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It was one of the very chief of Italian holydays, a festal Sunday in May, the month of Mary. No wonder the two sad Protestant Scotchmen, with mourning in their dress and in their hearts, felt themselves grow sick and faint as they went dutifully to the gardens of the Villa Conti, as they had been commanded. They did not so much as exchange a word with each other till they had passed through all that sunshine and reached the identical alley, a close arcaile, overarched and shut in by the dense foliage of ilex - trees, to which their little sovereign had directed them. There was not a soul there as she had prophesied. A tunnel scooped out of the damp, dewy soil would scarcely have been more absolutely shut in from the sunshine, scarcely could have been stiller or cooler, or more withdrawn from the blazing noonday, with its noises and rejoicings, than this narrow sombre avenue. They strayed down its entire length, from one blue arch of daylight to the other, before they spoke ; and then it was Lauderdale who broke the silence, as if his thoughts, generally so busy and so vagrant, hail never got beyond Alice Meredith's last words.
“Another time, Colin,” said the philosopher, “you'll no make ony changes in the lesson for the day. Whiles it's awfu' hard to put up with the conditions o' a leemited intellect; but whiles they're half divine. I'm no pretending to be reasonable. She kens no more about reason than—the angels, maybe—no that I have ony personal acquaintance with their modes o' argument. I admit it's a new development to me; but a woman like yon, callant, would keep a man awfu' steady in the course of his life.”
“Yes," said Colin ; and then with a strange premonition, for which he himself could not account, he added—“She would keep a man steady, as you say ; but he would find little response in her—not that I regard her less respectfully, less reverentially than you do, Lauderdale," he went on, hurriedly, “but”
“It wasna your opinion I was asking
for,” said the philosopher somewhat morosely. “She's like none of the women you and me ken. I'm doubtful in my own mind whether that dutiful and obedient spirit has ever been our ideal in our country. Intellect's a grand gift, callant, baith to man and woman; but you'll no fly in my face and assert that it's more than second-best.”
“I am not up to argument to-day," said Colin; and they walked back again the whole length of the avenue in silence. Perhaps a certain irritability, born of their mutual grief, was at the bottom of this momentary difference; but somehow, in the stillness, in the subdued leafy shade, which at first sight had been so congenial to his feelings, an indescribable shadow stole over Colin's mind-a kinil of indistinct fear and reluctance, which took no definite shape, but only crept over him like a mist over the face of the sun. His heart was profoundly touched at once by the grief, and by the self-command of Alice, anıl by her utter helplessness and dependence upon himself and his friend. Never before had he been so attracted towards her, nor felt so much that dangerous softening sentiment of pity and admiration, which leads to love. And yet, the two walked back silently under the dark ilex-trees, and across the piazza, which was now thronged with a gay and many-coloured crowd. The brighter the scene grew around them, the more they shut themselves up in their own silence and sorrow, as was natural; and Colin at length began to recognise a new element, which filled him with vague uneasiness
an element not in the least new to the perplexed cogitations of his guardian and anxious friend.
CHAPTER XXXV. When they entered the salone on their return, the first object which met their eyes was the stately figure of Sora Antonia in full holiday costume, lately returned from mass. She had still her fan and her rosary depending from her wrist-arljuncts almost equally necessary to devotion, as that is understood at Frascati—and was still arrayed in the full splendours of the veil, which, fastened over her hair, fell almost to her feet behindl, and gave grace and dignity to her tall and stately person. Sora Antonia was a dependent of the family Savvelli ; scarcely a servant, though she had once belonged to the prince's household. She had charge of the palace at Frascati, which was never occupied except by a solitary ecclesiastic, the prince's brother, for whom the first-floor was kept sacred. Even this sanctity, however, was sometimes invaded when a good chance offered of letting the piano nobile to some rich foreigner, which was the fate of all the other apartments in the house. Sora Antonia had charge of all the interests of the Savvelli in their deserted mansion. When the tenants did any damage she made careful note of it, and did not in any respect neglect the interests of her master; nor was she inconsiderate of her own, but regarded it as a natural duty, when it proved expedient, to make a little money out of the Forestieri. “They give one trouble enough, the blessed Madonna knows," the good woman said piously. But, notwithstanding these prudent cares, Sora Antonia was not only a very sensible woman according to her lights, but had a heart, and understood her duty to her neighbours. She made her salutations to the two friends when they entered with equal suavity, but addressed her explanations to Colin, who was not only her favourite in right of his youth and good looks, but who could understand her best. Colin, whose Italian was limiteri, called the excellent house keeper Mailama, a courtesy which naturally gained her heart ; and she on her part appropriated to his use the title of Signorino, which was not quite so flattering—for Colin was still young enough to object to being called young To-day, however, her address was more dignified, for the crisis was an important one. Before she began to speak the visitor sat down, which in itself was an act requiring explanation, especially as the
table had been already arranged for dinner, and this was the last day in the world on which the strangers were likely to desire society. Sora Antonia took matters with a high hand, and in case of opposition secured for herself at least the first word.
