thumping and scrubbing a pile of linen. In spite of their chatter they were working busily, and the grass beyond the water-wall was already white with bleaching sheets, while a lace trimmed petticoat fluttered from a near-by oleander, and a row of silk stockings stretched the length of the parapet. The most undeductive observer would have guessed by this time that the pink villa, visible through the trees, contained no such modern conveniences as stationary tubs.
The fourth girl, with gray eyes and yellow-brown hair, was sitting at ease on the balustrade, fanning herself with a wide brimmed hat and dangling her feet, clad in white tennis shoes, over the edge. She wore a suit of white linen cut sailor fashion, low at the throat and with sleeves rolled to the elbows. She looked very cool and comfortable and free as she talked, with the utmost friendliness, to the three girls below. Her Italian, to an unaccustomed ear, was exactly as glib as theirs.
The washer-girls were dressed in the gayest of peasant clothes—green and scarlet petticoats, flowered kerchiefs, coral beads and flashing earrings; you would have to go far into the hills in these degenerate days before meeting their match on an Italian highway. But the girl on the wall, who was actual if not titular ruler of the domain of Villa Rosa, possessed a keen eye for effect; and—she plausibly argued—since one must have washer-women about, why not, in the name of all that is beautiful, have them in harmony with tradition and the landscape? Accordingly, she designed and purchased their costumes herself.
There drifted presently into sight from around the little promontory that hid the village, a blue and white boat with yellow lateen sails. She was propelled gondolier fashion, for the wind was a mere breath, by a picturesque youth in a suit of dark blue with white sash and flaring collar—the hand of the girl on the wall was here visible also.
The boat fluttering in toward shore, looked like a giant butterfly; and her name, emblazoned in gold on her prow, was, appropriately, the Farfalla. Earlier in the season, with a green hull and a dingy brown sail, she had been prosaically enough, the Maria. But since the advent of the girl all this had been changed. The Farfalla dropped her yellow wings with the air of a salute, and lighted at the foot of the water-steps under the terrace. The girl on the parapet leaned forward eagerly.
"Did you get any mail, Giuseppe?" she called.
"Si, signorina." He scrambled up the steps and presented a copy of the London Times.
She received it with a shrug. Clearly, she felt little interest in the London Times. Giuseppe took himself back to his boat and commenced fussing about its fittings, dusting the seats, plumping up the cushions, with an air of absorption which deceived nobody. The signorina watched him a moment with amused comprehension, then she called peremptorily:
"Giuseppe, you know you must spade the garden border."
Poor Giuseppe, in spite of his nautical costume, was man of all work. He glanced dismally toward the garden border which lay basking in the sunshine under the wall that divided Villa Rosa from the rest of the world. It contained every known flower which blossoms in July in the kingdom of Italy from camellias and hydrangeas to heliotrope and wall flowers. Its spading was a complicated business and it lay too far off to permit of conversation. Giuseppe was not only a lazy, but also a social soul.
"Signorina," he suggested, "would you not like a sail?"
She shook her head. "There is not wind enough and it is too hot and too sunny."
"But yes, there's a wind, and cool—when you get out on the lake. I will put up the awning, signorina, the sun shall not touch you."
She continued to shake her head and her eyes wandered suggestively to the hydrangeas, but Giuseppe still made a feint of preoccupation. Not being a cruel mistress, she dropped the subject, and turned back to her conversation with the washer-girls. They were discussing—a pleasant topic for a sultry summer afternoon—the probable content of Paradise. The three girls were of the opinion that it was made up of warm sunshine and cool shade, of flowers and singing birds and sparkling waters, of blue skies and cloud-capped mountains—not unlike, it will be observed, the very scene which at the moment stretched before them. In so much they were all agreed, but there were several debatable points. Whether the stones were made of gold, and whether the houses were not gold too, and, that being the case, whether it would not hurt your eyes to look at them. Marietta declared, blasphemously, as the others thought, that she preferred a simple gray stone villa or at most one of pink stucco, to all the golden edifices that Paradise contained.
It was by now fifteen minutes past four, and a spectator had arrived, though none of the five were aware of his presence. The spectator was standing on the wall above the garden border examining with appreciation the idyllic scene below him, and with most particular appreciation, the dainty white-clad person of the girl on the balustrade. He was wondering—anxiously—how he might make his presence known. For no very tangible reason he had suddenly become conscious that the matter would be easier if he carried in his pocket a letter of introduction. The purlieus of Villa Rosa in no wise resembled a desert island; and in the face of that very fluent Italian, the suspicion was forcing itself upon him that after all, the mere fact of a common country was not a sufficient bond of union. He had definitely decided to withdraw, when the matter was taken from his hands.
The wall—as Gustavo had pointed out—was broken; it was owing to this fact that he had been so easily able to climb it. Now, as he stealthily turned, preparing to re-descend in the direction whence he had come, the loose stone beneath his foot slipped and he slipped with it. Five startled pairs of eyes were turned in his direction. What they saw, was a young man in flannels suddenly throw up his arms, slide into an azalea bush, from this to the balustrade, and finally land on all fours on the narrow strip of beach, a shower of pink petals and crumbling masonry falling about him. A momentary silence followed; then the washer-girls, making sure that he was not injured, broke into a shrill chorus of laughter, while the Farfalla rocked under impact of Giuseppe's mirth. The girl on the wall alone remained grave.
The young man picked himself up, restored his guide book to his pocket, and blushingly stepped forward, hat in hand, to make an apology. One knee bore a splash of mud, and his tumbled hair was sprinkled with azalea blossoms.
"I beg your pardon," he stammered, "I didn't mean to come so suddenly; I'm afraid I broke your wall."
The girl dismissed the matter with a polite gesture.
"It was already broken," and then she waited with an air of grave attention until he should state his errand.
"I—I came—" He paused and glanced about vaguely; he could not at the moment think of any adequate reason to account for his coming.
Her eyes studied him with what appeared at once a cool and an amused scrutiny. He felt himself growing red beneath it.
"Can I do anything for you?" she prompted with the kind desire of putting him at his ease.
"Thank you—" He grasped at the first idea that presented itself. "I'm stopping at the Hotel du Lac and Gustavo, you know, told me there was a villa somewhere around here that belongs to Prince Someone or Other. If you ring at the gate and give the gardener two francs and a visiting card, he will let you walk around and look at the trees."
"I see!" said the girl, "and so now you are looking for the gate?" Her tone suggested that she suspected him of trying to avoid both it and the two francs. "Prince Sartorio-Crevelli's villa is about half a mile farther on."
"Ah, thank you," he bowed a second time, and then added out of the desperate need of saying something, "There's a cedar of Lebanon in it and an India rubber plant from South America."
She continued to observe him with polite interest, though she made no move to carry on the conversation.
"You—are an American?" he asked at length.
"Oh, yes," she agreed easily. "Gustavo knows that."
He shifted his weight.
"I am an American too," he observed.
"Really?" The girl leaned forward and examined him more closely, an innocent, candid, wholly detached look in her eyes. "From your appearance I should have said you were German—most of the foreigners who visit Valedolmo are German."
"Well, I'm not," he said shortly. "I'm American."
"It is a pity my father is not at home," she returned, "he enjoys meeting Americans."
