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Title: Diana Trelawny
Author: Oliphant, Mrs. (Margaret)
Language: English
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                          The English Library

                                No. 168

                            DIANA TRELAWNY

                           BY MRS. OLIPHANT

                            _IN ONE VOLUME_



                   _OTHER VOLUMES BY THE SAME AUTHOR
                             PUBLISHED IN_
                          The English Library


          77.   78.  THE RAILWAY MAN AND HIS CHILDREN          2 Vols.
          95.   96.  THE MARRIAGE OF ELINOR                    2 Vols.
         156.  157.  THE CUCKOO IN THE NEST                    2 Vols.
         171.  172.  THE VICTORIAN AGE OF ENGLISH LITERATURE   2 Vols.

_Copyright Edition_



                            DIANA TRELAWNY

                                  BY
                             MRS. OLIPHANT

                               AUTHOR OF
     _“WITHIN THE PRECINCTS,” “THE RAILWAY MAN AND HIS CHILDREN,”
         “AT HIS GATES,” “THE MARRIAGE OF ELINOR,” “THE CUCKOO
                          IN THE NEST,” ETC._

                                LEIPZIG
                        HEINEMANN AND BALESTIER
                          _LIMITED_, _LONDON_
                                 1893



CONTENTS


CHAPT.                                                              PAGE

    I.--HERSELF                                                        1

   II.--HER NEIGHBOURS                                                14

  III.--TO ITALY                                                      32

   IV.--THE TWO LITTLE WOMEN                                          53

    V.--THE PALAZZO DEI SOGNI                                         70

   VI.--NEW ARRIVALS                                                  86

  VII.--THE ENGLISH LADY IN PISA                                     103

 VIII.--AN EVENING PARTY                                             118

   IX.--WARNINGS AND CONSULTATIONS                                   133

    X.--THE TWO LITTLE WOMEN                                         149

   XI.--THE PROPOSAL                                                 165

  XII.--THE HOUSE OF DREAMS                                          183

 XIII.--A SURPRISE                                                   200

  XIV.--DESPAIR                                                      218

   XV.--THE SPOSA                                                    235

  XVI.--A SYMPATHISING FRIEND                                        252

 XVII.--THE WEDDING-DAY                                              270

XVIII.--AFTERWARDS                                                   286



DIANA



CHAPTER I.

HERSELF.


Diana Trelawny was a great heiress in the ordinary sense of the word,
though the term was one which she objected to strongly. She was rather a
great proprietor and landowner, no longer looking forward to any
inheritance, but in full possession of it. She had a fine estate, a fine
old English house, and a great deal of money in all kinds of stocks and
securities. Besides this, she was a handsome woman, quite sufficiently
handsome in the light of her wealth to be called beautiful--not a girl,
a beautiful woman of thirty, with some talents, a great deal of
character, and a most enviable and desirable position. She was not,
indeed, chairman of the quarter-sessions, as she might have been had
she written herself Daniel instead of Diana, nor was she even on the
commission of the peace. She did not, so far as I am aware, regret
either of these disabilities; but these, and a few more of the same
kind, were the chief things that distinguished her from the other great
county magnates. She paid very little attention to these points of
difference. A woman who is rich, and has a commanding position, has few
but sentimental grievances to complain of. These sentimental grievances
are often very disagreeable, and tell like personal insults by times;
but they are practically inoperative in cases like that of Miss
Trelawny. She had broken the bonds of youth, the only ones which, in her
position, might have restrained her. She had no objections that all the
country and all the world should know she was thirty; and being thirty,
she claimed full independence, which was as fully accorded to her. She
had no tastes or inclinations to make that independence unlovely; and no
theory of emancipation which demanded exceptional boldness of fact to
justify it--a thing which gets many women into trouble. Her house was as
pleasant a house as could be found, her society courted, her character
respected. She had all the advantages of a country gentleman, and she
had other advantages inseparable from the fact that she was a lady and
not a gentleman. A marriageable young squire of her age and good looks
would no doubt have been an extremely popular and much-sought-after
person; but Diana was more popular and more sought after than any young
squire. For even if you take the very worst view of English society, and
believe that managing mothers and daughters eager to be married are as
abundant as blackberries, the fact still remains that certain reticences
must be observed, and that the best women do not throw themselves at the
hero’s head--or feet. Whereas, in Diana’s case, these reticences were
scarcely necessary, for everybody paid undisguised court to the
beautiful, wealthy, smiling, and gracious young woman, and the best men
in the neighbourhood thought no shame to throw themselves at _her_
head--or feet, as the case might be. She was more openly courted than
any man, for it was more seemly and fit that she should be courted, and
no disgrace to the noblest. The county was more proud of her, more
devoted to her, than it would have been to any male potentate. It made a
kind of queen of her, always in dutiful and loyal subordination to the
real mistress of these realms; but Diana was the queen of the county.
Thus her sex was nothing but an additional pedestal to this enviable
person: for to be sure she did not much care, being as yet
indifferently interested in politics, for the disadvantage of having no
vote.

Diana, however, had not always been so fortunate and so great: she was
not born the heiress of the Chase, and of all the good things involved
in that. Old Lady Trelawny, its last ruler, was a Trelawny born, and
princess of the name, as well as a Trelawny by marriage. She and her
husband had united the two branches of the family, he having the title
and she the property: and had intended in so doing to re-found and
concentrate in their descendants the strength of the race, which had
become straggling and weakly, running into wild offshoots of collaterals
which sucked all the strength from the parent stem. But, alas! there is
nothing more remarkable than the indifference of Providence to such
arrangements, even in the most important families. In this case Heaven
took no notice of the intention at all, but simply left this pair
childless, as if their offspring had been of no consequence, confounding
all their designs. They could not believe for a long time that such a
neglect was possible; but they lived long enough to get over their
surprise, and to form a great many new plans for their future heir, who
had to be chosen within a certain circle of kinship. It may be supposed
that this choice, which had to be made among them, fluttered the family
of Trelawny beyond measure, and kept up for years a wonderful excitement
in all its branches. Such a possibility hanging over one’s head is very
bad for the character, and it is to be feared that the Trelawnys in
general made exhibitions of their eagerness in a way which did not
please the sharp-sighted old pair to whom the privilege of choice was
given.

The only one of all the lineage who did not answer to the general call,
and put in some claim more or less servilely to his chance of the
inheritance, was a certain Captain John, who had disappeared from the
surface of the family long before, and Lady Trelawny knew why. Up to the
time when the old lady was seventy, it still seemed quite clear to her
that Captain John kept out of the way because he could not bear to see
her the wife of Sir John, though such had been her position for the last
half-century.

The old pair were at Brighton when the husband’s last illness began; and
looking from their windows, in the feebleness of their old age, they
watched daily a certain procession of girls from one of the many girls’
schools (or should I not say establishments for young ladies?) in the
place, which amused the old people much. It was an event in Sir John’s
dull morning when they passed with their fresh faces, in charge of a
handsome, stately young woman, who was the English governess. By degrees
both Sir John and my lady became interested in this girl: and it may be
supposed what a leap of additional warmth was given to the rising fancy
when they found out that her name, too, was Trelawny. Trelawnys are not
so plentiful as Browns: the old lady drove to Mrs. Seymour’s school to
find out who she was, and sent her half-a-dozen invitations before Diana
could be persuaded to go. “Why should I go? I would in a moment if I
could do anything for them; but they are smothered in friends and
doctors and servants,” said the proud young woman. Mrs. Seymour, who was
a sensible person, coaxed and persuaded and half compelled the visit;
and when it turned out that this stately Diana was the only child of
Captain John, it may be supposed what excitement awoke among all the
Trelawnys. It gave the old lady a great shock at first, for she had
believed in Captain John as living on somewhere in mournful old
bachelorhood, keeping out of sight and out of the world in order to
escape the misery of seeing herself at seventy the wife of another, and
her _désillusionment_ cost her a pang. Afterwards, when she found out
that Captain John had married late in life--he was older by ten years
than she--a homely little clergyman’s daughter who had been kind to him
in a little village in Wales where he fished and dreamed his life away,
and had died there a dozen years before, her heart was touched more than
ever; and it was Lady Trelawny’s tears that persuaded Diana, against her
will, to leave her independent position and become the nurse and
companion of the old people. Before Sir John died the decision was made,
but it was the old lady who carried it out. Captain John had been the
nearest in blood, first cousin to both husband and wife. His daughter
was, of all the Trelawnys, the one most near to them, their natural
heir.

A year afterwards Diana had become Miss Trelawny of the Chase, a very
great lady, and had taken the county by storm at the first glance.
Perhaps, indeed, their want of any previous familiarity with her had
something to do with the position to which she rose immediately in her
own right. The county had not seen her grow up, and did not know all her
youthful faults and weaknesses, as was the case with most of her
fellow-magnates. She came into it full-grown, full-blown, beautiful,
stately, independent, neither to be snubbed nor patronised nor put down.
The episode of the school, which might have sentenced a humbler woman to
exclusion from the reigning caste, what did it matter in a Trelawny?
Your princesses born can do anything, the humblest offices. She neither
bragged of it nor was ashamed of it, but would mention it simply in her
conversation when need was, in the most matter-of-fact way, as a
princess ought to do. What did it matter to her one way or another? The
humility and the greatness were immaterial to Diana. She was herself in
all times and places, and had been herself before she became Miss
Trelawny of the Chase; though the title (really a title in the
circumstances) suited her admirably. Her neighbour, Mr. Biddulph, called
her “the image that fell down from Jupiter.” Such was her position in
the world, eminent, rich, remarkable in position, yet something
more--something that had nothing to do with her position, which was
simply her, and her alone.

There was one thing, however, which startled the county much, and filled
it with disapproval, which would have been warmer had there been any
real belief in the purpose announced. Diana declared from the beginning
that she would not marry. This is not an announcement which excites very
warm belief in any case. If it is not believed of a man, how should it
be of a woman, to whom (as everybody still believed in those days) it is
the one thing needful? This, however, was what Diana said, quite
seriously, without, it was supposed, meaning any joke; and, indeed,
joking was not in her character. She said in so many words that she did
not mean to marry. There was a great deal to do on the estate, she said,
which was true; for the old Trelawnys had done little, and had not at
all marched with the times, but contented themselves with the state of
affairs which had existed a hundred years ago, or at least in the
beginning of the century. The farming was bad, the cottages were bad,
everything was behind in Trelawny parish. “But a gentleman could do all
that so much better than you could,” her friends said to her. “It is my
business, and not any problematical gentleman’s,” said this
impracticable young woman. She had a belief in celibacy which was
incredible to the community in general; and thought, however bad it
might be to make that state compulsory, that unmarried persons, both lay
and clerical, were an advantage here and there to their
fellow-creatures. The question was discussed continually between her and
her neighbours, the Biddulphs, to whom such a rebellion against all the
rules which regulate human life seemed monstrous, and not to be put up
with. It was un-English, they said--it was wicked; but Diana only
smiled. One thing was certain, that this fad kept up her importance and
her unique position as the finest of matches could not have done; and it
seemed to some of her friends that it was more to Diana’s credit to
allege this as the reason, than to allow it to be believed that she was
guilty of the eccentricity of despising or objecting to matrimony. “She
would be nobody if she married,” they said. “She would just be like
other people; but Miss Trelawny of the Chase is a great personage.” This
was so much more reasonable, so much more natural a motive, everybody
felt, than any foolish fancy about work to be done or personal
responsibilities to be upheld, that the neighbourhood was quite glad to
adopt it. “Diana likes to be important,” was an answer to everything;
and Diana did not contradict the opinion so universally formed. Perhaps
she did like the importance of her position, and even the suitors and
suitors’ friends who paid such court to her, in hopes of appropriating,
some time or other, her solid attractions of money and land and social
position to themselves. So Queen Elizabeth did too, I suppose, whatever
were the real motives of that astute sovereign for declining to share
her throne. Diana did not want her throne to be shared; but she did not,
perhaps, being human, dislike the great competition there was for the
vacant place.

Besides this, probably there had been experiences in her life which made
the question of marriage less attractive to her. Few people live to be
thirty without something of the kind, happy or unhappy; but nobody in
the neighbourhood of Trelawny had been taken into her confidence in this
respect. So she lived in the great house a cheerful and busy life,
working at her estate as few landlords take the trouble to work, making
a profession of it which cannot be said to be usual. Sometimes she was
alone, but more generally there were guests to give the semblance of a
family to the huge old mansion; and very pleasant society Diana managed
to gather round her,--people of all kinds, almost of all classes, within
the limits which education and refinement made possible--poor people and
rich people, great people and small people, in a _mélange_ which was
both picturesque and pleasant. There is nothing that gives such a zest
to society as having been shut out from it for years; and if it was at
all common for the poor and aspiring to be frequently raised at once
into the possession of great means and independence as had happened to
Diana, nothing, I believe, would benefit more by this than society. What
dreams she had entertained in her loneliness, when Mrs. Seymour’s
parlour was the highest sphere possible to her, of the fine company she
would like to see if she had the power! To sit and work, and listen
diligently to the words of wisdom which fell from the lips of the senior
curate, sometimes on her own account venturing a respectful remark as to
the last story in the ‘Monthly Packet,’ was all that Diana could hope
for in those days; and as she sat with her head bowed and her mind half
impatient, half amused, listening to the conversation of these her
superiors, it would be endless to tell how many fascinating groups she
gathered round her, how much brilliant conversation went flashing about,
while Mrs. Seymour prosed, and the curate at his ease laid down the law.
Sometimes she was half afraid these good people would hear the fun and
the laughter that were going on so near them, and would bend her head
close over her needlework to hide the smile upon her face. Strange
freaks of fancy? for often now, when the beautiful drawing-room at the
Chase was full of the best society, Diana, drooping her head, would hear
again Mrs. Seymour prosing and the curate laying down the law, and
listen to them a while with a smile on her face and very gentle
thoughts. But in all probability, had she been born in the purple at
Trelawny, and never sat in Mrs. Seymour’s parlour, she would have been
satisfied with the county magnates and fine people within reach, and
would not have made those efforts after _good_ society which the county
enjoyed, yet looked upon with suspicion--wondering why its own
provisions in that particular should not be good enough for her, as they
had been for her forefathers. It did not injure her popularity,
however--rather increased it. The Chase was a pleasant house to visit,
and its mistress “a delightful person to know:” and she was one of the
best matches in England, and might at any moment turn anybody’s second
son into an important county gentleman. Can the reader be surprised that
on all accounts, and in every section of society, there should be but
one opinion about such an important and attractive person as Miss
Trelawny of the Chase?



CHAPTER II.

HER NEIGHBOURS.


There were very great people in the county, whom I will not venture to
describe here,--a duke, with his duchess, and all the fine things that
naturally belong to dukes: and two barons, and Sir Johns without number:
for the county was large and important. Miss Trelawny, I believe, had
she acted with ordinary prudence, might have had the Marquis, and been
Duchess in her day. He was some years younger than she was; but, as
everybody said, if _his_ family did not object to that difference of age
on the wrong side, why should she? and the young man was fathoms deep in
love, and did not get over his disappointment for three months at least;
and nothing could have made a finer match than the Trelawny estate with
the Duke’s lands. However, I am not qualified to enter upon any
discussion of the motives of such sublime personages. The neighbours
who specially belonged to Diana, and who were most interested in the
episode of her life which it is my business to relate, were the
Hunstantons, who lived in the nearest “place” to Trelawny, and were
deeply attached to its mistress; and another small and insignificant
household, which, except in consequence of its connection with Diana,
would scarcely have been of sufficient importance to be mentioned at
all. This latter family was composed of two ladies, an aunt and a
niece--the one a clergyman’s widow, the other a clergyman’s
orphan-child; peevish, humble-minded, weakly little gentlewomen, with
nothing remarkable about them except the simple prettiness of the girl,
Sophy, who was a soft, smiling golden-haired creature, unobtrusive and
gentle as a little bird. Mrs. Norton was disposed to be mysterious about
the connection of herself and her niece with Diana, fearing, as she
said, to “compromise” a lady in her position; but this connection was of
the very simplest kind. Sophy had been at Mrs. Seymour’s school--a piece
of extravagance which had cost her kind aunt a great deal more than she
could afford--but the girl had been delicate, and sea-air had been
prescribed for her, and good little Mrs. Norton was willing to “live
anyhow” in order to secure advantages for the child to whom she had
performed all a mother’s duties. Diana was one of the women to whom a
dependent of some kind is an invariable appendage, gathered to her by
sheer attraction of nature: and Sophy Norton took the place of the
necessary burden to be carried about on the other’s strong shoulders.
The child was delicate, the governess was kind. She nursed her, she
petted her, she became to her a sort of amateur mother. Mrs. Norton
lived in cheap little lodgings at Brighton to be near her little girl,
and when she asked the governess to come to tea with Sophy, she too felt
that in her way she was exercising kindness and patronage, and that Miss
Trelawny’s care of Sophy was compensated by the notice which she, a lady
of private means, not requiring to work for her living, took of the
governess--so that on this foundation of mutual kindness they got on in
a very pleasant way.

I will not say that Diana herself felt Mrs. Norton’s notice to be of the
elevating character which the excellent little woman herself supposed:
but she was lonely, and very grateful for kindness of any description
simply offered. She liked the prattle of the two innocent creatures, the
aunt not much wiser than the niece; and she liked the spectacle of their
love, which brought sometimes a wistful look to her own face, and
sometimes lit her up with smiles, for it had its amusing as well as its
tender aspects. When Diana came to her kingdom, it is not to be
described what awe, and wonder, and pride, took possession of Mrs.
Norton’s soul. To think that the governess to whom she had condescended
should have risen to be such a great lady! but yet, at the same time, to
think that she had always appreciated Miss Trelawny,--always done her
best, though that was but little, to show her appreciation! When old
Lady Trelawny died, Mrs. Norton wrote, with much timidity, to offer, if
Diana would like it, a visit of sympathy for one day only--for she had
her pride, and meant nothing but kindness, if not perhaps a tremulous
expedient of love to recall little Sophy to the mind of one who now
might be as good a friend to the little girl “as I tried to be to her,
my dear, in her days of poverty.” Diana accepted this not entirely
unalloyed kindness. She understood the alloy and forgave it; nay,
perhaps liked the little bit of gold there was all the better for that
heavenly kind of dross mixed with it--the anxious love of Sophy which
prompted her aunt to seek her interest in any practicable way. They came
to the Chase for two days, and stayed two months, amusing and refreshing
their hostess in her loneliness with their pretty foolish ways. They
were like two kittens to Diana; their harmless gambols gave her
pleasure such as sensible persons did not always understand. When she
had kept them with her all that time, it seemed hard to send the two
little things away again into the seaside lodgings or small suburban
house which they contemplated. Diana offered them a cottage in her park
which had been built by some other kind Trelawny for a poor relation,--a
little red house, overgrown with climbing roses and honey-suckle, set in
a little clearing of green lawns in the heart of the trees. No words
could tell Sophy’s delight with this pretty nest; but Mrs. Norton did
all she could to maintain her dignity, and to seem to doubt and hesitate
a little--firstly, as to whether she ought to accept such a favour from
a friend who was not a relation, as she said; and secondly, as to
whether in the midst of the trees it might be damp. But in a very short
time both these fears were put to flight, and no children were ever more
happy over the fitting up of a doll’s house than those two little ladies
were over their furnishing. And, again, to the wonder of her sensible
friends, so was Diana too. Is not a grown-up sister, a young mother,
sometimes excited about the doll’s house as well as its lawful
possessor? Miss Trelawny bought little bits of furniture, sought out
scraps of china, had little brackets fitted in the little corners, and
stands of flowers set out in the tiny hall. It was a toy mansion for her
pets, upon which she expended more trouble than on her own stately
dwelling-place; though what she could see in those two silly little
women! as Mrs. Hunstanton constantly said.

The Hunstantons were of a totally different class. They were landed
gentry as good as the Trelawnys themselves, if not quite so rich. They
had a house in a great grove of trees which, except in the heat of
summer, was not very cheerful, and which was supposed not to be
wholesome for the delicate boy who was their eldest hope and the heir.
He was a pale melancholy individual, like neither father nor mother, and
it was on his account that they constantly spent their winters abroad.
Mr. Hunstanton was an unsteady man with nerves, who had attacks of
neuralgia and notions, and was fond of meddling, people said, with
things that did not concern him much. He was thin to the utmost possible
of thinness, running about in jerks and thinking in jumps, a hasty man,
not wise but yet lovable, and ready to undertake anything for anybody.
His wife was as unlike him in person as in character. She was sensible,
cool, and indisposed to “mix herself up” with other people’s
affairs--still handsome though nearly fifty, calm in disposition, and
somewhat disposed to criticism, for which she had ample ground in her
husband’s doings and sayings. They had married late, and had some
children still in the nursery, and the weakly boy of sixteen already
mentioned, whom it was the chief object of their lives to tide over the
difficult period of youth. For him they were always ready to move at a
moment’s notice, to fly from the east winds or from the damp, or from
the too great heats of summer. Climate was one of the few things which
both of them believed in, and their house was full of books on the
subject, and every new place was eagerly caught at and inquired about.
All along the Riviera they had wandered, over Italy with all its
islands, into Spain, to Gibraltar, to Algiers, up the Nile--almost as
many places as there had been winters in the delicate boy’s life.
Curiosities from all of these spots which possessed any curiosities
filled their rooms, and the acquaintances which an active-minded man
like Mr. Hunstanton made in these prolonged periods of leisure were
beyond counting. He had something to do with private histories all over
the world, and had thrust his nervous head into more tangled webs than
could be reckoned. His wife, who at first had tried to restrain him, had
long ago given up the attempt as impracticable, and only looked on and
wondered and criticised.

Such were Diana’s nearest neighbours. The Nortons were in the park, to
be got at at a moment’s notice--convenient people who could be sent for,
who were always ready to fill up a corner, to do anything that might be
agreeable. Sophy sung a little pleasantly and prettily, as she did
everything. Her aunt was ready to play quadrilles and waltzes, or the
simpler kind of accompaniments, till midnight at any time. They were
liked by all the much greater people into whose society they had been
transplanted bodily, and whom they delighted in, in return, with
enthusiasm. The Duchess, on the one occasion when she had spent three
days at the Chase, at the time when Diana had been thought possible for
her most noble son, paid special attention to Mrs. Norton, taking her
for the resident clergywoman of the place: and the distinction was one
which had never been forgotten. It must be added that, by some special
dispensation of Providence, the clergy of the parish were an uncle and
nephew--one rector, the other curate; two black-browed, silent men,
whose chief use in nature seemed to be (besides their duties in the
parish) to balance these two little ladies at Diana’s dinner-table. They
were both unmarried, and Nature seemed to intend that if not two
couplings at least one should result from this singularly appropriate
balance of forces. Everybody, however, saw this except the parties
concerned, as so often happens. They did not see it at all. The elder
Mr. Snodgrass unjustly stigmatised poor little Mrs. Norton as a gossip;
and the younger one had lost his head, not to speak of his heart, in a
vain adoration of Diana, who was about as far removed from him as her
namesake in the skies. And this taciturn young man was the favourite
butt for Sophy’s simple little wit, which was not of a brilliant
character indeed, but now and then could be sharp on a personal
peculiarity. Thus perverse human nature balked Providence, as seems not
unusual on the surface in mortal affairs.

Diana had been reigning for full two years when this story begins, and
for more than one the pair of little ladies had been settled in the Red
House. They had not complained of the damp during the first winter; but
now that another was about to begin, there was a little flutter of talk
about Sophy’s cough, which had not been lost upon Diana. Sophy, there
was no doubt, had a cough. She had not got rid of it last year until the
end of May, and though it did not seem to hurt her, it was enough to
disturb Mrs. Norton, and even to attract Diana’s attention whatever she
was doing, stopping her in the midst of the most interesting
conversation. Was it the humid atmosphere under the trees? was it the
green, too luxuriant growth about the Red House? Diana set out walking
one October morning, after many thoughts, to satisfy herself on this
point. She was fond of the girl in her own person, and she was moved by
a still deeper sympathetic sense of the love of the aunt to whom Sophy
was everything. What would the economy matter, the pretty house which
they had rent free, or even the fine company which Diana felt was still
more dear to Mrs. Norton--in comparison with her child’s health? Diana
went across the park, the short cut, not afraid of the moisture which
shone on the grass, in her strong boots and serge dress. She was tall
and fully developed, in the long lines and noble curves that became her
age: no longer a slim girl, but mature, in the pride and height of life:
her step firm and commanding, though light and swift; her fine head held
high, not a stoop nor a droop had she; light and strong and beautiful,
like a tall lily among the fragile undergrowth of blooms. Sophy was
sitting by the window, looking out upon the park, with a basket of
flowers before her, and all the flower-vases of the house ranged round
her; the air sweet with mignonette; the sunshine coming in over her
head, and catching the ruddy glimmer in her hair. “Here is Diana,
auntie,” she said, getting up to run to the door and welcome her friend.
Mrs. Norton was sitting with her needlework by the table. There was a
pucker in her gentle little brow, for Sophy had coughed three times
since breakfast. Something would have to be done. “I will take my
courage in both hands, and I will speak to Diana,” she said to herself,
then looked round the pretty room and sighed.

It was a very pretty room. Diana had almost furnished it, as well as
given the house. Opposite the window was an old-fashioned convex mirror,
making the prettiest sparkling picture of the park with its trees; a
little old cabinet underneath had Mrs. Norton’s pet china arranged upon
it, catching the sunshine: the sofa by the fireside was as softly
luxurious, though it was so small, as anything in the Chase. “What have
we done that she should have been so good to us? and she will think it
ungrateful,” Mrs. Norton said to herself, drying her eyes; but nothing
could be ungrateful which was done with such reluctant sorrow. She heard
the sound of the voices outside, and got up from her work tearfully,
thinking how rash Sophy was with her cough to run to the door. “I shall
never get her to take care--here,” she thought. “How nice of you to
come!” Sophy was saying. “Oh, I was just sitting at the window, wishing
and wishing for you--yes, isn’t the mignonette sweet?--it is almost the
last thing now--the flowers are going. Oh, but come in, come in--you
must not stand in the hall; and your boots are wet, Diana. You have come
across the grass.”

“Which is not a thing for little girls to do,” said Diana, letting the
long serge skirt drop which she had been carrying looped over her arm.
She was fond of long dresses, though they were inconvenient, and had to
be looped up. “I have come to speak to your aunt about business, and you
may run away for a little. Go and see if your ribbons are all right for
this evening: for you are coming up to dinner to meet the Hunstantons
and the clergy; and you know in that case you are always to look your
best.”

“As if I cared how I look, for _them_!” said Sophy. “But are we really,
really coming up to-night? My white is not quite fresh enough if Mrs.
Hunstanton is coming--she is so particular; and my blue is rather
shabby; and you don’t like my green. What am I to wear? There is the
grey Japanese silk you gave me; or shall I put on my pink spotted?”

“Here is the auntie,” said Diana. “Send her away, Mrs. Norton, for I
have something to consult you about.”

“Your grey, my love,” said Mrs. Norton, “with the blue ribbons. That is
pretty for this season, and not so thin. Oh, Diana! I ought to have gone
to you. I, too, want to tell you of something. If you should think me
ungrateful, or that I don’t feel all your kindness to the bottom of my
heart----”

“We mean the same thing, poor little auntie. That cough of Sophy’s----”

“Then you have noticed it,” cried Mrs. Norton, turning very pale. “You
think it very serious--as I do! like her mother’s! O Diana, my child!
Perhaps the doctor has said something to you. What shall I do? what
shall I do?”

“It is not the least serious,” said Diana. “_I_ spoke to the doctor, and
he laughed.”

“He laughed!” Mrs. Norton wavered between relief and offence. Then she
shook her head. “I have no confidence in country doctors. He would not
have laughed if--if he had any real experience--if--if he knew----”

“Do not cry,” said Diana. “Pray, pray do not cry. I have come to propose
something to you. I want you to go to Italy with the Hunstantons.”

Mrs. Norton gave a little shriek. “To Italy! Oh, Diana!” Then she
stopped in the first impulse of joy. “You are deceiving me,” she said,
trembling. “You think it a great deal more serious than you say.”

“I think you are the silliest little woman! and if you make me out to
have a hundred meanings I never thought of, I will not speak to you any
more. Ask the doctor. Ask a dozen doctors if you please. But look
here--if you are proud and hoity-toity, why, then, there must be a
general dissolution and breaking up of friendship; and you know, Mrs.
Norton, it is a dreadful thing to break off with and alienate a true
friend.”

“I do, I do! Oh, how could you ever think it of me, Diana? and why do
you speak to me so formally? If we were to go away to-morrow and never
to come back again, do you think that would make me less grateful to
you? And me hoity-toity! was I ever?--could I ever be?--does any one
think it possible?”

“Do you know what that is?” said Diana. “I found it in my desk to-day.”

Mrs. Norton looked at the paper through her tears. She knew very well
what it was. Though she was not rich, she prided herself on having
travelled abroad in her time, and knowing all about such matters. It was
a banker’s letter recommending herself to the correspondents of the
firm--one of those documents which make the traveller’s path easy, and
are of more use than any passport--as long as they hold out.

“Now,” said Diana, with a threatening aspect, “if you make any
objections or say anything disagreeable, I am your landlady, and I shall
evict you. If you refuse to go I shall take your roof off. I shall turn
out all your furniture; and anybody who pleases may take your china.
There! the power of threatening can no further go. And now I must hurry
home, for I have a great deal to do to-day. Give me some of Sophy’s
mignonette. Tell her she is a little goose, and that young Mr. Snodgrass
prefers pink to blue; and if you were not very inexorable and unkind,
his poor uncle--but of course if you will not listen to him, what does
it matter what I say? Sophy, good-bye--I have no time to stay.”

“But, Diana, Diana!” said Mrs. Norton, breathless, with the letter in
her hand, rushing to the door after the hasty visitor.

“I have not another moment--there are people waiting: good-bye till the
evening,” cried Diana, half-way across the lawn, with her blue gown over
her arm.

“She will wet her feet, she will catch cold, she will get rheumatism.
Oh, if she knew what it was to have neuralgia like me! But Italy!” said
Mrs. Norton to herself. She went back to her little drawing-room in a
flutter of excitement. Italy! It had been the pride of her life to have
been at Geneva once in her early days, and in this one expedition she
had found a parallel to all she had heard of wonderful and stupendous
since then. “I can understand it,” she had said, “because, when I was at
Geneva----” With this the greatest traveller, and even Mr. Hunstanton
himself, had been quelled. But now Italy! It took away the little lady’s
breath. She went in and looked at the banker’s letter. Surely it would
turn into a bit of rag again in her hands. It could not be real.
Italy--and a hundred pounds! Mrs. Norton was dumb. She gasped for
breath: she had not composure enough to call down Sophy, blissfully
occupied in looking up her ribbons, and unaware that there was anything
to hear.

Diana went back with a smile on her face. The power of doing such things
as this is most likely sweeter when it is newly acquired than when
people have possessed it all their life. She liked the indulgence. To be
very rich, is it not to be in some sort a god upon earth, putting right
the wrongs of fortune, and remedying its injustice? It was not so
always: had she herself been ill in the old days, she must have borne
it, and died in patience without hope of relief; and now to be able to
forestall the first possibility of danger to another seemed very sweet
to her. Yet she was not unaware, and the recollection made her smile
again, that there was something absurd in the choice of Sophy Norton as
the recipient of her bounty. There was many a consumptive girl in the
county to whom the help would have been invaluable--but Sophy was not
consumptive or unhealthy. She had a cough which was no more dangerous
than a toothache, and which had only attracted the notice of her friend
from the fact of the supposed dampness of the little Red House in the
park. What a curious commentary it was on the inequalities of fortune,
and the duty of the rich to bear the burdens of the poor! Mrs. Norton
was not exactly poor: she had enough to keep a house comfortably enough,
therefore it was to her that the rent-free cottage naturally fell; and
Sophy had no more need of transportation to a warm climate than one of
the elm-trees had, therefore of course it was Sophy who had the means
thrust into her hand. What a curious travesty of need and of duty! and
what could the great lady say for herself who was so glad to offer this
pleasure and favour to her semi-dependants? She did nothing but smile,
with an acute sense of those difficulties of life which no one can
explain and scarcely any one overcome. Had Diana known the people to
whom this favour would have been most a favour--to whom it might have
been life and death--probably they would have been proud persons who
would have rebelled at even the most delicate help. No man can save his
brother. Those who want help most are those who will not accept, who
cannot get it, whose wants are as far removed from the ken of the
helpful by natural independence or by ignorance as if there were no
help-givers in the world. Her own feelings even were to herself the
strangest commentary upon her sincere desire to be of use to her
fellow-creatures. This was a joke, a piece of self-indulgence, not noble
neighbourliness, such as it was in Diana to do if need were. She laughed
at herself and her banker’s letter, and the little show of violence with
which she had insisted on its acceptance. Who could tell how near at
hand and in what imminent need might be the other whom to save Diana
would have strained every nerve? And how blind and poor and miserable is
human nature, which cannot clear up even these initial difficulties! She
went on sighing before the smile had died off her face, feeling amid all
her power and capabilities how limited and how poor!



CHAPTER III.

TO ITALY.


“I did not think Diana had been such a fool,” was the remark of Mrs.
Hunstanton, when the arrangement was proposed to her. She made no
objection to the joint journey. The invalid boy for whom they travelled,
and in whom all her hopes were concentrated, was on the whole a
fatiguing companion, dear as he was both to father and mother; and as
Mrs. Norton was one of the women who are utterly beyond fatigue in the
amusement of children, there was compensation for the risk of being
bored by the helplessness of the two little women. But that Miss
Trelawny should carry her “infatuation” about these trifling persons to
the length of sending them off like an anxious mother because the girl
had a cough, filled her with an angry surprise. If she had a cough, what
had Diana to do with it? She had an aunt of her own to look after her,
and they had, Mrs. Hunstanton supposed, enough to live on, or what
business had they there at Diana’s table meeting the best people in the
county? Her unaccountable fondness for them irritated her friend. What
could she see in such commonplace persons? for indeed the mixture of
amusement and habit and indulgence in Diana’s affection was
incomprehensible to Mrs. Hunstanton, who either was fond of people or
disliked them, and disapproved of such complications of feeling. To tell
the truth, the Nortons themselves took Diana’s kindness as proof of a
deep and absorbing love, and asked each other, with a gentle
complacency, what they had done to make her so fond of them. “Not that I
should wonder at _any one_ being fond of you, my darling,” the aunt
said; a sentiment which the niece echoed warmly, both putting Diana’s
love down to the credit of the other. Diana herself smiled a little when
they talked to her of her love. Yes; she supposed she was fond of them
in a way, poor little souls! and she laughed at the indignation of Mrs.
Hunstanton, which was so _naïve_ and open. It was no harm to that good
woman, did not take anything from her, that her friend should pet and
spoil these little women. Still it irritated her; and to think of this
extravagant indulgence of their weaknesses angered her almost beyond
bearing. “As for their coming with us, they are welcome to come, I am
sure,” she said, thinking, not without a little relief, of Reginald, who
was “a handful” on a long journey. She saw in her mind’s eye Mrs. Norton
devoting herself to the boy, petting him--for it was her nature to be
always petting somebody--reading to him, finding out endless stores of
conundrums and foolish games for his amusement; and she was mollified.
It was possible even that, though of themselves bores, they might be a
kind of acquisition on the journey; but what Diana could mean by it!
Mrs. Hunstanton shrugged her shoulders, and made up her mind that human
creatures in general were more inscrutable than any other mystery on the
face of the earth. She had occasion to learn this truth nearer home.
There was her own husband always dancing about on somebody’s business,
meddling with somebody’s affairs. No such temptation disturbed her mind.
She was interested about her own people, loved them, and would have
spent her last sixpence and her last hour in serving them. But people
who did not belong to you! What right had you to be disturbed and
deranged by their affairs?

Nevertheless, notwithstanding Mrs. Hunstanton’s objections to the whole
business, she took a good deal of trouble that evening in enlightening
the inexperienced travellers, who had a thousand questions to ask.

“When I was at Geneva, there was a light kind of challis which I wore--a
kind of dust-colour--with flowers upon it,” said Mrs. Norton.

“Oh, not dust-colour, dear auntie; let it be grey,” said Sophy.

They were all in a flutter of expectation and excitement, eager to be
told if new outfits were necessary, and a total change of raiment, as if
they had been going to India. For Mrs. Norton, with no rent to pay, was
rich enough to indulge Sophy with several new dresses if necessary, and
would have liked the business. Mrs. Hunstanton cut them very short. “I
hope you don’t think you are going to eternal summer,” she said.

“No, indeed--until we get away from this sad world altogether, Mrs.
Hunstanton.”

Sophy had no desire to escape from this sad world. She said, “But it is
much warmer. It is to take away my cough; and Reginald--of course
Reginald goes for the warm weather?”

“Equable, equable. We don’t jump up and down the thermometer as we do at
home. And the place is very dull. You can’t think how dull it is--high
houses: if you live on the second floor--and unless you are rich you
must live on the second, or even the third floor--you can’t even see the
street. As for a glimmer of sunshine, that is past praying for, if you
happen to be on the wrong side. And no society, or next to none. The
Italians are very exclusive; and the English--well, the less said about
the English the better,” said Mrs. Hunstanton, in her serious vein.

The two little ladies looked at each other. Tears sprang to Sophy’s
eyes, who was the one most easily moved. “We must go now,” she said, “to
please Diana.” And then, after a pause, “Diana is so kind. Perhaps she
is too kind, auntie. If it had not been all settled for us--you know
there are other places which are not dull.”