“Pardon, caro Signore mio," she said, "you are surprised to find me here. Very well; I am sorry to incommode the gentlemen, but I have to do my duty. The Signorina is very young, and she has no one to take care of her. The Signori are very good, very excellent, and kind. Ah yes, I know it-never was there such devotion to the poor sick friend ;-nevertheless, the Signori are but men, senza complimenti, and I am a woman who has been married and had children of my own, and know my duty. Until some proper person comes to take charge of the poor dear young lady, the Signori will pardon me, but I must remain here."
“Does the Signorina wish it ?” asked Colin, with wondering looks, for the idea of another protector for Alice confounded him, he scarcely knew why.
“The Signorina is not much more than a child,” said Sora Antonia, loftily. “Besides, she has not been brought up like an Italian young lady, to know what is proper. Poverina ! she does not understand anything about it; but the Signori will excuse me—I know my duty, and that is enough."
“Oh yes, certainly,” said Colin, “but then, in England, as you say, we have different ideas, and if the Signorina does not wish "
Here, however, he was interrupted by Lauderilale, who, having tardily apprehended the purport of Sora Antonia's communication, took it upon himself to make instant response in the best Italian he could muster. “Avete molto buono, molto buono !” cried Lauderdale, intending to say that she was very kind, and that he highly approved, though a chronic confusion in his mind, as to which was which of the auxiliary verbs, made his meaning cloudy. “Grazie, Abbiamo contento! Grazie," he added, with a little excitement and enthusiasm.
Though he had used the wrong verb, heavy gold ear-rings and coral necklace Sora Antonia graciously comprehended which completed and enriched the dress. his meaning. She was used to such She sat apart and contemplated, if not little eccentricities of diction on the the “ Garden of the Soul," at least the part of the Forestieri. She bowed her little pictures in borders of lace-paper stately head to him with a look of ap- which were placed thickly between the probation, and it would be vain to deny leaves, while the melancholy meal was that the sense of having thus expressed eaten at the table—for Sora Antonia himself clearly and eloquently in a had educazione, and had not come to foreign language conveyed a certain intrude upon the privacy of her lodgers. satisfaction to the mind of the philoso- Alice, for her part, made no remark upon pher.