A gleam of anger replaced the embarrassment in the young man's eyes. He glanced about for a dignified means of escape; they had him pretty well penned in. Unless he wished to reclimb the wall—and he did not—he must go by the terrace which retreat was cut off by the washer-women, or by the parapet, already occupied by the girl in white and the washing. He turned abruptly and his elbow brushed a stocking to the ground.
He stooped to pick it up and then he blushed still a shade deeper.
"This is washing day," observed the girl with a note of apology. She rose to her feet and stood on the top of the parapet while she beckoned to Giuseppe, then she turned and looked down upon the young man with an expression of frank amusement. "I hope you will enjoy the cedar of Lebanon and the India rubber tree. Good afternoon."
She jumped to the ground and crossed to the water-steps where Giuseppe, with a radiant smile, was steadying the boat against the landing. She settled herself comfortably among the cushions and then for a moment glanced back towards shore.
"You would better go out by the gate," she called. "The wall on the farther side is harder to climb than the one you came in by; and besides, it has broken glass on the top."
Giuseppe raised the yellow sail and the Farfalla with a graceful dip, glided out to sea. The young man stood eyeing its progress revengefully. Now that the girl was out of hearing, a number of pointed things occurred to him which he might have said. His thoughts were interrupted by a fresh giggle from behind and he found that the three washer-girls were laughing at him.
"Your mistress's manners are not the best in the world," said he, severely, "and I am obliged to add that yours are no better."
They giggled again, though there was no malice behind their humor; it was merely that they found the lack of a language in common a mirth-provoking circumstance. Marietta, with a flash of black eyes, murmured something very kindly in Italian, as she shook out a linen sailor suit—the exact twin of the one that had gone to sea—and spread it on the wall to dry.
The young man did not linger for further words. Setting his hat firmly on his head, he vaulted the parapet and strode off down the cypress alley that stretched before him; he passed the pink villa without a glance. At the gate he stood aside to admit a horse and rider. The horse was prancing in spite of the heat; the rider wore a uniform and a shining sword. There was a clank of accoutrements as he passed, and the wayfarer caught a gleam of piercing black eyes and a slight black moustache turned up at the ends. The rider saluted politely and indifferently, and jangled on. The young man scowled after him maliciously until the cypresses hid him from view; then he turned and took up the dusty road back towards the Hotel du Lac.
It was close upon five, and Gustavo was in the court-yard feeding the parrot, when his eye fell upon the American guest scuffling down the road in a cloud of white dust. Gustavo hastened to the gate to welcome him back, his very eyebrows expressive of his eagerness for news.
"You are returned, signore?"
The young man paused and regarded him unemotionally.
"Yes, Gustavo, I am returned—with thanks."
"You have seen ze Signorina Costantina?"
"Yes, I saw her."
"And is it not as I have said, zat she is beautiful as ze holy angels?"
"Yes, Gustavo, she is—and just about equally remote. You may make out my bill."
The waiter's face clouded.
"You do not wish to remain longer, signore?"
"Can't stand it, Gustavo; it's too infernally restful."
Poor Gustavo saw a munificent shower of tips vanishing into nothing. His face was rueful but his manner was undiminishingly polite.
"Si, signore, sank you. When shall you wish ze omnibus?"
"Tomorrow morning for the first boat."
Gustavo bowed to the inevitable; and the young man passed on. He paused half way across the court-yard.
"What time does the first boat leave?"
"At half past five, signore."
"Er—no—I'll take the second."
"Si, signore. At half-past ten."
It was close upon ten when Jerymn Hilliard Jr., equipped for travel in proper blue serge, appeared in the doorway of the Hotel du Lac. He looked at his watch and discovered that he still had twenty minutes before the omnibus meeting the second boat was due. He strolled across the court-yard, paused for a moment to tease the parrot, and sauntered on to his favorite seat in the summer house. He had barely established himself with a cigarette when who should appear in the gateway but Miss Constance Wilder of Villa Rosa and a middle-aged man—at a glance the Signor Papa. Jerymn Hilliard's heart doubled its beat. Why, he asked himself excitedly, why had they come?
The Signor Papa closed his green umbrella, and having dropped into a chair—obligingly near the summer house—took off his hat and fanned himself. He had a tendency toward being stout and felt the heat. The girl, meanwhile, crossed the court and jangled the bell; she waited two—three—minutes, then she pulled the rope again.
"Gustavo! Oh, Gustavo!"
The bell might have been rung by any-one—the fisherman, the omnibus-driver, Suor Celestina from the convent asking her everlasting alms—and Gustavo took his time. But the voice was unmistakable; he waited only to throw a clean napkin over his arm before hurrying to answer.
"Buon giorno, signorina! Good morning, signore. It is beautiful wea-thir, but warm. Gia, it is warm."
He bowed and smiled and rubbed his hands together. His moustaches, fairly bristling with good will, turned up in a half circle until they caressed his nose on either side. He bustled about placing table and chairs, and recklessly dusting them with the clean napkin. The signorina laid her fluffy white parasol on one chair and seated herself on another, her profile turned to the summer house. Gustavo hovered over them, awaiting their pleasure, the genius itself of respectful devotion. It was Constance who gave the order—she, it might be noticed, gave most of the orders that were given in her vicinity. She framed it in English out of deference to Gustavo's pride in his knowledge of the language.
"A glass of vino santo for the Signore and limonata for me. I wish to put the sugar in myself, the last time you mixed it, Gustavo, it was all sugar and no lemon. And bring a bowl of cracked ice—fino—fino—and some pine nut cakes if you are sure they are fresh."
"Sank you, signorina. Subitissimo!"
He was off across the court, his black coat-tails, his white napkin streaming behind, proclaiming to all the world that he was engaged on the Signorina Americana's bidding; for persons of lesser note he still preserved a measure of dignity.
The young man in the summer house had meanwhile dropped his cigarette upon the floor and noiselessly stepped on it. He had also—with the utmost caution lest the chair creak—shifted his position so that he might command the profile of the girl. The entrance to the summer house was fortunately on the other side, and in all likelihood they would not have occasion to look within. It was eavesdropping of course, but he had already been convicted of that yesterday, and in any case it was not such very bad eavesdropping. The court-yard of the Hotel du Lac was public property; he had been there first, he was there by rights as a guest of the house; if anything, they were the interlopers. Besides, nobody talked secrets with a head waiter. His own long conversations with Gustavo were as open and innocent as the day; the signorina was perfectly welcome to listen to them as much as she chose.
She was sitting with her chin in her hand, eyeing the flying coat-tails of Gustavo, a touch of amusement in her face. Her father was eyeing her severely.
"Constance, it is disgraceful!"
She laughed. Apparently she already knew or divined what it was that was disgraceful, but the accusation did not appear to bother her much. Mr. Wilder proceeded grumblingly.
"It's bad enough with those five deluded officers, but they walked into the trap with their eyes open and it's their own affair. But look at Gustavo; he can scarcely carry a dish without breaking it when you are watching him. And Giuseppe—that confounded Farfalla with its yellow sails floats back and forth in front of the terrace till I am on the point of having it scuttled as a public nuisance; and those three washer-women and the post-office clerk and the boy who brings milk, and Luigi and—every man, woman and child in the village of Valedolmo!"
"And my own dad as well?"
Mr. Wilder shook his head.
"I came here at your instigation for rest and relaxation—to get rid of nervous worries, and here I find a big new worry waiting for me that I'd never thought of having before. What if my only daughter should take it in her head to marry one of these infernally good-looking Italian officers?"