“And ungrateful, too!” Mrs. Hunstanton said to herself; but she said
nothing more about the dulness of Pisa. She gave them some small
instructions, which restored their cheerfulness; and told them when she
meant to start. And though they were damped, their courage rose after
the interview was over. “If it was as bad as she says, who would wish to
go there?” said Mrs. Norton, with unusual shrewdness. “They are going
themselves, so we must have some society. Depend upon it, dear, Diana
would not send you if she were not sure it was for your good.”

Sophy, who had no doubt on this subject, accepted the assurance very
sweetly; and Mr. Hunstanton, who met them on the road, gave them much
greater encouragement. They had come out next day in Diana’s own
pony-carriage, which neither of them had courage to drive, and they met
him on the road, trudging along in his gaiters. “My wife would not give
you much advice,” he said; “you should have come to me. Take alpaca and
that sort of thing, Mrs. Norton. Don’t you call it alpaca? or merino, is
it? Not too thin, nor yet too thick. You will enjoy it very much. None
of those blighting colds we have here, but an equable, pleasant
temperature. You can always go out every day, and a little pleasant
society always at your command. We know people everywhere; and, of
course, wherever we are, after knowing you so intimately as Diana’s
friends, and all that, there will be a corner for you.”

“Sophy,” said Mrs. Norton, with enthusiasm, when he had passed on,
“Diana may say what she pleases, and I know she is cleverer than you and
I; but for real understanding there is nothing like a gentleman! They
know how to convey information, and they are so genuine. Now, ladies are
always jealous. It must be jealousy. What a different account he gave!
Mr. Hunstanton is a very nice man, and he understands what is due to
people in our position. It will be a great advantage to be near them:
for whatever Mrs. Hunstanton may say, of course they must have some
society. Besides, my love,” added Mrs. Norton, “the great thing is your
health. We can bear anything if your cough goes.”

“I think it is better since Thursday,” said Sophy. Thursday was the day
of Diana’s visit, when this great step was decided upon.

“I think so too,” said the aunt. “You know how one’s toothache goes away
when one knocks at the dentist’s door.”

This was perhaps not a very flattering simile: but that Sophy’s cough
did improve immediately was very apparent. Diana from the great house
looked on at the movements in the little one with that amused
observation which Mrs. Hunstanton could not understand. That Sophy’s
cough was better, that Mrs. Norton was no longer frightened to expose
her niece to the cold winds, and even bore with equanimity Sophy’s
adoption of the “short cut” across the park, which would have alarmed
both of them a few weeks before, and that Mrs. Norton herself had no
neuralgia when she drove out and in to Ireton to do the shopping which
she found inevitable,--all this was very apparent to Diana. Mrs.
Hunstanton, and even Miss Trelawny’s maid, remarked these circumstances
with wrath, and the former hotly declared it to be utter cynicism and
disbelief in human nature which made Diana laugh, and go on petting the
little humbugs as much as ever. Is there always perhaps a little
cynicism mingled with the toleration of the larger nature? Diana
protested against it warmly, and felt herself injured by the imputation.
She did not expect so much as the others did. It pleased herself to be
kind and liberal to them. She did not want gratitude. Thus one part of
the world will argue for ever, while another part receives the favours
given and feels itself relieved from obligation by that very argument;
and a third, incapable either of the generosity or the ingratitude,
stands by and grows wroth and criticises. After all, it is the givers
who have the best of it, though they have all the loss and the largest
share of the pain,--which is a paradox, as most things that concern this
paradoxical human nature must be.

The travellers went away, and Diana was left alone. Even in the heyday
of health and life this is seldom desirable. She was alone in the world.
So fortunate, so happy, so capable a woman, with “everything that heart
could desire,” did her prosperity, her wealth and power, and beautiful
surroundings do much for her? I think they did ameliorate her lot to an
almost incalculable extent. Shut up in a limited space, in sordid
circumstances, poor, with nothing to occupy her active faculties, she
would have been like a caged lion. But she had abundance to
do--occupations important and valuable and necessary, not the things
done for the mere sake occupation which are the lot of so many women,
and indeed also of many men. The work of the estate, taken up for the
first time for many generations with genuine enthusiasm, exercised all
her powers; and as she had the advantage over most reformers of being
able actually to execute a great many of the reforms she had planned,
her work kept her going as perhaps no other work could have done. A
reforming despot, eager to set everything right, and really able in many
cases to enact the part of Providence, redress wrongs, and do poetic
justice among men,--what position could be more sustaining and
encouraging to a vigorous and fanciful soul? Diana’s “work” occupied her
like a profession. She was rich, for what use but the good of others?
The most extravagant expenditure possible to herself personally, she
thought, could not amount to half of her income--though she loved to
have beautiful things about her, and to spend liberally with the
generous habit of her nature. She never meant to marry, she never meant
to save. The next Trelawny who should succeed her would find an
unencumbered estate, and an improved one, please God, but hoards of
money none. This was the intention of her life. You may believe, if you
please, that some disgust of youth with the ordinary arrangements of
humanity, some horror of false love, or unforgotten outrage of the
heart, was at the bottom of the system upon which she had formed her
future existence. But whatever this was, she had surmounted the pain of
it, and her imagination had been caught by that ideal of the virgin
princess, which had something captivating in it, though it is rarely
recognised by the world. Then she had herself been poor, and knew how to
give succour and who needed it.

But she kept the family lawyers of the Trelawny house, I allow, in a
state of fever and exasperation very prejudicial to the health of these
respectable gentlemen. They thought her mad, no less, when she proposed
to them to give large slices of her income to this one and the
other--not “the poor,” in the ordinary sense of the word. Subscriptions
to hospitals, to orphanages, to charities in general, that they
understood; but a civil list of pensions like the Queen’s--sometimes
more liberal than her Majesty is permitted to give! “The young woman is
mad!” said Mr. Seign and Mr. Cachet. But it was in favour of Diana’s
sanity that she had her dresses from Paris, and drove a beautiful pair
of horses, and bought pictures, and saw a great deal of society. Her
conservatories were the pride of the county; her head gardener a man of
such erudition that professors quailed before him. This did not look
like insanity; neither did the great Christmas party which gathered in
the Chase, when Mr. Cachet was one of the guests, and was forced to
acknowledge that things had not been carried on with anything like so
much splendour in old Sir John’s time. She was not a hermit nor an
anchorite nor a monomaniac. As for her resolution not to marry, of
course that meant solely that she had not yet been addressed by the
right man; and when he appeared, no doubt he would make short work with
the civil list. This calmed the tone of Messrs. Seign & Cachet’s
remonstrances. They protested on principle against any new
“eccentricity” of the feminine Squire of Trelawny; but they trusted in
time and the chapter of accidents, and Diana’s beauty and her youth--for
naturally when she has a large property, however it may be under other
circumstances, a woman of thirty has by no means ceased to be young.

Thus Diana occupied herself through the dulness of the winter; but when
spring began to thrill nature with its first touches through the gloom
her energy flagged. There was no one with her. Were I to say that these
two silly little women in the Red House had been “company” for Diana it
would be folly; and yet she missed them and their chatter and their soft
voices. How much domestic comfort there is in pleasant looks and smiles
and soft tones, even when unaccompanied by high qualities! They had gone
away without thinking much of her who was so much their superior,
accepting her favours with light hearts, but quite easy in the thought
that Diana liked to give. And she, foolish, bigger, nobler creature,
missed them! How absurd it was, yet true! And she missed also the
Hunstantons, her nearest neighbours, and her strength of winter flagged;
and all those imaginations to which “in spring a young man’s fancy
lightly turns” awoke in Diana’s mind--not to thoughts of love, but to
those unnamed and unnamable disturbances, longings for something other
than what we possess, which are not confined to youth alone. “Folk are
longen to gon on pilgrimages,”--old characteristic of human nature never
changed! Diana got up one morning with a sudden thought in her mind.
She, who for these last two years had been helping all sorts of people
to all sorts of pleasure, she had never been anywhere herself, except
in the last months of old Lady Trelawny’s life, when she went to Cannes
with her in an invalid pursuit of the warmth and sunshine. She made up
her mind all at once to go to Italy too.

I don’t know whether it was fortunate or unfortunate for her, but it was
the fact that her first rapid glance round all her horizon to try to
remember if she knew any one who would like to be taken there with
her--came to nothing. If she chose to go she must make up her mind to go
for herself. Well, she said after an interval, why not go for myself?
There was nothing unlawful in it, no more than in getting dresses from
Paris, which she did without hesitation. Therefore, accordingly, with
her usual rapidity, having placed everything on a safe footing that none
of her enterprises might be arrested, Diana set off. She sent no warning
letters before her. Perhaps this was rash: but it was not as if she
expected any special warmth of welcome. She knew exactly how she would
be received by all her friends,--how Sophy and her aunt would flutter
about her; how Mrs. Hunstanton would raise her eyebrows, and proceed to
immediate but probably silent speculations as to what had brought her;
how Mr. Hunstanton would claim her interest in the histories of all his
friends; even how sickly Reginald would inspect her to see what she had
brought him. All this Diana knew beforehand. She went rapidly across the
sea and land on the last wild days of March, and found herself whirled
through the Tuscan plain among the almond-trees in the beginning of
April. What a flush there was everywhere about of those almond-trees,
useful and meant for fruiting, not kept merely to be the earliest
ornaments of the garden, like ours! She seemed to be wandering through
the backgrounds of all the Italian pictures she knew, seeing the soft
evening light strike upon the little cones of hills, the old castles and
convents. Was this the Val d’Arno, the country of dreams, and were these
the Apennines? There was a vague elation, a sense of wondering joyous
unreality, in the very names.

The Hunstantons “knew themselves” in all these places which are
frequented by invalids, and knew where to go. They were established in
an old palace on the sunny side of the river. There they had saved wood
and kept themselves warm all the winter, and now began to talk of the
risks of too much heat and the necessity of closing the _persianis_.
Reginald was better, and as for Sophy’s cough, no one had heard it since
she left England. It had been cured too soon; but only Mrs. Hunstanton
recollected this fact, or ever had mentioned it. The Hunstantons had the
second floor of the palace, being economical people; the Nortons had a
little _appartemento_ above. They lived separately, yet together; and
Reginald had been so much happier with the Nortons to fall back upon, to
find out conundrums for him, and play games with him, and fill up his
idle moments, that his mother had forgotten all her objections to her
fellow-travellers. Reginald was her very dear son, but he was not an
interesting boy. Sometimes even fathers and mothers are conscious of
this fact, but kind little Mrs. Norton was quite unconscious of it. “I
do really believe that Diana, who thinks of everything, saw what an
advantage it would be for Reginald, and that she sent them for that, as
much as for Sophy’s ridiculous little pretence of a cough,” Mrs.
Hunstanton had been saying on the very evening of Diana’s arrival. This
was when she and her husband were alone after dinner on one of their
“off-nights.” On alternate evenings they held small receptions,--little
gossiping friendly parties which were not parties, and to which the
English--of whom this lady had said that the less said of them the
better--constantly came. One stranger only interfered on this evening
with the conjugal _tête-à-tête_. He was an Italian--a Florentine--of
the great house of the Pandolfini, but not a wealthy scion of the race.

“Yes; Sophy is an unselfish little thing. I always told you so. She
likes to be of use.”

“I observe,” said Pandolfini, who bore the title of Cavaliere, but was
invariably addressed, according to Italian use and wont, by his
Christian name. He spoke good but formal English, avoiding the
contractions with which we break the solemnity of our speech. “I observe
that it is the epithet for the young lady--unselfish. All the English
say so. Is there not, then, another epithet which will mean something
more large, more fine?”

“What could be finer than unselfishness?” said Mrs. Hunstanton, raising
her eyebrows. “Mind, _I_ don’t apply it as so many people do; and I was
not talking of Sophy, whose chief claim is that she is young and pretty,
but of her aunt: or rather, indeed, of Diana.”

“Ah, Diana!” said her husband; “that is a different thing altogether.”

“And who, then, is Diana?” said Pandolfini, smiling. He had heard the
name a great many times; but that any one should be ignorant who Diana
was seemed so unlikely to the little party, that the Italian, though a
constant visitor, knew nothing of her but her name.

“Oh, Diana! Why, you know she---- Who is that, my dear, at the door? We
don’t expect any one, do we, to-night?”

“_I_ don’t expect any one--unless you have forgotten what night it was,
as I’ve known you to do, and asked somebody----”

“Why, why!” said Mr. Hunstanton--“God bless me! listen: if I did not
know she was safe in England I should say that voice---- My dear!--why,
it is! Diana, her very self!”

The Italian stood behind backs, smiling and looking on. The room was
large and but partially lighted, with frescoes on the walls shining out
here and there where there was light enough to see them. He saw a lady
come in against one of these illuminated bits of wall, relieved against
a mass of dark-crimson drapery, holding out her hands. She was in black,
with a lace veil wound about her head. The smile faded off his face as
he stood and gazed. He had been thinking of Sophy’s type of English
womankind, which was what he had seen most, with that same amused,
indulgent, kind semi-contempt which had been in Diana’s mind. But here
he was stopped suddenly short. The beautiful face which met his look
without being aware of it was pale, partly by nature, partly by fatigue.
Her hair was dark, shining with a soft gloss, yet ruffled over her
forehead by a tendency to curl which had often disturbed Diana: her eyes
of that lustrous and dewy grey which is so rare: her face as perfect in
its somewhat long oval as if it had been painted by Luini, but not weak
as Luini’s faces sometimes are. She stood smiling, putting out her
hands, which looked like snow through the cloud of drooping lace. “Yes,
it is Diana--the last person in the world you expected to see!” she
said.

Pandolfini felt the words echo down to the very bottom of his heart.
Surely the very last person in the world he had expected to see,--such a
woman as he had been looking for all his life! Fortunately he was in the
shade, and she was occupied with her friends and the welcome they gave;
and though she saw there was a stranger present, could not see, and
therefore could not be offended by, his gaze. And an Italian can gaze at
a woman without impertinence as a man of no other nation can. If she is
beautiful, is it not the homage he owes her? and if she is not
beautiful, it is kind to make her think so--to give the admiration due
to her sex, if not to her. Presently, however, he awoke to the
recollection that English susceptibilities were sometimes shocked by
this simple homage. He did not go away as an Englishman would have
done, but he went to one of the distant windows, and, half hidden in the
curtains, looked on still while they put her in a chair, discharging
volleys of questions--while they offered her everything, dinner, tea,
wine, all that a traveller might be supposed to require, and she replied
with soft laughter and explanations, declaring herself fully refreshed
and rested. Then there was a flutter and a rush, and the two little
ladies from the third floor came rushing in, called by Reginald, and
blotted out the beautiful new-comer with their embracings. When the
party remembered him at last, and brought him out of the shadow and
presented him to the stranger, Pandolfini, much against his will, had to
go away. Not even his Italian simplicity was proof against the little
chill that came over the English group as he was brought (of course by
good Mr. Hunstanton’s officious kindness) into the midst of it. “I must
not disturb the happiness of the re-seeing,” he said in his formal
English, carefully pronouncing every syllable. Sophy had been sent by
her aunt to fetch something as he got his hat in the anteroom, and
lingered a moment in the great gloomy staircase, lighted only by the
little coiled taper she carried, and by the lamp of the servant who
stood ready to show him the way down that dark cavern of stairs. It
made a curious picture,--the light all centring in Sophy’s whiteness,
her muslin dress, and the flower face that bloomed over it in all the
English glory of complexion. She lingered to say good-night to him,
putting out her soft little hand. “You are happy to-night?” he said,
looking at her with that kind smile. “How can I help it?” cried Sophy,
but with a curious wistful look in her eyes; “Diana has come.” Then she
ran with a thrill and vibration of light and brightness up into the
dark, carrying her taper, and he more heavily went down to the night and
the outside world.

Diana has come! He kept saying it to himself all the way back to his
lodging, trying to harden the soft syllables in the English way--then
melting, softening over them, taking them back to his own tongue. The
moon was large in the sky, stooping out of the blue, wondering at
him--she, too, who was Diana. He laughed to himself softly, and
then--strange!--felt his eyes full of tears. Why, in the name of every
sylvan goddess?--because an English lady whom he had never seen before
had suddenly appeared in the big, dim, painted room, where her
country-people were staying--the most natural of incidents. What could
he do but laugh at himself thus suddenly startled into--sentiment. Yes,
that was the word--a foolish word, meaning a foolish thing. But why that
filling of the eyes? He was an Anglo-maniac, and it vexed him to feel
how southern he was, how unrestrained, overcome in that foolish Italian
way by feeling. An Englishman would not have been capable of these
absurd tears. And as he pursued his way in the moonlight all the length
of the Lung’ Arno the bells began to strike their prolonged Italian
twenty-two hours, for it was ten o’clock: and every chime all over the
city (for need I say every clock was a little behind its brother?),
prolonging the twenty-two into half a hundred, struck out the same sound
that was in his heart: Di--ana--Diana--Diana! She had come--she whom no
one had heard of till to-day.



CHAPTER IV.

THE TWO LITTLE WOMEN.


“So you have been happy,” said Miss Trelawny. She was in her room at her
hotel, lying upon a sofa, not because of fatigue so much as to please
the two little women who were fluttering about her, and to whom it was a
matter of conventional necessity, that having just “come off a journey,”
a lady ought to be fatigued and should “lie down.” Diana, in her perfect
health and vigour, had thrown off all her tiredness in a night’s rest;
but Mrs. Norton did not think this possible, and was doubtful even
whether it was right.

“Oh, very happy,” said Sophy; “everybody has been kind to us. We have
had the most delightful parties--little dances even: and almost
everybody has a reception one night in the week. And it is so beautiful!
and all the churches and things to go and see; and the alabaster shops:
and Mr. Pandolfini has been so kind.”

“Yes, Diana, it has been very nice indeed,” said her aunt; “everybody is
kind, as Sophy says. So interested in her, seeing that she was
delicate----”

“Oh, auntie, I am not delicate now--my cough is quite, _quite_ gone. I
feel as if I could do anything. Fancy, Diana, Mr. Pandolfini took us all
over the Cathedral and up the Leaning Tower, and to see everything; and
then there was a little impromptu dance at the Winthrops--Americans, you
know--and I danced--I danced with _him alone_ four dances. I was quite
ashamed of myself----”

“Is Mr. Pandolfini _him alone_?” said Diana, laughing; “but what does
all this mean? For I thought Mrs. Hunstanton said there was no society
in Pisa----”

“She must have been in an ill temper that day,” said Sophy; “there never
was such delightful society anywhere, never! Oh, Diana, you will enjoy
it so; everything is _so_ lovely! The Cathedral alone, when you go over
it as you ought, and the Campo Santo, and all the pictures. Mr.
Pandolfini knows them all, every one, and tells you everything. Oh, Mr.
Pandolfini is _so_ kind!”

“Ah, little one, is it so?” said Diana, looking up at her with a smile.
But Mrs. Norton interposed hastily--

“Sophy always thinks everybody is _so_ kind that shows a natural
interest in her. She is so ridiculously humble-minded. But even a virtue
should not be carried too far, should it? We must not say a word against
Mrs. Hunstanton, who has been a very good friend to us; but what she
said about society was quite a mistake. The society is very good. I need
not tell you, my dear Diana, that Sophy is a little goose, and knows
nothing: all society is good to her when people are kind to her; but I
have a little more experience. The Hunstantons themselves, of course we
know what they are--very good friends to us and very nice, and
everything one could desire--but not perhaps, you know, the very _crême
de la crême_.”

“Ah, indeed,” said Diana, with a smile; “and who then are the _crême de
la crême_?”

“Oh, we must not try to prejudice you,” said Mrs. Norton; “you will see
for yourself. Everybody of course will be glad to see _you_, Diana. But
I must say I think it is the greatest testimony to people’s
disinterestedness that they have been so good to us. We are not wealthy,
you know, nor great ladies; but everybody has seen my Sophy’s sweetness,
Diana. That is what goes to my heart. They do all so appreciate
Sophy----”

“Oh, auntie, how can you say so?” cried Sophy, rosy with blushes,
running to her, and clasping her arms round her. “Fancy anybody thinking
of poor little me! They like me because I am _your_ child.”

Diana lay on her sofa and laughed very softly to herself. The mutual
admiration amused, and it did not displease her. Mrs. Hunstanton would
have taken it very differently, but Diana could not but be amused.
“Come,” she said, “it is not kind to leave me in so much lower a place.
I am only to be received, because I am Miss Trelawny; that is hard upon
me. I should like to be liked for myself too.”

“O Diana! you!--as if any one would look at me when _you_ are there!”
cried Sophy, with a blush and flutter, running to kiss her friend; while
Mrs. Norton remonstrated more gravely--

“My dear Diana, you are a person of importance, we all know, in every
way. You are so clever, very different from either Sophy or me: besides
being a great lady, which, of course, opens every door. You must not
grudge us, dear, a little interest that people take in us, because we
are quite unimportant. It is her innocence, you know, that interests
everybody--such a little white dove of a creature--and partly, too,
because you have been such a friend to us, Diana. Everybody knows how
kind you have been.”

This silenced Diana, who had no mind to be commended for her kindness.
She told Sophy where to find certain little boxes of gloves and trifling
ornaments which she had bought in her passage through Paris, and so
turned the course of the conversation. They were much delighted as a
matter of course with their presents, and most eager to get a little
information about the fashions, which Diana, who got her dresses in
Paris, must be so well qualified to give. Then Diana’s maid was called,
and the last gown was brought out, and examined with the greatest
interest, Diana looking on from her sofa, always with a smile. They were
not rich enough to have their dresses from M. Worth; but they were not
at all disposed to wear things that were out of fashion. Why should
they? and both the aunt and the niece were very serious in their
conviction that it was a great advantage to be able to study Diana’s
things, and see exactly what was the newest trimming, and how “a really
good” gown was made. Mrs. Norton was very clever with her needle, and
thought nothing of altering the trimming of a dress when she saw a newer
fashion, or even of changing the cut of the garment itself (if the
stuff would allow). “It is so much more easy when you have a pattern
before your eyes instead of only the plate in a fashion-book,” she said.
Diana’s maid, Morris, had her own opinion about this, and was indignant
that her mistress’s things should be copied; but Diana threw open her
wardrobe with that absurd liberality which shocked Morris as much as it
shocked Mrs. Hunstanton. They did not understand how it was possible
that she could be amused by the sight of those two heads so closely bent
over her best dress, pinching the flutings with their inquisitive
fingers, and examining with such precision the way in which it was
looped up. “What a blessing that your new grey is not made up!” said the
aunt to the niece; “I see exactly how this is done.” “You are so clever,
auntie,” said Sophy, admiringly. “The front width forms a _tablier_,”
said Mrs. Norton, “and the back is in a _pouff_. See! nothing could be
more simple; and yet how handsome it looks! To be sure, yours is not
such handsome silk as Diana’s; but with your light little figure----”
“And, dear auntie, don’t you think your plum-colour could be altered to
look like this, with a new flounce at the bottom? I must not be selfish,
and let you think always of me,” said Sophy. How angry Mrs. Hunstanton
would have been, and how Maria Morris gloomed at the two little ladies!
But Diana, in the background, was amused and pleased on the whole. How
could it be supposed to harm her? And it pleased them; and to see them
fluttering over it, consulting, and putting their little heads on one
side, and examining all the seams, and looking as if something much more
serious than affairs of the State were in hand, was as good as a play.

She had bought a box of gloves for Sophy, and a pretty parasol and
ribbons for Mrs. Norton. The first of these had created a slight
disappointment, she could see, gloves being then cheap in Tuscany. “But
I am sure it was most kind of Diana to think of you at all: and they are
such beautiful gloves,” said Mrs. Norton, in a reassuring tone. Diana
felt a little mortified to find that she had thus brought, as it were,
coals to Newcastle; but even that amused her more or less--for her
little _protégée_ was already more learned than she in the smaller
necessities of the toilet, and where things could be got cheap.

Diana got up from the sofa while they were occupied with her wardrobe,
and betook herself to her letters. Hers was not the usual lady’s budget
of not very necessary correspondences: already the questions, the
references, the applications which weary out the absent who are involved
in the real business of life, and make a holiday almost more troublesome
than a working day, had begun. She had to write to her steward, to her
lawyer, and to more than one of the pensioners on her civil list, who
thought it their duty to make deferential communications to her about
their families, and consult her as to the steps to be taken for placing
Willie in an office or Fanny at school. No one could believe that it was
not personal love which made Diana good to them--a perception of their
own excellences, not general in the world; and this sentiment in her
mind no doubt made all the trouble she took a pleasure to her. This
conviction arose from no protestations of affection on Diana’s part; but
simply from the fact of her beneficence, which otherwise no one could
understand, not even her friends. She replied as best she could to those
applications about Willie and Fanny, approving generally of what was
being done, and sending a little present to make up for the deficiency
in interest which she felt rather guilty about, but which no one
suspected. “How you can be fond of so many commonplace people is a thing
I don’t understand,” said Mrs. Hunstanton, who came in while she was
thus occupied. “I am not fond of them,” said Diana, humbly. Her friend
shook her head with undisguised impatience. She was rather shocked even
by the idea. “You are either the most affectionate person in the world,
or you are the greatest deceiver,” she cried, in her noncomprehension,
stung to warmer energy than usual by the sight of Mrs. Norton and Sophy
in the background, still examining the new _mode_.

“I am either a fool or a humbug: is that what you would say?”

“Not a humbug, perhaps, not a conscious humbug: a cynic, that is what it
is. You despise everybody, therefore you can manage to be good to them.
Look at that now! I would not put up with it for a moment--turning over
all your things--making your very gowns common----”

This is a sort of desecration that goes to a woman’s heart--to bring
down her newest fashion to the common level--to copy in poor materials
the very finest and newest cuts! “I could not away with it!” said Mrs.
Hunstanton, and she meant what she said.

Diana laughed, which was quite exasperating in the circumstances. “They
like it,” she said, “and it does me no harm. I am very glad to see Sophy
looking so well----”

“My dear Diana, Sophy never looked the least ill, except in your anxious
eyes. Well, I don’t intend to say anything more about it; you chose to
do it, and that is enough. Tom is as ridiculous as you are. He insists
that I should take them everywhere, and introduce them to all the people
we know. I allow that they are very good to Reginald--oh, very good.
They actually make his life happier, and of course I am grateful. It is
not that I dislike them or grudge anything I can do; but you, Diana,
you! to waste so much affection upon two little selfish----”

“Unselfish, you mean.”

“It comes to the same thing,” said Mrs. Hunstanton, in her fervour. “Oh
yes, they are always giving in, thinking what you will like, and
deferring to each other; and the result is that they have everything
they wish, which, rich as you are and clever as you are, Diana, is more
than could be said for you----”

“I have a great many things I like,” said Diana, quietly; “no one has
more; and I have my own way--you don’t consider the blessedness of that.
Above all things in the world, one likes one’s own way.”

“You have your own way by letting every one have theirs,” said her
friend. “What is Sophy about? Are you going to copy all Diana’s things,
one after the other? But you must allow for the difference of style:
Diana’s things will never suit you.”

“Indeed Sophy is a great deal more sensible than to think she could be
like Diana,” said Mrs. Norton, with dignity; “there _is_ a great
difference of style; and different people like different things,” she
added, oracularly, “some one, some another.” Mrs. Norton felt herself
able to show fight with the backing up of Diana behind her, and even,
with that moral support, felt strong enough slightly to under-value
Diana: a whimsical way, yet a very genuine one, of proving unbounded
faith in her. For the moment indeed she had an easy victory, for Mrs.
Hunstanton was struck dumb by the audacious idea that Sophy’s “style”
should be identified in opposition to Diana’s, and was silent against
her will, finding no words at her command to say. And the others
gathered up their presents, while the little scratch of Diana’s pen was
the only sound clearly audible. Sophy turned over her gloves half
regretfully, half pleased. They were beautiful gloves--some of them
twelve-buttons! which was wonderful--much better than she ever would
have herself bought; but then the Tuscan gloves did very well, and if it
had only occurred to Diana to bring her something more useful! “But how
good of Diana to think of you at all!” Mrs. Norton was whispering in
her ear.

“I don’t hear you talking,” said Diana, “if it’s out of consideration
for me, never mind. You don’t disturb me, and my letters are almost
done.”

“You must go over all the sights,” said Mrs. Hunstanton; “my husband
will give us no peace till you have seen everything. How pleased he will
be to have a new person to take about! He will not spare you a single
picture or a single chapel. He likes to do things thoroughly.”

“But Diana must not do too much,” said Mrs. Norton, “after such a long
journey. She must keep quite quiet for a day or two, and lie on the
sofa. Indeed I should have the blinds down, if she would be guided by
me. She must not try her nerves too much.”

“Have I any nerves?” said Diana, laughing; “to lie on the sofa would
make an end of me. But I don’t think I am good for sight-seeing. It is
quite enough at present to say when one wakes, This is Italy. Fancy
being in Italy! What could one desire more?”

“But, dear Diana, that is nothing!” cried Sophy, great in her superior
knowledge. “Wait till you have seen Pisa properly--oh, only wait a
little! You don’t know--you can’t imagine how nice it is?”

Mrs. Hunstanton cast a look of impatience upon this outburst of
enthusiasm. She had put up with these little women good-humouredly
enough hitherto, and had been rather grateful for their good offices in
respect to Reginald; but Diana’s presence made a change. Their little
ways exasperated her as soon as their protectress and patron appeared on
the scene. They were Diana’s folly--they were the one thing
unaccountable in her, at least the most prominent thing; and as soon as
Mrs. Hunstanton saw that familiar smile of kindness on Diana’s lip, she
became censorious, critical, impatient, as when she was at home.

“There are much finer places in the world than Pisa,” she said. “We need
not raise Diana’s expectations; but still there is something to see, and
Mr. Hunstanton----”

“Oh, but please, Diana, let Mr. Pandolfini go too!” cried Sophy,
irrepressible. “No one knows so well as he does; and he is so clever and
so good-natured. He will take you everywhere. I never understood
anything till he explained it. Oh please, Mrs. Hunstanton, let Mr.
Pandolfini take Diana! He is the best.”

“Sophy!” said her aunt in an undertone, raising a warning finger. “It
is not that she does not appreciate dear Mr. Hunstanton--he is always so
kind; but Mr. Pandolfini being a stranger----”

“Oh, I am not jealous for my husband,” said Mrs. Hunstanton, with a
laugh.

Sophy did not appreciate either the warning or the displeasure. She
babbled on about the sights she had seen, while Diana listened and
admired. She knew a great deal more, and had seen a great deal more than
Diana, not only the Cathedral and the Campo Santo, but an alabaster shop
which Mr. Pandolfini had told her was very good, and not so dear as some
of the others; and where Sophy had bought the dearest little pair of
oxen with a funny waggon, “just like what you see the peasants have,”
she said, with a sense of knowing all about it which was very pleasant.
Diana put up her letters composedly, and let the girl run on. Mrs.
Hunstanton felt that she herself would have been quite incapable of so
much patience, and this made her still more angry in spite of herself.
But she had made up her mind to stay them out, and got rid of them at
last triumphantly, by reminding Sophy that there was choir-practice that
afternoon at the Winthrops, who had “interested themselves very much” in
the English service, and were very musical. This master-stroke left
Mrs. Hunstanton in possession of the field. She breathed a sigh of
relief when they were gone.

“That little Sophy is beyond anything,” she cried. “Why, she patronises
you, Diana, for being foolish enough to send her to Italy when she had
no more need to go----”

“Hush,” said Diana, putting up a hand as if to close her friend’s mouth;
“but tell me, who is this Mr. Pandolfini? Sophy does not seem able to
talk of anything else. Poor child! has she come out here innocently to
meet her fate?”

“Diana, don’t be so ridiculous about that child; you make me so angry.
You do nothing but encourage her in every kind of nonsense----”

“Is love nonsense?--and marrying? I thought you were always preaching
their advantages.”

“Ah, to you! that is a different thing altogether--except that there is
no one half good enough for you. You! Yes, of course we shall all be too
happy to see a Prince Consort.”

“There will never be a Prince Consort,” said Diana; “if you knew what it
is to be free, after being under somebody’s orders all your life!”

“But a good husband does not give you orders; only men in novels, so far
as I can see, call upon their wives to obey them in that melodramatic
way. If Tom were to do it, I cannot say I should be angry: it would be
too comical--I should laugh. Marriage is not slavery, Diana.”

“But if I don’t mean to try it, why should I? there are quantities of
people in the world to marry and be married. It is no sin, is it? but
rather a variety. Now, acknowledge that I am convenient now and then,
from the mere fact that there is only one of me! But it is the whole
duty of woman in Sophy’s case. To marry and to marry well--to get a kind
good man, who will not object to her aunt. So I repeat, Who is Mr.
Pandolfini? To call her by such a big-sounding name would be very droll.
But Italians are kind. Tell me who he is?”

“He is--well, he is not for Sophy, if that is what you mean. The
ridiculous idea! Sophy--a little nobody, a blanche Miss! If you knew the
man, you would laugh----”

“But you don’t laugh----”

“No; because men are such fools! and you never know what absurdity they
may be guilty of when a girl has that little admiring manner, and looks
up to them. Still, the Cavaliere has better taste--he has more sense. He
might die for _you_, Diana; but that little thing----”

“For me!” Diana laughed, but a faint colour came upon her face. “That
means, I suppose, that a tall dark woman seems more in this hero’s way
than a little light one? Let us hope that the law of contraries will
bring them together. I should not like little Sophy to be
disappointed--and her aunt.”

“You are really too absurd about Sophy and her aunt. Is a man to marry
both of them? But he is _my_ friend, and I can’t have him brought down
to such a fate. If that is what you mean, Diana, it must be a stand-up
fight between you and me. I shall not give in if I can help it; and I am
sure he is not such a fool.”

“There is a wavering in your voice which sounds like alarm,” said Diana,
laughing; “but I have no evil intentions in respect to your Mr.
Pandolfini. I shall not stand up and fight. If Sophy cannot do it for
herself, I shall not interfere.”

“Sophy!” said Mrs. Hunstanton, with vast disdain; but nevertheless there
was a slight quaver in her voice.



CHAPTER V.

THE PALAZZO DEI SOGNI.


A great many things happened in the next few days. The first floor of
the Palazzo dei Sogni, where the Hunstantons lived, being vacant, Diana
was made by her friends to take it for the remainder of the season; and
they brought her in triumph from her hotel, where indeed she had felt
herself out of place, to the vast magnificent faded rooms, so bare and
yet so noble, in which the Marchesi dei Sogni had vegetated for
generations. There were few things left in them except mere furniture
which could be made money of; but the furniture itself would have gone
long ago, had it not been for the more immediate advantage of letting
the _piano nobile_, and the immediate disadvantage of buying other
chairs and tables in modern taste. Accordingly, the beautiful rooms were
still furnished as became them, with articles which, if not so old as
the walls, had at least lived there for more than a century. And there
was one Vandyke--indifferent the dealers said, but very splendid still
to be in the private enjoyment of an English lodger,--a full-length of a
melancholy dark Di Sogni of two hundred years ago, which threw still
further dignity upon the lofty rooms, all opening upon one another, in
which his ancestors had lived and died. Sophy and her aunt were overawed
by the splendour of this presiding deity, yet ventured to suggest that a
new drawing-room suite in blue satin would be “sweet,” and make
everything look quite different--which no doubt was very true.

Diana, however, was entirely in her place in these rooms, and enjoyed
them with that thrill of her being which she herself laughed at as a
sign of superannuated youthfulness and romanticism, and which, to tell
the truth, none of her friends comprehended at all. For, after all, what
was Italy more than any other place? A better climate, a good many
things to see, and, as Sophy thought, delightful society, and many
little parties, balls, and other gentle diversions which she had never
before attained to. In their hearts they all thought Diana a little
absurd. But at the same time it was very pleasant to have her there, and
to get the advantage of her large rooms as it grew hotter, and of her
carriage, in which Mrs. Norton and Sophy went about everywhere. They had
felt often that Mrs. Hunstanton was not very hospitable in respect to
her little carriage, which had only one horse, and no very great
accommodation. “I suppose she thinks she cannot ask one of us without
the other,” Mrs. Norton had said; “but I am sure, as long as my darling
had a drive now and then, I should not mind.” “If she would only have
taken auntie sometimes--that is all I should have cared for,” said the
girl. They were very unselfish, always preferring each other. But
Diana’s carriage made everything smooth. When she went out, she had the
chief seat; but when she did not go, Mrs. Norton and Sophy were quite
happy. Sometimes they would take pretty Mrs. Winthrop, the American, and
her little daughter, and then their airs of gentle patronage was
delightful. They were very kind, always ready to be of use. “What were
our blessings given to us for, but to be shared with others?” Mrs.
Norton would say; “I am sure dear Diana is of that opinion.” And no
doubt there crept by degrees a certain confusion into her mind on the
subject, and she ceased to be quite sure that dear Diana’s opinion on
this subject was more important than her own. All this Mrs. Hunstanton
beheld with hostile eyes. She had no patience with Diana’s supineness.
“You demoralise everybody,” she cried at last, wound up to desperation.
“They were good enough little silly creatures, but now they are
unendurable.” Was there perhaps a consciousness in her mind, behind this
warmth of righteous indignation, that the additional importance which
the two little ladies had taken upon them, and the carriage and Diana’s
backing, had made a difference in their attentions to Reginald? If so,
Mrs. Hunstanton would no doubt have felt that she was quite right in
finding fault with such selfishness, for had not they paid court to
herself assiduously until such time as they needed her no longer?
Mercenary little things, both aunt and niece!