the presence of this new guardian ; she “Bravo! The Signore will speak accepted it as she accepted everything very well if he perseveres,” said Sora else, as a matter of course, without even Antonia, graciously; "not to say that showing any painful sense of the cirhis Excellency is a man of experience, cumstances which in Sora Antonia's and perceives the justice of what I pro- opinion made this last precaution necespose. No doubt, it will occupy a great sary. Her two companions, the only deal of my time, but the other Fores- friends she seemed to have in the world, tieri have not arrived yet, and how can bore vicariously on her account the pain one expect the Madonna Santissima and of this visible reminder that she was the blessed St. Antonio to take so much here in a false position and had no legitrouble in one's concerns if one will not timate protector; but Alice had not yet exert one's self a little for one's fellow awaked to any such sense on her own creatures ? As the Signorina has not behalf. She took her place at the table left her room yet, I will take away and tried to swallow a morsel, and the inconvenience for a few minutes, interested herself in the appetite of the Scusa Signori,” said Sora Antonia, others as if she had been their mother. and she went away with stately bearing “Try to eat something; it will make and firm steps which resounded through you ill if you do not," poor Alice said, in the house, to take off her veil and put the abstraction and dead calm of her aside her rosary. She had seated herself grief. Her own feeling was that she again in her indoor aspect, with the had been lifted far away from them into “Garden of the Soul” in her hand, an atmosphere of age and distance and a before Alice came into the room ; and, kind of sad superiority, and to minister to without doubt, she made a striking some one was the grand condition under addition to the party. She was a Fras- which Alice Meredith lived. As to the cati woman born, and her costume, con- personal suffering, which was confined sequently, was perfect-a costume less to herself, that did not so much matter; imposing than the scarlet Albano jacket, she had not been used to much symbut not less calculated to do justice to pathy, and it did not occur to her to the ample bust and stately head of the look for it. Consequently, the only Roman peasant. The dress itself, the natural business which remained to her actual gown, in this as in other Italian was to take a motherly charge of her costumes, was an indifferent matter, two companions, and urge them to eat. The important particulars were the long “ You are not to mind me,” she said, and delicate apron of embroidered with an attempt at a smile, after dinner. muslin, the busto made of rich brocade “This is Sunday, to be sure ; but, after and shaped to the exact Frascati model, to-day, you are just to go on as you used and the large, soft, snowy kerchief with to do, and never mind. Thank you, embroidered corners, which covered her I should like it better. I shall always full shoulders—not to speak of the long be here, you know, when you come back 1 "Levo l'incomodo,” a homely expression
from Rome, or wherever you wish to go. of Italian politeness on leaving a room.
But you must not mind for me."
Lauderdale and Colin exchanged looks forgave him at the last. Oh, tell me, almost without being aware of it. “But please, what do you think I should you would like-somebody to be sent do?” for-or something done ? " said Lauder- “If you would like to go home, I'll dale. He was a great deal more con- take you home," said Lauderdale. “He fused in having to suggest this than did not mean ony harm, poor callant, but Alice was, who kept looking at him, he's left an awfu' burden on you.”; her eyes dilated with weariness and “Go home!” said Alice, with a slight tears, yet soft and clear as the eyes of a shudder. “Do you think I ought-do child. He could not say to her, in so you think I must? I do not care for many words, “It is impossible for you myself, but Mrs. Meredith, you know " to remain with us." All he could do she added with a momentary blush; was to falter and hesitate, and grow and then the friends began to perceive confused, under the limpid, sorrowful another unforeseen lion in the way. look which she bent upon him from the “Out of my own head,” said Lauderdistant heaven of her resignation and in- dale, who took the whole charge of this nocence. “You would like your friends business on himself, and would not --somebody to be written to," said Lau- permit Colin to interfere, “I wrote your derdale ; and then, afraid to have given father a kind of a letter. If you are her pain by the suggestion, went on able to hear the--the event which has hurriedly : “ I'm old enough to be your left us a' mourning-named in common father, and no a thought in my mind words, I'll read you what I have written. but to do you service," he said. “Tell Poor bairn, you're awfu' young and awfu’ me what you would like best. Colin, tender to have such affairs in hand ! thank God! is strong, and has little Are you sure you are able to bear it, and need of me. I'll take you home, or do can listen to what I have said ?” whatever you please; for I'm old enough “Ah, I have borne it," said poor to be your father, my poor bairn!” said Alice. “I cannot deceive myself, nor the tender-hearted philosopher, and think Arthur is still here. What does drew near to her, and put out his hand it matter then about saying it? Oh, yes, with an impulse of pitiful and protect- I can bear anything—it is only me to ing kindness which touched the heart of bear now, and it doesn't matter. It was Alice, and yet filled her with momen- very kind of you to write. I should like tary surprise. She, on her own side, to know what you have said." was roused a little, not to think of her Colin, who could do nothing else for self, but to remember what appeared to her, put forward the armchair with the her a duty unfulfilled.