Constance reached over and patted his arm.
"Don't let it bother you, Dad; I assure you I won't do anything of the sort. I should think it my duty to learn the subjunctive mood, and that is impossible."
Gustavo came hurrying back with a tray. He arranged the glasses, the ice, the sugar, the cakes, with loving, elaborate obsequiousness. The signorina examined the ice doubtfully, then with approval.
"It's exactly right to-day, Gustavo! You got it too large the last time, you remember."
She stirred in some sugar and tasted it tentatively, her head on one side. Gustavo hung upon her expression in an agony of apprehension; one would have thought it a matter for public mourning if the lemonade were not mixed exactly right. But apparently it was right—she nodded and smiled—and Gustavo's expression assumed relief. Constance broke open a pine nut cake and settled herself for conversation.
"Haven't you any guests, Gustavo?" Her eyes glanced over the empty court-yard. "I am afraid the hotel is not having a very prosperous season."
"Grazie, signorina. Zer never are many in summer; it is ze dead time, but still zay come and zay go. Seven arrive last night."
"Seven! That's nice. What are they like?"
"German mountain-climbers wif nails in zer shoes. Zey have gone to Riva on ze first boat."
"That's too bad—then the hotel is empty?"
"But no! Zer is an Italian Signora wif two babies and a governess, and two English ladies and an American gentleman—"
"An American gentleman?" Her tone was languidly interested. "How long has he been here?"
"Indeed—what is he like?"
"Nice—ver' nice." (Gustavo might well say that; his pockets were lined with the American gentleman's silver lire.) "He talk to me always. 'Gustavo,' he say, 'I am all alone; I wish to be 'mused. Come and talk Angleesh.' Yes, it is true; I have no time to finish my work; I spend whole day talking wif dis yong American gentleman. He is just a little—" He touched his head significantly.
"Really?" She raised her eyes with an air of awakened interest. "And how did he happen to come to Valedolmo?"
"He come to meet his family, his sister and his—his aunt, who are going wif him to ze Tyrollo. But zay have not arrive. Zey are in Lucerne, he says, where zer is a lion dying, and zey wish to wait until he is dead; zen zey come.—Yes, it is true; he tell me zat." Gustavo tapped his head a second time.
The signorina glanced about apprehensively.
"Is he safe, Gustavo—to be about?"
"Si, signorina, sicuramente! He is just a little simple."
Mr. Wilder chuckled.
"Where is he, Gustavo? I think I'd like to make that young man's acquaintance."
"I sink, signore, he is packing his trunk. He go away today."
"Today, Gustavo?" There was audible regret in Constance's tone. "Why is he going?"
"It is not possible for him to stand it, signorina. Valedolmo too dam slow."
"Gustavo! You mustn't say that; it is very, very bad. Nice men don't say it."
Gustavo held his ground.
"Si, signorina, zat yong American gentleman say it—dam slow, no divertimento."
"He's just about right, Gustavo," Mr. Wilder broke in. "The next time a young American gentleman blunders into the Hotel du Lac you send him around to me."
Gustavo rolled his eyes toward the signorina; she continued to sip her lemonade.
"I have told him yesterday an American family live at Villa Rosa; he say 'All right, I go call,' but—but I sink maybe you were not at home."
"Oh!" The signorina raised her head in apparent enlightenment. "So that was the young man? Yes, to be sure, he came, but he said he was looking for Prince Sartorio's villa. I am sorry you were away, Father, you would have enjoyed him; his English was excellent.—Did he tell you he saw me, Gustavo?"
"Si, signorina, he tell me."
"What did he say? Did he think I was nice?"
Gustavo looked embarrassed.
"I—I no remember, signorina."
She laughed and to his relief changed the subject.
"Those English ladies who are staying here—what do they look like? Are they young?"
Gustavo delivered himself of an inimitable gesture which suggested that the English ladies had entered the bounds of that indefinite period when the subject of age must be politely waived.
"They are tall, signorina, and of a thinness—you would not believe it possible."
"I see! And so the poor young man was bored?"
Gustavo bowed vaguely. He saw no connection.
"He was awfully good-looking," she added with a sigh. "I'm afraid I made a mistake. It would be rather fun, don't you think, Dad, to have an entertaining young American gentleman about?"
"Ump!" he grunted. "I thought you were so immensely satisfied with the officers."
"Oh, I am," she agreed with a shrug which dismissed forever the young American gentleman.
"Well, Gustavo," she added in a business-like tone, "I will tell you why we called. The doctor says the Signor Papa is getting too fat—I don't think he's too fat, do you? He seems to me just comfortably chubby; but anyway, the doctor says he needs exercise, so we're going to begin climbing mountains with nails in our shoes like the Germans. And we're going to begin to-morrow because we've got two English people at the villa who adore mountains. Do you think you can find us a guide and some donkeys? We want a nice, gentle, lady-like donkey for my aunt, and another for the English lady and a third to carry the things—and maybe me, if I get tired. Then we want a man who will twist their tails and make them go; and I am very particular about the man. I want him to be picturesque—there's no use being in Italy if you can't have things picturesque, is there, Gustavo?"
"Si, signorina," he bowed and resumed his attitude of strained attention.
"He must have curly hair and black eyes and white teeth and a nice smile; I should like him to wear a red sash and earrings. He must be obliging and cheerful and deferential and speak good Italian—I won't have a man who speaks only dialect. He must play the mandolin and sing Santa Lucia—I believe that's all."
"And I suppose since he is to act as guide he must know the region?" her father mildly suggested.
"Oh, no, that's immaterial; we can always ask our way."
Mr. Wilder grunted, but offered no further suggestion.
"We pay four lire a day and furnish his meals," she added munificently. "And we shall begin with the castle on Monte Baldo; then when we get very proficient we'll climb Monte Maggiore. Do you understand?"
"Ze signorina desires tree donkeys and a driver at seven o'clock to-morrow morning to climb Monte Baldo?"
"In brief, yes, but please remember the earrings."
* * * * *
Meanwhile a commotion was going on behind them. The hotel omnibus had rumbled into the court yard. A fachino had dragged out a leather trunk, an English hat box and a couple of valises and dumped them on the ground while he ran back for the paste pot and a pile of labels. The two under-waiters, the chamber-maid and the boy who cleaned boots had drifted into the court. It was evident that the American gentleman's departure was imminent.
The luggage was labelled and hoisted to the roof of the omnibus; they all drew up in a line with their eyes on the door; but still the young man did not come. Gustavo, over his shoulder, dispatched a waiter to hunt him up. The waiter returned breathless. The gentleman was nowhere. He had searched the entire house; there was not a trace. Gustavo sent the boot-boy flying down the arbor to search the garden; he was beginning to feel anxious. What if the gentleman in a sudden fit of melancholia had thrown himself into the lake? That would indeed be an unfortunate affair!
Constance reassured him, and at the same time she arose. It occurred to her suddenly that, since the young man was going, there was nothing to be gained by waiting, and he might think—She picked up her parasol and started for the gate, but Mr. Wilder hung back; he wanted to see the matter out.
"Father," said she reproachfully, "it's embarrassing enough for him to fee all those people without our staying and watching him do it."
"I suppose it is," he acknowledged regretfully, as he resumed his hat and umbrella and palm leaf fan.