No one, however, could shake Diana out of this supineness, or could
drive her into a fiery round of sight-seeing such as her friends
desired. She went out and walked, roaming about the sacred places,
making slow acquaintance with the things she wanted to see, spending the
cool hours under the shadow of the Vandyke in these great cool
melancholy rooms, sitting out in the balcony, where a faint waft of
orange-blossom out of the nearest convent garden came upon the soft
evening air. Fortunately there was a moon, which, so long as it lasted,
whitening the _loggias_ and high roofs of the tall houses on the other
side of Arno, and casting a long silvery gleam along the course of the
river between, pleased her more than anything. They said she was lazy,
and they said she was sad; but Diana was no more sad than a nature
finely touched is apt to be by moments everywhere, and she had more
occupation every day than good Mr. Hunstanton, who was the chief
supporter of the lazy theory, got through in a week. It was only her
friends, however, as so often happens, who found fault with her. The
general community looked with profoundest admiration upon this beautiful
young woman (“though not so very young,” some people said), who was so
rich, and in her own country such a great lady. Again, Diana had the
advantage over a young Squire Trelawny of her own age and wealth. Much
as that personage would naturally have been prized in an English colony,
she was looked up to still more. She was so rich; she had so much power
to give pleasure to others, and such goodwill to do it. And then to pay
court to her injured no one’s _amour propre_, neither that of man or
woman. To want to marry her even, had it gone so far as that, would have
been no shame to any one. She rose easily, without any effort of her
own, into something of the same princess position which she held at
home. The English chaplain went to her at once, you may be sure, and got
the largest subscription from her that had ever been known in the
records of the church at Pisa. If she did not buy alabaster at Sophy’s
favourite shop, she bought better things, and befriended everybody,
which was the best of all. On the ground of having been once poor
herself, her sympathy for all who were poor went the length of
absurdity, Mrs. Hunstanton thought. And even Mrs. Norton remonstrated
gently. “We have no right to say so, but you must not be too good,
Diana,” she said. Diana was a puzzle to the people who were so familiar
with her, who felt authorised to find fault with her, to lecture her, to
point out a great many better ways of doing everything. Sophy, indeed,
took upon herself to allow that perhaps dear Diana was a little
eccentric. “But then she is so good! we all love her so!” cried the
little girl, with a certain indulgence and patronage.

Diana was aware of all this, more or less. She knew that they were
conscious of a mild superiority, even while they took everything, and a
degree of importance above all, from her. But she only smiled; they
meant no harm. It was nature. They could not bring out any more than was
in them: they were good, if they were not wise. They meant no harm. And
if her own little world was more puzzled than respectful, the outer
world had a great respect for Diana. She was so rich! What a thing that
is! And if it makes the homeliest persons interesting, how much more
must it do for those who are not homely, who are interesting by gift of
nature? Miss Trelawny was on everybody’s lips--all the more, perhaps,
that she did not drive about constantly, as her companions wished, and
show herself in everybody’s eyes.

Thus the first week or two passed; and insensibly the little receptions
of the Hunstantons began to take place downstairs on Diana’s floor. The
rooms were so much handsomer; and what did it matter which of them it
was that gave the simple refreshments required? Thus it was settled,
though not without a little feeling on Mrs. Hunstanton’s part that she
too was making use of Diana, as she objected to all the other people for
doing. But then it was good for Diana to see people. Somehow the rustle
and murmur of the little society acquired dignity in the loftier and
more splendid rooms of the _piano nobile_, where the little coterie of
the English Church party--the people who had choir-practice every week
in Mrs. Winthrop’s rooms, and who flattered themselves that their
“simple beautiful service” must be a revelation to any belated Italian
who stumbled across the threshold of their chapel--could rub shoulders
with worldly-minded travellers and with Italians _pur sang_, without
either coterie coming in the way of the other. For Sophy’s sake, there
had even been a dance one evening in one of those fine rooms. Everything
had widened and grown larger since Diana came. She neither danced nor
did she join in the choir-practice; but all kinds of people came and
bowed before her as she sat opposite the Vandyke.

One of those who ventured least to occupy her attention was Pandolfini,
though he came with the rest, and never missed an occasion. Diana had
noticed him a great deal on his first introduction to her. She had,
indeed, almost watched him; and he had been vaguely aware of the
scrutiny, although quite at a loss to know why it was; but after a few
days he had been conscious that it relaxed, and that Diana watched him
no more. Had she heard something of him that interested her? He had done
things in his day that might have interested a woman. He had conspired,
as everybody had done in his time in Italy, and had fought for his
country, and had got the usual reward of the disinterested. What did it
matter? The country had been saved, and what was an individual in
comparison? But the idea that this beautiful noble Englishwoman, the
first sight of whom had so deeply touched his own imagination, should
have heard of him, and should think him worthy of observation, went to
Pandolfini’s heart. Once more he felt the tears come into his eyes, and
was ashamed and grieved at himself secretly, as a demonstrative Italian,
how unlikely to please her in her national reticence! But yet she
noticed him, kept an eye upon him when nobody observed but
himself--alas! and in a few days gave it over, and noticed him, except
as she noticed everybody, no more. Had Pandolfini known that this was
merely for Sophy’s sake, the little English _mees_ of whom he had never
thought twice, who was to him only a pretty child, a little nobody! It
is well in this life that our knowledge of what other people think of us
is happily so circumscribed.

But he did not know this, and as his secret pleasure had been great in
seeing her attention turned towards him, so was it bitter to him now to
find it withdrawn. She had heard good of him, which had interested her;
and then she had heard something less good. This must be how it was. The
consequence was, that he had kept studiously away from Diana--at first
in hope, thinking that she might perhaps turn to him, call him, make
him feel that her interest in him was more than the common; and then, in
fear and discouragement, searching the depths of his recollection to see
what thing he could have done by which he could have been discredited in
her eyes. This thought was appalling to him. Had he ever looked like a
coward or a traitor? had he done anything of doubtful aspect, which
could be told against him? or was some traitor at work behind-backs
defaming him? He had made himself so sure at first that there was
something which had specially attracted her attention to himself. And so
there was, poor Pandolfini! But Diana had very soon found out that he
was as innocent as a child of any thoughts of Sophy; and that the frank
admiration and confidence of that little simpleton had not even affected
his vanity. He was perfectly innocent and unaware of it. She was almost
glad to make the discovery, though she could scarcely have told why; but
it changed her interest in the grave Italian with his blue eyes. Why
should she think more of him? Sophy was to be discouraged evidently in
her too great appreciation of his kindness, and unless Diana kept him
outside of her circle of acquaintance, it would be difficult to do this.
So thus it happened that the intercourse between them was checked, and
that he knew less of Diana than the newest and least notable member of
the little society.

On one special evening, towards the middle of April, it happened at once
that this distance became the object of remark, and that it ceased to
exist, almost at the same moment. Diana, in her usual seat opposite the
great picture, had been left alone for the moment by the ebbing of the
little crowd, most of her guests having strayed towards the next room,
in which music was going on. Stranded in the same way, and quite alone,
stood Pandolfini. He was in front of the portrait, holding up a book to
the light, which fell full upon his face: and it was a remarkable
face--no longer with the beauty of youth, but with that beauty of
expression which comes with years. His dark hair, cut short _à
l’anglais_, showed touches of white at the temples; his face was long,
the oval but slightly sunken of the cheeks, the forehead white in
comparison with the rest--and the eyes blue. Blue eyes in an Italian
face are not like blue eyes anywhere else. There is a pathos and
sweetness in the very colour, something of simplicity, poetry, almost
childhood in the midst of the dark fervour and force of the rest. Mr.
and Mrs. Hunstanton, standing together, as it happened, near the door
which led into the music-room, remarked, at the same moment, these two
left almost altogether alone.

“Can’t they find anything to say to each other, I wonder?” said Mrs.
Hunstanton, almost under her breath.

“I thought these two would have been friends,” said her husband. “Why
shouldn’t they be friends? they ought to have taken to each other.
Somebody must have prejudiced her against him. I have told her
half-a-dozen times what a nice fellow he was; but she has never taken
any notice. I am surprised at Diana--to take up such a prejudice----”

“Why do you suppose she has a prejudice?” Mrs. Hunstanton thought she
knew why Diana did not care for their Italian friend.

“We must bring them together. I am determined to bring them together.
Here is the very opportunity, and I’ll do it at once. Music! what do I
care for the music? Music is the greatest interruption--but only one
must not say so---- Look here, Di----”

“Tom, for heaven’s sake let them alone! They are beginning to talk of
their own accord. Don’t meddle, I tell you!” cried his wife, grasping
him by the arm, and giving him an impatient shake. Mr. Hunstanton was
obedient for once in his life, and stopped when he was told.

“Well, I am glad they are taking a little notice of each other,” he
said; “not that they will ever get any further. A nice soft little
creature like Sophy is the right person for such a fellow as
Pandolfini.”

“I think you are all out of your senses about Sophy,” said Mrs.
Hunstanton, indignant.

“Well, well, let us see what is going on,” said he, with all his usual
energy, “in the next room.”

While this colloquy was going on, Diana, raising her eyes by chance, had
been suddenly caught by a resemblance, real or imaginary, between the
portrait opposite to her and the man who stood immediately beneath.
Having been once aroused, she looked again at Pandolfini, in whom she
had taken a passing interest as the possible lover of Sophy, but whom
she had ceased to notice for some time back. And he felt her eyes upon
him, felt that she was at last looking at him fairly, her interest
awakened--and his heart began to beat. He felt, too, that they were
alone, though the others were so near. It was the first time they had
really been brought face to face.

“Mr. Pandolfini,” said Diana, at last, “I wonder if it is only a trick
of the light or of my eyes, but I seem to see a resemblance between you
and the Vandyke. Has it never been noticed before?”

He turned to her instantly, with a smile which lighted up his face like
a sunbeam--a sudden, sweet, ingratiating, Italian smile--trying hard to
keep the tremulous eagerness of response down, and look as calm as she
did. “I do not remember,” he said, in his slow and elaborate English;
“but it would not be wonderful. My mother was dei Sogni--of the house of
the Dreams,” he repeated, with some humour in his smile.

Diana was dazzled by the look he gave her. It is the only word to use.
It was not the ordinary smile, but a lighting up of the whole man, face
and soul. “Indeed!” she said, ashamed of the commonplace word. “Then I
may believe I am right. I did not know there was any relationship, so it
was clever on my part. But if you belong to the race, Mr. Pandolfini,
what poor intruders you must feel us all to be! Invaders, Goths,
_Forestieri_--that means something like barbarians, does it not?”

“Perhaps--in the ancient days,” he said; “but now it has another
signification. What was that anecdote which finds itself in all your
histories?--Anglorum, Angelorum.”

“Ah, we are but a poor kind of angels nowadays,” said Diana; “black
often, not white, I fear; and when we rush over your beautiful places,
and crowd your palaces--like this--you must be forbearing indeed, to
think well of us. I feel myself an interloper when I look at your
ancestor: he is the master of the house, not I.”

“That is--pardon me,” said the Italian, “because the Signora Diana is of
the house of the dreams too.”

Diana looked up at him surprised. She was half offended too, with the
idea of a certain presumption in the stranger who ventured to use her
Christian name on such short acquaintance. But Pandolfini’s anxious
respectfulness was not to be doubted, and she remembered in time that it
was the Italian custom. Besides, Diana was but human, and to be
addressed in this tone of reverential devotion touched her somewhat.
“You mean of the house of the dreamers, I suppose. I have nothing to say
against it. I suppose it is true.”

Then there was a momentary pause. Pandolfini, like other men, was
absorbed and struck dumb, when the moment he had looked forward to, the
moment when he could speak to her and recommend himself, really came.
His mind was full of a hundred things, and yet he could not think of one
to say.

“You have been pleased--with our Pisa,” he said at last, with a sense,
which made him hate himself, of the utter imbecility of the words.

“What shall I say?” Diana looked up at him with a smile. “I don’t know.
Something has happened to me; but I am not sure if you will understand
my loss. Italy was a wonder and a mystery when I came here: and now it
is a place to live in, just like another. Do you understand? I know, of
course, it is nonsense.”

“It is not non-sense--it is true-sense,” said the Italian; and the blue
in his eyes moistened. “I do know what you would say.”

“Yes; everything that was impossible seemed as if it might be here. It
was Italy, you know,” said Diana, growing rapid and colloquial. “And
now, yes, it is Italy--a place more beautiful than any other, but just a
place like any other. It is very absurd, but I am disappointed. You must
think me very foolish, I am sure.”

“I think,” said Pandolfini--and then he paused. “It is that I know the
meaning of it. Did not I say the Signora Diana was _dei Sogni_ too?”



CHAPTER VI.

NEW ARRIVALS.


After this “these two,” as Mr. Hunstanton called them, “got on,” to make
use also of his expression, very well. Pandolfini was very modest, and
he was not in love as a boy of twenty falls in love. Men take the malady
in different ways. His imagination had not rushed instantly to the point
of marrying Diana, appropriating her, carrying her off, which is the
first impulse of some kinds of love. Her appearance to him was like the
appearance of a new great star in the sky, dwindling and dimming all the
rest, but at the same time expanding and glorifying the world, making a
new world of it, lighting up everything both old and new with its light.
Darkness and despondency would have covered the earth had that new glory
of light suffered eclipse; but he had not yet realised the idea of
transferring it to his own home, and making the serene sweet star into
a domestic lamp. He was too humble, in the beginning of the adoration by
which he had been seized without any will of his own, to think of
anything of the kind. He was so grateful to her for having come, for
shining upon him, for not disappointing him or stepping down from her
pedestal, but being what he had supposed her to be at the first glance.
Women do not always do this, nor men either. Sometimes, very often it
must be allowed, they not only come down from the pedestal on which we
have placed them, but jump down, with harsh outbursts of laughter,
spurning that elevation. But Diana lost no jot of her dignity to the
imaginative Italian. Still and always she was _dei Sogni_, one of the
dream-ladies, queens of earth and heaven. Sometimes her lavish
liberality startled him in the habits of his poverty, for he was
economical and careful as his race, not knowing what it was to be rich,
and unfamiliar with the art of using money. Few of his delights had ever
come in that way. He had been kind to his friends and to his inferiors
in a different fashion, in the way of personal service, of tender
sympathy, and the help one mind and heart can give to another; but it
had never been in his power to lavish around him things which cost
actual money as Diana did, and he was puzzled by her habits in this
respect, and not quite sure, perhaps, that this was not a slight coming
down from her high ideal position. But the fault, if fault it was,
tended at least towards nobleness, for Diana’s personal tastes were
simple enough, notwithstanding a certain inclination towards
magnificence, which did not displease him.

He watched her as narrowly as a jealous husband, though in a very
different sense, to make quite sure that she was everything he believed
her to be. But Pandolfini was subtle as his race, notwithstanding that
he was an Anglomane, and declared his enthusiasm for all the English
virtues of openness, candour, and calm. He did not show his devotion as
a blundering Englishman would have done. No one suspected him of his
worship of Diana--no one--except two very acute observers, who made no
communication to each other, but on the contrary avoided the subject--to
wit, Diana herself and Mrs. Hunstanton. As for Diana, she was
unconscious as long as possible, and denied it stoutly to herself as
long as possible; yet nevertheless had the fact conveyed to her in the
very air, by minute and all but invisible indications which she would
not admit but could not gainsay. And her friend divined, being his
friend also, and a silent observer, the very reverse of her kind
busybody of a husband, to whom the idea that Pandolfini had any special
admiration for Diana would have been simple food for laughter, neither
less nor more.

Thus the course of events went on. When “these two” had a little talk
together, Mr. Hunstanton would chuckle and rub his hands with pleasure.
“Yes, I think they are getting on a little better,” he said. “Why they
should not have taken to each other, is a thing I cannot comprehend.
With so many things in common! But you see the Italian does not
understand the Englishwoman, nor the Englishwoman the Italian. She is
too independent for him; and he is too--too----too everything for her.
The more they see of each other, the more they will respect each other;
but there will never be any real understanding between them. A pity,
isn’t it?--for there are not two better people in the world.”

“Dear Diana,” said Mrs. Norton, to whom he was talking. “It is not that
she has really any strongmindedness about her; but there is no doubt
that gentlemen always do prefer women to be dependent: they don’t like a
girl to say like Diana that she does not want assistance, that she can
manage her affairs, and all that sort of thing. That is what I think is
such a pity. Of course it would be a great deal better if there was a
gentleman at the Chase to look after everything.”

“W--well,” said Mr. Hunstanton: his land marched with the Chase, and
there were matters in which it did not appear so very clear to him that
a gentleman would be an advantage. “To be sure she never will give in to
prosecuting poachers or that sort of thing, which is positive quixotism
and folly.”

“And there are matters which a gentleman must understand _so much_ the
best.”

“W--well,” said Mr. Hunstanton again. “Arguments don’t answer, you see;
it is not a thing that can be argued about. Natural propriety and all
that, and abstract justice--and---- Diana knows what to say for herself;
but then the fact is, that this must be treated as a practical question.
It don’t bear argument. I’m glad to see them talking to each other a
little; but it will never go beyond that.”

“Did you wish it to go beyond that?” said Mrs. Norton, quickly.

“Who--I? Oh no, dear no; why should I wish it? Bless me! that was not
what I was thinking of. I thought they might be friends. I like my
friends to take to each other. Now, _you_ appreciate Pandolfini: why
shouldn’t Diana? that is all I say. But people are wrong-headed; the
best people in the world are often the most wrong-headed,--even
Pandolfini himself.”

“I have never seen anything that was not nice in Mr. Pandolfini,” said
Mrs. Norton. “He has always been so good. How kind he has been to Sophy
and me! Indeed you are all kind. I don’t wonder at it so much among
those who know my child’s sterling qualities, though, I trust, I am
always grateful. But when a man like Mr. Pandolfini, who knows next to
nothing of her, is equally kind, as kind as her oldest friend, why that,
I must say, is remarkable. It shows such a kind nature--it must be so
disinterested----”

“Disinterested?” said Mr. Hunstanton. “Do you think that is the word?
When a man, who is not an old man, pays attention to a pretty young
girl--well, it may be very kind, and all that--but I don’t think
disinterested is the word I should use.”

“What could _we_ do for him?” cried Mrs. Norton. “You may say Diana,
too; but then she knows us, and I hope she is fond of us; but Mr.
Pandolfini, what could we do for him? It must all be kindness--pure
kindness--for we never can pay him back.”

“Aha! is that how it is?” said Mr. Hunstanton to himself.

“Is that how what is?” she asked, a little sharply.

“Nothing, nothing, my dear lady--I meant nothing,” said Mr. Hunstanton.
“So that is how it is! I must say I thought as much. I generally can see
through a millstone as well as another, when there is anything to be
seen: and I allow that I thought it--so that is what is coming. Holloa!
who is that at the other end of the room?--the Snodgrasses, I should
say, if there was anything in the world which could bring them to Pisa:
the--Snodgrasses! I shall expect to see the parish march in next, in
full order, in clean smock-frocks, farmers and ploughmen. Actually the
Snodgrasses! if one can trust one’s eyes. Excuse me, Mrs. Norton, I must
go and see. I hope the Hall has not been burnt down, and that there is
nothing the matter with the children. I must go and see.”

“The Snodgrasses!” Mrs. Norton said under her breath, with something
like consternation. She had once entertained a very high opinion of the
Snodgrasses. They were the clergy of the parish, and she had a belief in
the clergy, very natural to one who had herself belonged to that sacred
caste. What had brought them here at this moment? Was it, could it be, a
ridiculous pursuit of Diana, who, _of course_, had never thought of
_them_? or was it anything else? She drew a little nearer to the door to
hear what she could. The devotion of the Snodgrasses to Diana, the way
in which they followed her about, the little speeches they made to her,
had always been particularly offensive to Mrs. Norton. It was on Diana’s
account, who could not fail to be annoyed, she said; but, indeed, Mrs.
Norton was more annoyed than Diana. And now here they were again,
leaving the parish uncared for! How could they account to themselves for
such a dereliction of duty? She would not approach the new-comers, or
show any interest in them, on the highest moral grounds; but she crept
towards them, talking to the people she found in her way, and gradually
drawing nearer the door. It was the Snodgrasses: there was no mistaking
them, both in their long coats, with their long faces, black-haired and
somewhat grim, as with the fatigue of a journey. They were not very
comely to start with, and it was almost ludicrous, their critic thought,
to see two men so like each other, and without even the excuse of being
father and son! The rector was slimmer, the curate stouter; they had
heavy eyebrows, and very dark complexions. Mr. Snodgrass, senior, had a
great deal to say, and was facetious in a clergymanly fashion. Mr.
Snodgrass, junior, was silent, and generally kept in the background when
it was not necessary for him to act audience for his uncle’s jokes. At
the present moment, more abashed than usual by the strangers among whom
he suddenly found himself, he stood in a corner, gazing at Diana, with a
look which specially irritated Mrs. Norton always, though it would have
been difficult for her to have explained why.

“Who could have thought of seeing you here?” she said, as the rector
came up to her with that expressive grasp of the hand which was one of
his special gifts, and which everybody remarked as the very embodiment
of cordiality and friendliness, a sort of modest embrace. He was not
glad to see her particularly, nor she to see him; but if they had flown
into each other’s arms it could scarcely have been a warmer greeting
than that silent clasping of hands, without even a “How d’ye do?” to
impair its eloquence.

“Wonderful, isn’t it?” he said; “but the truth is, dear Bill was not at
all well. I can’t tell what is the matter with him. But not well at
all--quite out of work and out of heart----”

“Chest?” said Mrs. Norton, solemnly.

“No, I don’t think so. Nothing organic they tell me. Only want of tone,
want of energy. As Easter was over so early this year, and nothing
particular going on, I thought I might as well carry out an old
intention and come to Italy----”

“This is entirely a chest place,” said Mrs. Norton, still very serious.
“I don’t think it is supposed very good for other complaints.”

“Ah, I don’t think it will do dear Bill any harm,” said the rector. “I
could quite suppose I was in my own parish, looking round. Miss Trelawny
is blooming as usual.”

“Blooming is not the word I would apply to Diana, Mr. Snodgrass; but she
is very well.”

“Ah, you were always rather a purist about language. Well, then, you
must allow that your niece is blooming. I never saw Miss Sophy look so
well.”

“My niece has been very much appreciated here,” said Mrs. Norton. “She
has found herself among people who understand her, and that is always an
addition to one’s happiness.”

“Surely,” said the rector, to whom the idea of Sophy as a person not
understood by her surroundings was novel. He objected to Sophy and her
aunt as “parasites,” just as Sophy and her aunt objected to himself and
his dear “Bill” as annoyances to Diana. “It is too bad,” Mrs. Norton
cried, hurrying across to Mrs. Hunstanton after this little encounter.
“Diana hates these men--and she cannot get rid of them wherever she
goes.”

“Diana is a great deal too kind to everybody,” said Mrs. Hunstanton.
“She has a way of concealing when she is bored which I call downright
hypocrisy--but I don’t see why she should hate them in particular, poor
men!”

“Look at that!” said Mrs. Norton, with a certain vehemence. It was the
curate whom she pointed out, and Pandolfini, who was by, profited also
by the indication. He was standing straight up in a corner, poor curate,
shy and frightened of the voluble groups about, among whom there were
several Italians and a good deal of polyglot conversation. Mr. William
Snodgrass knew no language but his own, and was not very fluent even in
that. He stood up very straight, as if he had been driven into the
corner or was undergoing punishment there, and gazed over everybody’s
head, being very tall, at Diana. The very dulness of the gaze had
something pathetic in it, like the adoration of a faithful dog. Neither
for the strange people nor the new place had the poor curate any eyes.
Mrs. Hunstanton looked at him with familiar scorn, as a person well
aware of his delusion, and treating it with the contempt it
deserved--but Pandolfini gazed with very different feelings at his
fellow-worshipper. Even while he smiled at the frightened look upon the
poor fellow’s countenance, and his evident dismayed avoidance of the
strangers about, his dumb devotion touched the Italian’s heart.

“It is Miss Trelawny upon whom his eyes fix themselves.”

“Yes; he does nothing but stare at Diana--silly fellow! As if a woman
like Diana, without thinking of her position, would ever look at him.”

“Nevertheless,” said Pandolfini, “to turn his eyes to the best, though
it be without hope, is not that well?”

“It might be very well,” said Mrs. Norton, “if it were not such an
annoyance to Diana. At home she cannot move for him--he is always
following her about like a dog. And you know, Mr. Pandolfini, if a woman
were the best woman that ever lived, that is unworthy of a man.”

“I do not know--no, that is not what I should say. When the person is
Miss Trelawny, many things may be pardoned,” said the Italian. He was so
brown that an additional tint of colour scarcely showed on his face; but
as his eyes turned from the curate to Diana, a subdued glow came over
his countenance, and a light into his blue eyes. Mrs. Hunstanton, who
was a quick observer, caught him in the very act. She looked at him,
and sudden perception awoke in her. And he felt it with that
sensitiveness which is like an additional sense, and looked at her in
her turn with a pathetic half smile, explaining the whole, though not a
word was said. Mrs. Hunstanton was touched: perhaps such a confidence,
made without a word, by the eyes only, yet so frank and full of feeling,
went more to her heart than if it had been accompanied by much effusion
in words. But there was nothing said, and Mrs. Norton remained
pleasantly unaware of anything that had happened, and went on
discoursing about the Snodgrasses, uncle and nephew, with quite as much
unction as if both her companions had been giving her their entire
attention, as indeed she believed them to do.

“In my dear husband’s time,” she said, “the clergy of a parish were
never both absent even for a day. He would have been shocked beyond
description at the idea. Do you think it can be right, Mr. Pandolfini,
for both the rector and the curate to be away together? If any one is
sick, what is to become of them? and they are not even married, so as to
leave some one behind who could look after the poor. Do you think it can
be right under any circumstances?” And this anxious champion of justice
fixed her eyes with an almost severe appeal on the Italian’s face.

“Can I tell?” he answered, throwing up his hands and his shoulders with
a characteristic gesture. “The curate never leaves his parish in my
country. When he would have leisure, he takes it among the rest. A poor
priest does not think of _villeggiatura_, what you call holidays. He is
too poor----”

“But even the rector,” said Mrs. Norton, insisting. “Of course, if there
is a very good curate--yes, yes, they are generally poor in England as
well as in other places--a poor curate, that is what people are always
saying; but even the rector. Of course, I forgot, I beg your pardon,
your priests are never married, poor wretched men! What a bondage to put
upon a man! don’t you think so, Mr. Pandolfini?”

He laughed; perhaps this little woman and her talk was a relief at the
moment. He said: “I have my prejudices. Your English gentleman who is a
curate, I do not know him. He is a clergyman: that is different. We may
not judge one the other.”

“I don’t wish to judge any one; but surely, Mr. Pandolfini, anything so
unnatural----”

“Not always unnatural. Me! I do not marry myself.”

“But you will one day,” said Mrs. Norton, decidedly. “Of course you
will. Now, why should not you marry? I am sure you would be a great
deal happier. Those who have not known what it is,” said the little lady
with a sigh, “cannot be expected to realise--ah! the difference between
being alone in the world and having some one to love you and care for
you! Since I lost my dear husband, how changed life has been! Before
that, I never did anything for myself; he stood between me and every
trouble----”

“But in that way I think it would be better for a man not to have a
wife,” cried Mrs. Hunstanton. “I dare say Mr. Pandolfini does not want
to take a woman on his shoulders, and do everything for her. Tom does
not stand between me and every trouble, I can tell you. He pushes a good
share of his on to my shoulders, and gives me many a tangled skein to
untwist. I never try to persuade my friends to marry; but you shouldn’t
frighten them----”

“I--frighten them!” Mrs. Norton’s horror was too deep for words. “I
think it is time for us to say good night,” she resumed, with dignity.
“Will you look for my niece, Mr. Pandolfini, while I speak a word to
Diana? I really cannot let my child be late to-night.”

“So that is how it is!” Mrs. Hunstanton said to herself: her husband had
said the same, with an inward chuckle of satisfaction, and
determination to “help it on” with all his might, not very long before;
but in a very different sense. The lady’s surprisal of poor Pandolfini’s
secret, however, was of so delicate a kind that her conclusion was very
different. She hoped that she might never be tempted to betray him; and
her sympathy was more despondent than hopeful. For Diana--Diana, of all
people in the world! and yet Mrs. Hunstanton said to herself, though she
was not romantic, There is nothing that persevering devotion may not do.
In the long-run, even the dull adoration of young Snodgrass might touch
a woman’s heart--who could tell? And Pandolfini was a very different
person. Could anything be done for him? As she turned this over in her
mind, he passed her, fulfilling Mrs. Norton’s commission, with Sophy,
all pink and smiling, on his arm. Sophy was looking up in his face with
that pretty air of trust and dependence which charms most men, but fills
most women with hot indignation. Mrs. Hunstanton, like many other
ladies, believed devoutly that flattery of this description was
irresistible, and was always excited to a certain ferocity by the sight
of it. Little flirt, little humbug! she said in her heart.

“Do you see them?” said her husband, coming up to her, rubbing his
hands; “the very thing I have always wished--a nice sweet clinging
little thing, just the wife for Pandolfini. Why, Hetty----”

Mrs. Hunstanton had a large fan in her hand. It was all she could do not
to assail him with it in good sound earnest. “Tom,” she cried,
exasperated, “hold your tongue, for heaven’s sake! Don’t be a greater
fool than you can help!”

Which was a very improper way for a wife to speak to her husband it must
be allowed.



CHAPTER VII.

THE ENGLISH LADY IN PISA.


The presence of the Snodgrasses did not make very much difference to the
party in the Palazzo dei Sogni; Mr. Hunstanton introduced them to the
English club, and, as was natural, they established themselves in the
select coterie of the English Church, and were a great godsend to the
chaplain, and attended the choir practices, and soon became very well
known in Pisa. And in the evening receptions, which took place sometimes
at Miss Trelawny’s, sometimes at Mrs. Hunstanton’s, these two black
figures were perpetually apparent, the uncle circulating among the
little society, the nephew standing up in his usual corner. Poor curate!
he did not get very much attention from any one. The Hunstantons
confined their civilities to the necessary number of Good nights and
Good mornings: Sophy flouted him perpetually: and Mrs. Norton made him
alarming little speeches about the parish, and asked him if he felt
better, in a tone which inferred a contemptuous refusal to believe that
he had been ill at all. All this he bore, poor fellow; he was not ill to
speak of. If he could have been left in his corner staring at Diana for
twelve hours at a time, or the whole twenty-four, had that been
possible, he would have been happy--and would have minded none of the
snubs that were freely dispensed on all sides. And Diana herself was
always kind to the poor young man. She did not talk to him, for he could
not talk; but she would give him a kindly smile when she passed him. She
gave him her hand when he came in, and when he went away. Now and then
in heavenly courtesy she would say three words to him. “I hope you are
better, Mr. Snodgrass. I hope you like Pisa. What have you been seeing
to-day?” One of these phrases kept him happy for a day. He did not
expect any more, nor indeed half so much; and with what aim he continued
to haunt and follow her, and put all his existence into the distant
enjoyment of her sight and presence, it would be hard to say. As for
gaining her love, _marrying_ her!--it seemed about as hopeful as that he
should marry the other Diana in the heavens, the moon, that shone with
such warm Italian splendour over the high house-tops. In his brightest
dreams he could not have imagined anything of the kind.

The only other person who took any notice of poor William Snodgrass was
the one other who might have been supposed least likely to notice him.
Pandolfini took the poor young fellow up. Notwithstanding the curate’s
awkwardness and shyness, the kind Italian insisted upon making
acquaintance with him. There is no one so kind as an Italian, endowed
with that _cortesia_ which the old writers speak of as a quality of God.
“The Lord of all Courtesy,” is not that a title which Dante gives to the
Supreme? Pandolfini had this divine quality as much as any man, even an
Italian, ever had; and his heart was touched by the most tender sympathy
for this fellow-in-feeling, whom it was too absurd to think of as his
rival. The poor curate was no one’s rival. He had given up his being to
the most beautiful and noble creature, so far as he knew, who had ever
crossed his horizon; and had not Pandolfini done so too? The sympathetic
Italian gave himself up to the task of cultivating this dull but tender
soul. He took him to private gems of pictures which the public saw only
on rare occasions: he took him through everything that was most worth
seeing: and having his eyes opened by the fact that the heavy young
Englishman had set his affections upon the highest object within his
firmament, saw other glimmers of perception in him which no one else had
found out.

“There, I can’t understand Pandolfini,” said Mr. Hunstanton; “the uncle,
now, is a man of the world. He is a man that knows what he is about. He
has read a little and observed a little--as much as you can expect from
a clergyman. But Bill Snodgrass is a nonentity. He is as dull as
ditch-water. You can’t get a sensible word out of him. The rector can
talk and take his own part like any other man.”

“I do not agree with you, my friend,” said the Italian, “there are some
fine things in the Stupid: there are feelings: I do not mean feelings of
the heart alone. He has nothing to say about it; but he will know a fine
picture when he sees one.”

“When you tell him it is fine--”

“I never tell him anything; but there are things which Mr. Bill, if so
you call him (I admire your monosyllables), can see--and a great many
people cannot see,” said Pandolfini simply, yet with meaning, with a
half-smile at his companion, who laughed, unabashed, and rubbed his
hands.

“He means me! Yes, I know him. The best fellow that ever breathed; but
if he can give you a random cut round the corner! I refused to buy
something once of a friend of his--and it turned out--what did it turn
out, Pandolfini? an enormous prize, you know. How was a man to divine
that? There was nobody to speak up for it, and I don’t pretend to be a
connoisseur. By the way, if you have friends who want to sell anything,
you had better send them to Diana. She is the person. She could buy us
all up and never feel it. To see her so simple as she is, you would
never suppose that she was such a great lady at home.”

“Is she, then, a great lady at home?”

“As great as a princess in other places. You didn’t know? Well, I don’t
suppose it will make much difference to you, but that’s the truth. She
is what we call a great Squire in England. You know what that means?”

“Yes; I know what that means.” Pandolfini looked at him with a
half-smile, yet sigh. What difference could it make to him? He had never
thought of putting himself on a level with that beautiful princess, of
securing her to be his--his housewife, his chief possession. All that he
had thought of was the pleasure of being with her, looking at her, like
poor Snodgrass. Now here was something which put a still greater
difference between them, and removed her out of his sphere. Was it not
an irony of fate that before one woman only the doors of his heart
should have flown wide open? and that she should be so entirely out of
his sphere? A slight vague smile came upon his face, half at himself and
his evil fortune--half with a tremulous and painful pleasure that she
should be so rich, so magnificent, so secure of everything that was
good. Whatever happened, that was always well: that she should be a kind
of queen, regnant, and safe from all straits and contradictions of
fortune in the outer world as well as in the hearts that loved her. But
he sighed. Why was it that the world was so made that the beautiful was
always beyond reach, that love must be never more than a dream? He
murmured over a verse or two of Leopardi, as he went upon his way, with
that smile and sigh.

    “O natura, o natura,
     Perchè non rendi poi,
     Quel che prometti allor? perchè de tanto,
     Inganni i figli tuoi.”

Nothing more pathetic or more poignant than that sense of tantalised
anguish and pleasure--supremest good held before the eyes, but ever
inaccessible, giving happiness and suffering together, without blame of
any one, or wrong, can be. And Pandolfini was not the kind of man who
rails at fortune. He went away melancholy along Arno: yet smiled while
he sighed.

Somehow or other this passing and temporary life of the English visitors
in the foreign town had become too serious, too securely established and
certain with all of them, being as it really was an affair of a few
weeks or months at the utmost, and incapable of extension. Perhaps this
was Diana’s fault. Arriving in March, she had no more than six or seven
weeks before her, a mere temporary visit--but the temporary was
uncongenial to her nature. She established herself half unconsciously,
involuntarily as if she had been at home. She made her _piano nobile_ in
the old palace assume a certain resemblance to herself, just as she, on
the other hand, perhaps unconsciously too, perhaps with a touch of that
fine vanity which disguises itself under the semblance of taste, suited
herself to her dwelling-place, and put her dress and all her
surroundings into conformity with it. If Diana had not had the kind of
lofty beauty to which utter simplicity of toilet is becoming, probably
it might not have occurred to her to leave the new dress from Paris,
before which Mrs. Norton and Sophy had rendered homage, hanging in her
wardrobe, and put on the old velvet gown, which, as Sophy indignantly
remarked, “she had worn all last winter!” But this was what she did:
though in some lights the long sweeping folds of the velvet, which was
of a very dark Venetian blue, looked somewhat faded, at least in the
eyes of her friends. “I never thought Diana would be like that: wearing
out her old dresses, when she can afford to have as many new ones as she
pleases!” Sophy cried, almost weeping at the recollections of all M.
Worth’s _poufs_ and _plissés_. “It does not matter for us,” Mrs. Norton
added, with serious vexation, “_we_ know her and look up to her in any
dress; but among strangers!” Thus her friends were annoyed by her
supposed frugality: and perhaps Diana, if her French toilet had been
more becoming to her, would not have felt the necessity of conforming
her dress to the style of those great rooms, so pathetically faded, so
noble and worn, and independent of all meretricious decoration.