cushions towards the table, and Sora "Oh, Mr. Lauderdale! Arthur said I Antonia put down the “ Garden of the might tell you," said Alice. “ Papa ! Soul" and drew a little nearer with her you heard what he said about papa ? I heavy, firm foot, which shook the house. ought to write and tell him what has She comprehended that something was happened. Perhaps I ought to tell you going on which would tax the Signorina's from the beginning," she continued, strength, and brought her solid, steady after composing herself a little. “We succour to be in readiness. The pale left home without his consent-indeed, little girl turned and smiled upon them he did not know. For dear Arthur," both, as she took the chair Colin had said the poor girl, turning her appealing brought her. She was herself quite eyes from one to the other, “could not steady in her weakness and grief and approve of his ways. He did something loneliness. Sora Antonia was not wanted that Arthur thought was wrong. I can- there; and Colin crew her aside to the not tell you about it,” said Alice through window, where she told him all about her tears ;” it did not make so much the fireworks that were to be in the difference to me. I think I ought to evening, and her hopes that after a while write and tell him, and that Arthur the Signorina would be able to “ distract
due to a young creature of her tender years ; so that you may satisfy yourself she is safe until such time as you can communicate with me, which I will look for as soon as a reply is practicable, and in the meantime remain,
“ Your son's faithful friend and mourner,
“ W. LAUDERDALE.”
herself” a little and recover her spirits ; to which Colin assented dutifully, watch ing from where he stond the pale looks of the friendless young woman-friendless beyond disguise or possible selfdeception, with a stepmother whom she blushed to mention reigning in her father's house. Colin's thoughts were many and tumultuous as he stood behind in the window, watching Alice and listen. ing to Sora Antonia's description of the fireworks. Was it possible that perhaps his duty to his neighbour required from him the most costly of all offerings, the rashest of all possible actions ? He stood behind, growing more and more excited in the utter quiet. The thought that had dawneil upon him under the ilex trees came nearer and grew more familiar, and as he contemplated it he seemed to recognise all that visible machinery of Providence bringing about the great event which youth decides upon so easily. While this vision grew before his mind, Alice was wiping off the tears which obliterated Lauderdale's letter even to her patient eyes; for, docile and dutiful as she was, it was yet terrible to read in calm distinct words, which put the matter beyond all doubt, the an. nouncement of “what had happened." This is what Lauderulale said:
Alice lingered over this letter, reading it, and crying, and whispering to Lauderdale a long time, as Colin thought. She found it easier, somehow, to tell her story fully to the elder man. She told him that Mrs. Meredith had “ come home suddenly," which was her gentle version of a sad domestic history, that nobody had known of her father's second marriage until the stepmother arrived, without any warning, with a train of children. Alice's mild words did not give Lauderdale any very lively picture of the dismay of the household at this unlooked-for apparition, but he understood enough to condemn Arthur less severely than he had been disposed to do. This sudden catastrophe had happened just after the other misery of the bank failure, which hal ruined so many; and poor Meredith had no alternative between leaving his sister to the tender mercies of an underbred and possibly disreputable stepmother, or bringing her with him when he retired to die; and Alice, though she still cried for “poor papa,” recoiled a little from the conclusion of Lauderdale's letter. “I have enough to live upon,” she said, softly, with an appealing glance at her companion. “If you were to say that I was quite safe, would not that be enough ?” and it was very hard for Lauderdale to convince her that her father's judgment must be appealed to in such a matter. When she saw he was not to be moverl on this point, she sighed and submitted ; but it was clearly apparent that as yet, occupied as she was by her grief, the idea that her situation here was embarrassing to her companions or unsuitable for herself had not occurrell to Alice. When she retired, under the escort of Sora Antonia,
“SIR,—It is a great grief to me to inform you of an event for which I have no way of knowing whether you are preparel or not. Your son, Arthur Meredith, has been living here for the last three months in declining health, and on Thursday last died in great comfort anıl constancy of mind. It is not for me, a stranger, to offer vain words of consolation, but his end was such as any man might be well content to have, and he entereil upon his new life joyfully, without any shadow on his mind. As far as love and friendship could soothe the sufferings that were inevitable, he had both ; for his sister never left his bedside, and myself and my friend Colin Campbell were with him constantly, to his satisfaction. His sister remains under our care. I who write am no longer a young man, and know what is