She paused for a second in the gateway.
"Addio, Gustavo," she called over her shoulder. "Don't forget the earrings."
Gustavo bowed twice and turned back with a dazed air to direct the business in hand. The boot-boy, reappearing, shook his head. No, the gentleman was not to be found in the garden. The omnibus driver leaned from his seat and swore.
Corpo di Bacco! Did he think the boat would wait all day for the sake of one passenger? As it was, they were ten minutes late and would have to gallop every step of the way.
The turmoil of ejaculation and gesture was approaching a climax; when suddenly, who should come sauntering into the midst of it, but the young American man himself! He paused to light a cigarette, then waved his hand aloft toward his leather belongings.
"Take 'em down, Gustavo. Changed my mind; not going to-day—it's too hot."
"But, signore, you have paid for your ticket."
"True, Gustavo, but there is no law compelling me to use it. To tell the truth I find that I am fonder of Valedolmo than I had supposed. There is something satisfying about the peace and tranquility of the place—one doesn't realize it till the moment of parting comes. Do you think I can obtain a room for a—well, an indefinite period?"
Gustavo saw a dazzling vista of silver lire stretching into the future. With an all-inclusive gesture he placed the house, the lake, the surrounding mountains, at the disposal of the American.
"You shall have what you wish, signore. At dis season ze Hotel du Lac—"
"Is not crowded, and there are half a hundred rooms at my disposal? Very well, I will keep the one I have which commands a very attractive view of a rose-colored villa set in a grove of cypress trees."
The others had waited in a state of suspension, dumbfounded at what was going on. But as soon as the young man dipped into his pocket and fished out a handful of silver, they broke into smiles; this at least was intelligible. The silver was distributed, the luggage was hoisted down, the omnibus was dismissed. The courtyard resumed its former quiet; just the American gentleman, Gustavo and the parrot were left.
Then suddenly a frightful suspicion dawned upon Gustavo—it was more than a suspicion; it was an absolute certainty which in his excitement he had overlooked. From where had the American gentleman dropped? Not the sky, assuredly, and there was no place else possible, unless the door of the summer house. Yes, he had been in the summer house, and not sleeping either. An indefinable something about his manner informed Gustavo that he was privy to the entire conversation. Gustavo, a picture of guilty remorse, searched his memory for the words he had used. Why, oh why, had he not piled up adjectives? It was the opportunity of a lifetime and he had wantonly thrown it away.
But—to his astonished relief—the young man appeared to be bearing no malice. He appeared, on the contrary, quite unusually cheerful as he sauntered whistling, across the court and seated himself in the exact chair the signorina had occupied. He plunged his hand into his pocket suggestively—Gustavo had been the only one omitted in the distribution of silver—and drew forth a roll of bills. Having selected five crisp five-lire notes, he placed them under the sugar bowl, and watched his companion while he blew three meditative rings of smoke.
"Gustavo," he inquired, "do you suppose you could find me some nice, gentle, lady-like donkeys and a red sash and a pair of earrings?"
Gustavo's fascinated gaze had been fixed upon the sugar bowl and he had only half caught the words.
"Scusi, signore, I no understand."
"Just sit down, Gustavo, it makes me nervous to see you standing all the time. I can't be comfortable, you know, unless everybody else is comfortable. Now pay strict attention and see if you can grasp my meaning."
Gustavo dubiously accepted the edge of the indicated chair; he wished to humor the signore's mood, however incomprehensible that mood might be. For half an hour he listened with strained attention while the gentleman talked and toyed with the sugar bowl. Amazement, misgiving, amusement, daring, flashed in succession across his face; in the end he leaned forward with shining eyes.
"Si, si," he whispered after a conspiratorial glance over his shoulder, "I will do it all; you may trust to me."
The young man rose, removed the sugar bowl, and sauntered on toward the road. Gustavo pocketed the notes and gazed after him.
"Dio mio," he murmured as he set about gathering up the glasses, "zese Americans!"
At the gate the young man paused to light another cigarette.
"Addio, Gustavo," he called over his shoulder, "don't forget the earrings!"
The table was set on the terrace; breakfast was served and the company was gathered. Breakfast consisted of the usual caffe-latte, rolls and strained honey, and—since a journey was to the fore and something sustaining needed—a soft-boiled egg apiece. There were four persons present, though there should have been five. The two guests were an Englishman and his wife, whom the chances of travel had brought over night to Valedolmo.
Between them, presiding over the coffee machine, was Mr. Wilder's sister, "Miss Hazel"—never "Miss Wilder" except to the butcher and baker. It was the cross of her life, she had always affirmed, that her name was not Mary or Jane or Rebecca. "Hazel" does well enough when one is eighteen and beautiful, but when one is fifty and no longer beautiful, it is little short of absurd. But if anyone at fifty could carry such a name gracefully, it was Miss Hazel Wilder; her fifty years sat as jauntily as Constance's twenty-two. This morning she was very business-like in her short skirt, belted jacket, and green felt Alpine hat with a feather in the side. No one would mistake her for a cyclist or a golfer or a motorist or anything in the world but an Alpine climber; whatever Miss Hazel was or was not, she was always game.
Across from Miss Hazel sat her brother in knickerbockers, his Alpine stock at his elbow and also his fan. Since his domicile in Italy, Mr. Wilder's fan had assumed the nature of a symbol; he could no more be separated from it than St. Sebastian from his arrows or St. Laurence from his gridiron. At Mr. Wilder's elbow was the empty chair where Constance should have been—she who had insisted on six as a proper breakfast hour, and had grudgingly consented to postpone it till half-past out of deference to her sleepy-headed elders. Her father had finished his egg and hers too, before she appeared, as nonchalant and smiling as if she were out the earliest of all.
"I think you might have waited!" was her greeting from the doorway.
She advanced to the table, saluted in military fashion, dropped a kiss on her father's bald spot, and possessed herself of the empty chair. She too was clad in mountain-climbing costume, in so far as blouse and skirt and leather leggings went, but above her face there fluttered the fluffy white brim of a ruffled sun hat with a bunch of pink rosebuds set over one ear.
"I am sorry not to wear my own Alpine hat, Aunt Hazel; I look so deliciously German in it, but I simply can't afford to burn all the skin off my nose."
"You can't make us believe that," said her father. "The reason is, that Lieutenant di Ferara and Captain Coroloni are going with us today, and that this hat is more becoming than the other."
"It's one reason," Constance agreed imperturbably, "but, as I say, I don't wish to burn the skin off my nose, because that is unbecoming too. You are ungrateful, Dad," she added as she helped herself to honey with a liberal hand, "I invited them solely on your account because you like to hear them talk English. Have the donkeys come?"
"The donkeys are at the back door nibbling the buds off the rose-bushes."
"And the driver?"
"Is sitting on the kitchen doorstep drinking coffee and smiling over the top of his cup at Elizabetta. There are two of him."
"Two! I only ordered one."
"One is the official driver and the other is a boy whom he has brought along to do the work."
Constance eyed her father sharply. There was something at once guilty and triumphant about his expression.
"What is it, Dad?" she inquired sternly. "I suppose he has not got a sash and earrings."
"On the contrary, he has."
"Really? How clever of Gustavo! I hope," she added anxiously, "that he talks good Italian?"
"I don't know about his Italian, but he talks uncommonly good English."