She did other things, which perhaps were less justifiable still, and
which excited the displeasure of another section of her friends. In a
country practically unconverted to the laws of political economy, she
was but too glad to forget them, and gave alms with a largeness and
liberality which, I suppose, is quite indefensible. She was even so
misled as to allow the shameless beggars about to come to her for weekly
pensions, putting them on their honour, and talking to them in friendly,
if somewhat solemn Italian--slow as Pandolfini’s English, and from the
same cause. “Giving to all those beggars,--I can’t imagine what Miss
Trelawny can be thinking of,” cried the rector; “surely she must know
that she is helping to demoralise them: destroying all the safeguards of
society.” “So far as that goes, I don’t think Diana will do _them_ much
harm; but I object to have the staircase haunted by Peppino and
Company,” said Mr. Hunstanton. “I must talk to her, and you had better
talk to her, Snodgrass. As for demoralising, you know, they’re past
that. I defy you to demoralise Peppino. You can’t blind a man who has no
eyes; can you, now?” But this will be enough to show that Diana gave
dissatisfaction on both sides: only Pandolfini and the curate stood by
with silent adoration, and thought everything she did and was, the
noblest and the fairest that ever were made visible to eyes of men.

It must be allowed, however, that neither the disapproval nor the
adoration affected Diana. She went on her way calmly, indifferent to
what was said, laughing, though gently, at Mr. Snodgrass’s serious
remonstrance, and at the half-crying appeal of Sophy. And everything
seemed to conspire around her to give the air of stability and
everlastingness which seemed natural to her life. She acquired for
herself, without knowing it, a distinct position, which was partly by
her beauty, no doubt, partly even by her height and dignity of person,
and partly from the individuality about her, and her modest indifference
to ordinary rule. There is an immodest indifference which gives
distinction of a totally different kind; but Diana--who did not come for
pleasure as commonly so called, who appeared seldom at public places,
and whose enjoyment of her strange habitation was that of an inhabitant,
not of a tourist--Diana became known in Pisa as scarcely ever
_forestiera_ had been before. Pandolfini felt that he could divine why,
believing, as was natural at once to a patriot and a lover, that his
race was quick to recognise supreme excellence, and that it was natural
that all who knew her should bow down before her. But anyhow, in her
retirement, in her quietness, she became known as if by an instinct of
sympathy. The beggars in the piazzas asked nothing of her, but blessed
her with bold extravagance as she passed. The people uncovered right and
left. _Quant’ è bella!_ they said, with that unfeigned and heartfelt
admiration which is pure Italian, not loudly, to catch her ear, nor yet
in whispers, as if they were ashamed of it, but in their ordinary tones,
all being natural, both the popular worship and its object. The curate
when he became aware of this grew red, and clenched his fist, with an
English impulse “to knock down the fellow;” but Pandolfini, who knew
better what it meant, followed her steps at a distance with glowing
eyes, and was proud and happy in the universal homage. He quoted lines
out of the “Vita Nuova” to his stupid faithful companion. Not always to
his listener’s edification. “How do you suppose I can understand that
stuff?” growled the Rev. William through the beard he was growing, and
the Italian ceased to throw about such pearls.

But it may be imagined what a thunderbolt fell into this peaceful little
society when there began to be consultations among the leaders of the
party about going away. “Our time will soon be up, you know,” Mr.
Hunstanton said one evening, rubbing his hands; “May is a very nice
month to get home in. A week or two in Switzerland; perhaps a week or
two in London, if my wife has good accounts of the children. That’s what
I like. After May it’s sultry here and uncomfortable, eh, Pandolfini?
Off in November, home in May, that’s my rule--and if you like to take it
old style, you know, as they do in Russia, so much the better. That’s
my regular rule.”

“W--what?” said Mrs. Norton, who sometimes tried to persuade herself
that she was rather deaf, and would not hear anything that was
unpleasant; but she had scarcely self-possession for this little trick,
being too much aghast at the idea thus presented to her mind, which it
seemed incredible they should all have ignored till now.

Then there was a pause of universal dismay, for they had all enjoyed
themselves very much, and disliked the idea of breaking up. Mrs.
Hunstanton alone went on working placidly, and the murmur of Reginald’s
voice, who was playing patience at a table, and whispering the value of
the cards to himself, became suddenly audible. The impatience of the
whole company with Reginald cannot be described. “My dear boy,” said the
rector sharply (in a tone which meant You odious idiot!), “couldn’t you
just count as well if you did it to yourself?”

“What has the boy done?” said Mr. Hunstanton with surprise. “Yes; we
must bolt. I don’t know how that may affect your plans, Diana.”

“I have no plans,” she said. “I came here by the light of nature,
because you were all here----”

“And you will come away in the same manner,” said Mr. Hunstanton
briskly. Sophy turned round and transfixed him with her eyes, or would
have done so had his middle-aged composure been penetrable, or had he
seen her, which had something also to do with it. But he did not see
her, and, good man, was perfectly easy in his mind.

“Well, I confess I shall be sorry,” said the rector, “and so, I am sure,
will be my dear Bill. We have had a very agreeable visit, nice society,
all centring round the Church in the most delightful way, and so many
charming people! I shall be very sorry to think of breaking up.”

He stopped somewhat abruptly, with unexpected suddenness, and in the
silence, more audible still than Reginald’s whispering, came a sort of
groan from the burdened bosom of the curate, who stood behind-backs in
his usual place, and who had felt himself covered by his uncle’s speech.
This made everybody look up, and there was a faint titter from Reginald,
by way of revenge for the rector’s rebuke. It was Sophy who had the
boldness to take up this titter in the wild stinging of disappointment
and dismay.

“Why should _you_ feel it so much, Mr. Snodgrass?--what does it matter
to you? You will have to go home to the parish whether or not!” she
cried.

“Sophy, hush, hush! Yes, dear Mr. Hunstanton, how pleasant it has been!”
said Mrs. Norton. “What a blow to us all to break it up! I should like
to stay here for ever, winter and summer. It would not be too hot for
me. For I can never be grateful enough to Italy,” she added,
impressively, “for restoring health to my dear child.”

This called the general attention to Sophy, whose blooming countenance,
a little flushed by vexation, looked very unlike any possible failure of
health. Sophy was as near crying as possible. She had to put force upon
herself to keep the tears out of her eyes.

“Let us not make ourselves miserable before the time,” said Diana. “It
is not May yet; there is a week of April left. Let us gather roses while
we may, and in good time here is Mrs. Winthrop and our musical people.
Sophy, come and help to get the songs out. We can talk of this another
time.”

Sophy came, with a sullenness which no one had ever remarked in her
before. She made no reply to what Diana said, but pulled the music about
under pretence of arranging it. As she did so, with her back turned to
the rest of the company, Diana saw a few hot hail-drops of tears
pattering down among the songs. She put her hand kindly upon Sophy’s
shoulder.

“Sophy, dear,” she said, “is it the thought of going away? is this what
you feel so much?”

“Oh, leave me alone, please! I have got a headache,” cried Sophy,
jerking away from her friend’s grasp.

Diana said nothing more. She was grieved and disturbed by this very
strange new development. She put down all the songs and music that were
likely to be wanted, and opened the piano, and greeted with her usual
dignified kindness the new people who came rustling in to the agitated
atmosphere. It did not seem agitated to them. Mrs. Winthrop came in all
smiles and flounces, and there was a gathering round the piano, and much
laughter and talk and consultation, as is customary on such occasions.
Diana herself did not sing except rarely. She helped to set the little
company going, over their madrigals and part-songs, and then she
withdrew, with that sensation of relief which is afforded to the mind of
the mistress of a house and chief entertainer by the happy consciousness
of having set an amusement going, by means of which her guests will
manage to entertain themselves for the rest of the night.



CHAPTER VIII.

AN EVENING PARTY.


Diana seated herself in her favourite place, in a great chair covered
with dark old velvet, which had got a bloom on it by dint of age, such
as youth sometimes has, like the _duvet_ of a purple plum. Her own dress
was made in toned white, creamy and soft, not the brilliant white of
snow, and of rich silk, which fell in heavy splendid folds. But it was
“old-fashioned” in its cut, which Sophy had deeply deplored already,
with a plain long skirt, “such as was worn three years ago!” the girl
had cried with vexation. A certain weariness was about Diana as she laid
her head back on the velvet, weariness yet satisfaction in having
settled all her people comfortably in the way of amusing themselves, and
being thus herself left free. Mr. Hunstanton was talking with Colonel
Winthrop, who was the husband of the musical lady, and two other persons
who did not care for music. Mrs. Norton, who was not musical, except in
the way of playing waltzes (of which she knew three) and one old set of
quadrilles, had taken pity upon Reginald, and had gone to the side-table
with him to play piquet, which was more amusing than patience. Diana
looked round her with a sigh of comfort, feeling that all her guests
were off her hands. The central group at the piano was the brightest
point. Mrs. Winthrop, who was a pretty young woman, and acted as
conductor, held the chief place, holding a pink forefinger in the air
instead of a baton, swaying her head, and tapping her foot according to
the measure. Around her were her troupe with their music, among whom,
most evident to Diana, was Mrs. Hunstanton, “putting in a second,” as
she had been adjured to do--and anxious to escape, Sophy singing
soprano, with the half-tearful, half-sullen look gradually melting from
her face under the charms of the madrigal; and over Sophy’s head,
holding his book high, the poor curate, who had been forced into it, and
who, with his mouth open, and his eyes wandering, added a powerful but
uncertain bass. The soft lights of the candles on the walls lighted them
all up, shining upon the lightness of their faces, and the dresses of
the ladies, as they stood grouped about the piano. Behind, Mr.
Hunstanton’s darkly attired group of men gave an agreeable balance to
the picture.

In front of Diana there were but three figures. Mrs. Norton and
Reginald, with a table between them, covered with the glories of the
coloured cards, which were repeated in the rose-coloured ribbons of her
cap; and standing quite alone in front of the dim profundity of a great
old mirror--Pandolfini. He was the only one who was alone as she was,
though not by design, like Diana. The glass was so old and so dim that
it almost shrouded him, giving its background of mysterious reflection
to make even his solid figure look unreal. But one thing about him was
very real, which was that his eyes were fixed upon herself. It was an
inadvertent moment, and Mr. Hunstanton’s sudden announcement of
approaching departure had brought a certain agitation into the
atmosphere. To Diana, who had taken root in the friendly place,
notwithstanding her consciousness that her stay could not be long, the
feeling was painful--but to Pandolfini it was like the crush of
overthrow. He had known it, he said to himself--of course he had known
it--but it had not appeared such an utter and miserable conclusion of
all hopes, and revolution in life. The room had contracted round him,
and the lights grown dim, just as he felt the firmament itself would
contract, and the sun grow dim to him, when she was gone--and he had
forgotten himself. He had not been able to talk, to join in what
everybody was doing, so long as this feeling that the earth had opened
under his feet, ready to swallow him up and all things, was foremost in
his mind. He had had his full of revolutions: he knew what they were,
and how men could live through them, and the vulgar placidity of every
day overcome all the violence that could be done in life. But here was a
revolution which could not be got over. Yes, yes, he said to himself
drearily, as, under cover of the music and the movement, he put himself
thus behind-backs, and allowed his eyes to rest upon Diana with a
half-despairing intentness. _Si! si!_ it could be got over. If a man is
hacked limb by limb he has to bear it, making no unseemly outcries; but
still the thought of what it would be, the going out of all sweet lights
and hopes, the settling down of darkness, the horror of something taken
away which could never be replaced, appalled his very soul. What an
irony it was, what a cruelty of fate! He had been well enough before,
contenting himself with his existence, thinking of no Diana, satisfied
with the life which had never known her. But now!--without knowing,
Pandolfini gazed at her out of the shadows with eyes that glowed and
burned, and with a longing and fixedness very startling to her pensive
calm, as suddenly she turned to him with a half-smile and met his look!

Diana drew a little back in her chair, swerved for a moment, so startled
that she did not know what to do or think. She felt a blush rising over
her--why she could not tell: a sort of self-consciousness seized upon
her, consciousness of herself as being gazed at, rather than of him who
was gazing. Why should he or any one look at her so? Then she recovered,
with a slight shake of her head to throw off the impression, and a
confused laugh at her own vanity (as she called it): and seeing nothing
better to do, beckoned to him to come to her. Pandolfini was not less
confused than she. His first thought was that he had betrayed himself,
and that nothing was to be done now but to face his fate with melancholy
boldness, which becomes the unfortunate. He had made up his mind before
now in moments of peril to sell his life dearly. If this unconscious
queenly lady was to have his life like a flower, at least she should be
aware of what it was which was thrown on her path for her delicate foot
to tread on. A kind of tender fury came into his mind. He went up to her
slowly, almost solemnly, as a man might be supposed to go to his
death--not affecting to be indifferent to it, but ready for whatever
might befall.

Diana had called him: but she was confused, not knowing how she was to
speak to this man, who looked at her not as acquaintances look. In her
embarrassment she found nothing but the most _banal_ of nothings to say.

“I cannot suppose you are not fond of music, Mr. Pandolfini.”

“Should I unite myself to the gentlemen, then? But neither does Miss
Trelawny--it is not that one does not love music.”

“I cannot answer for myself,” said Diana, gladly plunging into an
abstract subject. “I am fanciful--I think I like music only when it goes
to my heart.”

“What a pretty idiom is that!” said Pandolfini. “One loves everything
most when it touches _there_.” He had placed himself just a step behind
her, enough to make it difficult for her to see him, while he could see
her perfectly. It was an unfair advantage to take. “But music,” he
added, “it has other aims--the ear first, and the mind and the
imagination.”

“There is my deficiency,” said Diana. “I only understand it in this way.
Other arts may instruct, or may inspire; but if music does not touch
me, move my feelings, I do not make anything of it. I do not understand
it. This is my deficiency.”

“I acknowledge no deficiency,” said the Italian in a low tone. The
excitement in his blood was subsiding a little, but still he wanted some
perfume to reach her from the myrtle-bow crushed on her path. And the
tone was one which answered her musical requirements, and went right to
her heart. Where had she heard that tone before? It was not the first
time in her life, as may be supposed; but it seemed a long time since,
and the thrill of recognition was also a thrill of alarm.

“We will not quarrel on this point,” she said, “especially as the
present performance is not one to call forth much feeling; but it makes
people happy, which is always something.”

“Happy?” said Pandolfini; “is it this then which in your English calls
itself happiness? Ah! pardon--the Italian is more rich. This is
(perhaps) to be amused--to be diverted--but _happy_--no. We keep that
name for better things. I, for instance,” he added once more, in so low
a voice that she had to stoop forward to hear him, “I might say so
much--and, alas! it is for a moment, for a breath, no more. But _they_,
these gentlemen and ladies--they divert themselves: the difference is
great.”

“You must say ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Pandolfini,” said Diana, glad to
be able to escape from too grave an argument; “in English it is more
courteous to put _us_ first.”

“Pardon,” he said, with the flush of ready shame, which every one feels
who has made a slip in a new language. “I thought it was used so. But in
all languages heaven goes before the earth. I ought to have known.”

Diana laughed, but he did not laugh. He was not without humour; but at
present he was in deadly earnest, incapable of seeing the lighter side.
“At all events, that is pure Italian,” she said. “Your compliments are
delightful, Mr. Pandolfini--so general that one ventures to accept them
on account of all the other women in the world. I wish one could believe
it,” she added, shaking her head.

“I do believe it,” he said once more, in his deepest tone.

“Ah! you speak too low: I cannot hear you--which is an English not an
Italian fault. But you are right to discriminate between happiness and
amusement. We do so too, but we are not sufficiently particular about
our words, and use the first that comes to hand.”

Then there was a pause, and this time it was he who began. “Is it true,”
he said, “that this is soon to come to an end?--that you are going
away?”

“I suppose we must go, sooner or later. Not perhaps with the
Hunstantons; but people do not stay here for summer, do they? It is for
winter one comes here?”

“I am no judge,” he said gravely, with that seriousness, on the verge of
offence with which a man hears his own country criticised. “I have spent
many summers here. You shut yourself up behind the _persianis_ all day;
but when evening comes--ah, Miss Trelawny! the night of summer that goes
to the heart, as you say. I have never been in your country. I cannot
tell if among the seas you can know. Ah, you smile! I am wrong; I can
believe it. England is no more sombre when you--such as you--live there;
but in Italy I would give--how much--a year! years--of my life that you
might see one summer night. The air it is balm; so soft, so warm, so
cool, so dark. The moon more lustrous than any day. And all the people
out of doors. You who love the people it would make you glad. Upon the
stairs and in the doorways, everywhere, all friendly, smiling, singing,
feeling the air blow in their faces. How it has made me happy!--But
now,--now----”

“You ought to be more happy than ever, Mr. Pandolfini,” said Diana,
raising herself erect in her chair, turning round upon him with the
courage the situation demanded, yet unable to keep a tremor of sympathy
out of her voice, “now that your country has risen up again, and takes
her place once more among the best.”

“I thank you for saying so--yes, I should be more happy; but, _ecco_,
Miss Trelawny, we are not as we would. I have my senses, is it not true?
I am not a child to stretch out my hands for what is beyond reach? Yet
also, alas! I am that fool,--I am that child. My country?--I forget what
I meant to say.”

“You are not well,” said Diana, troubled. “It is this hideous din. Oh
no, I meant this beautiful music. You will be better when it is over.”

“Nay,” he said, the moisture coming into his eyes. “I like it; it makes
a solitude. It might be that there was no one else in the world.”

All this was nothing. If Mr. Hunstanton had heard it, he would have said
that Pandolfini was in one of his queer moods, and would have divined
nothing of what lay below; but to most women this inference of
adoration is more seductive than the most violent protestations. Even
Diana felt herself yield a little to the charm. She had to make an
effort to resist and escape from this fascination.

“And happily, here we are at the end,” she said. “Listen--here comes the
last burst.”

“Will you tell me?” said poor Pandolfini, paying no attention to the
interruption; “it will be very kind. Will you tell me to my own self, _à
me stesso_, before you go away?”

“It will be your turn to pay us a visit in England,” she said, rising;
and she turned and looked at him with a smile which was very sweet and
friendly, though so calm. “Then I will show you my country as you have
shown me yours,” she added. How kind she was! almost affectionate,
confiding; looking at him as if he had been an old friend--she who had
known him a few weeks only. But, alas! the moon in the sky was not more
serene than Diana. She went forward to the singers, adding in the same
breath, “Is it over so soon? You have given us a very pleasant
half-hour” (was it by their singing?). “Won’t you take something, and
begin again?”

“Tea is the worst thing for the voice,” said Mrs. Winthrop, “though I am
dying for a cup of tea. No more to-night, dear Miss Trelawny. I am sure
we have bored you quite enough: though it is amusing to those who sing,
I am always sorry for the audience. We must not try you any more.”

“I have liked it,” said Diana; and he thought she gave a humorous
half-glance towards himself, as if to indicate how it was that she had
liked it. As for Pandolfini, he could not bear the contact of the gay
little crowd. He went into one of the deep windows, and after a moment
stole out into the balcony outside. He was not calm. If Diana had liked
this brief retirement from her little world and its busy affairs only to
plunge into them again--to pour out tea for Mrs. Winthrop, and condole
with the tenor on the cold which affected his voice--the Italian was not
so philosophical. His frame quivered with all that he had said and all
that he had not said. Had he betrayed himself? In every other kind of
sentiment two people are on easier ground; but in love, except when they
understand each other completely, how are they ever to understand each
other? A woman cannot be kind without being more than kind, or a man
make himself intelligible without those last explanations which one way
or another are final--knitting the two together, or cutting them adrift
for ever. Alas! there seemed no likelihood with that calm Diana of any
knitting together: and he would not be cut adrift. No: he would take her
at her word. He would be patient--nay, passive, tenacious--as the
English like a man to be. He would be silent, resisting all temptation
to speak even as he had spoken to-night. He would give up the ways of
his own race and take to hers, concealing every sentiment; he would be
reticent, self-controlled, everything that an Italian is not by nature.
He would take the benefit of every moment here, and enjoy her society as
if he did not love her. Yes; that is what he would do--take the good of
her, as if she were nothing to him but an acquaintance, and never risk
that subdued happiness by any revelation of deeper feeling. And then
when all was had that could be had here, he would do as she had said--he
would go to England, and there be happy, or at least a little happy,
again. And who could tell? If he could manage to be so wise as this, so
self-controlled, so English, who could tell what might happen? She might
be in some great danger from which he could rescue her; she might fall
into some great strait or misfortune in which he might be of use. He did
not, perhaps, immediately realise the drowning, or the fire, or the
runaway horses which might form the extremity which would be his
opportunity, as a youth might have done; but when a man is under the
dominion of one of the primitive emotions, does not that reverse the
distinctions of youth and age?

It was the most youthful foolish notion, transparent as gossamer, which
thus sprang up within him, and which he cherished with such tenderness.
He stood on the balcony with his back turned to the world outside: the
soft infinite sky of a spring night, the dewy sense of moisture in the
air, the gleam of the Arno between its banks below, and the voices of
the passers-by, in which there was generally a dreamy attraction for
him--all this was of less importance to Pandolfini to-night than the
lighted interior, with those groups of careless _forestieri_ laughing
and carrying on their chatter under that solemn cavalier of the Sogni,
his own ancestor, who looked on so gravely, seeing the Northern hordes
come and go. A momentary contempt and almost hatred for them seized
Pandolfini, though he was an Anglomane. What did they want here with
their curiosity and their levity?

“Le case di Italia son fatte per noi,” he said to himself; then laughed
at himself for the doggerel, and so brought his mind down as well as he
could from these thoughts to the common platitudes, to Mr. Hunstanton,
who appealed to him about a discussion which had taken place in the
Italian parliament, and to Colonel Winthrop, who claimed his opinion as
an impartial person as to the relative intelligence of the English and
Americans. He stepped in from the balcony with a smile on his face, and
gave them his reply. His heart was thrilling and quivering with the
effort, but he made no sign. Was not this the first symptom that he had
conquered himself, that he was as strong as an Englishman, and had
surmounted that impatience of suffering, that desire for demonstration
which is in the Italian blood? Would she think so? or had she divined
what he meant, or ever thought enough about him to wonder? This was the
most exciting question of all.



CHAPTER IX.

WARNINGS AND CONSULTATIONS.


Mrs. Hunstanton lingered after the visitors had gone away. She made a
determined stand even against Mrs. Norton and Sophy, and outstayed them
in spite of all their efforts. She said, with something of that
breathlessness which betrays mental excitement, “I want to say a word to
you, Diana. I want to warn you. Spectators always see more than the
chief actors, and I have been a spectator all the evening. You must not
play with edge-tools.”

“_I_ play with edge-tools?” said Diana; “are there any in my way?”

“My dear,” said the elder lady, who was not addicted to phrases of
affection, “I wish I could let you have a peep from my point of view
without saying a word: but that is a thing which cannot be done.
Diana--I don’t know if you have observed it,--but poor Pandolfini----”

Involuntarily, unawares, Diana raised her hand to stop the warning with
which she had been threatened, and the colour rose in her face, flushing
over cheeks and forehead, to her great distress and shame. But what
could she do? Some women cannot help blushing, and those who are thus
affected generally consider it as the most foolish and unpleasant of
personal peculiarities. She tried to look unconscious, calmly
indifferent, but the effort was entirely destroyed by this odious blush.

“Mr. Pandolfini?” she said, with an attempt at cheerful
light-heartedness. “I hope it is not he who is your edge-tool. It does
not seem to me a happy simile.”

“Oh, Diana,” cried Mrs. Hunstanton, too eager to be careful, “don’t
treat a man’s happiness or misery so lightly! I never questioned you on
such subjects, but a woman does not come to your age without knowing
something of it. Don’t take his heart out of his hand and fling it to
the dogs. Don’t----”

“I?” cried Diana, aghast. She grew pale and then red again, and the
tears came to her eyes. “Am I such a monster? or is it only you who are
rhetorical? What have I to do with Mr. Pandolfini’s heart?”

“You cannot deceive me, Diana,” said her friend. “You blushed--you know
very well what I mean. Men may not see such things--but women, they
understand.”

“We have no right to speak of a gentleman we know so little--or at least
whom _I_ know so little--in this way,” said Diana, very gravely. “It is
an injury to him. You are kind--you mean him well--but even with that we
have no right to discuss----”

“I don’t wish to discuss him, Diana. If there was any chance for him,
poor man--oh no, you need not shake your head; I know well enough there
is no chance for him; but don’t torture him at least,” cried Mrs.
Hunstanton, getting up hastily, “this I _may_ say----”

“It is the thing you ought least to say,” Diana said, accepting her
good-night kiss perhaps more coldly than usual, for though she was
perfectly innocent, she dared not dispute the fact pointed out to her.
“No, I am not angry: but why should you accuse me so? Do I torture any
one? You have made me very uncomfortable. If it is true, I shall have to
break up and leave this nice place, which pleased me, and go back with
you to England.”

“You are afraid of yourself,” cried Mrs. Hunstanton.

“I!”---- Diana did not say any more. Yes; she was too proud. It was not
like a woman to be so determined, so immovable: and yet a woman whose
colour went and came, whose eyes filled so quickly, who was so sensitive
and easily moved, could she be hard? Mrs. Hunstanton did not quite know
what she wished. She was a little proud of Diana--among all the girls
who married, the one unmarrying woman, placed upon a pedestal, a virgin
princess dispensing good things to all, and above the common weaknesses.
One such, once in a way, pleased her imagination and her _esprit de
corps_. And if Diana had willingly stepped down from her pedestal, a
sense of humiliation would have filled her friend’s mind. But then poor
Pandolfini! She was quick of wit and quick of speech, and would have
been as ready as anybody to turn upon him, and ask who was he that he
should have the Una, the peerless woman, he a penniless foreigner with
nothing but a fine name? Probably had Diana melted, all this wilful
lady’s impatient soul would have risen indignant at the idea of the
English lady of the manor consenting to turn herself into a Madame
Pandolfini. But all the same, as Diana had no such intention, her heart
melted over the hopeless lover. Poor fellow! how good he was, how kind,
how friendly! It was hard that by a mere accident, so to speak, because
Diana had taken it into her head so suddenly to come here, that his
whole life should be ruined for him. How hard it was that such things
should be! As Mrs. Hunstanton went upstairs to her own floor she could
not help remembering with some virulence that it was that absurd little
Sophy’s sham cough which had brought Diana here, and done all the
mischief. Little ridiculous creature, whom Diana would spoil so, and
raise altogether out of her sphere! Mrs. Hunstanton was quite sure that
it was entirely Sophy’s fault (and her aunt’s: the aunt was on the
whole, being older, more ridiculous and more to be blamed than Sophy)
that this misfortune had happened; though after all, she added to
herself, how could Pandolfini expect that Diana was to be kept out of
Italy, and shut up, so to speak, in England on his account, lest he
should come to harm? That was out of the question too. Thus it will be
seen the argument on her side was inconsistent, and indeed
contradictory, as most such arguments must always be.

At the same time a very different sort of conversation was going on in
another room in this same Palazzo dei Sogni. As they went out, Mr.
Hunstanton had seized Pandolfini by the arm. “Come upstairs and smoke a
cigar with me: the night is young,” he said; “and there are lots of
things I want to talk to you about. Now there are so many ladies on
hand, I never see you. Come, you shall have some syrup or other, and
I’ll have soda--and something--and a friendly cigar. What a business it
is to be overdone with ladies! One never knows the comfort of a
steady-going wife of one’s own--that is acquainted with one’s tastes and
never bothers one--till a lot of women are let loose upon you. Diana
there, Sophy here--a man does not know if he is standing on his head or
his heels.”

“Pah! you like it,” said the Italian with a smile.

“Do I? Well, I don’t know but what I do. I like something going on. I
like a little commotion and life, and I am rather fond, I confess, of
helping things forward, and acting a friend’s part when I can. Yes, I’m
very glad to be of use. You now, my dear fellow, if I could help you to
a good wife.”

Pandolfini turned pale. Was it sacrilege this good easy Englishman was
talking? The idea seemed too profane, too terrible to be even
contradicted. He pretended not to have heard, and took up the
“Galignani” which lay in Mr. Hunstanton’s private room--the room where
he was supposed to write business letters, and do all his graver duties,
but in which there was always a limp novel in evidence, from the press
of Michel Levy, or Baron Tauchnitz, and where “Galignani” was the
tutelary god.

“Sit down, and let us talk. You should come over to England, Pandolfini.
The change would do you good. I like change, for my part. What is the
good of staying for ever in one corner of the world, as if you were a
vegetable and had roots? We say it is a grievance that we have to leave
home every winter on Reginald’s account, and I suppose I grumble like
other people; but no doubt, on the whole, I like it. There’s the
hunting--of course one misses all that; but then I don’t hunt, so it
matters less: change is always agreeable. And then you have got used to
our little society. One abuses the women; but they are always pleasant
enough. The worst is, one has a little too much of them in the country.
Well, not so constantly as here; but they are our nearest neighbours,
and _toujours perdrix_, you know.”

“Is it that you mean to persuade me to come, or not to come?” said
Pandolfini, laughing.

“My dear fellow, how can you doubt? Of course we shall be delighted to
see you, both I and my wife. We always feel together, she and I. Of
course you will think me an old fool and all that for speaking with so
little enthusiasm. I am past the age of _les grandes passions_; but a
good wife is a very good thing, I can tell you, Pandolfini. It is
astonishing how many worries a man is spared when he has somebody always
by him who knows his ways, and sees that he is comfortable. Many a great
calamity is easier put up with than having your tastes disregarded, and
your customs broken in upon.”

“This may be very true, my good Hunstanton, but why to me--why say it to
me? I have no--wife.” His voice changed a little, with a tone which
would have been very instructive to the lady spoken of, but which
conveyed no particular information to her husband. Mr. Hunstanton rubbed
his hands: then he took his cigar out of his mouth in his energy, and
puffed a large mouthful of smoke into his companion’s face.

“That is exactly the question--exactly the question. My dear fellow,
that is just what I wanted to say to you. You ought to have a wife.”

Pandolfini gave a quick look up into his friend’s eyes. What he thought
or hoped he might find there who can tell? Many things were possible to
his Italian ideas that no Englishman would have thought possible. From
whom might this suggestion come? His heart gave a wild leap upward, then
sank with a sudden plunge and chill. What a fool, what a miserable vain
fool he was! She to hold out a little finger, a corner of her
handkerchief, to him or any man! His eyes fell, and his heart; he shook
his head.

“Come, come, Pandolfini! that is the way with all you foreign fellows.
You are as afraid of marriage as if it were purgatory. You have had full
time to have your fling surely. I don’t mean to insinuate anything
against you. So far as I know, you have always been the most
irreproachable of men. But supposing that you hadn’t, why, you have had
time enough to have your fling. How old are you, forty? Well, then, it
is time to range yourself as the French say. An English wife would be
the making of you----”

“Hunstanton,” cried the Italian, “all this that you are saying is as
blasphemy. Is it to me you speak of ranging myself, of accepting
unwillingly marriage, of having an English wife offered to me like a
piece of useful furniture? It is that you do not know me--do not know
anything about me--notwithstanding _buon amico_, that you are my best
friend.”

Mr. Hunstanton looked at him with complacent yet humorous eyes. “Aha!”
he said, “didn’t I divine it! I knew, of course, how the wind was
blowing. Bravo, Pandolfini! so you are hit, eh? I knew it, man! I saw it
sooner than you did yourself.”

Pandolfini looked at the light-hearted yet sympathetic Englishman with a
glow upon his dark face of more profound emotion than Mr. Hunstanton
knew anything about. He held out his hands in the fulness of his heart.
Instinct told him that this was not the man to whom to speak of
Diana--although the Englishman was fond of Diana too in his way. But his
heart melted to the friend who had divined his love. Mr. Hunstanton,
too, was touched by a confession so frank yet so silent. He got up and
patted his friend on the shoulder. “To be sure,” he said, his voice even
trembling a little, “you mustn’t have any shyness with an old man. I
divined it all the time.”

There was a little pause, during which this delightful and effusive
confidant resumed his seat. He kept silence by sheer force of the
emotion which he saw in the other’s face, though it was almost
unintelligible to him. Why should he take it so very seriously? Mr.
Hunstanton was on the very eve of bursting forth when Pandolfini himself
began--

“But to what good? She is more young, more rich, more highly gifted than
I. What hope have I to win her! She with all the world at her feet!
I--nobody. Ah, it is not want of seeing. I see well--not what you say,
my good friend, but what all your poets have said. That is what a woman
is--a woman of the English. But, _amico mio_, do not let us deceive
ourselves. What hope is there for such a one as I?”

“Hope! why, every hope in the world,” cried the cheerful counsellor.
“Talk about the poets: what is it that Shakespeare says? Shakespeare,
you know, the very chief of them--

    ‘She is a woman, therefore to be wooed;
     She is a woman, therefore to be won.’

Tut! why should you be discouraged. Don’t you know our proverb, that
‘Faint heart never won fair lady’? Cheer up, man, and try. You can but
lose at the worst, and then if you win----”

Pandolfini sat and looked at him with glowing eyes. He was gazing at
Hunstanton; but he seemed to see Diana: not as she had been that
evening, seated calmly, like a queen, in the centre of so many people
who looked up to her--but as she appeared when he saw her first, when
she shone upon him suddenly, with her black veil about her head, and
when all the bells chimed Diana. What a revelation that had been to him!
he did not even know her, nor did he know how, without knowing, he could
be able to divine her as he felt he had done. He fell into a musing, his
eyes all alit with the glow of passion and visionary happiness. He knew
there was no hope for him: who was he that she should descend from her
heights, and take him by the hand? The idea was too wonderful, too
entrancing, to have any possibility in it; but it brought such a gleam
of happiness to his mind as made him forget everything--even its folly.
He paid no attention to Hunstanton gazing at him,--the substantial
Englishman became as a mist, as a dream, to Pandolfini,--what he really
saw was Diana, the revelation of that new unthought-of face rising upon
him suddenly out of dimness and nothing! What a night that had
been!--what a time of strange witchery ever since! He did not know how
it had passed, or what he had done in it--was it not all Diana from
beginning to end?

Mr. Hunstanton was kind. After a minute or two he saw that the look
which was apparently bent upon himself was a visionary gaze, seeing only
into some land of dreams. He broke up the fascination of that musing by
a hearty honest laugh, full of genuine enjoyment. “Are you so far gone
as that?” he cried; “then, upon my word, Pandolfini, some one must
interfere. If you are afraid to take it into your own hands, I’ll speak
for you if you like. You may be sure I am not afraid. It isn’t our
English way: but I’ll do it in a moment. Is that what you would like?
We’re leaving soon, as I told you, and there is not much time to lose.”

“Oh, my best friend!” cried the Italian, with sudden eagerness. Then he
paused. “No, Hunstanton, I dare not. Let me have the little time that
remains to me. I can at least do as does your curate. I understand him.
He, too, has not any hope; how should he, or I either? but I would not
be sent away from her: banished for the little time that remains. No!
let me keep what I have, lest I should get less and not more.”

“Stuff!” said Mr. Hunstanton. “The curate, Bill Snodgrass! that’s a
different case altogether. Look here now, Pandolfini: you are
ridiculously over-humble; there is no such difference as you suppose.
Now, look here! You have some confidence in me, I know, and if ever one
man wished to help another, I am that man. Will you leave the matter in
my hands? Oh, don’t you fear. I shan’t compromise you if things look
badly. _I’ll feel my way._ I shan’t go a step farther than I see
allowable. You shan’t be banished, and so forth. Though that’s all
nonsense. Will you leave it to me?”

Pandolfini fixed his eyes this time really upon Hunstanton’s face. “You
are too honest to betray me,” he said, wistfully; “you would not ruin me
by over-boldness, by going too far.”

“Who? I? Of course I should not. I have plenty of prudence, though you
may not think so; besides, I know a few things which are not to be
communicated outside my wife’s chamber. Oh, trust to me,--I know what I
am doing! You don’t need to be afraid.”

“But I am,” said the other. “Hunstanton, Hunstanton, my good friend, let
things remain as they are. I have not the courage.”

“Stuff!” said Mr. Hunstanton, getting up and rubbing his hands. “I tell
you I know a thing or two. Betray what my wife tells me--never!--not if
I were drawn by wild horses; but I know what I know. You had better
leave it in my hands.”

Pandolfini searched the cheerful countenance before him with his eyes.
He watched those noddings of the head, those little emphatic gestures of
self-confidence and sincerity. Was it possible that this man could be in
Diana’s confidence? No: but then his wife: that was a different matter:
was it--could it be possible? He got up at last, and went to him with a
certain solemnity. “Hunstanton,” he said, “good friend, if you have the
power to say a word for me, to recommend me, to lay me most humble at
her feet,”--he paused, his voice quivering,--“then I will indeed put
myself in your hands.”

“That’s right--that is exactly what you ought to do. But you must not be
so tremendously humble,” said Mr. Hunstanton. “Yes, yes, my dear fellow,
I’ll undertake it; but don’t be down-hearted. If you are not as happy a
fellow as any in Christendom by this time to-morrow night----”

“You--think so? _Dio mio!_ You--think so?” said the Italian. His heart
was too full to say any more. He wrung his friend’s hand, and snatched
up his hat and went away with scarcely another word, stumbling down the
long staircase, which was as black as night, his mind too distracted to
think of anything. As he passed Diana’s door the glimmer of light which
showed underneath stopped him, as if it had carried a message, a word of
encouragement. He stopped short in spite of himself, and a wild fancy
seized him. It was all he could do to keep himself from rushing into her
presence, confessing everything, asking--ah! what was it that he could
ask? Would she be but favourable--kind--nay, something more? Should he
make the plunge himself without waiting for Hunstanton, and if such an
unimaginable bliss could be, have it a day earlier? The impulse made
him giddy, so strong was it, turning his brain round and round; but as
he stood there, with his hand uplifted almost in the act of ringing the
bell, Diana’s factotum, all unaware of who was standing outside, came to
the door within and began to bar and bolt and shut up for the night.
Pandolfini’s hand dropped as if he had been shot. He turned and made his
way, without once pausing to take breath, into the open air beneath, on
the side of Arno. The lamps twinkled reflected in the water, the stars
from the sky; there was a quiver and tremor in the night itself, a
little soft wistful melancholy breeze. Might this be the last night for
him, the end of all sweet and hopeful days? or was it, could it be, only
the tender beginning of a long heaven to come?