"English!" There was reproach, disgust, disillusionment, in her tone. "Not really, father?"
"Yes, really and truly—almost as well as I do. He has lived in New York and he speaks English like a dream—real English—not the Gustavo—Lieutenant di Ferara kind. I can understand what he says."
"How simply horrible!"
"Very convenient, I should say."
"If there's anything I detest, it's an Americanized Italian—and here in Valedolmo of all places, where you have a right to demand something unique and romantic and picturesque and real. It's too bad of Gustavo! I shall never place any faith in his judgment again. You may talk English to the man if you like; I shall address him in nothing but Italian."
As they rose from the table she suggested pessimistically, "Let's go and look at the donkeys—I suppose they'll be horrid, scraggly, knock-kneed little beasts."
They turned out however to be unusually attractive, as donkeys go, and they were innocently engaged in nibbling, not rose-leaves but grass, under the tutelage of a barefoot boy. Constance patted their shaggy mouse-colored noses, made the acquaintance of the boy, whose name was Beppo, and looked about for the driver proper. He rose and bowed as she approached. His appearance was even more violently spectacular than she had ordered; Gustavo had given good measure.
He wore a loose white shirt—immaculately white—with a red silk handkerchief knotted about his throat, brown corduroy knee-breeches, and a red cotton sash with the hilt of a knife conspicuously protruding. His corduroy jacket was slung carelessly across his shoulders, his hat was cocked jauntily, with a red heron feather stuck in the band; last, perfect touch of all, in his ears—at his ears rather (a close examination revealed the thread)—two golden hoops flashed in the sunlight. His skin was dark—not too dark—just a good healthy out-door tan: his brows level and heavy, his gaze candor itself. He wore a tiny suggestion of a moustache which turned up at the corners (a suspicious examination of this, might have revealed the fact that it was touched up with burnt cork); there was no doubt but that he was a handsome fellow, and his attire suggested that he knew it.
Constance clasped her hands in an ecstasy of admiration.
"He's perfect!" she cried. "Where on earth did Gustavo find him? Did you ever see anything so beautiful?" she appealed to the others. "He looks like a brigand in opera bouffe."
The donkey-man reddened visibly and fumbled with his hat.
"My dear," her father warned, "he understands English."
She continued to gaze with the open admiration one would bestow upon a picture or a view or a blue-ribbon horse. The man flashed her a momentary glance from a pair of searching gray eyes, then dropped his gaze humbly to the ground.
"Buon giorno," he said in glib Italian.
Constance studied him more intently. There was something elusively familiar about his expression; she was sure she had seen him before.
"Buon giorno," she replied in Italian. "You have lived in the United States?"
"What is your name?"
"I spik Angleesh," he observed.
"I don't care if you do speak English; I prefer Italian—what is your name?" She repeated the question in Italian.
"Si, signorina," he ventured again. An anxious look had crept to his face and he hastily turned away and commenced carrying parcels from the kitchen. Constance looked after him, puzzled and suspicious. The one insult which she could not brook was for an Italian to fail to understand her when she talked Italian. As he returned and knelt to tighten the strap of a hamper, she caught sight of the thread that held his earring. She looked a second longer, and a sudden smile of illumination flashed to her face. She suppressed it quickly and turned away.
"He seems rather slow about understanding," she remarked to the others, "but I dare say he'll do."
"The poor fellow is embarrassed," apologized her father. "His name is Tony," he added—even he had understood that much Italian.
"Was there ever an Italian who had been in America whose name was not Tony? Why couldn't he have been Angelico or Felice or Pasquale or something decently picturesque?"
"My dear," Miss Hazel objected, "I think you are hypercritical. The man is scarcely to blame for his name."
"I suppose not," she agreed, "though I should have included that in my order."
Further discussion was precluded by the appearance of a station-carriage which turned in at the gate and stopped before them. Two officers descended and saluted. In summer uniforms of white linen with gold shoulder-straps, and shining top-boots, they rivalled the donkey-man in decorativeness. Constance received them with flattering acclaim, while she noted from the corner of her eye the effect upon Tony. He had not counted upon this addition to the party, and was as scowling as she could have wished. While the officers were engaged in making their bow to the others, Constance casually reapproached the donkeys. Tony feigned immersion in the business of strapping hampers; he had no wish to be drawn into any Italian tete-a-tete. But to his relief she addressed him this time in English.
"Are these donkeys used to mountain-climbing?"
"But yes, signorina! Sicuramente. Zay are ver' strong, ver' good. Zat donk', signorina, he go all day and never one little stumble."
His English, she noted with amused appreciation, was an exact copy of Gustavo's; he had learned his lesson well. But she allowed not the slightest recognition of the fact to appear in her face.
"And what are their names?" she inquired.
"Dis is Fidilini, signorina, and zat one wif ze white nose is Macaroni, and zat ovver is Cristoforo Colombo."
Elizabetta appeared in the doorway with two rush-covered flasks, and Tony hurried forward to receive them. There was a complaisant set to his shoulders as he strode off, Constance noted delightedly; he was felicitating himself upon the ease with which he had fooled her. Well! She would give him cause before the day was over for other than felicitations. She stifled a laugh of prophetic triumph and sauntered over to Beppo.
"When Tony is engaged as a guide do you always go with him?"
"Not always, signorina, but Carlo has wished me to go to-day to look after the donkeys."
"And who is Carlo?"
"He is the guide who owns them."
Beppo looked momentarily guilty; the answer had slipped out before he thought.
"Oh, indeed! But if Tony is a guide why doesn't he have donkeys of his own?"
"He used to, but one unfortunately fell into the lake and got drowned and the other died of a sickness."
He put forth this preposterous statement with a glance as grave and innocent as that of a little cherub.
"Is Tony a good guide?"
"But yes, of the best!"
There was growing anxiety in Beppo's tone. He divined suspicion behind these persistent inquiries, and he knew that in case Tony were dismissed, his own munificent pay would stop.
"Do you understand any English?" she suddenly asked.
He modestly repudiated any great knowledge. "A word here, a word there; I learn it in school."
"I see!" She paused for a moment and then inquired casually, "Have you known Tony long?"
Beppo considered. Someone, clearly, must vouch for the man's respectability. This was not in the lesson that had been taught him, but he determined to branch out for himself.
"He is my father, signorina."
"Really! He looks young to be your father—have you any brothers and sisters, Beppo?"
"I have four brothers, signorina, and five sisters." He fell back upon the truth with relief.
The signorina smiled upon him, a smile of such heavenly sweetness that he instantly joined the already crowded ranks of her admirers. She drew from her pocket a handful of coppers and dropped them into his grimy little palm.
"Here, Beppo, are some soldi for the brothers and sisters. I hope that you will be good and obedient and always tell me the truth."
After some delay—owing to Tony's inability to balance the chafing-dish on Cristoforo Colombo's back—they filed from the gateway, an imposing cavalcade. The ladies were on foot, loftily oblivious to the fact that three empty saddles awaited their pleasure. Constance, a gesticulating officer at either hand, was vivaciously talking Italian, while Tony, trudging behind, listened with a somber light in his eye. She now and then cast a casual glance over her shoulder, and as she caught sight of his gloomy face the animation of her Italian redoubled. The situation held for her mischief-loving soul undreamed-of possibilities; and though she ostensibly occupied herself with the officers, she by no means neglected the donkey-man.
During the first few miles of the journey he earned his four francs. Twice he reshifted the pack because Constance thought it insecure (it was a disgracefully unprofessional pack; most guides would have blushed at the making of it); once he retraced their path some two hundred yards in search of a veil she thought she had dropped—it turned out that she had had it in her pocket all of the time. He chased Fidilini over half the mountainside while the others were resting, and he carried the chafing-dish for a couple of miles because it refused to adjust itself nicely to the pack. The morning ended by his being left behind with a balking donkey, while the others completed the last ascent that led to their halting-place for lunch.
It was a small plateau shaded by oak trees with a broad view below them, and a mountain stream foaming down from the rocks above. It was owing to Beppo's knowledge of the mountain paths rather than Tony's which had guided them to this agreeable spot; though no one in the party except Constance appeared to have noted the fact. Tony arrived some ten minutes after the others, hot but victorious, driving Cristoforo Colombo before him. Constance welcomed his return with an off-hand nod and set him about preparing lunch. He and Beppo served it and repacked the hampers, entirely ignored by the others of the party. Poor Tony was beginning to realize that a donkey-man lives on a desert island in so far as any companionship goes. But his moment was coming. As they were about to start on, Constance spied high above their heads where the stream burst from the rocks, a clump of starry white blossoms.
"Edelweiss!" she cried. "Oh, I must have it—it's the first I ever saw growing; I hadn't supposed we were high enough." She glanced at the officers.
The ascent was not dangerous, but it was undeniably muddy, and they both wore white; with very good cause they hesitated. And while they hesitated, the opportunity was lost. Tony sprang forward, scrambled up the precipice hand over hand, swung out across the stream by the aid of an overhanging branch and secured the flowers. It was very gracefully and easily done, and a burst of applause greeted his descent. He divided his flowers into two equal parts, and sweeping off his hat, presented them with a bow, not to Constance, but to the officers, who somewhat sulkily passed them on. She received them with a smile; for an instant her eyes met Tony's, and he fell back, rewarded.
The captain and lieutenant for the first time regarded the donkey-man, and they regarded him narrowly, red sash, earrings, stiletto and all. Constance caught the look and laughed.
"Isn't he picturesque?" she inquired in Italian. "The head-waiter at the Hotel du Lac found him for me. He has been in the United States and speaks English, which is a great convenience."
The two said nothing, but they looked at each other and shrugged.
The donkeys were requisitioned for the rest of the journey; while Tony led Miss Hazel's mount, he could watch Constance ahead on Fidilini, an officer marching at each side of her saddle. She appeared to divide her favors with nice discrimination; it was not her fault if the two were jealous of one another. Tony could draw from that obvious fact what consolation there was in it.
The ruined fortress, their destination, was now exactly above their heads. The last ascent boldly skirted the shoulder of the mountain, and then doubled upward in a series of serpentine coils. Below them the whole of Lake Garda was spread like a map. Mr. Wilder and the Englishman, having paused at the edge of the declivity, were endeavoring to trace the boundary line of Austria, and they called upon the officers for help. The two relinquished their post at Constance's side, while the donkeys kept on past them up the hill. The winding path was both stony and steep, and, from a donkey's standpoint, thoroughly objectionable. Fidilini was well in the lead, trotting sedately, when suddenly without the slightest warning, he chose to revolt. Whether Constance pulled the wrong rein, or whether, as she affirmed, it was merely his natural badness, in any case, he suddenly veered from the path and took a cross cut down the rocky slope below them. Donkeys are fortunately sure-footed beasts; otherwise the two would have plunged together down the sheer face of the mountain. As it was it looked ghastly enough to the four men below; they shouted to Constance to stick on, and commenced scrambling up the slope with absolutely no hope of reaching her.
It was Tony's chance a second time to show his agility—and this time to some purpose. He was a dozen yards behind and much lower down, which gave him a start. Leaping forward, he dropped over the precipice, a fall of ten feet, to a narrow ledge below. Running toward them at an angle, he succeeded in cutting off their flight. Before the frightened donkey could swerve, Tony had seized him—by the tail—and had braced himself against a boulder. It was not a dignified rescue, but at least it was effective; Fidilini came to a halt. Constance, not expecting the sudden jolt, toppled over sidewise, and Tony, being equally unprepared to receive her, the two went down together rolling over and over on the grassy slope.
"My dear, are you hurt?"
Mr. Wilder, quite pale with anxiety, came scrambling to her side. Constance sat up and laughed hysterically, while she examined a bleeding elbow.
"N—no, not dangerously—but I think perhaps Tony is."
Tony however was at least able to run, as he was again on his feet and after the donkey. Captain Coroloni and her father helped Constance to her feet while Lieutenant di Ferara recovered a side-comb and the white sun hat. They all climbed down together to the path below, none the worse for the averted tragedy. Tony rejoined them somewhat short of breath, but leading a humbled Fidilini. Constance, beyond a brief glance, said nothing; but her father, to the poor man's intense embarrassment, shook him warmly by the hand with the repeated assurance that his bravery should not go unrewarded.
They completed their journey on foot; Tony following behind, quite conscious that, if he had played the part of hero, he had done it with a lamentable lack of grace.
Tony was stretched on the parapet that bordered the stone-paved platform of the fortress. Above him the crumbling tower rose many feet higher, below him a marvelous view stretched invitingly; but Tony had eyes neither for medieval architecture nor picturesque scenery. He lay with his coat doubled under his head for a pillow, in a frowning contemplation of the cracked stone pavement.
The four other men, after an hour or so of easy lounging under the pines at the base of the tower, had organized a fresh expedition to the summit a mile farther up. Mr. Wilder, since morning, had developed into an enthusiastic mountain-climber—regret might come with the morrow, but as yet ambition still burned high. The remainder of the party were less energetic. The three ladies were resting on rugs spread under the pines; Beppo was sleeping in the sun, his hat over his face, and the donkeys, securely tethered (Tony had attended to that) were innocently nibbling mountain herbs.
There was no obvious reason why, as he lighted a cigarette and stretched himself on the parapet, Tony should not have been the most self-satisfied guide in the world. He had not only completed the expedition in safety, but had saved the heroine's life by the way; and even if the heroine did not appear as thankful as she might, still, her father had shown due gratitude, and, what was to the point, had promised a reward. That should have been enough for any reasonable donkey-driver.
But it was distinctly not enough for Tony. He was in a fine temper as he lay on the parapet and scowled at the pavement. Nothing was turning out as he had planned. He had not counted on the officers or her predilection for Italian. He had not counted on chasing donkeys in person while she stood and looked on—Beppo was to have attended to that. He had not counted on anything quite so absurd as his heroic capture of Fidilini. Since she must let the donkey run away with her, why, in the name of all that was romantic—could it not have occurred by moonlight? Why, when he caught the beast, could it not have been by the bridle instead of the tail? And above all, why could she not have fallen into his arms, instead of on top of him?
The stage scenery was set for romance, but from the moment the curtain rose the play had persisted in being farce. However, farce or romance, it was all one to him so long as he could play leading-man; what he objected to was the minor part. The fact was clear that sash and earrings could never compete with uniform and sword and the Italian language. His mind was made up; he would withdraw tonight before he was found out, and leave Valedolmo tomorrow morning by the early boat. Miss Constance Wilder should never have the satisfaction of knowing the truth.