CHAPTER X.

THE TWO LITTLE WOMEN.


Mrs. Norton and her niece had received the tidings of the Hunstanton’s
approaching departure with consternation almost more profound, and
certainly more simple in its exhibition, than had been exhibited by any
of the other members of the party. Surprise, which at the first moment
took the form of angry petulance and offence, had been the manner in
which it showed itself in Sophy; and as her aunt lived only in her and
her wishes, the girl’s angry vexation resolved itself into a mixture of
offence and resignation in Mrs. Norton. She calmed her child and soothed
her, and then repeated Sophy’s sentiments in a more solid form. “My
darling, you must not blame Diana. Diana has been goodness itself. We
never could have had this pleasure at all but for her thoughtfulness,”
she said, and then added: “I think, however, that Diana might have
managed to let us know delicately what she meant--not forcing it upon
us through the Hunstantons, if that is what she wants us to know.” Sophy
did not think whether Diana had or had not taken this underhand way of
warning them that it was time to depart; but she was angry beyond
measure and beyond reason. They both cried over the thought, shedding
hot tears. “Just when we know everybody and are really enjoying
ourselves!” said Sophy. “Oh! how are we ever, ever, to put up with that
nasty, windy Red House among the trees, with no society, after all that
we have had here?”

“Oh hush, my darling!” said Mrs. Norton; “this is what it is to be poor,
and to have to do as other people like. Those who are rich can please
themselves--it is only the poor who are shuffled about as other people
like; but we must remember that we should never have come at all if it
had not been for Diana.”

“Would it have been worse not to come at all than to be sent away now?”
said angry Sophy, at that height of irritated scepticism which would
rather not be, than submit to anything less than perfect satisfaction in
being. Could any one say they were ungrateful? Did not the ascription of
praise to Diana preface everything they said, or at least everything
that the most reasonable of them said? For as for Sophy, what was she
more than a child? and a child, when it is crossed, allows no wisdom or
kindness even in God Himself, who ought to know better than to expose it
to suffering. They made up their little plans together on the very
morning after that momentous night. They would go to Diana, and find out
what her intentions were--whether she meant them to go, whether they
were to accompany her wherever she might be going, or go back with the
Hunstantons. “She must at least see that it is reasonable we should
know,” Mrs. Norton said, with a dignified and restrained sense of
injury--as one above making an open complaint, whatever reason she might
have. When it came to the moment of going downstairs, Sophy indeed began
to hesitate. She was afraid of Diana.

“I am sure you will talk to her better without me, dear auntie,” she
said. “When any one is cross I cannot bear it.”

“That is because you are too sensitive, my love,” said Mrs. Norton.
“Poor darling, who would be cross to you? and you are only afraid of
Diana because of the time when she was your governess,” she added, with
a mild sense of superiority as of one who never was, nor had in her
family any one who required to be a governess. But nevertheless, half by
moral suasion half by authority, Sophy was made to come and back up the
elder lady by her presence. They went downstairs slightly nervous it
must be allowed. They knew that they were braver behind backs than when
Diana looked at them with those large eyes of hers; but having made such
a strenuous resolution, they could not withdraw from it now. They found
Diana taking her morning coffee with a book before her, as is the use of
lonely people, and she received their visit quietly as a not unusual
incident. She was not an early riser--that was one of her weak
points--and they were early risers; and they naturally looked at each
other with a glance of commentary and gentle moral indignation at her
late hours.

“You are so like a gentleman sitting there with your book,” said Sophy,
with a sense of pleasure in finding something to find fault with. Diana
closed the book and smiled.

“I suppose I should take that as a compliment,” she said, “for Sophy, I
know, has the highest opinion of gentlemen. Can one do better than copy
them? You have been up for hours, and have done a great many things
already, while I have been idling here.”

“Yes--but then we have no maid to do anything for us; and if we want to
have our things nice, we must get up early,” said Mrs. Norton. “We
thought most likely you would be at breakfast, and that we should be
sure to see you alone for a few minutes--you are always so much engaged
now.”

“Am I? I thought I was generally at my friends’ disposal,” said Diana,
with a smile; and then there was a little pause. For even her smile when
she looked up at them expectant, perceiving something that was on their
lips to be said, alarmed the two little women. However, Mrs. Norton,
feeling the situation to be too serious for silence on her part, took
courage and began--

“Diana--we don’t want to disturb you, dear. We know you are sure to do
what is best and kindest for everybody; but we should just like to know,
if you don’t mind, what your plans are----”

“My plans! I don’t think I have any plans,” said Diana, surprised, and
then she laughed and added, “To be sure, we can’t stay here all the
summer, can we? We are not at home, are we? That is what I always forget
when I get settled anywhere.”

“And not much wonder: for you can surround yourself with all kinds of
comforts,” said Mrs. Norton, looking round her wistfully. To be sure,
the third floor upstairs was not like the _piano nobile_: but she did
not intend to seem to make any injurious comparison. The idea was
suggested however, and Diana, who was very quick, took it up, and she
coloured, and a pained look came upon her face. This was the kind of
reproach to which she was most susceptible. It was as if she had been
accused of making herself comfortable at some one else’s expense.

“I hope you are not uncomfortable upstairs,” she said. “I thought the
house was the same all the way up--no difference but the stairs.”

“Oh no, Diana, dear!” cried Sophy. “Our drawing-room is not _half_ so
big as this. It is divided into two. This part is auntie’s room in our
apartment----”

“But that does not matter a bit,” cried her aunt; “you must not think we
are anything but comfortable, and quite happy, Diana, and most grateful
to you.”

“Never mind about being grateful,” said Diana, “the comfort is much more
important.” She laughed and shook off her momentary offence. “If there
is anything I can do to secure that, you must tell me,” she said,
kindly; “the Hunstantons’ rooms perhaps might be better when they
leave.”

“Oh!” cried both the appellants, with a common breathlessness. “That was
just what we meant to ask you about,” Mrs. Norton went on--Sophy, so to
speak, running behind the skirts of the elder and more skilful
operator. “We wanted to know if you thought--if you wished--what you
think we ought to do? We came with the Hunstantons; and Pisa is not a
place to stay in, in summer. But on the other hand, to go back to the
Red House when you were away, Diana----”

“Yes, I understand; but shall I be away? If Pisa is not a summer place,
I cannot stop in Pisa more than any one else.”

“But you can go where you like, dear. There are a great many other
places to go to. There is Florence, which you would like to see, and the
Bagni di Lucca; and there is Switzerland, Diana. You can do whatever you
please; but we can’t afford, can we, to do anything but go straight
home?--if you think we ought to go straight home.”

Diana looked from one to the other. There was a point in which she was
the foolishest of women. She liked to satisfy other people, to give them
the things they wanted. When she saw a secret coveting in anybody’s
eyes, instead of disapproving and reproving, the immediate thought in
her mind was how she could get them what they wanted. Perhaps this was a
temptation which she would not have felt had she always been Miss
Trelawny of the Chase, accustomed from her cradle to be better off than
other people, and feeling it natural. But the new power of giving, and
of gratifying those wishes which she remembered to have entertained
herself without being able to gratify them, was very pleasant to her,
and she could not resist it. She was not strong enough to deny herself
in order to preserve the independence of Sophy and Mrs. Norton. She
looked from one to another, and saw the suppressed eagerness in their
eyes.

“And you would like to go to Florence too--and Lucca--and to go home by
Switzerland? Why not? It seems a very reasonable plan.”

“But we cannot afford it, Diana.”

“Oh, as for that, I can afford it. Don’t say anything,” said Diana.
“Don’t you see it would be no pleasure to me to go alone?--and evidently
that is the natural thing to do.”

“To be sure,” said Mrs. Norton, gravely. “It is not nice to travel
alone: but then the expense. How could I put you to so much expense? I
don’t think it would be quite--right. I don’t think----”

“As for the right and the wrong, I think we may take them in our own
hands,” said Diana, with a smile. “You must get the Bradshaw--that is
what you must do, and settle the routes. Of course, we must go by
Switzerland. And I had never thought of it! It is evident I want you to
put things in my head.”

“You are very kind, Diana. I am sure if I can be of use in any way to
you who are so good to us--and, of course, it would not be nice for you
to travel alone, I allow that: even for gentlemen, it cannot be so nice.
But for a lady, and so young as you are still----”

Diana laughed. She was half ashamed of herself for seeing so clearly
through this little air of reluctance and difficulty. “Evidently,” she
said, “I am too young to take care of myself. Any one who thinks
differently does me an injury. Then that is settled, is it not? It will
be a great deal more pleasant having your company. I never like to do
anything alone.”

“Oh, Diana, what a darling you are! How good you always are!” cried
Sophy, throwing her arms round her friend. “And I am such a nasty little
thing! I thought you would not care a bit: that you would send us away
with the Hunstantons by that horrid long railway, and never think----
Oh, I am so ashamed of myself! and you do love us, you do like to have
us with you, Diana, dear?”

“Do you expect me to make protestations?” said Diana, shaking herself
free with a little embarrassment, feeling compunctions on her own side
that she could not be more effusive. “I ought to have thought of it
before, but it did not occur to me. Yes, to be sure, we must see the
snows. We have our time in our own hands; we are not compelled to be at
home by a certain day like Mr. Hunstanton.”

“Oh, Mr. Hunstanton! he is so fussy, always interfering with
everything--what does it matter when he gets home? I am tired of Mr.
Hunstanton!” cried Sophy.

“You should not speak so rashly, my dear. Mr. Hunstanton has been very
kind. _She_ has never liked us much. She has always been jealous of
Diana’s love for you, never seeing how natural it was: but Mr.
Hunstanton has always been kindness itself. Oh, I am sure she will make
disagreeable remarks now! She will say we don’t mind what expense we put
Diana to. I know exactly how she will look. But do not think anything of
that--_I_ do not mind, Diana. Do not imagine that I would take the
pleasure out of your journey, dear, for anything any one could say----”

“And spoil our own pleasure, too, when Diana is so kind,” cried Sophy,
with frank delight. “Oh, do you think my old travelling-dress will do,
aunt?--or should I have another grey alpaca? Switzerland! I never,
never thought of such happiness: though indeed,” added the girl with a
sigh, “I shall be very, very sorry to leave Pisa, too. I have never been
so happy as here.”

What was it that had made Sophy so happy? Diana looked at her with some
curiosity, patting her softly on the cheeks.

“So many parties,” said Sophy, “or at least as good as parties. We have
never been at home for a whole week. There has always been something
going on; and expeditions; and dances now and then. I have never been so
happy in all my life before.”

“Hush, hush, my darling! you would be just as happy at home. I _hope_ my
Sophy does not want constant amusement to make her happy; but still it
has been very pleasant, and, of course, we could not hope to have so
much in a quiet country place.”

“And in England! where, as Colonel Winthrop says, the skies are always
grey, and the company bumpkins,” said Sophy, with the sublime contempt
of a traveller. What could Diana do but laugh as they played their
little pranks before her. They were as good as two little white mice in
a cage.

“You had better look into that serious question of toilet,” she said,
“and quite make up your mind whether another grey alpaca is necessary;
for if we do go to Switzerland, there will be a great deal of travelling
to do.”

“What shall you wear, Diana?” said Sophy, growing serious; “for you know
your merino that you came in will be too warm. I wish you would think of
that a little more. Yes, auntie, indeed I must speak. You know you
always say that Diana never does herself justice.”

“Do I?” cried Mrs. Norton, colouring a little, while Diana laughed with
great amusement “I am sure Diana always looks well whatever she puts on.
You have heard me say so a hundred times.”

“Don’t take any trouble on my account,” said Diana. “I shall find
something, never fear.”

“And we are wasting all your time,” said Mrs. Norton. “Sophy, we must
run away. If Diana has not the little things to do which we occupy
ourselves with, she has other matters to think of. Dear Diana! how can I
ever say all I think of your kindness! Nothing would make me accept it
except the thought that we can perhaps, in our little way, make it
pleasanter for you too.”

She was very strong on this subject to everybody to whom it was
mentioned afterwards. “Yes,” she said, “we are going to Switzerland.
Dear Diana does not like to travel alone; and, indeed, it is scarcely
proper, for she is still quite what is considered a young lady, you
know--though, of course, a very great deal older than my Sophy; and
Diana has been so very kind to us that I like to do all I can to be of
use to her. Sophy will enjoy it too. Oh, it is not at all disagreeable
to me, I assure you,” she said, smiling with gentle friendliness and
resignation. The chaplain’s wife, if no other, thought it was “so kind”
of Mrs. Norton to go to Switzerland with Miss Trelawny. “It took them
all by surprise, I believe, and they had made their plans to go home:
but they are such good creatures, so unselfish! They have changed all
their arrangements rather than that Miss Trelawny should have the
annoyance of travelling alone.” This was repeated over and over again
that afternoon in the little church coterie at a choir practice, where
there was quite a flutter of admiration over the unselfishness of the
two little ladies. The glee-party was all there, with the exception of
Mrs. Hunstanton, whose absence, perhaps, was fortunate in the
circumstances. As for Mrs. Norton, she never departed from this ground
even in her most private moments. “I am so fond of Diana that nothing is
a trouble,” she said, “she has always been such a friend;” and then it
got whispered round, to the great admiration and surprise of everybody,
that Miss Trelawny, though so great a lady, had once been Sophy’s
governess. What a wonderful thing it was! everybody said; exactly like a
romance in real life!

The Snodgrasses, who were also at the choir practice, heard, like the
rest, of Miss Trelawny’s plan, and the excitement of the information
brought the curate out of his corner. “I don’t really care about going
to Florence. I never did care,” he said hurriedly to his uncle.
“Switzerland is what I should like most.” The rector shook his head, and
called his dear Bill a goose; but yet, reflecting within himself that
dear Bill was six feet high, and a fine specimen of a man (though not
perhaps what is generally called handsome), and that Miss Trelawny had a
fine fortune, and that Perseverance was the thing which carried the day,
Mr. Snodgrass thought that perhaps, by chance, so to speak (if it were
not an impious thing to speak of Chance), he might direct his steps to
Switzerland too. So that a whole party of people were moved, and their
intentions and destinations changed, by the impatience and
disappointment of Sophy Norton at the prospect of an abrupt conclusion
of her holiday. She thought herself, and with justice, an insignificant
little person, yet it was she who had made all this commotion.

In the meantime Sophy’s own head was full of her wardrobe, to the
exclusion of other ideas. Should she have dresses enough for the summer?
should she want another grey alpaca? or could she get on with what she
had, with a new white frock, perhaps, and a dust-cloak? “There is
nothing looks so nice as white,” said Sophy, regarding her wardrobe with
an anxious pleasure. “In fine weather, my darling: but it always rains
among the mountains, and a white dress, or a cotton dress of any kind,
looks poor in bad weather.” This was a very serious question: for indeed
she had a grey alpaca already, which was too good yet to be taken merely
for a travelling-dress. It was the one which had been made up on the
model of Diana’s beautiful new silk from M. Worth’s. This was a very
perplexing problem, and one which gave them a great deal of trouble; but
yet it was a happy kind of care.

As for Diana, she had the faculty of putting aside the points that
jarred in her friends’ characters. She was aware that they were not
perhaps so unselfish as they took credit for being, and she could not
but laugh softly under her breath at Mrs. Norton’s solemn conviction
that she “could be of use” to Diana. But what then?--what did it matter
after all? It would be pleasant enough to go to Switzerland, and
travelling alone was not very pleasant. So far the Nortons were right.
Diana feared (a little) the innuendoes of Mrs. Hunstanton when she heard
of the project; but otherwise it amused her (she did not put it on any
higher ground) to see their pleasure, to indulge them with every luxury
of a journey made _en prince_. To have everything you can desire,
without ever having to think of the expense, how pleasant it was! How
she would have liked it when she was poor! She did not say to herself
that she had been as independent as she was poor, and would not have
lightly taken such a pleasure at any one’s hand. Why should she have
remembered this? Sophy was not like her: and after all, to make these
two little women perfect, to reform their characters, and mould them
after her own model, was at once a hopeless proceeding and one
altogether out of her way.



CHAPTER XI.

THE PROPOSAL.


The rooms on the third floor of the Palazzo de Sogni were not like those
in Diana’s beautiful _appartamento_. The drawing-room, which was so
spacious and lofty in the _piano nobile_, was low, and divided into two;
one half of it was Mrs. Norton’s bedroom. In moments of excitement, and
in the early part of the day, the door of communication was sometimes
left open, though it was against all the English ideas of nicety and
tidiness, in which these little ladies were so strong, to leave a
bedroom visible. But what else could be done, when Sophy was seized with
that anxiety about her toilet, and the delightful sense of preparation
for a further holiday whirled them both out of their sober routine? Mrs.
Norton had her excuse all ready if anybody should call--that is, if any
lady should call--for the thought of a masculine foot crossing her
threshold did not occur to her. “We have no maid,” was what she would
say, “and of course there are a great many things which we must do
ourselves. Fortunately, I am quite fond of needlework, and Sophy is so
clever, and has such taste. You would never think that pretty dress was
made at home? but I assure you it is all our own work. The only thing is
that we keep the bedroom door open, in order to keep this one as tidy as
possible.” Every visitor (being a lady) sympathised and understood: and
gentlemen, except the clergyman, never came. A clergyman, by virtue of
his profession, has more understanding on these points--has he
not?--than ordinary men; he is apt to understand how poor ladies have to
employ themselves when they have no maid; in short, he has the feminine
element so strongly developed as to be able to criticise without rushing
into mere ignorant censure, as probably a gentleman visitor of another
kind would have done. And no profane male foot ever crossed Mrs.
Norton’s threshold. They were at their ease therefore next morning,
after their interview with Diana, when they got up to the serious
business of the day. There was no hurry; but the work was agreeable, the
excitement of preparation agreeable, and then, to be sure, a hundred
things might happen to hasten their departure, and it was always best to
be prepared. The door of Mrs. Norton’s sanctuary was accordingly
standing wide open, revealing not only the Italian bed with its
crackling high-piled mattress of _turchino_, but a large wardrobe
standing open with all kinds of dresses hung up inside. The alpaca which
was in question was spread out upon the sofa in the little drawing-room,
and formed the foreground to the picture. They were both standing at a
little distance contemplating it with anxious interest. Mrs. Norton had
her head on one side. Sophy had a pair of scissors in her hand. It was
almost the most difficult question that had ever come before them.

“It is very elaborately made,” said Mrs. Norton, doubtfully. “The
flounces would be very awkward in a travelling-dress. They are so heavy
to hold up, and they get so full of dust----”

“But, auntie, I have heard you say it made all the difference to a dress
when it was nicely made.”

“Yes, that is very true; but a travelling-dress ought to be simple--it
never ought to have a train, especially for a young person. You ought to
be able to jump out and in of carriages, and never think of your dress.
Besides, _that_ would be so useful at home. You could wear it so nicely
for Diana’s little parties, or when she is alone----”

“Oh, auntie! I shall never care for these horried little parties again.”

“Hush, my darling! at least you must never _talk_ like that. You will be
very glad of them, Sophy, when winter comes.”

Sophy shook her head: but the present matter was still more important.
“Something new would be better, no doubt,” she said, “for the
evening--one of those light silks that are almost as cheap as alpaca.
When one has to get a new thing, isn’t it better to have it for one’s
best? whereas an alpaca is never very much for a best dress, and would
look nothing in the evening; and making a new common dress is just as
troublesome as making a handsome one. And I might cut this a little
shorter, or loop it up: and it would look nice when we stayed anywhere
for a few days. Diana will insist on staying everywhere for a few days:
I am sure she cannot really like travelling: and this with my white
frocks when it is very fine----”

“I see your heart is set upon a new silk.”

“No, indeed, auntie,” said Sophy, half offended. “The only thing is,
what should I do with two grey alpacas? If I were to take off the
trimming here, and change this flounce----”

“Run, Sophy, run! there is some one at the door. Filomena has no
sense--she will show them in at once.”

“What does it matter?” said Sophy. “It can only be Mrs. Hunstanton--I
don’t mind at all what she says. I should like her to know. She ought to
be cured of her interfering. It will let her see who Diana cares the
most for. It will show her----”

“Mr. Hunstanton!” cried Mrs. Norton, with almost a shriek. A
_gentleman_! and actually the bed visible, and all the things hanging
up. She made a dart at the door and shut it, then turned round
breathless but bland. “This is a pleasure!” she said; “but you find us
in great disorder. I am so sorry. We were just arranging a little
against our journey.”

“What journey?” said Mr. Hunstanton. “Don’t apologise. I like to have a
finger in the pie. You shall have my advice with the greatest pleasure.
But what journey? Were you thinking really of returning with us? That
would be good news: though I think I have perhaps something to say that
may make a difference. Don’t take away the dress: I am a great authority
about dress--though my wife snubs me. Don’t take it away.”

“We are going with Diana,” said Mrs. Norton. “If we had been going home
there is nothing I should have liked so much as going with your party.
You were all so kind to us coming. But our first duty is to Diana. She
has never been abroad before--she thinks she would like to return by
Switzerland, and see as much as possible; and, of course, I could not
let her go alone. And Sophy will enjoy it--though, indeed,” said the
little woman, with a sigh, “it will not be unalloyed pleasure to me. My
circumstances were very different when I was there before. Still I must
not be selfish; and, of course, I could not let Diana go alone. After
all her kindness to Sophy, that would be too ungrateful--it is what I
could not do----”

“Whew!” said Mr. Hunstanton under his breath: and then corrected
himself, and composed his countenance. “So you are going to Switzerland
with Diana. Ah-h!--with Diana! That is a new idea. Bless me! I wonder
what Diana will say to me if I spoil her trip for her? Mrs. Norton, I
have come to say something very important to you. It is not on my own
account exactly. I am come as an ambassador; as--plenipotentiary. I have
got something to say to you. Well, of course I don’t know what you will
answer; but it is not disagreeable. It is the sort of thing I have
always heard that ladies like to hear----”

Mrs. Norton looked with unfeigned amazement at the beaming ambassador,
whose enjoyment of his office there could, at least, be no doubt about.
The smile on his face, the knowing look, the air of mingled fun and
flattery which he put on, with a comical assumption of the aspect which
the wooer he represented ought to have worn, half alarmed her. Though
she was conscious to the bottom of her heart of her dignity as a married
woman, with a late “dear husband” to refer to, yet the mild little lady
was as old-maidish in her primness and over-delicacy as the most
pronounced specimen of that type. What could Mr. Hunstanton mean? Had he
gone out of his senses? or was there anybody so rash and foolish as to
think of addressing her, a clergyman’s widow, in this way? A momentary
recollection of Mr. Snodgrass flashed across her mind, and a slight
blush came upon her matronly cheek.

“Oh, shall I run away?” cried Sophy, still more surprised, and most
unwilling to go.

“No, no! Sophy must not go--why, it is all about Sophy!” cried Mr.
Hunstanton. “She must not go on any account. Mrs. Norton, you know it
isn’t our English way; but whether it is that I have lived so much
abroad, I don’t know, but I think it a very rational way. Inquire first
if there are any objections; and then if there are any objections,
withdraw without humiliation. Oh yes, I have a great opinion of the
good sense of an English girl; but still you know, Sophy, you are
fallible, and sometimes a man is drawn on--and then sent to the
right-about, as if he had no feelings at all.”

Mrs. Norton had taken time to compose herself during this speech. She
dismissed the rector out of her mind abruptly, with something of the
feeling with which she would have turned an impertinent intruder out of
doors--indignant: though, indeed, it was not at all Mr. Snodgrass’s
fault that she had thought of him. The excitement was scarcely less when
the case was that of Sophy: but still that personal suggestion took the
edge off her flutter, and made her listen more calmly. But there are
limits to patience. She interrupted Mr. Hunstanton with all the weight
of authority. Here certainly she was mistress of the position; though it
was not very clearly apparent what that position was.

“I have no objection to you as an ambassador, Mr. Hunstanton,” she said,
“and I think it very right that any gentleman should address me first
rather than to disturb my child. But Sophy, pardon me, had better
withdraw. The only reason for telling me would be that Sophy should not
know--except afterwards, if I thought fit, through me.”

“Oh, auntie!” said Sophy, under her breath. She stood, holding the dress
in her hands, in natural curiosity and excitement, her pretty round face
all flushed. She did not want to go; but she was dutiful though she was
excited, and thought of nothing beyond remonstrance. Mr. Hunstanton, for
his part, lost his head altogether. He got up and took the dress out of
her hands (not so awkwardly for a man, they said afterwards). When he
had laid it down with clumsy care on the sofa, he took Sophy’s hand, and
drew her forward. “Sit down here,” he said. “Come, Sophy, you needn’t
blush. I am not going to make love to you. We’ll leave _him_ to do that;
but I can’t let you be sent away. It is her affair. Let her hear it.
After all, there is nobody so much interested. Well now, look
here--guess! You ladies have eyes more than we have for that sort of
thing especially. Who do you suppose has sent me here to-day?”

Sophy sat where he had placed her, and looked at him, her soft little
face crimson with excitement and pleasurable expectation, her blue eyes
round and eager. She was a pretty little thing, and a man would be very
well off, the ambassador thought, with such a fresh soft innocent
creature always looking up to him. Mr. Hunstanton was sensible enough to
feel that a wife always looking up to you might be, on the whole,
inconvenient now and then: but still it would be pleasant; and it would
just suit Pandolfini, who was a solemn sort of personage. Where is the
man that would not like it? though the other sort of wife is of more
use, perhaps; and he was content with his own lot. Sophy looked quite
ready to accept any love-making that should come her way. Her lips were
a little apart, her breath coming quick, her little heart all a-flutter,
her whole mind absorbed in inquiry. Who could it be? Pandolfini was the
romantic hero of Sophy’s imagination, but there were two or three others
whom she would not have frowned upon. Which could it be? Her eyes fixed
upon Mr. Hunstanton with growing eagerness. She made a pretty
picture--all glowing innocence and ignorance, the most charming blank
sheet of paper on which a man could desire to inscribe his name.

“Mr. Hunstanton!” said Mrs. Norton, shocked; “indeed I don’t approve of
my child being exposed to this. Sophy, you had really better go away. It
is quite improper--it is a sort of thing--we are not accustomed to----”

“I should hope not, I should hope not, my dear Mrs. Norton; though I
don’t doubt that you knew all about it in your day. But Sophy is young
enough to begin her experiences, and I trust we shall bring them to a
close very suddenly. Now I am not going to keep you in suspense. Mrs.
Norton, you know him very well. You have had ways of seeing how much we
think of him. My wife has the very highest opinion--and you know in many
things Mrs. Hunstanton is perhaps more _difficile_ than I am. His means
are not great. He has enough to be very comfortable, but not enough to
make a great show according to our English notions” (here Sophy’s
countenance fell a little, for, to be sure, where everything was so
vague, it was easy to add riches to the fabulous unknown wooer); “but
Sophy is not the girl to mind that: and he belongs to a very good
family. She will be able to call cousin with half the princes in the
Italian peerage.”

“Mr. Hunstanton!” cried Mrs. Norton, breathless; “what is all this in
comparison to more essential things? It depends entirely upon Sophy’s
feelings; and how can we tell till we know--not what he is, but who he
is?”

“My dear lady, am not I just going to tell you? Sophy knows who he is.
She has found it out in his eyes, as I did. Why, who should it be but
Pandolfini? And a man any girl might be proud of--a fellow--though I
say it that shouldn’t--who knows English as well, and is as fond of it
as of his own language--a most accomplished fellow! I verily believe
just the best man living, and so modest you would never find it out.
There’s the lover I bring you, Sophy; and if you don’t appreciate him,
you are not the girl I took you for. He deserves--simply the most
charming wife in the world.”

“The Cavaliere!” cried Sophy under her breath. In the first moment of
awe the colour fled from her cheeks.

“Mr. Pandolfini!” cried her aunt. Then she paused and looked at Sophy,
who sat breathless, the blush coming back again. “Mr. Hunstanton, I am
sure you will not doubt we are very sensible of the honour he does us.
Not that my Sophy would not be an ornament to any family; but till I
know her feelings---- Yes; he is a very charming person indeed. I have
the greatest respect for him--and admiration--a man that any one might
be proud of, as you say; but till I know my Sophy’s feelings----my
darling?” the little woman grew tremulous. It was a situation which she
had never realised.

“Oh, auntie!” cried Sophy, throwing herself into Mrs. Norton’s arms. The
girl laid her head upon her aunt’s shoulder, and melted into sobs. “Oh,
I am not good enough! I am not clever enough! It cannot be me he cares
for.”

“My darling! when Mr. Hunstanton tells you----”

“Oh, it must be some mistake--it must be some mistake!” cried Sophy,
burrowing with her head in her aunt’s bosom. Mrs. Norton encircled her
with tender arms. She felt that her child was behaving herself at this
wonderful emergency exactly as she ought.

“You see how much overcome she is! You must let us have a little time,
dear Mr. Hunstanton. You can imagine the excitement, the agitation. She
is so young. And when I am so much upset myself, what should she be--at
her age? But, indeed, it is I who have the most occasion,” said the
little lady, beginning to cry: “for what shall I do without my
Sophy?--not that I should think of that when her happiness is
concerned.”

“Oh, auntie!” cried Sophy, clasping her close, and burrowing more than
ever, “I could never leave you--how could I ever leave you? You must
always--always stay with me.”

Mr. Hunstanton rubbed his hands. “I see--I see!” he said, “it is too
early for a direct answer; but I don’t think Pandolfini need be cast
down. I think there are indications that he will gain the day.”

At this moment it became apparent to Mrs. Norton that Sophy’s agitation
was too sacred to be witnessed by strange eyes, especially by a
gentleman’s eyes. Encircling her child with one arm, and holding her
close to her breast, she extended the other hand to Mr. Hunstanton. It
was too exquisite a moment for ceremony. “Dear friend,” she said, amid
her tears, “you see how it is. Leave me alone with her, and if you will
come later--or I will write you a note: yes, that is the best, I will
write you a note. No, I do not think he need despair.”

“I understand--I understand--a note will be the best, which I can show
him,” cried Mr. Hunstanton, delighted. “Good-bye--good-bye, Sophy.
Yes--yes, I shall take myself off. Let her have it out; but it will not
be long till Miss will be turned into Madame, I can see. Never mind the
door. I hope I can open it for myself. Yes--yes, it is she that wants
you most, poor little soul!”

Sophy raised herself from her shelter when the ambassador was heard to
go; her pretty little face was all stained like a child’s with tears.
“Oh, auntie!” she cried, looking her aunt in the face, then giving her a
still closer hug; and then there followed a moment of mutual endearment,
sobs, and kisses. “Oh, auntie, do you think it can be true? _Him._ I
thought him so far above me. I never thought he would look twice at a
little insignificant thing like me.”

This was _selon les règles_ too; and Mrs. Norton felt with unfeigned
satisfaction that Sophy was fully equal to the circumstances, and was
saying and doing exactly what she ought. She pressed her to her breast
with mingled love, respect, and admiration. Nothing inappropriate or out
of place had come from Sophy’s lips. In everything she had comported
herself as the most anxious of aunts could wish; and all the girls of
England might have been there to take a lesson. Mrs. Norton breathed a
sigh of content as she pressed her child to her heart.

“My darling, you are too humble--not that I wish you different, Sophy. I
like to see that my child is the only one that is unconscious of her own
merits. But Love sees further. Dear fellow! Oh, what a happiness for me,
my pet, to think, if anything happened to me, that I could leave you in
such good hands!”

“But oh, auntie, _him_! I thought it was Diana he would care for----”

“Diana, Sophy? My dear, Diana is very handsome--for her age: but she is
not like you. You know how fond I am of Diana; but gentlemen don’t care
for such clever women. They like some one to look up to them, not a
person who is always standing on her opinion. No, my darling, Diana will
never attract a man of fine feeling like dear Mr. Pandolfini. It is not
just an equal he wants. He wants a clinging, sweet, dependent creature.
And then youth, my pet, youth! that always carries the day.”

“But oh, auntie, fancy any one being with Diana, and preferring poor
little _me_!”

What more natural than that a flutter of gratified vanity should thrill
through the girl! Mrs. Norton shared it to the fullest extent. She said,
“I never expected anything else. Though I don’t set up for being clever,
I know the world, and I know _gentlemen_. It is not talent that is
necessary for that--you know I don’t pretend to talent--but experience,
and perhaps a little insight. Oh yes, I know what may be looked for. I
know what gentlemen are; and you may take my word for it, Sophy, a woman
of Diana’s age has no chance--especially when they look their years as
dear Diana does fully, whatever your partiality may say.”

“She _will_ dress in such an old-fashioned way. I have spoken to her
about it so often, and she never pays any attention. But oh, auntie!
what will Diana say?”

“I don’t know what she can say, dear, but congratulations. Dear Diana,
she will be so glad of your good fortune. She always is so generous. She
will be sure to want to help with your _trousseau_; and it is evidently
such a pleasure to her that one never knows how to refuse.”

“Oh!” cried Sophy, hiding her face, “it is too soon surely, surely, to
think of anything of the kind. A _trousseau_, auntie! it scarcely
seems--proper,--it scarcely seems--delicate.”

“My darling, you are so sensitive!” said Mrs. Norton, taking her child
once more into her close embrace.

It was not, however, till several hours later that she wrote her note to
Mr. Hunstanton. It was quite a model of what an acceptance should be:
dignified, yet not too dignified; cordial, yet not too effusive. She
appreciated Mr. Pandolfini, but she knew the value of the treasure she
was giving. “I shall be happy to see him this evening or to-morrow,” she
wrote. “They will be better able to understand each other when they meet
by themselves; and I too shall be glad to have a talk with Mr.
Pandolfini.” Mr. Hunstanton rubbed his hands as he put this epistle in
his pocket-book. “I knew they would be delighted,” he said to himself,
“and with good reason. Why he should have made such a fuss I don’t
know; for, of course, it’s a capital match for Sophy. And she’ll make
him a nice little wife, and give him a tidy, comfortable English home,
which is a thing not very common in Italy. My wife, by the by, will be
in a pretty way! She never could bear these two harmless little bodies.
Why are women so queer? They never judge as we do. But here’s a settler
for them all,” he said, chuckling and patting his breast-pocket.
Certainly it was all done and settled, and put beyond the reach of
uncertainty now.



CHAPTER XII.

THE HOUSE OF DREAMS.


Pandolfini scarcely slept at all that night. His mind was full of dreams
and visions, and an agitation beyond his control. He let himself in to
his sombre _appartamento_, which was all empty, echoing and vacant, and
lit his lamp from the taper which he had carried with him up the dark
stair-case. The rooms he inhabited were in an old palace which belonged
to his family, but of which he had only a corner now. Upstairs lived an
old couple of his kindred who had their _terzo piano_ by right of blood.
In the higher storeys there were some suites of smaller rooms let to
smaller people. Down below in the _piano nobile_ was an English family,
the usual tenants of everything worth tenanting. His second floor
contained some handsome rooms, and there was one at least which showed
more signs of being lived in than seems natural to Italian rooms. It
was somewhat richly hung with old tapestry. There was a carpet--unusual
luxury!--covering the centre of the floor, and the walls which were not
tapestried were clad with book-shelves. Books, too, were in all the
corners, piled even on the floor, but carefully piled and in order,
arranged by a hand that loved them. There was no sign of any one living
but himself in the dark silent place, where his little open lamp with
its three slightly flickering flames made a mere speck of light in the
darkness, and his foot on the marble of the floor made an echoing sound
all through the house till it reached the sanctuary of the old soft
Turkey carpet, from which long usage had worn the pattern here and
there.

He put down the lamp on the table and threw himself into a chair. The
figures in the tapestry were undecipherable in the dim light, except
just opposite to it where a shepherdess and shepherd sat in eternal
dalliance upon the little green mound beloved of such art. The soft and
worn tints gave a certain faint cheerfulness to the wall, but all was
dark around and as still as the night itself. Old Antonio, his faithful
servant, slept in a corner somewhere, peacefully undisturbed by the
master’s comings or goings. The _donna da faccenda_, or
woman-of-all-work, had long ago gone home to her family. This was all
his establishment. The conversation he had just had, awakened, as may
well be supposed, a thousand thoughts in the Italian’s mind. It had been
all fervent poetry as he stood outside her door and walked home along
Arno, hearing the bells chime her sweet name: Di--ana, Di-an-a, with its
long, soft vowels, such as an Italian loves. But when he reached his own
house, other thoughts not less thrilling or sweet, though more real,
came into his mind. Was it possible that she should set foot here
even--take up her abode here? He rose up from his chair when that fancy
came to him, and stood with his breast expanded and his head held high,
not feeling that he had breath enough for such a thought. Diana--and
_here_; and then it occurred to him, perhaps for the first time, how
poor and dark and silent it was, how worn and faded, how unlike a shrine
for such a saint! What could he do to it to make it better? Pandolfini
was not of so poor a spirit as to think that Love (if for him such a
thing could be) would despise his condition and surroundings. No; if,
profoundest wonder of wonders, Diana should _love_ him, as his friend
took upon himself to promise, what to her would be the circumstances
external to him? Nothing! He had forgotten that he had heard it said she
was a great lady in her own home--forgotten even the superior wealth of
her surroundings here. He cared nothing about these, and Diana would
care nothing. If only the first might be true, there was nothing else to
be taken thought of. The wonder of her loving him could not be greater
if she were a queen.

But supposing----then what could be done to make the faded things
bright, to renovate, and warm, and light up his house for her coming? He
dropped back into his chair and began to think. Could any magic make
these apartments worthy of her? Then he rose hastily, unable to be still
in his excitement, and took up his lamp in his hand again, and began to
go over the room, his head throbbing with agitating thoughts. Every new
door he opened sent a thrill of echoes through the place, until at last
they disturbed the rest of old Antonio, who sallied forth in alarm, his
grey locks tumbled from his pillow, his eyes fiery yet full of sleep, a
coloured counterpane wrapped round him for want of better. “Ah! it is
only the _padrone_,” cried Antonio, turning his back without another
word, but with muttered grumblings in his throat. He was angry to be
disturbed. “Surely he walks enough in the day to leave one tranquil at
night,” the old man grumbled, as he restored the counterpane to his bed.
Then a momentary thought struck him that it might not be the _padrone_
at all, but his double, presaging evil. But after a moment’s thought,
Antonio dismissed that idea; for had not his quick eye caught that very
thin place, not yet a hole, on the right leg of the _padrone’s_
pantoloons, which he had brushed so carefully that morning? No ghost
risen from the grave could know about that thin place. So Antonio went
grumbling yet calm to bed.

Pandolfini took little notice of this old grey apparition. He gave the
old man a nod, and passed on. There were many empty rooms to go through,
all furnished after a sort, all with cold glistening marble floors, dim
great mirrors, into which his lamp gleamed with mysterious reflections,
dark pictures, bits of tapestry, here a frescoed wall, there a richly
decorated roof. The remains of wealth, or rather the ghosts of wealth,
were there standing with a forlorn pride in the midst of the cold and of
the dim reflected lights. Of all the rooms he went into, only his own
library could be called inhabitable, much less comfortable; and yet
there was a faded grace and dignity in everything. Would she prize that
and understand it? he wondered. Ah yes! Could it be possible that Diana
did not understand everything, see everything with the noblest, gentlest
comprehension of all that had been noble, then she would not have been
the Diana of his thoughts. She would understand. She would learn the
story of the house, and its decadence, and its pride--all in a glance.
But--would she prefer her English comfort, her warmth of carpets and
close-drawn hangings, and the insular way of cushioning and smoothing
over every sharp corner--to this old chill splendour and poverty? He
could not answer himself with any satisfaction; and his thoughts carried
him further to his little farm in Tuscany, and the villa with its bare
rooms and terraces, which had not even any trace of old splendour to
veil the present poverty. Would it be better to dismiss the _forestieri_
down below, who paid so good a rent for the _piano nobile_, and so make
more room and a more seemly habitation--something more worthy of _her_?
But then his foreign lodgers gave a very agreeable addition to his
funds; and how could he do without that? or how adapt the villa for an
English lady without spending of money which was impossible to him?

When the vague raptures of a dawning love change into plans of intending
matrimony, the difference is very great. Had he known how rich Diana
was, the simple-minded Italian might have taken matters more easily
perhaps than an Englishman would have approved of; but he was an
Anglomane, and had picked up some reflections of English thoughts,
which made him try anxiously now if there was any way by which he
himself on his own finances could accomplish all this. And the question
was grave, very grave, deepening the furrows on his forehead. When he
paused from these reflections, and the first initial thought of
all,--the idea that Diana--_Diana!_ loved him,--came back to his mind,
Pandolfini’s heart recovered itself with a great throb of happiness
beyond all imagining, an incredulous triumph of joy, which took away his
breath. But then he fell back again into his anxieties, his questions.
To realise this crown of all possible gladness and delight, what cares,
what anxious self-discussions, what elaborate calculations must he go
through! how could he make her life fair, and bright, and free from the
pinchings which were in so many Italian houses, which he had learned by
heart in his own life, and which, if they no longer existed for him now,
might come back again were he to launch into greater expenditure and
luxuries hitherto unknown?

He sat up half the night pondering all these strange new thoughts, which
were penetrated now and then as by a sudden golden arrow, by that flash
of consciousness which made everything glow and shine. But this very
consciousness, this ecstasy, was the occasion and beginning of the
care. After he had deliberated and deliberated till his very brain
ached, he took paper and a pen, and began to put down his calculations.
The very act of doing so, putting this wonderful hope, so to speak, into
black and white, and making his visionary preparations into a tangible
thing which he could look at, thrilled him through and through again
with touches of delight He leant back in his chair, and laughed softly,
so softly that the low utterance was more like a tone upon an instrument
than the commonplace happiness of laughter. To him, to come to _him!_ he
who had never expected it, never hoped for it, since his first youth.
Love! He was incredulous of it, yet believed in it to the bottom of his
profound and passionate soul.

Thus he sat through the long night, feeling neither cold nor weariness,
nor as if he could ever want such vulgar consolations as sleep, until
Antonio’s first stirring in the blue chill of the morning aroused him
from his arithmetic and his thoughts. He started guiltily, and saw the
flicker of his poor little lamp reflected in the dim mirror at the end
of the room, in the midst of a soft clearness of the day, which confused
him, and gave him a sense of shame, as if some cool and calm spectator
had suddenly looked over his shoulder and seen the follies that
occupied him. Quickly and abashed he extinguished the lamp, gathered up
all his papers carefully, opened the window to let in the morning air
still somewhat chill: and feeling for the first time a little stiff and
cold, crept noiselessly to bed, afraid to be found out by Antonio, who,
however, was not deceived by this stealthy retreat, and knew very well
by the smell of the suddenly extinguished lamp, and the creak of the
opened window, that his master had been keeping unholy vigils. “Had he
slept when all Christians ought to sleep he should have got up now,”
said Antonio, “instead of stealing to bed like a thief lest I should
find him. Ah, _padrone mio!_ if you could but learn what was for your
true advantage!” But that is what young men will never learn till it is
too late, Antonio reminded himself: for his master was yet young to
Antonio, a fit subject for lecturing and good advice still.

Pandolfini came out of his room at a respectably early hour after all,
and with innocent looks that did all but deceive his old servant “I hope
I did not disturb you last night,” he said, with hypocritical
amiability; “I was looking for--a--book.”

“The _padrone_ did not disturb me last night,” said Antonio, severely;
“but this morning when I found the lamp still hot, and the
_illustrissimo’s_ chair warm! _padrone mio_, it is no good for the
health. There is a time to sleep, which is the night; there is a time,
if you will, to make calculations to amuse one’s self--to play, if it is
necessary--and that is day.”

“I am going to make use of the day,” said Pandolfini, taking the cup of
coffee which was his cheerless breakfast. And then he added, “Don’t you
think, my old Toni, that the olives at the farm might yield a little
more oil? Marchese Rolfo has no better land than I have, and yet he
sends more flasks to the market.”

“Marchese Rolfo is an old miser; he wrings the trees and the poor men
that keep them,” cried Antonio; “and Gigi at the villa is as honest a
man as any I know. The _padrone_ forgets that it has been a bad year.”

“It is always a bad year,” said Pandolfini, ruefully. “I never knew it
otherwise since I was a boy.”

“Praised be God, yet we live! we are not, after all, at the mercy of the
olives,” said the old man, cleverly shifting his ground; then he added,
in more insinuating yet judicial tones, “If, instead of making
calculations on the _tombola_, as I see you have been doing, whether
numbers or colours I know not, the _padrone_ would make himself
beautiful and marry one of those rich English ladies, who have more
money than they know what to do with----”

“Fie, Tonino! is it better to be at the mercy of a lady, than of the
olives?”

“That is quite different. They are only women at the best, however rich
they may be; and a man is no man who cannot manage a woman; but the
Providence of heaven which is inscrutable, which will send a frost when
it is sunshine that is wanted, and torrents when one has but asked for
showers, that is what no man can manage. The _padrone_ may be sure that
I give him good advice.”

“And why not?” said Pandolfini, with that smile which is confusion to
all givers of advice. “Why not?” Was that an answer to make, as if it
were some bagatelle? Antonio began to sweep energetically, careless of
his master’s coffee; and Pandolfini sallied out into the fresh morning.
He was not a man so objectless as not to know what to do with himself
when he happened to be earlier than usual. But to-day, what was there to
do? He crossed the streets, and went and looked over the low wall at
Arno sweeping on below. There had been rain, and the stream was very
full. The hurry and sweep of the yellow water seemed to carry his soul
with it as it flowed and flowed. But it carried everything with
indifference, not to be diverted from its flowing!--all kinds of waifs
and strays, and even a common boat which had got loose, and was
blundering heavily down-stream, like the blind thing it was, bumping
here and there, carried along with a sort of labouring, piteous appeal
for guidance. Pandolfini watched it with a kind of half amusement, half
sympathy. It caught at last in a muddy corner under the first arch of
the bridge, the only gloomy and dirty spot, so far as could be seen, in
all the hurrying stream. Was this what Antonio called inscrutable
Providence?--that strange, impersonal, half-heathen deity, to whose
operations all Christendom attributes every evil with a sort of pious
resentment?

When the boat was thus arrested in its course, Pandolfini roused himself
from his fascination. He went into the little Church of the Spina, close
to the river, and heard a Mass, though it was not his custom; and then
he sallied forth again, and performed a multitude of little duties which
he had neglected--a curious jumble. He paid a few little debts; he went
and looked at some pictures which he had long forgotten; he paid a few
visits--to an old _canonico_ in the cathedral, who had taught him when
he was a boy, to an old servant, to a friend whom he had almost lost
sight of--such visits as might be made any morning. It seemed to him
afterwards that everything he had done was like the half-conscious act
of a man taking leave of his old life. When the thought occurred to him
it did not make him melancholy. It is only sad to take leave of a phase
of life which is ending, when that to which you look forward is less
happy. When it is the other way, is there not a secret exultation, a
concealed happiness, even in the farewell?

It was too early yet to go to Hunstanton, to inquire into his success.
Englishmen are not so early as Italians, and Pandolfini remembered with
a smile all the ceremonies that his friend had to get through before
commencing any enterprise out of doors. First his breakfast--a meal
unknown to the abstemious Tuscan, whose coffee was swallowed in two
minutes; then the letters and newspapers which the post brought him;
then his “business” in his study apart from the vulgar eye, a formula
Mr. Hunstanton went through religiously, as if he had his estate to
manage on the second floor of the Palazzo dei Sogni. All these had to be
gone through--and who could tell how many more? He gazed at the great
house from the other side of the river before there was any sign of
waking save in the rooms under the roof, where the tenants were out
upon the _loggias_, and busy with their morning occupations like the
rest of their countryfolk, long before the drowsy English had opened an
eyelid.

Then the _persianis_ began to open one by one, and the mist of dreams
cleared off. On the first floor the _persianis_ had not been closed at
all. How he knew Diana in that! how she loved the air, the morning
sunshine, not yet too hot for pleasure, the soft gay shining of the
morning, even the sounds beneath which more fastidious _forestieri_
objected to! Nor hers the ear that was ready to be offended by lively
voices of common life, by the morning noises and cries of humble
traffic. Pandolfini’s heart swelled, and a soft moisture of exquisite
feeling came to his eyes. Though she was of the family of the Dreams, as
he had said, no artificial gloom of drawn curtains, of hushed movement,
was natural to Diana; the early sunshine, the morning bells, the
herb-gatherers’ cry in the streets, were no disturbance to her. The
sweet homely stir of living was the best call for her. He felt that it
was in her to rise lightly as the lark to all the duties of that blessed
common living, were they necessary; and the more homely they were, the
more noble would Diana appear in them. So he thought, looking across
from the other side of Arno with that exquisite moisture in his eyes,
in that glory of the morning. As a matter of fact, the first English
head that appeared at the windows of the Palazzo dei Sogni was Mrs.
Norton’s, who pushed the _persianis_ open with her own hand to air the
rooms, and looked out like a little brown hen-bird, the grandmother, if
there could be such an official, of the nest. She called to Sophy to
make haste, to get ready, while she made the tea, and to come and look
at the market-people coming in from the country--or rather going away
again, as they were by this time; and then Sophy looked out with all her
curls. But the watcher did not so much as notice these two, and Diana’s
balcony remained vacant. Notwithstanding all these beautiful thoughts
about her, and notwithstanding that these thoughts were all true, Diana,
as a matter of fact, was not, at this period of her life, an early
riser, as has been already said.

Poor Pandolfini! He knew no more than the least interested passer-by the
disastrous business his English friend was doing for him a little later
on--nor how his fate was getting decided, and all the miraculous
sweetness over which he was brooding, being turned to gall. He waited
through all the long morning, remembering English habits, with a shrug
of his shoulders, till “luncheon”--mysterious word!--should be over;
reflecting, perhaps not quite justly as he did so, on the portentous
English appetite which demanded two meals so early in the day. Then,
with a heart which did something more than beat, which gave leaps and
bounds against his breast, and then paused breathless to recover itself,
he rushed up the long stairs. Diana was on her balcony as he approached,
and after a little wave of her hand to him, disappeared suddenly. What
did that mean? His heart sank, then bounded again with excitement,
anxiety, suspense. He rushed up to the Hunstantons’ second floor like a
whirlwind, and found himself in his friend’s room, breathless,
speechless, breaking in, he supposed, like a thief.

“Well?”--all the breath left in him, and all the fever of emotion, came
forth in the one word.

“My dear fellow!” cried Mr. Hunstanton, with both hands held out, “my
dear Pandolfini! I congratulate you! Well?--yes, of course, all’s well
as I told you. They are as pleased as possible--say they never thought
of such a thing, as all women do--but feel sure there never was anybody
so good, and so perfect and delightful. Bless you, I knew it! They are
as happy as you are, all in a flutter; and you are to go up at once.”

Pandolfini’s eager countenance was as a gamut of all emotions as his
friend spoke--the blank of utter anxiety, the leap of hasty delight, the
cloud of doubt: and withal a touch of fastidious and troubled
dissatisfaction impossible to describe. He grasped and held Hunstanton’s
hand, holding himself up by them, body and soul, and gazing at him with
eyes that grew almost terrible in the strain.

“_They!_” he said, still breathless, with a long-drawn gasp, in a voice
husky with agitation. “They? Who is--the other?”

“My dear fellow! You to ask such a thing with your Italian notions! Of
course, her aunt! You might have done it, being the lover; but you don’t
suppose I, an ambassador, could have made my proposals to little Sophy
all alone! Love has turned your head.”

Pandolfini dropped his friend’s hands: a sudden darkness seemed to come
over him and swallow him up. He staggered to the window, and stood there
silent for a moment, looking blankly out.



CHAPTER XIII.

A SURPRISE.


Diana had begun to feel the influence of the Italian warmth, and that
sweet penetrating sunshine which is happiness enough without any more
active happiness, when there is no active suffering to neutralise it.
She spent the whole morning in her balcony, or close by it. The balcony
was full of flowers; the sounds outside came softened through the golden
warmth of the air, in which voices and sounds of wheels, and clatter of
hoofs and tinkle of bells, were all fused together into a homely music.
It filled her with a sense of activity and living, though she was in
reality doing nothing. As she sat idly among the flowers in the balcony,
raising her head now and then, with the curiosity of true
do-nothingness, when some special movement, something flitting across
the level of her vision, attracted her, she could not but smile at
herself. But it was not a common mood with Diana; it was a summer mood,
to be indulged now and then, and bringing novelty with it. Summer in the
depth of her own woods was still more sweet; but this affluence of life
and movement, so magically hushed, soothed, harmonised by the warm
atmosphere, was new to her. She leant back in her chair and trifled with
a book, and indulged the curiosities of the moment, like any foolish
idler capable of nothing better. The soft air held her entranced as in
an atmosphere of serene leisure and pleasantness. But it was not the
afternoon languor of the lotus-eater, through which there comes a vague
sadness of renunciation, a “we will return no more.” Diana had never
felt her life more warmly than as she sat, with an unconscious smile,
absorbing into herself all that cheerful commotion of movement, idle if
you please, but in sympathy with all the life and activity which was
going on about. A friendly fellowship, a sense of kindness, was in her
mind. It was all new and sweet to her, this quiet amid the world of
sound, this soft spectatorship of humanity. She had toiled along these
common paths in her day, and therefore understood it all better than any
ordinary favourite of fortune could do: and this made her enter into
everything with a genial fellow-feeling which it is difficult for those
who have spent all their life on the higher levels, to possess. Had any
emergency happened, Diana would have been as ready to help as any busy
woman in the street. But this _dolce far niente_ overcame all her usual
activities, and lulled her very being. She had seen Pandolfini come in,
and had waved her hand to him, not going back within doors, as he
thought, but only subsiding among her flowers. After that little
movement of friendly salutation she saw him go out some time after,
rushing, with his head down, and without even a glance at her balcony.
Was anything wrong? had anything happened? She was sympathetically
disturbed for the moment; but, after all, she knew nothing of Mr.
Pandolfini’s affairs, and the idea floated out of her mind. She had the
friendliest feeling for the Italian--more, she had that half-flattered,
half-sorry sense that he thought more of herself than could ever be
recompensed to him, which often makes a woman almost remorsefully tender
of a man for whom she has no love. But that he did not look up, that he
rushed out of the room with his head down, might not that mean only that
he was more occupied than usual? “I hope there is nothing wrong,” she
said to herself; then dismissed him from her thoughts.

But a few minutes later Mrs. Hunstanton came in also, with a little
rush. There was care, and many puckers upon her brow. She got quickly
over the usual salutations, kissed Diana with an _air distrait_, and
dashed at once into her subject. “Have you seen Pandolfini this
morning?” she said. It was a bad habit she had, and which a woman, if
she is not very much on her guard, is likely to take from her husband,
to call men by their surnames. Mr. Hunstanton was not particular on this
point.

“I saw him come in some time ago--and I saw him go out,” said Diana. “I
see everything here. I have taken a lazy fit this morning: it is so
pleasant----”

“But about Pandolfini,” her friend cried, interrupting her. “Diana, I am
dreadfully frightened that Tom has been making a muddle. I am sure he
has got a finger in the pie.”

“In what pie?” Diana was inclined to laugh, but restrained herself--for
did not Mr. Hunstanton manage to get a finger into every possible kind
of pie?

“You know what I think of Pandolfini: you remember what I said to you
the other night----”

“You said--nonsense: pardon me--but you know all that is utterly out of
the question. It is unkind indeed to suppose anything of a man which he
does not betray himself----”

“As if he had not betrayed himself! As if you did not know as well as I
do, and a great deal better! Diana, I am going to put it to you once
more. Is there the slightest chance for him? Now, don’t keep up your
Noes from mere consistency’s sake. I am sure some women do--till they
repent it: but I should have no patience with you, who ought to know
better! You are not a fool, Diana. You know something of life. You
understand that a good, faithful, honest, honourable man--who loves
you----”

The tears had come to Mrs. Hunstanton’s eyes. Tom was a great trouble to
her often. He was always having a finger in everybody’s pie--but
still----she felt as he did that it was something to have a good,
faithful, honourable man by your side. Her view was perhaps even higher
than his, though she was frank in owning that a married woman’s life was
no path of roses. She felt disposed to press matrimony upon Diana even
more warmly, more sentimentally, than her husband had pressed it upon
Pandolfini--but her hopes of success were a great deal lower. She looked
wistfully at her friend through the moisture in her eyes.

“Must I reply to you seriously,” said Diana, “as if there was really
something in it? And yet you know so well what I must say. No, there
could not be any chance--not if I wished it myself, which I do not.”

“Why, in the name of heaven!--_why_ should there be no chance?” cried
Mrs. Hunstanton, vehemently.

“Because--must I explain further?--I have got a trade, an occupation.
Women with that are better not to marry; and this would make me refuse
any one.”

“Everybody says that men are better managers than women, do business
better, could look after your estate better than you could.”

“Hush! I don’t mean to try,” said Diana, with a smile, “whatever anybody
says; and I should not wish it, even without this reason,” she said,
with the ghost of a sigh.

“You sigh, Diana; you blushed the other night; you don’t dislike
Pandolfini?”

Diana put her hand lightly on her friend’s eager mouth. “How can I
dislike,” she cried, with a voice full of emotion, “one who--cares for
me? Oh, don’t speak of it--don’t make me think of it! I have--done as
much myself, once. Yes, I need not blush to say it”--though she did
blush, down to the edge of her white collar and up to the roots of her
hair. “So that I know. And I am grateful to him, but no more----”

“He would be content with that, Diana,” said Mrs. Hunstanton, red
herself to her very finger-tips in the confusion and dismay of this
sudden and utterly unexpected confidence, into which she felt that she
had betrayed her friend.

“Hush! not another word. It is profane,” said Diana, below her breath.

Mrs. Hunstanton was standing behind her. She gave her a sudden hug with
tremulous fervour, and kissed her forehead. She dared not ask any
questions, nor, indeed, in the sudden shock and surprise, say anything
on this wonderful new subject, which filled her mind with questions and
suggestions. With a half sob she restrained herself from speech, and the
effort was no small one, as Diana felt. She turned half round in her
chair, and met her friend’s eyes.

“You see I am not without understanding, nor even careless,” she said.

“I never thought so--I never thought so, Diana! I am too bewildered--I
won’t attempt to say anything. But that only makes it all the worse. I
know Tom has been doing something. Tom has got him into some scrape or
other. I saw him rush out, with his face like ashes, looking more dead
than alive.”

“I could have nothing to do with that.”

“Heaven knows!” said the poor lady; “but Tom has. Of that we may be
certain. Tom has a finger in the pie.”

But Mrs. Hunstanton knew nothing more. Her husband had been mysterious
and lofty all the morning, breathing hints and inferences, “I could, an
if I would;” but he had been somewhat afraid of what his wife would say
had he made her aware that he was ambassador for Pandolfini to Sophy. To
Sophy! Mr. Hunstanton knew that his wife was capable of snatching his
credentials, so to speak, out of his hand, if he had betrayed their
destination. But he had not been able to refrain from hints, which she
had received with eager yet impatient ears. “Don’t you meddle with
Pandolfini’s love affairs,” she had said with irritation; but it was not
to be expected that this vague caution could produce any effect.

Diana remained in her balcony after her friend had gone, but no longer
in the same mood. She was agitated, not painfully, yet not happily. The
past was long past, and she did not brood over it; but yet there was
something as strange as sad in this off repetition of the same theme.
Why should it be to the wrong people that love was so often given, vain
love, not sweet to any one, either to those who felt or those who
called it forth? By what strange fate was it that some man or woman
should be always making his or her heart a gift to some one who cared
nothing for it? Diana was in most ways happy--at least, happy
enough--happier far than the greater part of humanity, and than many a
woman who had got the desire of her heart. She was neither afraid to
look back into the past, nor dissatisfied with the present. But yet,
there had been hard moments in her existence; and when she thought of
Pandolfini, the tears came into her eyes which she was no longer tempted
to shed for herself. Poor Pandolfini! but he would get over it, as one
must. There was nothing unworthy in it, nothing to be ashamed of. A man
does not break his heart for such a mistake, though it might be, she
added to herself sadly, the turn of the tide for him, and change the
colour of his days, as it had changed her own more or less. She was too
wise to throw herself back into the personal phase of the question, or
endeavour to revive within herself the feelings of the time when
happiness seemed impossible for her, and all the glory of life over.
Life was not over; she felt it and its greater purposes, and all that
was best in it, rising strong and warm in her heart. And so would
Pandolfini after a while. He was a man, and had compensations upon which
women could not fall back; but yet she was sorry with a tender
fellow-feeling, which brought tears to her eyes.

Late in the afternoon she received a visit of a very different
description. The Nortons had not known what to do. Pandolfini did not
make his appearance as they had expected at once, and Sophy had even
seen him hastening along the street, away from the Palazzo dei
Sogni--with a mixture of surprise, consternation, and incipient offence.
Fortunately she had not seen him come and go as the others had done, for
it was hot upstairs in the _terzo piano_, not shady and embowered as
Diana was in her _loggia_, and even the most curious gazer could not
spend the morning at her window. They supposed he would come in the
evening, something must have occurred to detain him. But in the
meantime, Mrs. Norton was of opinion that it would never do to keep dear
Diana in the dark, or to delay breaking to her the important
intelligence that their plans were now changed: “Of course, it must
quite depend on circumstances whether we can go with her to Switzerland
or not. Most likely dear Mr. Pandolfini will wish----”

“Oh, auntie! how can you talk of such things?” said Sophy, giving her a
vehement hug. But she was very willing to carry the news to Diana.
Indeed, the two little ladies were in a state of excitement which
precluded occupation. They could do nothing but sit with their two
little heads together and talk; and what was the good of having such a
wonderful thing happen if they did not tell somebody? “Besides, Diana
has always been so kind, and always so fond of you, my darling,” Mrs.
Norton said. “She has a right to know.”

Accordingly, they fluttered downstairs very important, though blushing
and breathless, as became the kind of news they had to tell, charging
Filomena, their maid-of-all-work, to fetch them at once if Signor
Pandolfini came. Somehow or other by instinct they hurried past the
Hunstantons’ door. “You may be sure _she_ will not like it at all: but
that, of course, is nothing to us,” said the aunt; and they drew their
skirts together and made a little run past the dangerous place. Diana
had been out in the meantime, and coming back had sat down at her
writing-table to read her letters and to ponder some proposals from her
lawyers which required thinking of. Her lawyers, as has been said, were
in a state of perpetual resistance to her schemes of liberality, holding
back with all their might, and throwing every obstacle they could in her
way: and her correspondence with them was interesting by reason of this
long-continued duel, which was carried on now on their side with a
respectful consciousness of her power and ability to hold her own in the
argument, which had not existed at first. She put her papers away when
her visitors came with a certain reluctance, yet with her usual sympathy
with other people. Probably it was nothing of any importance that those
two little people had come to say: never mind--no doubt it seemed
important to them: and it would have wounded them had she looked
preoccupied. So she pushed her papers aside, and gave them all her
attention. It did not occur to them that Diana could have anything to do
more interesting than to hear their communication. They came in with a
flutter of delicious excitement. This was the best of it: indeed it was
scarcely so delightful to receive Pandolfini’s declaration, as it was to
tell Diana that Sophy was engaged,--ecstatic word!

“We have come to tell you of something very important, Diana,” said Mrs.
Norton. “When anything happens to Sophy she never can rest till you
know: and this is so important, and it may alter your plans too: for of
course it may not be possible for us to carry out----”

“Oh, auntie! Diana will think us so strange, so little to be relied
upon----”

“What is this important news?” said Diana, smiling; “do not keep me in
suspense.”

And then, speaking both together, and with a great deal of blushing and
hesitation, and choice of appropriate words on Mrs. Norton’s part and
interruption on Sophy’s, they managed to get out the wonderful piece of
information that Sophy was “engaged.”

“Sophy--engaged!” cried Diana, with all the surprise they had hoped for;
“this is news indeed! Engaged! how cleverly she must have done it, to
raise no suspicions. Yes, of course I wish her every kind of
happiness--but with whom?”

“Oh, indeed I was never deceived--I have seen all along how things were
going,” cried Mrs. Norton. “Yes, to whom? I wonder if Diana would ever
find out--I wonder! but no, no one, I feel sure, ever thought of such a
thing but I.”

Diana looked from one to the other, really puzzled and full of
inquiries. “Is it--you must not be angry, Sophy--but I do hope it is the
best man in the world, though we have laughed at him so much--William
Snodgrass? Nay, don’t be angry. He is the only one I can think of--I am
at my wits’ end.”

“William Snodgrass! dear Bill!” said Sophy, mimicking the tone in which
the rector spoke of the curate. “When you know I never could bear him,
Diana!”

“Then, who is it?” said Diana, shaking her head, yet with all the calm
of perfect serenity. She drew the girl towards her, and kissed Sophy
kindly. “I need not wait for my good wishes till I have found out,” she
said. “If you are as happy as I wish you, you will be very happy. You
wicked little thing, to steal a march upon us like this!”

“Oh, I did not steal a march upon you: oh, ask auntie,” cried Sophy,
burying her head on Diana’s shoulder. The only thing that tried Diana’s
temper and never-failing indulgence was these clinging embraces, in
which she did not know how to take her part.

“The fact is,” said Mrs. Norton, “that we have strained a point in
coming to tell you so soon. But I could not bear that you should not
know at once--you who have always been so fond of Sophy--indeed I am
sure a mother could not have been more kind. I said to her, Diana must
know: I cannot put off telling Diana: especially as perhaps it may make
a difference in her plans. Yes, indeed, I have seen what was coming. I
have felt all along that more was in his ways than met the eye. Before
you came over, Diana--when we were here first, and feeling a little
strange--oh, _do_ you remember, Sophy, how kind, how very kind, he used
to be?”

Diana looked at them more and more surprised. Who could it be? Some
young Italian whom she had not remarked--or some travelling Englishman,
perhaps, who had just come back after “doing” Rome and Florence, as so
many did. Both of these classes were to be found among Mr. Hunstanton’s
friends.

“Yes, he always distinguished us--not even Sophy only, but me for her
sake. Just what such a chivalrous man would do. You will divine now,
Diana, who it is. Dear Mr. Pandolfini! And he is so modest. He had so
little confidence in himself that it was Mr. Hunstanton who came to us
first to break the ice. He was so afraid she would say No.”

Diana listened confounded. She looked from Sophy to her aunt with lips
falling apart in her wonder and consternation. She did not hear anything
Mrs. Norton said after his name. “Mr. Pandolfini! _Mr. Pandolfini!_--are
you sure there is no mistake?” she said with a gasp.

“Mistake! oh no, there is no mistake!” they both cried in a breath.
Diana came to herself with a sudden sense of shame, for all the very
different sentiments she had been putting into his mind. Her face was
suddenly covered with a vivid blush. What an absurd mistake to make! She
had been so sorry for him; and all the time it was Sophy, and he was the
happiest of men. She blushed, and then she laughed, but there was a kind
of agitation in both; for to feel that one has so entirely misjudged a
man, and been so vain, so secure of one’s own superior attractions! It
was too ridiculous! She felt angry and ashamed of herself. And then
there was something so utterly incongruous, so absurd, in the
conjunction--Mr. Pandolfini! Could any one believe it? The two little
women opposite enjoyed her surprise. They enjoyed even the discomfiture
which they did not comprehend. Could Diana have thought of him herself?
This was the thought that flashed across both their minds.

“I am sure I beg your pardon,” said Diana. “You have indeed taken me
entirely by surprise. I never would have thought of Mr. Pandolfini. _Mr.
Pandolfini!_ Nay, you must not be angry, Sophy; but he is so much older,
so much more serious, somewhat so entirely different from you!”

“Is it not this harmony in diversity that makes the sweetest union?”
said Mrs. Norton, rising into eloquence. “Oh yes, it is so! Ah, my dear,
I am not so clever as you, but there is something in experience that is
never taught in books. I saw it all along. I perceived that dear Mr.
Pandolfini’s delightful mind felt the refreshment of innocence like my
Sophy’s. He always kept his eye upon her. Often I have been surprised at
it, how he should find out just when we wanted anything, just when he
could be of use; not always at her side, as a young man would have been,
but keeping his eye on her. Ah! that unobtrusive unselfish love is
always the deepest, and it is but few girls that call it forth. She
ought to be very proud of such devotion: but I saw it all along.”

Diana listened with her mind in a maze. Perhaps it was all true. Mrs.
Norton’s instincts, her watchful maternal eye, and that minute
observation in which gentle gossips excel, how should these have been
deceived? Yes, yes, no doubt she must be right; and in that case what a
vain self-admirer, what an absurd self-deceiver must Diana be! She was
filled with such lively shame that it closed her lips. That she should
have thought it was herself on whom Mr. Pandolfini’s heart was set, and
that it should turn out to be Sophy! That she should be so sorry for
him, driven to betray herself out of tender pity for him, when, lo, it
turned out that he was the happiest man in the world! Once more Diana
laughed, coming round to see the comical aspect of her own
confusion--for, after all, this did not matter to anybody but herself.
And there was the greatest relief as well as a little disappointment in
finding that the object of her unnecessary pity could so easily make
himself happy, and had no need to be pitied--which was the drollest
conclusion. “Pardon me for laughing,” she said; “indeed I hope they will
both be very happy. It is not ridicule but surprise.”

“Ridicule! Oh no, there is no ground for ridicule,” said Mrs. Norton.
“It is the most natural thing in the world to me. I have seen it all
along.”



CHAPTER XIV.

DESPAIR.


Pandolfini rushed out of the house in a state of misery and despair
impossible to describe. He had not made any explanation to Mr.
Hunstanton of the real state of affairs. He was struck dumb; the earth
seemed to open under his feet, and everything solid in the world to melt
away. He stood giddy and miserable on the edge of this precipice,
feeling that he did not dare to take any further step one way or
another. The dilemma in which he found himself seemed more terrible than
anything that had ever befallen mortal man. In the first place, Diana
was lost to him, there had never been any hope for him; all his
delicious fancies of last night had been dreams founded on a lie. She
had never thought of him, never considered him as more than an
acquaintance: it was all a fiction, all a delusion, upon which his
momentary but ecstatic hopes had been built. For the moment this
crushed him almost more than the other practical side of the mistake,
which he did not realise. Twenty-four hours before he had known equally
that Diana was out of his reach, that for him to seek her was folly,
that, however he might love, he must go upon his way, and make no sign:
and that this brief climax of life to him, this love-dream, this
unexpected undesired revelation of a something in existence which might
have been higher than his sweetest hopes, and dearer than his dearest
dreams--was nothing, a passing vision of no real importance to him or to
any one. He had known this very well yesterday; but it was infinitely
more bitter to him to-day. Then indeed he had felt as if everything
worth living for would go away with her, as if life would be utterly
blank to him, without meaning or grace--but he had faced the blank,
mournfully yet manfully, knowing that nothing better could be.

Now, however, after he had been led to deceive himself, had been forced
into it, after such resistance as he was capable of making to an
apparent joy which was the crown of all possible and impossible wishes,
now!---- The bitterness, the keen sting of disappointment, the
resentment with himself for ever having consented to this delusion, all
mingled with and intensified the insupportable pang that tore him
asunder, the sense that it was all illusion, that no one save himself in
his folly had ever thought of Diana as his object: that she had known
nothing of his love, and had not even given him the hearing, the
consideration, which were implied in a refusal. This it was that wounded
him most wildly, driving him almost mad with its sting. Had she refused
to listen to his suit, yet she would have known it at least, would have
been aware that he loved her, obliged to carry the knowledge of that
fact along with her wherever she went; and, being courteous and sweet,
and full of tenderness for others, Pandolfini knew that in that case she
would have given him many a compassionate and gentle thought. But even
of this he was robbed, for she did not know. The very possibility of a
hearing, the suggestion, had never been his. Diana knew nothing of his
heart, had never thought of him at all, would never think of him more.
Could it be possible that any man had ever had such a wrong done him? To
be buoyed up with hopes which were dashed by a refusal, ah, that might
have been hard to bear! but how much harder to know that these hopes had
never existed, that they were delusion and mistake and nothing more!
There was a stifled rage and mortification in his misery, rage with
himself for ever having believed it, mortification beyond words at the
depth of vanity and folly in himself which was thus revealed to him.
Poor Pandolfini! it had not been vanity: but this was how in his misery
it appeared to him. Fool! to think that Diana, _Diana!_ could waste any
thought upon such as he!

This fancy drove him forth wildly from Mr. Hunstanton’s presence. He
dared not speak, or make any answer, in case of betraying feelings which
the good Hunstanton could not understand; and it was some time before he
realised the real practical effect of his good Hunstanton’s proceedings.
A vessel cannot be filled above its measure, and Pandolfini was too much
overwhelmed with the absolute loss of Diana to take into his mind the
fact that this loss involved something else equally appalling. He was
not to have the _gentil donna_, the princess of his dreams; but that was
not all. Something had been thrust into his arms instead. Something?
What? He stood still in the middle of the street when the fact burst
upon him, and gave a sudden wild cry of despair. It was not so wonderful
there as it would be here that a man should cry aloud in the extremity
of suffering. What was this that was thrust into his arms instead? When
he stood there and fairly contemplated what had happened to him, any
car of Juggernaut that had driven over him and crushed him into a
shapeless mass upon the stones would have done Pandolfini a kindness--or
so at least in his wretchedness he thought.

Mr. Hunstanton did not understand his visitor’s strange change of mood.
To come in so eager, white with anxiety, breathless with
excitement,--and then, when the good news was told him, to stand aghast
for a moment, to walk away to the window, to make no reply. These were
all the acts of a madman. Was his head turned?--was there a screw loose
somewhere, as was the case so often with “these Italians”? Next time, no
doubt, he would be laughing and crying with joy--always excitable,
always in one extreme or another. Mr. Hunstanton forgot the peculiarity
of his friend’s character, and classed him thus summarily with his race,
by way of getting rid of a cold shiver of doubt, a momentary
uncomfortableness on his own part, as to whether he had, as he had
intended, carried out Pandolfini’s instructions to the letter, and acted
for him according to his wishes. He quenched out this alarming thought
by the reflection that a foreigner, and especially an Italian, acted
exactly opposite to what an Englishman would do in the circumstances. He
felt it so much, that was how it was. It overpowered him. These foreign
fellows, even the best of them, let themselves go. They gave in to their
feelings. They had not the self-control which is peculiar to the Briton,
and did not even think self-control necessary. That was all about it.
Pandolfini was so much overcome by his success and happiness that it
took all power of speech from him. He was (no doubt) actually struck
dumb from excess of feeling. By-and-by he would come back and throw
himself on his friend’s neck, and thank him for his exertions. There
could be no doubt that this was how it would be.