He was engaged in framing a dignified speech to Mr. Wilder—thanking him for his generosity, but declining to accept a reward for what had been merely a matter of duty—when his reflections were cut short by the sound of footsteps on the stairs. They were by no means noiseless footsteps; there were good strong nails all over the bottom of Constance's shoes. The next moment she appeared in the doorway. Her eyes were centered on the view; she looked entirely over Tony. It was not until he rose to his feet that she realized his presence with a start.
"Dear me, is that you, Tony? You frightened me! Don't get up; I know you must be tired." This with a sweetly solicitous smile.
Tony smiled too and resumed his seat; it was the first time since morning that she had condescended to consider his feelings. She sauntered over to the opposite side and stood with her back to him examining the view. Tony turned his back and affected to be engaged with the view in the other direction; he too could play at indifference.
Constance finished with her view first, and crossing over, she seated herself in the deep embrasure of a window close beside Tony's parapet. He rose again at her approach, but there was no eagerness in the motion; it was merely the necessary deference of a donkey-driver toward his employer.
"Oh, sit down," she insisted, "I want to talk to you."
He opened his eyes with a show of surprise; his hurt feelings insisted that all the advances should be on her part. Constance seemed in no hurry to begin; she removed her hat, pushed back her hair, and sat playing with the bunch of edelweiss which was stuck in among the roses—flattening the petals, rearranging the flowers with careful fingers; a touch, it seemed to Tony's suddenly clamoring senses, that was almost a caress. Then she looked up quickly and caught his gaze. She leaned forward with a laugh.
"Tony," she said, "do you spik any language besides Angleesh?"
He triumphantly concealed all sign of emotion.
"Si, signorina, I spik my own language."
"Would you mind my asking what that language is?"
He indulged in a moment's deliberation. Italian was clearly out of the question, and French she doubtless knew better than he—he deplored this polyglot education girls were receiving nowadays.
He had it! He would be Hungarian. His sole fellow guest in the hotel at Verona the week before had been a Hungarian nobleman, who had informed him that the Magyar language was one of the most difficult on the face of the globe. There was at least little likelihood that she was acquainted with that.
"My own language, signorina, is Magyar."
"Magyar?" She was clearly taken by surprise.
"Si, signorina, I am Hungarian; I was born in Budapest." He met her wide-opened eyes with a look of innocent candor.
"Really!" She beamed upon him delightedly; he was playing up even better than she had hoped. "But if you are Hungarian, what are you doing here in Italy, and how does it happen that your name is Antonio?"
"My movver was Italian. She name me Antonio after ze blessed Saint Anthony of Padua. If you lose anysing, signorina, and you say a prayer to Saint Anthony every day for nine days, on ze morning of ze tenth you will find it again."
"That is very interesting," she said politely. "How do you come to know English so well, Tony?"
"We go live in Amerik' when I li'l boy."
"And you never learned Italian? I should think your mother would have taught it to you."
He imitated Beppo's gesture.
"A word here, a word there. We spik Magyar at home."
"Talk a little Magyar, Tony. I should like to hear it."
"What shall I say, signorina?"
"Oh, say anything you please."
He affected to hesitate while he rehearsed the scraps of language at his command. Latin—French—German—none of them any good—but, thank goodness, he had elected Anglo-Saxon in college; and thank goodness again the professor had made them learn passages by heart. He glanced up with an air of flattered diffidence and rendered, in a conversational inflection, an excerpt from the Anglo-Saxon Bible.
"Ealle gesceafta, heofonas and englas, sunnan and monan, steorran and eorthan, he gesceop and geworhte on six dagum."
"It is a very beautiful language. Say some more."
He replied with glib promptness, with a passage from Beowulf.
"Hie dygel lond warigeath, wulfhleothu, windige naessas."
"What does that mean?"
Tony looked embarrassed.
"I don't believe you know!"
"It means—scusi, signorina, I no like to say."
"You don't know."
"It means—you make me say, signorina,—'I sink you ver' beautiful like ze angels in Paradise.'"
"Indeed! A donkey-driver, Tony, should not say anything like that."
"But it is true."
"The more reason you should not say it."
"You asked me, signorina; I could not tell you a lie."
The signorina smiled slightly and looked away at the view; Tony seized the opportunity to look sidewise at her. She turned back and caught him; he dropped his eyes humbly to the floor.
"Does Beppo speak Magyar?" she inquired.
"Beppo?" There was wonder in his tone at the turn her questions were taking. "I sink not, signorina."
"That must be very inconvenient. Why don't you teach it to him?"
"Si, signorina." He was plainly nonplussed.
"Yes, he says that you are his father and I should think—"
"His father?" Tony appeared momentarily startled; then he laughed. "He did not mean his real father; he mean—how you say—his god-father. I give to him his name when he get christened."
"Oh, I see!"
Her next question was also a surprise.
"Tony," she inquired with startling suddenness, "why do you wear earrings?"
He reddened slightly.
"Because—because—der's a girl I like ver' moch, signorina; she sink earrings look nice. I wear zem for her."
"Oh!—But why do you fasten them on with thread?"
"Because I no wear zem always. In Italia, yes; in Amerik' no. When I marry dis girl and go back home, zen I do as I please, now I haf to do as she please."
"H'm—" said Constance, ruminatingly. "Where does this girl live, Tony?"
"In Valedolmo, signorina."
"What does she look like?"
"She look like—" His eyes searched the landscape and came back to her face. "Oh, ver' beautiful, signorina. She have hair brown and gold, and eyes—yes, eyes! Zay are sometimes black, signorina, and sometimes gray. Her laugh, it sounds like the song of a nightingale." He clasped his hands and rolled his eyes in a fine imitation of Gustavo. "She is beautiful, signorina, beautiful as ze angels in Paradise!"
"There seem to be a good many people beautiful as the angels in Paradise."
"She is most beautiful of all."
"What is her name?"
"Costantina." He said it softly, his eyes on her face.
"Ah," Constance rose and turned away with a shrug. Her manner suggested that he had gone too far.
"She wash clothes at ze Hotel du Lac," he called after her.
Constance paused and glanced over her shoulder with a laugh.
"Tony," she said, "the quality which I admire most in a donkey-driver, besides truthfulness and picturesqueness, is imagination."
On the homeward journey Tony again trudged behind while the officers held their post at Constance's side. But Tony's spirits were still singing from the little encounter on the castle platform, and in spite of the animated Italian which floated back, he was determined to look at the sunny side of the adventure. It was Mr. Wilder who unconsciously supplied him with a second opportunity for conversation. He and the Englishman, being deep in a discussion involving statistics of the Italian army budget, called on the two officers to set them straight. Tony, at their order, took his place beside the saddle; Constance was not to be abandoned again to Fidilini's caprice. Miss Hazel and the Englishwoman were ambling on ahead in as matter-of-fact a fashion as if that were their usual mode of travel. Their donkeys were of a sedater turn of mind than Fidilini—a fact for which Tony offered thanks.
They were by this time well over the worst part of the mountain and the brief Italian twilight was already fading. Tony, with a sharp eye on the path ahead and a ready hand for the bridle, was attending strictly to the duties of a well-trained donkey-man. It was Constance again who opened the conversation.
"Did you ever read any Angleesh books—or do you do most of your reading in Magyar?"
"I haf read one, two, Angleesh books."