Yet, nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that there was a cold shiver,
a cloud of doubt, an uncomfortable sense of uncertainty in Mr.
Hunstanton’s mind. He did not feel at his ease, or happy. There was
something in his friend’s look, in the blank misery of his eyes, that
discomfited him. He sat in his study for an hour or two, very uneasy,
listening to all the steps that went up the stairs. He even posted Gigi,
his servant, at the door, to bring him news if Pandolfini should come
back. And when there was nothing to be heard or seen of the truant, and
the day began to decline, and the hour of the Ave Maria approached,
which was the end of all things, the good man could dissemble his
anxiety no longer. He went out stealthily (for it was time to dress for
dinner) to look for his friend; and found him after a long walk very
near his own house, standing by the parapet looking down into the Arno.
The early moon had come out into the sky, while yet the glories of
sunset were not over. Pandolfini was staring intently at the reflection
of the moon in the water--he was entirely absorbed in it. When
Hunstanton touched him on the shoulder, he woke slowly, as one in a
dream.

“I say, Pandolfini, my good fellow, this won’t do, you know,” he cried.
“I dare say you like to dream in this way. All fellows in love (I
suppose) do; so they say, at least. But you must not give yourself up to
that till you have seen them. You ought to go and see them. English
ladies, you know, are not accustomed to that kind of courtship. I took
upon myself to break the ice for you, and they took it very well, on the
score, you know, that this was how things were done by your country
folks, and that it was your modesty and so forth. But they expected you
to go and follow it up; so did I. English ways are different. We don’t
understand that sort of way of making love by proxy. To tell you the
truth, I should not have let any one do it for me. But you must follow
it up. You ought to have followed it up before now.”

“Follow it up?” said Pandolfini. He had returned to his gazing into the
river, after rousing up momentarily to hear what Hunstanton had to say.

“Yes, to be sure,” cried the other, getting more and more nervous,
taking him by the arm in his fright and impatience, and shaking him
slightly. “My good fellow, you must rouse up. It is not like you. It is
not quite _nice_, you know, after sending such a commission to a girl,
not to go yourself at the very first moment when you understand she is
disposed to hear you. It is not--well, it doesn’t look
quite--honourable.”

Pandolfini gave a start of quick resentment, and looked at his friend,
who had begun to be extremely anxious. Mr. Hunstanton’s ruddy
countenance had fallen. He was limp and colourless with suspense. A look
of fright had taken the place of that fine confidence which usually
distinguished him. “Good heavens! _have_ I put my foot in it?” was what
he was saying to himself, and the reflection of this question was very
plainly to be read in his face.

“What did you say?” said Pandolfini, somewhat hoarsely. “Follow it up?
Yes, I understand: yes, yes, I go. You are right; I do not doubt you are
right. But it is all--strange to me--and new,” he added, with a kind of
smile which was not very consoling. It was a smile, however, and
Hunstanton did his best to feel satisfied.

“To be sure, to be sure,” he said, encouragingly. “This sort of thing is
always new--and strange. Don’t be afraid. You’ll soon get used to it.
You’ll find it come quite natural,” he added, slapping his friend on the
back in a way that was intended to be jocular. “Come along, though, you
must not be shy. If you make haste, you have time yet before
dinner--indeed they dine early, I know.”

“Before--dinner? but I am not dressed. I am not ready for the evening,”
said Pandolfini, spreading out his hands with an air of dismay.

“Dressed! fiddlesticks! at a moment like this. Pandolfini, you really
disappoint me,” cried Mr. Hunstanton, feeling more uncomfortable than
ever. “If you are going to shilly-shally like this, why on earth did you
employ me? Think of that poor girl, after committing herself, kept
waiting and wondering all this time, and not knowing what to think.”

“I will come--I will come,” said Pandolfini, hoarsely; and he made
half-a-dozen rapid steps in the direction of the Palazzo dei Sogni: then
he stopped abruptly. “My best friend,” he said, with a smile, “you will
let me follow you after, in a little--a very, very few minutes? This
is, as you say, a moment----it raises the heart--there is much to think
of. But I will come, almost as soon as you are there. Yes, I give you my
word. But it is alone that I must go.”

“Surely, surely,” cried good Mr. Hunstanton. “We’ll see you after, in
the evening. God bless me! the fellow didn’t think I meant to go with
him to Sophy,” he added within himself. “If that is manners in Italy,
thank heavens it is not in England; and catch me making love for any man
again! As sure as I am a living man, I thought he was going to cry off,”
Mr. Hunstanton said to himself, with a cold perspiration breaking out
all over him. He never had, he acknowledged afterwards, such a fright in
his life.

When he was left alone, Pandolfini returned to his gaze over the
parapet. He did not venture to look at the moon in the sky; but the
reflection of her, all broken and uneven by the crisp of the little
wavelets which the evening breeze was ruffling upon Arno--that he might
still look at for a moment. His eyes were dry and burning, and yet it
was as if he looked at that moon through the mist of tears. Words came
into his mind, words of her language, all of which had seemed delicate
and sacred to her in this sweet dreamtime that was now so fatally past.
He was not so familiar with English that this line should return to his
ear at such a moment, as it might so easily have done to a natural-born
subject of the greatest of poets--but yet it came. He knew his
Shakespeare almost as well as he knew his Dante, and what could an
Italian say more?--

    “The imperial votaress passed on,
     In maiden meditation, fancy free.”

He said these words over and over to himself; and by-and-by the bells
began to chime all round him, telling the Ave Maria. Hail, all hail, oh
blessed among women! This was more than Pandolfini could bear. He put
his hands up to his ears, and crushed the sound out till it was over.
When the tingling air was still again, he turned resolutely on his way.
He was still in his morning dress, the excuse which had served him with
Hunstanton: but what did it matter? He did not feel that he could trust
himself even to pause again, much less turn back. He went with steady
determination along Arno, seeing the lights shine in the river, with a
wavering glimmer and movement: and in himself, too, notwithstanding his
steady pace, there was a wavering play of giddiness, a sense of
instability, the earth reeling under his feet, the heavens revolving
about him. He went on all the same to the palace of the dreams, where he
had given all that was in him to give, for nothing--and where now,
strange flicker of human vanity and mutual ignorance, another heart was
about to be given him for nothing--for less than the asking. He would
not look at the light in Diana’s window, he went straight up past the
door where his heart had beat last night with such wild gasps of
expectation and hope. Had he obeyed his impulse then, burst into her
presence, and told her! Had he but done it! Then at least she would have
known, and he would not have been so utterly deceived. This thought
swept into his mind as he passed, but he gave it no willing
entertainment. He went up with a resolute step, up, beyond even the
Hunstantons’, to Mrs. Norton’s door.

They had given him up for the day, with a little vexation, a little
disappointment, and were wondering whether they would meet him in the
evening as usual, and how they ought to comport themselves. As for Mrs.
Norton, she was beginning to think she had been rash, and to regret her
acceptance of the suitor on Mr. Hunstanton’s word alone. It was
nonsense, she fell, to talk of such a man as Pandolfini as too timid to
plead his own cause. Had she been too rash? Sophy, whatever thoughts
might be hers, made no sign. A lover was like a new doll to Sophy: it
was more. It gave her importance, made somebody of her in a moment: and
she was not going to do anything which could pull her down from this
enviable elevation. She would not say she was disappointed or alarmed;
but all her senses were on the alert, and she heard his step coming up
the stair with a rising throb of the heart. “It may be only a parcel--it
may be only the newspapers,” she cried, clinging to her aunt. “If it is
him, my darling, I must rush away. It is you he will want to see first,”
cried Mrs. Norton; but even while she said this, Pandolfini walked into
the room. They both uttered a simultaneous cry of surprise. He was very
pale and excited, but quite calm in external appearance. Mrs. Norton
made an effort to free herself from Sophy, and with a smile to him, was
hastening away.

“Madam,” said Pandolfini, “what can I say to you? The good Hunstanton
has authorised me to come. He tells me that you have been so kind, so
generous, as to confide to me the happiness of one most dear. How can I
repay such trust as you have had in me? It will be not a matter for
words; but that I may live to show it from year to year.”

“Mr. Pandolfini,” said Mrs. Norton, not without dignity--“you are a good
man, and a man of honour. This is why I have not hesitated to do what
might otherwise seem imprudent, and commit my best treasure to you.”

She could not have made a more appropriate speech, or one that was
better timed. “I pray God,” he said, gravely, “that this best treasure
may not find you imprudent, nor that you have done what you will
regret.” And he took Sophy’s hand and kissed it. The seriousness of his
face did not relax, neither did his paleness warm with any gleam of
colour as he did so. Sophy blushed in a rosy warmth of happiness. She
was surprised, indeed, that he should let her hand go so easily. Not so
do the lovers in books, of whom the girl had heard and read. And there
was a pause, in which none of the three knew exactly what to do or to
say.

“Have you dined?” said Mrs. Norton, to make a way of escape for herself;
for, of course, what he wanted was to get rid of her, she felt sure.
What so natural? “You know we dine early; but I was just going to order
tea. As you are going to have an English wife,” she added, with a laugh
which jarred dreadfully with the portentous gravity of his aspect, “you
must learn to like such an English meal as tea;” and pleased with this
little speech, which she felt to be both graceful and appropriate, the
good little woman hurried towards the door.

“Nay,” cried Pandolfini, hurriedly stopping her. “I have only come in a
great hurry to--to thank you for a confidence so generous. I have not
sufficient of time to stay. It is to my regret, my great regret. But I
could not let the evening pass without saying how I thank you. What I
feel--what--gratitude--what devotion! The evening must not pass without
this.”

“But cannot you stay with us?” said Mrs. Norton.

“And oh! can’t you come this evening as usual?--it is one of Diana’s
nights,” cried Sophy, with countenance aghast.

“Alas!” he cried, with a face in which there was misery enough for that
or a much greater misfortune. “What can I do? I am rent asunder. I have
my heart in two places. But I cannot come. I have--business. Indeed it
is not possible. I must hasten away.”

“Oh,” cried Sophy, “I call that hard--very hard: not to be together the
first night. You have never had business before----”

“No; I have never had business before. It is more needful now that I put
my affairs in order,” he said, and looked at her with an attempt at a
smile.

“Of course we understood that,” said Mrs. Norton. “Of course, my
darling! it is quite reasonable. Dear Mr. Pandolfini must have many
things to do: but you must allow it is natural that Sophy should be
disappointed--the first night, as she says,” added the aunt, with a look
at Pandolfini. Once more he took Sophy’s hand and put it to his lips.

“She is an angel of goodness,” he said with fervour, kissing her hand
again; but then he kissed Mrs. Norton’s hand (which seemed to Sophy
unnecessary), and after a very few words more, hastened away,--leaving
them, it is needless to say, somewhat dismayed, they could scarcely tell
how--and yet overawed and dazzled. They stood and looked at each other
for a moment or two in silence. There was a half-pout on Sophy’s lips,
and a look about her eyes, as if for small provocation she might cry;
but she ventured on no other demonstration. And then Mrs. Norton took
the matter up, and put down all objections with a high hand.

“Now, Sophy, my pet,” she said, “I congratulate you with all my
heart--but you see now you have got to deal with a gentleman, not with a
poor old auntie that does everything you wish whether it is convenient
or not: with a gentleman, my love--one who has business that cannot be
trifled with, you know. And you must just make up your mind to have him
when you can, not whenever you like. For, my love, you have entered on a
new phase of life, and this is what you must make up your mind to, now.”

There was something in the grandeur of this address, and the strange
thrill with which she felt the reality of the new position, which
silenced Sophy. She stopped in the middle of her pout. It might not be
so satisfactory, but it was more imposing than anything she had dreamed
of. A lover who only kissed your hand, that was not according to Sophy’s
preconceived idea of lovers--but it was very imposing. And then, of
course, he was an Italian, and this must be the dignified Italian way!



CHAPTER XV.

THE SPOSA.


There was a certain solemnity about the party in Diana’s rooms that
evening. Sophy and Mrs. Norton came downstairs in their best dresses,
with an air of importance not to be mistaken; and was it not quite
natural that they should look important? No human circumstances can
possibly be more interesting than those of the bridegroom and bride who
have chosen each other from the world, and who present themselves to the
world smiling, hand in hand, the ever-renewed type of human progression:
primitive beginning, over again, of a new world. The completeness of the
position was spoiled by the fact that the _fiancé_ was not present; but
that was not the fault of the little ladies, who knew nothing about his
reasons for being absent,--or rather supposed that they did know all
about them, and had the privilege of representing their new piece of
property, and explaining for him. “I am so sorry Mr. Pandolfini will not
be able to be here,” said Mrs. Norton. “He would have liked it of all
things, I need not say; but he had business to attend to. It is easy to
understand how he should have business, looking forward, as he is, to a
change in his condition--to such a change! and he felt sure that you
would excuse him, Diana.”

“Surely,” said Diana; “there is nothing to excuse.” She was looking
grave, more thoughtful than usual--or so at least two or three people in
the room thought, who were thunderstruck by the unexpected news of
Pandolfini’s engagement. Mrs. Hunstanton, who watched her very closely,
and who was in a state of suppressed excitement, which she scarcely
could manage to conceal, thought that her friend was pale. But that was
probably her own imagination, which was very lively, and at the present
moment extremely busy, inventing motives and sentiments all round.

“Oh, but indeed he would think it necessary to excuse himself. He has
such fine feelings, and he knows all you have been to our darling,
Diana. He knows how fond you are of her--taking almost a mother’s
interest: and of course he would have been here to show his gratitude,
if it had been possible. Every kindness that has ever been shown to my
Sophy will be doubly felt by him.”

This the little lady said with an expansion of her little person and
swelling of her bosom, which, even amid her consciousness that something
was in all this more than met the eye, struck Diana with a sense of the
ludicrous which she could not control. She laughed in spite of herself.

“I am sure Mr. Pandolfini will feel everything he ought to feel,” she
said; “but you must not teach him to be grateful when there is no
occasion for gratitude. You know it is not a sentiment I care for.”

“Yes, I know, dear Diana,” cried Mrs. Norton, kissing her suddenly. “You
never will allow any one to thank you. But is it not all owing to you?
But for you we never should have come here; and if we had not come here,
the chances are we never should have met dear Mr. Pandolfini. So we owe
it all to an ever-watchful Providence--and to you.”

Diana could not but smile at the conjunction. “It is Providence you must
thank,” she said; “I don’t think I counted for much in it. Is Sophy very
happy? That is the chief thing to think about.”

“She is in a maze of happiness,” said Mrs. Norton, fervently. “She is so
humble-minded. She thinks so much more of others than of herself. That
he should have thought of a poor little thing like me, she is always
saying: and I cannot persuade her that she is good enough for any man,
and, indeed, too good for most--as you and I know, Diana--not if I were
to talk for a year. We know her value, but she is too innocent to know
it. And oh, what a blessing, my dear, what a blessing that one so well
fitted to appreciate her should have fallen to Sophy’s share!”

“Diana!” cried Mrs. Hunstanton in her ear on the other side, drawing her
away; “how can you have the patience to listen to that little---- What
is to be done now? Oh! what is to be done? My heart is breaking for that
poor man: and it is all Tom’s fault.”

“I do not know what you mean,” said Diana. “There is no poor man in
question; there is a happy man.”

“Diana! how can you insult him by thinking so? Oh, poor Pandolfini! He
is being made a sacrifice, a victim--and what can I do? It is all Tom’s
fault.”

“Indeed, you are doing Mr. Hunstanton wrong. I only blush for myself
that ever took up such a foolish fancy. It is far, far better as it is.
I told you we had no right to conjecture a man’s feelings; and you see
for once I am proved to be right: though you over-persuaded me, and I
am ashamed of it,” said Diana, with a blush and a laugh. “However,
fortunately there is no harm done.”

“Oh Diana, how I wonder at you! It is you who are doing poor Pandolfini
wrong. He think of that little doll! He trusted his cause to Tom,
thinking, perhaps, there was no need to name the name--as, indeed, there
was not to any one with eyes in his head: and Tom like a fool, Tom like
a busybody--oh, heaven forgive me! I don’t mean to say any ill of my
husband, but that is how he has behaved,--Tom has gone and pledged this
poor man’s life to somebody he can never care for, somebody quite
unworthy of him. Diana, you may be cool about it; but I think it will
break my heart.”

“But you have no evidence of this,” cried Diana, in consternation. She
looked at the smiling Sophy, all pink with blushes and beaming with
smiles as she received everybody’s congratulations, and at Mrs. Norton,
important and stately as became the aunt of a bride-elect. The
incongruity between this little fluttering pair and the grave and
dignified Pandolfini was striking enough, but to imagine their easy
commonplaceness entangled in such a tragical complication of mistake and
misery and inevitable suffering, seemed beyond the reach of ordinary
imagination. Diana turned quickly to her friend, who, half hidden
behind, regarded the scene with a face full of anxiety and distress.
Mrs. Hunstanton’s puckered brows, her eyes in which the tears seemed
ready to start, her paleness and trembling, were almost as great a
visible contrast to the complacent happiness of the Nortons as was
Pandolfini to the girl who was going to be his wife. “Mrs. Hunstanton,”
said Diana, in a low tone, “this is the wildest fancy. It is not
possible. You can have no proof of it. Mr. Hunstanton is--is----he is
the kindest of men. He would not hurt a fly. How could he do such a
thing, and make his friend unhappy? No, no; I cannot believe it. It is
you and not he who have been mistaken.”

Mrs. Hunstanton caught Diana by the arm. She poured into her ear the
whole story, partly as divined by herself, partly as confessed by her
husband, who kept, as Diana could see, prowling uneasily round the
central group, and keeping his eyes fixed upon the door. His wife had
made him wretched enough, but he had done what could not be undone; and
there was always the chance that his wife might have been wrong, a
supposition so much more likely than that he was in the wrong himself.
Her reproaches had made Mr. Hunstanton extremely uncomfortable, and no
doubt there was something in the corroborative evidence of Pandolfini’s
very strange behaviour, which of itself had given him a thrill of
terror. And business! What business could the Italian have to detain
him? He did not for a moment believe in this, but notwithstanding Mrs.
Norton’s assurance to the contrary, still looked for Pandolfini’s
arrival. It was absurd! He could not mean to stay away to-night: when he
came Mr. Hunstanton had made up his mind to ask him point-blank what it
all meant. Had he, or had he not, given him a commission? and had he, or
had he not, Mr. Tom Hunstanton, carried out his wish? This would, beyond
all manner of doubt, make everything clear.

Not even this hope, however, could still Mrs. Hunstanton’s nervous
restlessness. She went from Diana, by whom she had sat so long breathing
out her pains and fears, to Mrs. Norton, who was now little inclined to
be questioned, and who felt that a great deal was due to her new
position. A feeling of being attacked had come into her mind, she could
scarcely tell why, and when Mrs. Hunstanton crossed over the room to
come to her, the little lady immediately buckled on her armour. Mrs.
Hunstanton was too anxious to pick her words. She came and sat down by
the important aunt, with the air of troubled haste and agitation very
clearly visible in her face.

“I have not come to congratulate you,” she said, “because I was so very,
very much surprised. I hope you will excuse me, Mrs. Norton. You know it
is not from want of interest in Sophy, but--were not you very much
surprised yourself when this happened? Did it not strike you as very
strange?”

Mrs. Hunstanton took credit to herself for putting the question so very
gently, and “saving their feelings.” It seemed impossible to her that
any one should resist such an appeal as this.

“Surprised!” said Mrs. Norton. “Oh, no indeed! I was not surprised. I
had seen it all along.”

“You had--seen it all along?”

“Surely. Yes, I had seen it. Indifferent eyes may be deceived, but
nothing can blind me where my Sophy is concerned. Yes: our dear
Pandolfini is not the kind of man that is demonstrative, you know; but
had you asked me three months ago,” said Mrs. Norton with gentle pride,
“I could have told you exactly what was going to happen. I knew it all
along.”

She looked at her questioner with a serene smile, and Mrs. Hunstanton,
for her part, could only gasp and gaze at her with a consternation
beyond words. But she would not give up even for this distinct repulse.

“Perhaps you are right,” she said, rallying her forces; “but--you won’t
mind my speaking frankly? Nobody else has thought so, Mrs. Norton. He
has seemed to entertain very different thoughts. I, for my part, have
been quite deceived. I hope you will forgive me for saying so, but I
have been watching Mr. Pandolfini very much of late, and I never
suspected it was Sophy that was in his mind.”

Mrs. Norton smiled with gentle superiority. “I don’t know what you
expect me to say, Mrs. Hunstanton. I have seen it, as I tell you, all
along; and he must know best himself, one would suppose. When a
gentleman proposes to a young lady, people do not usually set up their
ideas of what they expected. He is the one that must know best.”

“I know--I know:” said Mrs. Hunstanton, driven to despair, and to a
humility not at all in her way. What was there to answer to such a
reasonable statement? She could not ask directly whether it was her
husband who had done it all, and if it was only his word they had for
Pandolfini’s sentiments. She was thoroughly wretched, and thoroughly
subdued. “Have you seen him this evening?” she asked, faltering. That
was the nearest approach she could make to the question she was longing
to ask.

“Oh yes,” said Mrs. Norton, with smiling confidence. “He was with us
just before we came here, and he was so sorry not to come with us.
Knowing as he does our obligations to Diana, and feeling all her
kindness, it quite grieved him not to come.”

“To Diana!” Mrs. Hunstanton repeated the words mechanically, catching
them up without any clear comprehension of what the other said. Then she
said, somewhat incoherently, “But you must have been startled, at least
surprised, yourself--it must have taken you by surprise.”

“On the contrary,” said Mrs. Norton, meeting with a serene countenance
the eyes full of care and trouble which her companion turned upon her,
“I have already told you I had expected it all along.”

The inquirer withdrew baffled, with trembling lips and a clouded brow,
leaving the little woman victorious. Mrs. Hunstanton was not used to
such utter discomfiture, and bore it badly. She withdrew into a corner
near the door. Perhaps Pandolfini would come after all, and she might
waylay him, though she did not see what end would be served by so doing;
for how could she ask him if it was true that it was Sophy and no other
who was his choice? But Pandolfini did not come to answer any of these
questions. He had never stayed away before.

The little community was convulsed by the news, but ended by accepting
it, as what else was possible? It was not the first time that a
community has been utterly taken by surprise by the announcement of a
marriage. The small coterie at Pisa went through all the not unusual
round of refusing to credit the report, being compelled to believe it,
accepting it under protest, then forgetting the protest, and taking the
matter for granted. At first it was supposed that the whole party would
hasten home to prepare for an English wedding; but by-and-by it was
rumoured about that Pandolfini did not wish to go to England for his
bride, and that as there was nothing to wait for, the marriage would
take place in Pisa, and the bride enter at once her Italian home. Some
people wondered at this, some thought it very sensible, some were
surprised at the ardour of the middle-aged lover, and some at the
readiness of the girl’s friends to let her go; but, on the whole, it was
quite reasonable, and the English visitors, who were all on the wing,
were much amused by the excitement of such an unexpected event. They
were doubly amused by the fact that Mrs. Hunstanton, under whose
auspices the Nortons had appeared in society, was evidently disturbed,
rather than pleased, by the marriage; and that Sophy’s great friend and
patroness, the rich Miss Trelawny, did not throw herself into the
arrangements with any enthusiasm.

And, of course, there were not wanting good-natured bystanders who
averred that these ladies were disappointed, and that Miss Trelawny had
intended the Italian for herself. Diana was but little disturbed, as may
be supposed, by these insinuations, which, indeed, she never heard of;
but she was disturbed by the complication of affairs, which she could
not refuse to see through, now when it was fairly beneath her eyes.

Pandolfini was a very strange lover. He had become suddenly immersed in
business--so much occupied that his visits to his betrothed were always
hurried and brief. This was made necessary, he told them, by all the
changes that had to be made, and successions rearranged, in consequence
of this unexpected step in his life: and they were fain to accept the
explanation. The strangest of all was, that notwithstanding that deep
sense of obligation to Diana which it was Mrs. Norton’s delight to set
forth, he never appeared in Diana’s rooms again. Once only they met by
chance in Mrs. Norton’s little drawing-room, when all was nearly
settled. He came in hurriedly, seeking Mrs. Norton, whom Diana also, by
some unusual chance, had come to look for; and there they met alone, for
both of the little ladies were out engaged in that occupation of
shopping which furnishes the unoccupied female mind with so many
delightful hours. Pandolfini was struck dumb by the sight of Diana, and
she, as she hastened to explain how she came to be there, was so
startled by his altered looks as almost to break down in her little
speech. “They are out,” she said hurriedly; “I had just come to look for
them.” And then she paused, faltering--“You are--ill--Mr. Pandolfini?”

“Ill? No, I am not ill. I am as I always am.”

“Not as you used to be,” said Diana, kindly; and then she added in
haste, “but it is so long since I have seen you, that you may well have
changed in the meantime. And I have never had the opportunity of
congratulating--of wishing you--happiness.”

He looked at her for a moment with all his heart in his haggard face;
then, turning suddenly away with an imploring gesture, hid his face in
his hands.

What was she to do or say? There was no contesting now what she could
read as in a book--the despair that had kept him out of her presence,
that made him incapable either of meeting her eye or deceiving her now.
He had no wish to deceive her,--if, indeed, there was one thing more
than another for which his forlorn heart had longed, it was that she
should know.

“Forgive me,” he said, in a broken voice, “I can have no disguises from
you.”

Diana was too much discomposed to know what to say. Such a tacit
confidence seemed wrong, almost a treachery to poor little innocent
Sophy, who had no conception of this secret, and could not have
understood it had she known. She said gently, “You must let me wish you
well at least. I do that from the bottom of my heart.”

He looked at her with piteous eyes, doubly dark with a moisture which
the powerful mechanism of pain had forced into them, but which was too
bitter and concentrated to fall and relieve the brain from which it was
wrung. “Think of me sometimes,” he said. “You know how it is with me.
You, who are kind to all, sometimes think of me a little. That will help
me to bear. I will do--my duty.”

“Oh, Mr. Pandolfini!” cried Diana, the tears rising warm and sudden into
her eyes. “Let me give you some comfort if I can.” The moment was too
bitter, the encounter too real, as of two souls in the wilderness, to
warrant any pretence on either side that they did not understand each
other. “Once the same thing happened to me. I have gone through the
same. There was one whom I cared for, but who made me no return. I do
not hesitate to tell you. For a time it seemed worse than death: but now
it is past, and I am no longer unhappy. So will it be with you.”

“Ah, my God, my God!” he cried, with sudden passion, “can such things
be? You!--was he mad or blind?” Then a smile came over his haggard face,
which was more pathetic than the previous look of misery. “This is to
comfort me,” he said. “Yes, it is just; it was more pitiful for such a
one than for me.”

“I meant--it will pass away--and all will be well,” cried Diana,
trembling. “Oh, believe me. I speak who know. It will be so with you.”

“You think so,” he said, gently shaking his head. “_Generosissima!_ You
show me the wound to heal mine. But it will not be so with me. I wish no
healing: yet I will do--my duty,” he added, in a low and broken voice.

“God bless you, Mr. Pandolfini!” she said, holding out her hand.

This overcame him altogether. He fell upon his knees and kissed it, as
men of his faith kiss the holy mysteries, and then looked at her with
trembling lips and dim eyes, as we look at those we are never to see
more, and stumbling to his feet, turned and hurried from the room. The
tears were falling frankly and without concealment from Diana’s eyes.
She was touched to the heart. Oh that such things should be! that the
best of life should thus be thrown away like a flower on somebody’s path
to whom it was nothing. She had forgotten Sophy altogether in the
anguish of sympathy and fellow-feeling. That complication, adding as it
did so much misery and difficulty, seemed to fade altogether in presence
of the pang which she herself understood so thoroughly, and seemed to
feel again.

She had barely time to dry her eyes when she heard some one coming, and
turned her back to the light to avoid a too curious gaze. It was Sophy
who came in, complaining. “O Diana!” she cried, with a little start,
“you are here! that was why he went away. It is very hard to see so
little of him, and when he does come to be out and have him sent away.”

“Oh, Sophy, my pet, don’t be unjust,” said Mrs. Norton; “how should
Diana send him away? Of course he must have felt it hard that you should
be out when he snatched a moment from his business. Was he very much
disappointed, Diana? I am sure you would say everything that was kind.”

“Yes: he was surprised to find me here waiting for you--as I was
surprised to see him,” said Diana, with an unconscious sense of apology.
“He did not--stay--I came to ask you to look at--some patterns,” her
voice failed her. She could not add the trivial message which in
reality, with that indulgence which Mrs. Hunstanton never could
understand, was the reason of her visit: for Sophy’s _trousseau_, which
was causing her so much delightful occupation, was for the most part
Diana’s gift.

“Patterns!” they both said in a breath, in tones of interest which drove
away all recollection of Mr. Pandolfini’s visit which they had lost.

“You shall see them, if you will come to me downstairs,” said Diana,
glad of this easy means of getting away.

And they spent an hour or two delighted and yet anxious in the
perplexities of choice, and never noticed either of them any traces of
tears that might be lingering about Diana’s eyes.



CHAPTER XVI.

A SYMPATHISING FRIEND.


The spring days lengthened into summer while the preliminaries of the
marriage still went on. The Hunstantons could not retard their usual day
of departure for any event of such secondary importance as the marriage
of Sophy Norton. “To be sure, poor Pandolfini is our friend, and for him
one might be tempted to stay,” Mrs. Hunstanton said; “but the
Nortons--the Nortons are only _protégées_ of Diana’s. But for her I
should never have noticed them. It is her whim to spoil these two silly
little women. But though I am so fond of Diana, I have never humoured
her in this; and for us to remain would be absurd.” So, though they
lingered a week or so, that was all. The Snodgrasses, uncle and nephew,
had gone on to Florence and to Rome. The other members of the little
party were dispersing on all sides. Only Diana remained to keep the
bride-elect and her anxious but triumphant aunt company. And Diana had
hesitated. She had wished to go with the Hunstantons straight home, but
for the complaints and outcries of the two little ladies. “Oh, will you
go and forsake us?” Sophy cried. “Will you leave me to be married
without one friend near me?” “Indeed, Diana, I did not expect you would
leave us,” said Mrs. Norton. “I should not have undertaken it if I had
not felt sure of you. And how can I go through it all without some
support?--without some one to lean upon?” Diana, though she smiled at
these arguments, remained. There were, indeed, a great many things in
which she was a support to the fluttering and nervous pair, who were
half overjoyed by the approaching elevation, half frightened by the
loneliness of their position. Mrs. Norton especially was apt to be
invaded by doubts. Whether she ought not to have insisted that her niece
should be married at home: whether it was not too much of Mr. Pandolfini
to have asked of her (though so flattering to dear Sophy and lover-like
was his impatience to make her his own): whether people might not think
she was too anxious to have everything settled: or that it was not quite
ladylike to allow things to proceed so rapidly. All these doubts Diana
had to satisfy three or four times a-day.

And there were other difficulties still more important which the
helpless little pair could not have got through without her. Pandolfini,
who was always so busy, whose occupations continued to increase as his
marriage drew nearer (“which, of course, was very natural,” Mrs. Norton
said, with a certain chill of doubt in her confidence, while Sophy
loudly complained of it, though without any doubting), never got into
the familiar intimacy which generally characterises such moments of
preface and beginning, and was accordingly of no more help to them than
if he had been still merely their acquaintance, Mr. Hunstanton’s
friend--much less, indeed, for Mr. Hunstanton’s friend had always been
friendly and serviceable, and full of genial help, in those cheerful
days when he was not overpowered by business. This gleamed across Mrs.
Norton’s mind dimly by times, affording her a half-revelation--a
momentary unwilling perception of differences which she did not wish to
fathom. But, so far as any one knew, these perceptions were not shared
by Sophy, who went on her way, with occasional grumblings, it is true,
but with too much thought of herself to think very much of Pandolfini.
Naturally, is it not the bride who is the most interesting? She has her
clothes to think of, and her approaching promotion to the dignity of a
married lady--a dignity which it was very fine to attain at so early an
age. And there were all her new duties, as her aunt called them,--the
management of her house, which she must learn to do in the Italian
fashion, and her servants. It troubled Sophy that she did not know how
many servants she was to have, and that she had never been asked to go
and see the house, or to choose new carpets or curtains, as other brides
had to do; but then, on the other hand, it delighted her to find that
she might call herself Contessa, and would be elevated quite into the
nobility by her marriage. In Italy she might only be Signora, but in
England she would certainly be My Lady, Sophy reflected--and her whole
being thrilled with the thought. This was a discovery, for Pandolfini
had not cared for the bare and insignificant title, and all his Italian
friends called him by his Christian name, according to the custom of the
country. Sophy called him Pandolfo, too, though seldom when addressing
himself. It was not a pretty name. If he had been Alonzo, or Vincenzo,
or even Antonio; but Pandolfo!--Pandolfo Pandolfini! It was like Robert
Roberts, or John Jones--not a pretty name; but then, to be a Countess!
That would sweeten any name, so that it would smell as sweet as any
rose.

Thus the arrangements went on strangely enough, Sophy being the only one
of all concerned who did not, as time progressed, feel in them a certain
strangeness and mysterious something behind. The rector and his nephew
came back before the time fixed for the wedding, though it was growing
hot, and Mr. Snodgrass was anxious to get home. The curate was generally
the one who yielded, not the one who led, but he had steadily held to
his determination to come back to Pisa, and succeeded, as was natural.
The rector was one of those who had guessed Diana to intend the Italian
for herself, being of the opinion that the aim of every woman, however
elevated, was to “catch” a man, one way or other; and he was not without
hope now that his dear Bill’s constant devotion might at last get its
reward. Many a heart is caught in the rebound, and if Bill was not very
good-looking, he was at least a cleanly Englishman, not one of “those
Italians.” To be on the spot might be all-important for him; so his
uncle yielded and came back to Pisa, though it was hot, and even
volunteered his services to perform the marriage--the Protestant
marriage, as it was called with contempt by the old Canonico,
Pandolfini’s cousin, who was to perform the other ceremony. It was a
bitter pill for the rector to hear himself called a Protestant, but
there was no help for it. The Canonico only took snuff, and smiled, when
the English priest called himself a Catholic. Rome repays to the highest
Anglican, and with interest, the spurns which he is so fond of
administering to patient merit, when it takes the form of Dissent. The
Canonico had asked if Sophy was a Protestant or a Christian, when he
first heard of the marriage, and treated with absolute cynicism all Mr.
Snodgrass’s protestations. But, on the other hand, Mrs. Norton could not
be happy without the blessing of her own Church; nor did she think it
suitable that the niece of her late dear husband, who was for so many
years a most respectable clergyman of the Church of England, should be
married without it. How could she tell what the priest said in his
Latin? but about the English service there could be no manner of doubt.
So the rector swallowed the opprobrious epithet of Protestant, and
declared himself ready to perform the rite. Diana would no doubt be
there. She would be compelled to veil her feelings, and to witness the
marriage: and, in the rebound, who could tell what dear Bill’s presence
might do?

The curate deluded himself with no such vain hopes. Diana’s presence was
like the sun to him. Without it he faded and drooped, though otherwise
he was not much like a flower. He was a heavy Englishman, not clever or
endowed with much insight, yet he had a heart in his capacious and
clumsy bosom. And to those who possess that organ, some things are
visible which genius itself, without it, could scarcely see. It has been
said that Pandolfini had chosen the ponderous silent young Englishman as
the object of his special bounties, having divined him, and the
sentiment which was his soul. It was young Snodgrass’s turn now to
divine his friend, and he did it sadly, with a true brotherly, friendly
sorrow for the evil he had discovered. He was not contented with the
plea of business which Sophy accepted, and which all the others had to
accept. He sought the much-occupied bridegroom out, even in the depths
of his dark palace, and resisted all attempts to send him away. “I will
wait till you are ready,” he said, and pretended not to see what
miserable pretence of work it was which his friend at last pushed away.
He got him out against Pandolfini’s will, who went with him, as was
evident, only to get rid of him the sooner. But the curate was not to be
shaken off. He went again and again; he watched with all the anxiety of
friendship. He perceived how little Pandolfini saw of his bride, and how
eagerly he seized upon every excuse to avoid being with her. He saw
how, when the bridegroom paid the hurried visits which necessity
demanded, Diana avoided him, and that under no circumstances did these
two see each other, who, when he left Pisa, had been meeting every
night. And, above all, the curate saw the misery in Pandolfini’s eyes.
He said nothing for a long time, for he was not quick of purpose, or
ready to seize what could be done; but at length the spectacle became
too much for the good-hearted fellow.

They were walking one night by the Arno, very silent, saying nothing to
each other. It was after a half-hour spent with the Nortons: Pandolfini
had apparently caught at the chance of the curate’s company to carry him
through this visit--and though Snodgrass was not quick of observation,
he could not but remark, having his attention roused and on the alert,
the curious character of the scene of which he was a spectator.
Pandolfini was not indifferent; nothing of the ease and calm of that
unexcited condition was in the anxious pathetic tender apology of the
tone in which he replied to Sophy’s little _espiègleries_ and
reproaches. “Are you always to be so drowned in business--always
business? you never had any business when we knew you first,” she cried,
pouting. He looked at her with a melancholy in his eyes which went to
the curate’s heart: but it did not succeed in reaching the observation
of Sophy, who had other things to think of than the looks of her
betrothed: he was her property, and about him she entertained no doubt.