"Did you ever read—er—'The Lightning Conductor' for example?"
"No, signorina; I haf never read heem."
"I think it would interest you. It's about a man who pretends he's a chauffeur in order to—to— There are any number of books with the same motive; 'She Stoops to Conquer,' 'Two Gentlemen of Verona,' 'Lalla Rookh,' 'Monsieur Beaucaire'—Oh, dozens of them! It's an old plot; it doesn't require the slightest originality to think of it."
"Si, signorina? Sank you." Tony's tone was exactly like Gustavo's when he has failed to get the point, but feels that a comment is necessary.
Constance laughed and allowed a silence to follow, while Tony redirected his attention to Fidilini's movements. His "Yip! Yip!" was an exact imitation, though in a deeper guttural, of Beppo's cries before them. It would have taken a close observer to suspect that he had not been bred to the calling.
"You have not always been a donkey-driver?" she inquired after an interval of amused scrutiny.
"Not always, signorina."
"What did you do in New York?"
"I play hand-organ, signorina."
Tony removed his hand from the bridle and ground "Yankee Doodle" from an imaginary instrument.
"I make musica, signorina, wif—wif—how you say, monk, monka? His name Vittorio Emanuele. Ver' nice monk—simpatica affezionata."
"You've never been an actor?"
"An actor? No, signorina."
"You should try it; I fancy you might have some talent in that direction."
"Si, signorina. Sank you."
She let the conversation drop, and Tony, after an interval of silence, fell to humming Santa Lucia in a very presentable baritone. The tune, Constance noted, was true enough, but the words were far astray.
"That's a very pretty song, Tony, but you don't appear to know it."
"I no understand Italian, signorina. I just learn ze tune because Costantina like it."
"You do everything that Costantina wishes?"
"Everysing! But if you could see her you would not wonder. She has hair brown and gold, and her eyes, signorina, are sometimes gray and sometimes black, and her laugh sounds like—"
"Oh, yes, I know; you told me all that before."
"When she goes out to work in ze morning, signorina, wif the sunlight shining on her hair, and a smile on her lips, and a basket of clothes on her head—Ah, zen she is beautiful!"
"When are you going to be married?"
"I do not know, signorina. I have not asked her yet."
"Then how do you know she wishes to marry you?"
"I do not know; I just hope."
He rolled his eyes toward the moon which was rising above the mountains on the other side of the lake, and with a deep sigh he fell back into Santa Lucia.
Constance leaned forward and scanned his face.
"Tony! Tell me your name." There was an undertone of meaning, a note of persuasion in her voice.
She shook her head with a show of impatience.
"Your real name—your last name."
"Oh!" she laughed. "Antonio Yamhankeesh doesn't seem to me a very musical combination; I don't think I ever heard anything like it before."
"It suits me, signorina." His tone carried a suggestion of wounded dignity. "Yamhankeesh has a ver' beautiful meaning in my language—'He who dares not, wins not'."
"And that is your motto?"
"A very dangerous motto, Tony; it will some day get you into trouble."
They had reached the base of the mountain and their path now broadened into the semblance of a road which wound through the fields, between fragrant hedgerows, under towering chestnut trees. All about them was the fragrance of the dewy, flower-scented summer night, the flash of fireflies, the chirp of crickets, occasionally the note of a nightingale. Before them out of a cluster of cypresses, rose the square graceful outline of the village campanile.
Constance looked about with a pleased, contented sigh.
"Isn't Italy beautiful, Tony?"
"Yes, signorina, but I like America better."
"We have no cypresses and ruins and nightingales in America, Tony. We have a moon sometimes, but not that moon."
They passed from the moonlight into the shade of some overhanging chestnut trees. Fidilini stumbled suddenly over a break in the path and Tony pulled him up sharply. His hand on the bridle rested for an instant over hers.
"Italy is beautiful—to make love in," he whispered.
She drew her hand away abruptly, and they passed out into the moonlight again. Ahead of them where the road branched into the highway, the others were waiting for Constance to catch up, the two officers looking back with an eager air of expectation. Tony glanced ahead and added with a quick frown.
"But perhaps I do not need to tell you that—you may know it already?"
"You are impertinent, Tony."
She pulled the donkey into a trot that left him behind.
The highway was broad and they proceeded in a group, the conversation general and in English, Tony quite naturally having no part in it. But at the corners where the road to the village and the road to the villa separated, Fidilini obligingly turned stubborn again. His mind bent upon rest and supper, he insisted upon going to the village; the harder Constance pulled on the left rein, the more fixed was his determination to turn to the right.
"Help! I'm being run away with again," she called over her shoulder as the donkey's pace quickened into a trot.
Tony, awakening to his duty, started in pursuit, while the others laughingly shouted directions. He did not run as determinedly as he might and they had covered considerable ground before he overtook them. He turned Fidilini's head and they started back—at a walk.
"Signorina," said Tony, "may I ask a question, a little impertinent?"
"No, certainly not."
"Ah, Tony?" she asked presently.
"What is it you want to ask?"
"Are you going to marry that Italian lieutenant—or perhaps the captain?"
"That is impertinent."
"You forget yourself, Tony. It is not your place to ask such a question."
"Si, signorina; it is my place. If it is true I cannot be your donkey-man any longer."
"No, it is not true, but that is no concern of yours."
"Are you going on another trip Friday—to Monte Maggiore?"
"May I come with you?"
His tone implied more than his words. She hesitated a moment, then shrugged indifferently.
"Just as you please, Tony. If you don't wish to work for us any more I dare say we can find another man."
"It is as you please, signorina. If you wish it, I come, if you do not wish it, I go."
She made no answer. They joined the others and the party proceeded to the villa gates.
Lieutenant di Ferara helped Constance dismount, while Captain Coroloni, with none too good a grace, held the donkey. A careful observer would have fancied that the lieutenant was ahead, and that both he and the captain knew it. Tony untied the bundles, dumped them on the kitchen floor, and waited respectfully, hat in hand, while Mr. Wilder searched his pockets for change. He counted out four lire and added a note. Tony pocketed the lire and returned the note, while Mr. Wilder stared his astonishment.
"Good-bye, Tony," Constance smiled as he turned away.
"Good-bye, signorina." There was a note of finality in his voice.
"Well!" Mr. Wilder ejaculated. "That is the first—" "Italian" he started to say, but he caught the word before it was out "—donkey-driver I ever saw refuse money."
Lieutenant di Ferara raised his shoulders.
"Mache! The fellow is too honest; you do well to watch him." There was a world of disgust in his tone.
Constance glanced after the retreating figure and laughed.
"Tony!" she called.
He kept on; she raised her voice.
"You call, signorina?"
"Be sure and be here by half past six on Friday morning; we must start early."
"Sank you, signorina. Good-night."
The Hotel du Lac may be approached in two ways. The ordinary, obvious way, which incoming tourists of necessity choose, is by the highroad and the gate. But the romantic way is by water. One sees only the garden then and the garden is the distinguished feature of the place; it was planned long before the hotel was built to adorn a marquis's pleasure house. There are grottos, arbors, fountains, a winding stream; and, stretching the length of the water front, a deep cool grove of interlaced plane trees. At the end of the grove, half a dozen broad stone steps dip down to a tiny harbor which is carpeted on the surface with lily pads. The steps are worn by the lapping waves of fifty years, and are grown over with slippery, slimy water weeds.