“No,” he said, “I had little business then: but now--have I not new
objects of thought and provisions to make----”

“Oh, Signor Conte, if I am going to be such a burden on you----”

“Nay, not a burden. You do me a wrong, Sophy. If I can but provide what
will make you happy----”

“Oh, you foolish old thing; did you think I meant it?” cried Sophy,
looking up in his face, with the pretty affectation which love thinks
adorable, but which chill eyes of bystanders see with less complacence.
The Italian shrank for a moment from the caressing gesture of the two
clasped hands which she laid upon his arm. Then he took courage, and
stooping kissed the hands.

“If I can but make you happy, poor child,” he said, with a suppressed
sob in his voice. Mrs. Norton at this moment called the curate’s
attention, and led him to the other end of the room to show him
something. She was always watchful to “let them have a little time by
themselves.” “Forgive me,” she whispered, “but, of course, they have
little things to say to each other,” and the poor little lady cast
furtive glances over the curate’s shoulder to see if the lovers’
interview grew more familiar. But Pandolfini very gently had freed
himself from Sophy’s hand. He rose and stood before her, talking low,
but not in a tone which augured any special confidence. Snodgrass
thought that the very sound of it was enough to break any one’s heart.
It was like the tender pitying tone in which bad news is broken to a
child. Why was he so sorry for her, so sadly kind and gentle? Her little
follies did not offend him, as they might have done a more warm lover.
He was indulgent to everything--kind, with a melancholy appeal to her
forgiveness in everything he said. The curate perhaps was proud of
himself for his penetration. He had never so divined any one before.

“You see they are not just like common lovers,” said poor little Mrs.
Norton, who felt that she had to put the best face upon it, and now
wreathed her face in smiles to conceal the anxiety in her mind. “He is
so much older than she--and more experienced--and so clever. But you
can’t think how he appreciates my Sophy’s sweetness. He quite worships
her. When he talks to her in that voice it brings the tears to my eyes.
It is so tender!” cried the anxious woman, looking for confirmation in
the curate’s face.

“Yes, it sounds very--melancholy,” said young Snodgrass, who,
notwithstanding the new insight in his eyes, and the ache of sympathy in
his heart, could not help being a little commonplace in speech.

“Melancholy! It is tender--that is what it is! He thinks everything is
angelical that she does or says. And nobody who does not know her as we
do can tell what a darling my Sophy is,” said Mrs. Norton, with tears in
her eyes.

The curate made some inarticulate sound of assent; but he did not
himself think Sophy angelical, and there was something in all this that
affected him with a confused pang of sympathy, different from anything
he had ever felt before. The mystery, the concealed despair on one side,
the wistful veiled anxiety on the other, and Sophy’s superficial
childish light-heartedness, her little commonplace coquetries and
affectations between,--he was not clear-headed enough to discriminate
these: but the whole affected him with sentiments he could not define
nor get the better of. He stood up in the corner, as was his usual
habit, a very serious shadow, heavy in soul as in person, and looked on.
And it seemed to him that he could scarcely keep silence even here. As
they were leaving when the strange visit was over, he made a pause on
the way downstairs. “Do you never go to see Miss Trelawny?” he asked,
putting his arm suddenly within Pandolfini’s. The Italian started
violently, turned round, and looked him in the face, then hurried on. He
was taken by surprise, and in his agitated condition shook as if he had
received a blow. Nothing more was said for some time. They walked
silently on together side by side in the cool of the soft summer night,
for it was late--and reached the Arno without a word. It was a beautiful
night. Once more the stars were out, blazing like great lamps out of
heaven; and along the long line of street the lights twinkled,
reflecting themselves in the water like stars of earth. Pandolfini’s
steps gradually grew slower, till at last he stopped altogether,
forgetting and seeming to lose himself as he gazed at those reflections
in the dark softly flowing stream.

“Pandolfini,” said the curate, “I cannot bear this any longer. You must
not do it; you ought not to do it. It is more than you can bear.”

“What is more than I can bear?” he asked, dreamily, not turning to his
questioner, keeping his eyes fixed on the river below.

“Pandolfini” cried the other, too much agitated by all he had heard and
seen to take much thought what he was saying, “you know what I mean well
enough. Do you think I am blind and cannot see? Once you divined me. I
felt it, though we said nothing about it. And now it is my turn. I am
not so clever as you are, but I would do anything in the world to help
you. Pandolfini, you can’t go through with this marriage; it is
impossible to----”

“Not a word--not a word!” cried the Italian, raising himself hurriedly.
“It is late, and I go back to my--business. Yes, it is true: is it
extraordinary that one of my country should have business? We have
talked enough to-night.”

“We have not talked at all,” cried the curate. “Oh, Pandolfini, let me
speak! God knows what sympathy I have for you--more than words can tell!
But why make it worse by this? You are trying yourself beyond what any
man can bear. Stop while there is time, for the love of heaven!”

“My friend, you are kind, you are good,” said Pandolfini, with a tremor
in his voice; “but there are things of which one does not speak, not to
one’s own soul.”

“Why should there be?” cried Bill Snodgrass, in generous excitement.
“Oh, listen to me! Don’t do in a hurry what you would repent all your
life. She--might suffer for a day, but you for ever. Oh don’t, for the
sake of false honour, bind yourself so! Don’t go on with it! this
marriage----”

“Silence!” said the Italian, with a hot flush on his face. “Silence,
silence!” Then his tone changed to something of the same grieved and
tender sound which it took when he addressed Sophy. “Friend,” he said,
with pathetic gentleness, “why rob me of your sympathy? I will know how
you think if you say nothing; but to advise will make an end of all.
See! what you are talking of will soon be to me the foundation of my
life. That is sacred: that no man must discuss with me. No more, not a
word, or I shall lose you--too.”

You--too! Who was the other, then, whom he had lost? The curate made an
effort to speak again, but was silenced still more summarily; and thus
they walked slowly in silence to Pandolfini’s house, where they parted
with only a mutual grasp of the hand. Young Snodgrass’s mind was
distracted with generosity, pity, and distress. He walked about in front
of the great dark doorway where his friend had disappeared, with a mind
torn in pieces with diverse thoughts. Should he follow him, and make one
last attempt?--but he felt that to be indeed useless. Then a thought
came into his head that brought a sudden gush of warmth to the chill of
his anxiety. He would go to Diana. If any one could help, surely she
would do so--she who was always ready to help; or at least she would
tell him if anything could be done. He went back to the Palazzo dei
Sogni without taking time to think, and, all hot and hasty, rushed into
her presence before he allowed himself to consider what he was doing.
Diana was alone. She was seated by her writing-table, on which lay a
number of papers; but she had pushed her chair slightly away, and had a
book in her hand, which probably, at the sound of her visitor’s
entering, she had dropped upon her knee. Her solitary figure in this
attitude, the papers neglected, the book dropped, all seemed to imply to
Snodgrass a loneliness which never before had associated itself in his
mind with Diana. For the first time in his life he felt, and wondered at
himself for daring to feel, a kind of pity for the princess of his
thoughts. She, too, was lonely, solitary, no one near her to make the
world brighter; for which purpose poor Bill Snodgrass, who knew that he
was capable of nothing but boring her, thought he would willingly have
given his life.

She rose up with a friendly, sweet salutation when she saw who it was.
She was glad to see him--was it possible? For once in his life he _had_
brightened her by the sight of his heavy reverential face.

“I am very glad you have come,” she said, in answer to his stammered
salutation, “for I was feeling lonely, which is not usual with me.
Everybody whom I know gone--and our little friends upstairs are very
busy, of course,” she added, with a smile.

The curate had not time to think, as he probably would have done
otherwise, that the idea of these little friends neglecting Diana was
incredible. His mind was too full of his mission, which filled his
homely countenance with purpose and eagerness. Diana saw this almost
before she had completed what she was saying. She added hastily, in a
different tone, “Something has happened--you have come to tell me of
something? Is it news from home?”

“No,” he said: “Miss Trelawny, perhaps it is something quite foolish or
more; but you understand--and you will pardon me if I am wrong.
Pandolfini--he is in a condition I cannot understand.”

“Is he ill?” He thought she grew paler, and clasped her hands together
as if something moved her.

“No, not that I know of: except that he is haggard and worn--a shadow of
himself. It is about this--marriage.”

Diana had made a step towards him with warm and anxious interest at
Pandolfini’s name. She now drew back again, a cloud falling over her.
She did not make any reply, but only shook her head, and her countenance
grew very grave, the smile, which was always lurking somewhere, ready to
be called forth, fading altogether from her face.

“You will do nothing, Miss Trelawny, you who help every one! and yet how
few are in such trouble? For you must see how unsuitable it is--how it
is killing him.”

“Hush!” said Diana, as Pandolfini had said before; “if it is going to
be, nothing unkind must be said--nothing it would hurt us or them to
think of hereafter. And it is not for us to discuss,” she said, with a
slight faltering in her voice; “they only can tell----”

“But, Miss Trelawny, it is not for gossip, nor in the way of intrusion
into other people’s affairs. But, Pandolfini, he has read my heart, and
now I feel that I can read his,” said the curate, stammering and growing
red. Must not she know what he meant in both cases? She stood with her
hands clasped, her head drooping, but no consciousness about her,
thoughtful, and almost sorrowful, as if she knew all that he would say.
“Oh, Miss Trelawny,” he cried, with generous zeal, “could not you
interfere? Could not you set things right? There are things a man must
bear, and I don’t say you could--save him--or any of us from: give us, I
mean, happiness. But this is madness, despair--I don’t know what--and it
will kill him. Oh, Miss Trelawny, will not you interfere?”

“How can I interfere?” cried Diana, piteously. “What can I do?” The
tears were in her eyes. “Of all helpless people on the earth, am I not
the most helpless?” This was said passionately, an unintended confession
of her own share in this misery, which she instantly repented. “Forgive
me,” she said, with a deep blush; “I am speaking extravagantly. But, Mr.
Snodgrass, think what you are saying. What could I do? There is nothing,
nothing in which I can help him. God help them both! I wish some one
would take me home,” she cried again, suddenly. “It is too much for me,
as well as for you. But all this is useless. There is nothing either you
or I can do.”

You or I! The man was generous. He had given the last proof of it in
making this appeal. But when she said “You or I,” poor Snodgrass forgot
Pandolfini. It turned his head.



CHAPTER XVII.

THE WEDDING-DAY.


The marriage took place on the first day of June--or rather that was the
beginning of the repeated and laborious processes which made Sophy
Norton into the Contessa Pandolfini. What a delight it was to take out
the first handkerchief embroidered with a coronet, one of those which
Diana had got her from Paris. Sophy took it out, and shook that
delightful sign of new-born nobility into the air on the day of the
legal ceremony, which was the day before her two ecclesiastical
marriages. She would not lose a moment that she could help. And the
melancholy bridegroom, and the occupations which took him away from her,
faded into nothing before this privilege. Diana might be richer, and had
been always more splendid than she--but Diana had no coronet. As for
Diana, she was engaged in preparing for her journey, and was present
only at the English or Protestant marriage, when she managed to keep as
much as possible out of sight, and avoided the bridegroom entirely,
notwithstanding the researches after her of Mrs. Norton, and of the
bride herself, whose efforts to produce Diana to say good-bye to dear
Pandolfo were repeated and unwearying. “Where is Diana? what does her
packing matter? besides, she does not pack--why should she, with a maid
to do everything for her?” This was said with a slight tone of
grievance, for it had not occurred to Pandolfini, though he furnished
that poor little faded coronet, to provide a maid. Sophy, when she had
put off her bridal dress after the strictest English rule, forgot her
dignity so far as to run downstairs in her own dignified person to “hunt
up” Diana. “Mr. Pandolfini does not want good-byes,” said Diana; “and
see, I have taken off my pretty dress. You would not like me to present
myself in this grey garment, all ready for travelling. God bless you,
Sophy!--and you can explain to Mr. Pandolfini if you like: but be sure
he is not thinking of any one but you.”

“I hope not,” said Sophy, demurely; “but you need not call him Mr.
Pandolfini now, Diana. We did so in the old times when we knew no
better. But I shall not permit him to give up his title any longer. You
might say Count, I think.”

“I will say his Lordship, if you like,” said Diana, kissing the
unconscious little creature. She smiled, but there was a meaning in her
eyes which heedless little Sophy, on the heights of glory and her
coronet, understood as little as any child.

“You need not laugh,” said the Countess Pandolfini, gravely; “of course
it is not the custom here. But I am sure a Count ought to be My Lord in
England. It is just the same as an Earl--at least, my title is just the
same as Lady Loamshire’s, and far, far older nobility. English lords are
nothing in comparison with Italian.” Sophy’s handkerchief, as has been
said, was embroidered with a coronet, and so was everything else she had
upon which she could have it worked or stamped. It was worth being
married for that alone.

“I think they are calling for you,” said Diana. “Thank you, little
Countess, for coming to me on this great day. All the servants shall be
taught to say My Lady when you come to see me at home. Good-bye now: and
I hope you will be very happy--and make your husband happy,” Diana
added, with an involuntary change of her voice.

“Oh, of course we shall be happy! and it will not be long before I
shall make Pandolfo bring me to England. Good-bye, good-bye, Diana. Oh,
how I wish you were only as happy as I am! I wish there was another
Pandolfo for you. Yes, I am coming, aunt; good-bye, good-bye. I shall
take your love to him, shall I? Oh yes, I will let you send him your
love; and very soon I shall make him bring me to England: and I shall
write to you in a few days, and--good-bye, dear Diana, good-bye.”

Diana went out upon her balcony to see them go away. The flowers and
plants had grown high, and she stood unseen under the shade of the
_loggia_. She felt that some one stood beside her as she looked down and
watched the grave Italian leading out his gay little bride. What a
butterfly Sophy looked, as she fluttered into the carriage which was to
convey them to the villa! “Poor little Sophy, too,” said Diana,
involuntarily, with a sigh.

“Are you sorry for _her_?” said the curate, who had come in unbidden at
the door which Sophy had left open. He had not presumed, poor fellow,
but he had come and gone with greater confidence, and taken a humble but
secure place, half friend, half devoted follower, the last of Diana’s
court, since the evening when he made that appeal to her. The rector
thought his dear Bill was making way, and that perhaps, after all, the
heart might be caught in the rebound. “Are you sorry for _her_?” he said
with surprise; “she is not sorry for herself.”

“Yes, poor little Sophy,” said Diana, “she deserved some pretty young
man like herself, who would have run about with her, and understood all
her little vanities. I hope she will never be sorry for herself: but it
will not be a very cheerful life.”

“I think of him,” the curate said, in a low voice.

Diana did not answer for a time. Something came into her throat and
stopped her. Then she went on after a pause, “Sophy will be more of a
woman than you think. She would have made you a good little wife, Mr.
Snodgrass.”

“Me!” He made a step away from her in the shock of surprise and
indignation. He was not vain, he thought; but he who cherished so lofty,
so noble a love--he to have Sophy suggested to him, or such as she!
This, from Diana, went to poor Snodgrass’s heart.

“Yes,” she said, looking at him with a smile in her clear eyes. “You are
angry, but it is true. A girl like Sophy, young and fresh and sweet, who
would think there was no one in the world like you, and would be good
to your poor people, would make you more happy than anything
else--though perhaps you do not think so now.”

Poor curate! this sudden dash of cold water upon him, in the very midst
of the subdued exhilaration with which he found himself by Diana’s side,
talking to her more freely than he had ever ventured to talk before, was
very hard to bear. He thought, if it was possible for Diana to be cruel,
that she was cruel now. That she could smile even, and jest--for it must
be intended for a jest--at such a moment, when he, for his part, had
come ready, as it were, to follow with her the funeral of poor
Pandolfini! Was it not, if one might dare to permit such a thought,
heartless of Diana? But she gave him no time to think. She had her
packing to attend to, and all the last arrangements to make for leaving
Pisa next day. Diana had resisted various proposals to “join a party” of
tourists going northward. She was starting straight for home, from which
she declared she had been only too long away. The Snodgrasses and Mrs.
Norton were to dine with her in the evening--to drink the health of the
newly married, and conclude this little episode of their life--and she
had no more leisure now. She came in lightly from among the oleanders
and aloes, in the soft grey dress which she had put on in such haste,
as her excuse for not showing herself. It was too simple a garment--too
like her governess days to suit Diana--and she had some reason of her
own, perhaps, for putting it on; not any reason, one would think,
however, for sad thoughts. She came in with a light in her eyes which
had been somewhat veiled of late. “Now I must be busy,” she said,
smiling upon her visitor as she dismissed him. The last week or two of
warm Italian weather, and of these distracting melancholy
contemplations, had stopped many things, or retarded them. Life itself
had grown languid in sympathy: but now that was all over; the deed was
done for which heaven and earth had seemed to be waiting, and there
could be no more lingering, musing, over it now.

The little party, which was so shrunken out of its old dimensions,
showed as curious a mixture of feelings as could well be seen, when it
met that evening round Diana’s table. Mrs. Norton was subdued by the
reality of the event to which she had been looking forward so long.
Never till now had she thought of it as affecting herself. The little
lady might be selfish for her Sophy, but she was not selfish in her own
person; nor did she think of her own comfort as opposed to that of her
niece. So that now, when Sophy was gone--she and her boxes and
preparations, and her voice and her footstep, all gone--a sudden
collapse ensued for poor Mrs. Norton. The sense of her loneliness came
upon her all in a moment. She was happy now, she had said fervently; she
had placed her child in the care of a good man, who would love and
cherish her; and now, whatever happened to herself, Sophy would be safe.
But even as she said the words the sense of her loneliness had seized
upon the poor little woman, and brought up a sob into her throat. Sophy
was provided for. Sophy had a husband and a coronet--the last an
unhoped-for glory--but she, had she lost Sophy? She was brave, and
choked back the sob, and upbraided herself for her selfishness, but
still this constriction of the throat would come back. “I am rather worn
out, that is the fact,” she said to Diana, unable to conceal the break
in her voice, but laughing brokenly too; “we are so subject to our
bodies. I never would allow I was tired, though S-Sophy warned me. If I
b-break down, you know what it means, Diana--only t-tiredness and
nerves--that is all.” And then she cried, and sat down to table,
faltering and trembling, but trying to laugh, with the conviction that
the sound, though far from mirthful, would make it apparent that she
cried for joy.

As for the rector, he was full of the correctest sentiments, and kept
his eye upon Diana and upon dear Bill to see what progress they were
making. He made them little speeches as to the advantages of matrimony.
“It is the one mistake I have made in my life,” said the rector. “It is
true that my nephew, who is as good as a son to me, saves me, in some
degree, from the loneliness. But I never should advise any one to follow
my example. I hope my dear Bill will judge better,” Mr. Snodgrass added,
with some solemnity. Diana was the only one who laughed, and this fact
amused her still more than the primary cause of her merriment Mrs.
Norton put her handkerchief to her eyes, while the curate sat in dumb
worship with his eyes turned towards the object of his constant
thoughts.

“Ah, Mr. Snodgrass, perhaps you will feel as I do. One would make any
sacrifice for the happiness of one’s children, and then after, one
suffers--not that I mean to complain. To see Sophy happy will be
happiness enough for me, if her dear husband is spared to her. But I
know what that is,” said poor little Mrs. Norton, subsiding into her
handkerchief.

“We must not think of anything gloomy to-night,” said the rector. “I
trust, indeed, that our dear friends the Pandolfinis will be long spared
to each other, and that they will combine the good qualities of both
nations. It will be a lesson indeed in Italian society to see the beauty
of an English home. There is nothing like it, my dear Mrs. Norton. I
have travelled as much as most men. I may say I am acquainted more or
less with European circles: but an English home, and a marriage of true
affection, as we have every reason to believe this is----”

“So was mine, Mr. Snodgrass,” said Mrs. Norton; “and oh, Providence was
very kind to me. There are very, very few like my dear husband. The
bishop always said there was no one he trusted in so much. He was adored
in the parish. Rich and poor followed him to his grave. It was as if
every family had lost a member. And what is life to those who are left?
Forgive me, Diana. I know I am not so gay as I ought to be: but a
wedding always, more or less, b-brings back the recollection of one’s
d-desolation.”

“Quite true,” said the rector; “and to a solitary man like myself, the
consideration that I have made one great mistake in life----”

“Then why don’t you----?” cried Diana, in whom this mutual lamentation
roused the dormant sense of humour, delivering her from her own
thoughts, which were not too gay. She could not complete her sentence,
however, as she intended, feeling a real pity for the poor little lady
opposite. “You, at least, Mr. Snodgrass,” she said, “why don’t you mend
your mistake? There is time enough yet.” The rector smiled. He was
pleased by the suggestion, though he did not mean to follow it. “No,
no,” he said. “To be told by you, Miss Trelawny, that it is not too
late, is a compliment indeed; but I give up in favour of Bill here, who
is my representative. Dear Bill must mend my mistake, not an old man
like me.”

Dear Bill did not say anything. He had fallen back into his normal
condition, and only gazed at Diana with dull but faithful eyes. He had
forgiven her the sharp and unexpected blow she had given him, but it had
killed his little confidence, his sense that there was a secret
understanding between them. He to be made happy by marrying a Sophy! how
little she knew!

And yet how much better it would have been for him than for Pandolfini!
Diana could not but think, with impatient regret, as she looked at them
all, playing their little parts round the table, where they were never
to sit again. Sophy would have made the curate a very good little wife.
She would have led him insensibly down from those unattainable wishes
which held him suspended between earth and heaven, and brought him back
to the calm delights of the parish, which was his natural sphere and
hers. They would have harmonised by infallible instinct and power of
natural attraction, after perhaps a little interval of difficulty. But
Pandolfini! what link could there be between the little English
clergywoman who would have been so useful in a parish, and the grave
Italian whose habits were as alien to hers as his race? Poor Pandolfini
in these few weeks had ceased even to be an Anglomane. He had gone back
upon his native habitudes, upon his old relations; he had turned even
his English books, in temporary disgust, out of their places. Fortune
had dealt with him hardly, turning his preferences--the tastes which he
had cultivated with a certain pride--into weapons of his downfall. Diana
did not know all this, as she allowed herself to fall back into a review
of all that passed after her guests were gone on that last evening. She
was going away alone as she had come. All that had happened since her
arrival here had passed over her without touching her. As she had come,
so she was going away. The lamps were burning low, the soft night air
was blowing in gratefully at the windows. The great picture of the Count
dei Sogni, which had hung over her so long, seemed to look mildly,
regretfully, half reproachfully at her through the gloom. He, too, poor
Pandolfini, was of the Sogni: and she herself, and all the chances of
this strange mortal life, what were they but _Sogni_ too? “We are such
stuff as dreams are made of,” said Diana softly to herself, the tears
coming to her eyes as she stood there alone in the great dim room, the
curtains swaying softly behind her in the air of the night, and dim
reflections showing all about like ghosts, repeating her tall white
figure in the old dim mirrors. It had been nothing but a caprice on her
part to come here--a mere fancy, without any seriousness or purpose in
it. If she had but stayed at home--gone on upon her quiet round in her
own sphere, where her duty was! Why was it that this whim; of hers
should have brought a cloud upon the life of a good man? Life seemed to
melt away and resolve itself into shadows, through those tears of
visionary compunction that were in her eyes--a vain show, a
phantasmagoria, momentary and delusive, strong gleams of light and
rolling darknesses in which no meaning was. The vague whiteness that
moved in spectral distance in the mirror far away from her at the end,
of the room, far-off reflection of her own solitary figure, seemed to
Diana as real as herself. What had they to do, the woman or the
reflection, in this stately dwelling of the past?--brought here for a
moment to pass across the surface of the mirror which had reflected so
many things, to work unwitting and unwilling evil, and then to pass
away--yet never to pass away having once been here. Diana hid her face
in her hands, oppressed and bowed down by this visionary sense of
intrusion, of harm, yet unreality. Not three months, not more than a
moment in life: yet enough for so much to happen in, more important than
many quiet years. So the great and the little mix and perplex each
other, ever increasing the strange confusion of this world of shadow,
till the brain turns round, and the heart grows sick.

She rose up quickly, and threw out her hands, as if throwing something
away. “This must not be,” she said aloud to herself; “this must not be.”
And she gathered up from the table all those little tokens of personal
presence which change the aspect of a place of habitation, and make it
into the likeness of its tenants,--took up a shawl which had been thrown
upon a sofa, a book which lay on an old cabinet, a little basket of odds
and ends already collected. With a certain reverence, as we collect the
possessions of the lately dead, she carried them all away. The room was
left, when she closed the door, as it had been when she came in to
it--the faded old furniture all ranged in its place, the great portrait
looking down from the dimness of the old wall. Was it the same? A
sweetness breathed in upon the air that had not been there before, a
glimpse of flowers through the window, a greenness of leaves,--and on
the carpet one little sprig of myrtle with its feathery globe of
blossom, which had come from Sophy’s marriage-wreath, and had fallen as
she went out from Diana’s hand. No more--yet something still.

Pandolfini at this moment was standing out on the terrace of his villa,
looking across the Tuscan garden of rich cultivation about. The grey
olive-trees were dark in the monotony of the night, the soft hills all
shrouded, the distant Apennines lying like shadows against the shadowy
horizon. Here and there the gleam of a firefly gave a touch of light,
and the roses were all a-bloom upon the hedges, betraying themselves by
their sweetness. He stood alone and gazed out upon the dark, seeing
nothing, yet somehow receiving the shadowy monotones of the night into
his soul, as Diana was receiving the ghostly reflections and shadowed
calm of the lonely room. All shadows, without and within; but he was at
one of those points of existence when everything is too vivid and actual
to permit of dreaming. His whole life was changed; he was another man,
with new duties, new burdens, new companionship. How he was to make his
toilsome way among them he could not tell. There was a heavy dew in his
eyes, essence of pain and wonder at all that had happened to him,--at
this revolution which was, yet was not, his doing,--at the new claims,
all so terribly real, undeniable, true. How had it come about? What fate
had led him by strange paths to this transformation of existence? He
could not tell. It seemed a gratuitous interference as of some potent
spirit who wished him ill, and had led him astray. The world was as dark
to him as the fields, with impulses of pity, of generous devotion, of
honour and kindness, lighting it fitfully like the fireflies: but for
himself all dark--no comfort in it, nor any visible hope. Yet his mind
was hushed with the very greatness of the crisis. It was done, and the
agitations were so far calmed; his fate was decided. But when the moon
rose Pandolfini retreated before it, covering his eyes. The dark was
more congenial. He wanted no soft angelical face to shine upon him, no
light to follow him at that moment of his life.



CHAPTER XVIII.

AFTERWARDS.


Diana reached home when the country was in the full glory of summer.
She, too, was like the summer, her friends said--more beautiful than
ever she had been--with just a touch of sunburn from her journey, which
ripened her paleness and made her eyes more brilliant. The whole county
hurried to the Chase to meet and greet her, and tell her how well she
was looking, and that foreign travel evidently agreed with her. “But,
all the same, you must not go again, for we cannot spare you,” they
cried. Nothing could go on without Diana. “And we were so sadly afraid
you meant to stay and spend the summer in Switzerland,” said young Lady
Loamshire (she whose title, Diana remembered with a smile, was the same
as Sophy’s). Nobody could have a more flattering reception. There was a
general feeling of escape that so precious a possession as their
virgin-princess had been got back in safety. The county did not like her
to move: even when she went to London, it was never without fears that
somebody might snap her up, and marry her before any one could
interfere: and how much more “abroad,” where there were always needy
foreigners on the strain to catch rich English ladies! She and the
county had escaped a great danger--they could not sufficiently pet and
caress her when she got back. In the delight of her safety they were all
quite satisfied to hear that Sophy Norton had made such a good marriage.
“Only I hope the poor man was not taken in. They think all the English
are so rich,” said one of those who had been afraid that Diana would be
“snapt up.” This was an old lady who had as much fear for the
conventional fortune-hunter as so many other old ladies have of the
Pope. But Sophy Norton was nobody: she was a cheap ransom to pay for
Diana, and only interested a very few people, who were amused or
delighted or irritated, as the case might be, to hear that so
insignificant a person was now the Countess Pandolfini. Diana did her
full justice, and gave her the benefit of her coronet, by which all the
servants, and especially the maid who had charge of the Red House, were
deeply impressed. Diana’s own household did not like it. They thought
it extremely forward of a little thing who owed so much to Miss Trelawny
to marry a titled gentleman, though it was some little solace to
remember that foreign counts were not much to swear by. But the maid at
the Red House felt her bosom swell with pride as loftily as Sophy’s own.
“I don’t believe as she’ll be a bit proud, but just as friendly with
Miss Trelawny as ever,” Mary Jane said, “though a married lady, and a
titled lady stands more high like in the world.” The Trelawny household
did not know what to answer to this taunt. They made hot protestations
on behalf of their mistress that she might have married half the
gentlemen in the county, and had her pick and choice of titles; but of
course they could not give proof of this assertion, and Mary Jane’s
statement as to the superiority of a married and titled lady was
unquestionably true.

“Then they were really married?” said Mrs. Hunstanton; “he did not get
out of it? I hoped he would up to the last moment. Honour is a great
thing, but that is carrying honour too far, Diana. I could not have done
it. Perhaps you could who are more high-minded----”

“We are not called upon to judge,” said Diana, “so we need not inquire
who could have done it. I hope they may be very happy----”

“Do not be fictitious,” cried Mrs. Hunstanton. “Happy! Sophy would be
happy with her new dresses anywhere.”

“And her coronet,” said Diana, smiling.

“Her--coronet! do you mean to say you encouraged her in such folly?
Diana, I never can understand you. Are you a cynic? are you a----?”

“Fool, perhaps. I will save your feelings by saying the word myself.
Yes, I suppose I am a fool: for I--miss them,” said Diana, half
laughing, half crying. “It is quite true. Their little ways, their
little talk, their kindnesses, and even their little amiable
selfishnesses--yes, I don’t deny it. I miss them: so I suppose I am, as
you say, a fool.”

“I never said it. Amiable selfishness!--what sort of a thing is that?
No, Diana, I don’t understand you. You are either the goodest, or the
strangest, or the most----”

“Foolish--it is that. There are so many sensible people in the world,”
said Diana, apologetic. “Yes, I had it embroidered for her on all her
things. It was funny, but how it pleased Sophy! And why not? Lady
Loamshire has her coronet on her handkerchiefs, and her husband’s
grandfather, you know, after all, was only a--cheesemonger: whereas the
Pandolfinis---- But you know that better than I do.”

“Lady Loamshire! how can you be so ridiculous! She is a great personage.
She is an English countess.”

“And Sophy is an Italian one. What difference is there besides?”

“What are you two arguing about?” said Mr. Hunstanton. “I will set it
right for you, if you will tell me. To be sure, the Pandolfinis. Tell me
all about them, Diana. I suppose they are very happy, and all that. They
went to the Villa for the honeymoon, English fashion? Ah, Pandolfini
always was an Anglo-maniac; and I am very glad he has an English wife. I
had a hand in that. Did my wife ever tell you, Diana----?”

“Oh yes, I told her--she knows everything,” said Mrs. Hunstanton, with a
suppressed groan; “but when you tell your wise deeds, if I were you I
would leave that out. If ever a man had his heart broken by his
friend----”

“Yes, listen to her, Diana. She wants me to believe that I spoke to the
wrong person--a likely thing! For you know I managed it all. Pandolfini
put it into my hands. And she says I made a mistake!” said Mr.
Hunstanton, rubbing his hands. “Now I put it to you, Diana, as an
impartial person, supposing even that I was a fool, as she makes me out,
who was there else to propose to? That’s the question. I defy you to
answer that. If it was not Sophy, who could it be?”

The two ladies said nothing. They exchanged a half-guilty furtive
glance, not venturing even to look at each other openly. Mr. Hunstanton
was triumphant; he rubbed his hands more and more.

“You perceive?” he said, “that is the weak point with women--not but
what I have the highest respect for your judgment, both of you. You are
delightfully rapid in your conclusions,” added Mr. Hunstanton, with
_naïve_ originality, “and jump at a truth which we might not reach for
weeks with the aid of pure reason: but the practical argument has little
favour with you. When I ask you, What other lady was there? What other
could _I_ have been sent to? neither the one nor the other of you can
find a word to say.”

“No,” said Diana; her voice sounded flat and trembled a little. “No,”
she said, “I think--you must have done what was best.”

Mrs. Hunstanton gave her an indignant glance: but what could they say?
It was not possible to utter any name, or give any indication between
them. They were even a little overawed by the determined simplicity of
the appeal.

“I thought you would own it,” he said, delighted with his victory. “No,
no, I made no mistake. I am not in the habit of making mistakes. They
were not like each other on the surface, but I have always heard that
harmony in diversity is the great secret of happiness. It was silly of
him, though, to give in about the title. What does it signify to call
yourself Count? Among English people it is more a drawback than anything
else, when there is neither money to keep it up, nor any particular
distinction. But I suppose Sophy liked it.”

“Yes--Sophy liked it very much indeed.”

“I should think Sophy would like it!” cried Mrs. Hunstanton, “and her
aunt. A title of any kind delights a silly woman. And to think of that
foolish little pair, one on either side of poor Pandolfini! Yes, Diana,
I know you have said that you agree with Tom. He will quote you now,
whenever they are mentioned. He will say you are entirely of his
opinion.”

“I will say--as I have always said--that Diana is the most sensible
woman I know,” said Mr. Hunstanton, “the most reasonable to see the
force of an argument: and the most candid--even when she is convinced
against her will.”

“I have no patience with either of you,” cried Mrs. Hunstanton, getting
up and going away.

This was all that was said upon the subject of Pandolfini. Mr.
Hunstanton, rubbing his hands with a chuckle of triumph over his own
victory and his wife’s discomfiture, remained master of the situation.
And the ordinary life was resumed, as if this little episode had never
been. Reginald, the delicate boy to whom Mrs. Norton had been so kind,
asked often if she was not coming back again. There was no one like her
at bezique, he said. His mother was very kind, and would play with him
when she was put to it, but Reginald could see that it bored mamma.
Whereas Mrs. Norton was never bored: she liked it--she was always
jolly--was she ever coming back? Diana could give no answer to that
question. And in the course of the following year she had more than one
temptation to transfer the Red House to other tenants. But she was as
faithful as Reginald to her foolish little neighbours. And the house
remained empty, with Mary Jane in possession, who was very fond of
talking of Madam the Countess, which she understood was her little
mistress’s correct style and title; and thus a whole year went away,
and another midsummer made the woods joyful. Diana had little leisure
left her to think of the two small people whom she had kept warm like
birds under her wing, but nevertheless she went sometimes and looked at
the vacant nest, and still kept it vacant, and missed them a little,
which was stranger still. The curate, who also had resumed all his
former habits, and spent his life, when he was not in the parish,
following Diana with dull faithful eyes that never left her, met her one
day near the deserted house. He had been visiting the gamekeeper, who
was disabled by some accident, and was going home by that short cut
through the park. How his heart beat when he came upon her all alone! It
was very seldom he saw her alone. It reminded him of that day when he
made his appeal to her about Pandolfini and she spoke to him of “you and
I.” Would she ever say such words again?

“I have been carrying news to Mary Jane,” said Diana, “of the birth of a
little Pandolfini. She wants to know if the baby is a little lord like
Lady Loamshire’s baby; but, alas! it is only a little girl.”

“Has it come to that?” said the curate, startled--though he ought to
have known better with all his parish experiences.

“Oh yes,” said Diana, with a smile, “it has come to that. Sophy will be
a charming little mother, and the baby will make her very happy.”

“You always had a great opinion of--Madam Pandolfini.”

“Yes,” said Diana, and she laughed, looking up at him. “I thought she
would have made the very wife you want, Mr. Snodgrass; but,
unfortunately, I thought of it too late.”

Thank God! the curate said devoutly within himself. For he knew, and she
knew--and he knew that she knew--that he must have married Sophy had
Diana willed it. He would have resisted, but he would have yielded--and
been happy. How sorry Diana was that it had not occurred to her in time!
“You would have been a very happy couple,” she said. “Don’t say
anything. I am sure of it. What a help she would have been in the
parish!” And to this he could not say no.

“I don’t know if you will like me to ask,” he said, faltering, and
feeling it safe to change the subject, “but--do they get on? are
they--comfortable? I knew--all about it, you remember--at the time.”

“Did you?” she said, ignoring all that had passed between them on this
subject. “I have never asked if they were comfortable, Mr. Snodgrass;
but why should we doubt it? There is always a little risk with people
of different nationalities; but Sophy always writes in high spirits.”

“She was in high spirits on her wedding-day!” the curate muttered,
furious with Sophy, for whose sake Diana treated him with such unusual
severity. He had a double grievance against her now.

“And should not you like your bride to be in high spirits on her
wedding-day?”

“Oh, Miss Trelawny, how hard you are upon me! when you know I shall
never have any bride,” said the young man, with a look which he meant to
be eloquent. They had come to the avenue by this time, and were about to
part.

“Till we find a second Sophy,” she said, and gave him her hand, smiling,
as she turned towards the house. He stood for a moment looking after her
with dull but wistful eyes. Nothing but that smile would ever be his
from Diana. But if a second Sophy could be found! The curate turned and
went on with a little shiver of conscious weakness. Did not he know, and
did not she know, that what she commanded he would do? But perhaps along
with this fear and consciousness there was a little flutter of
anticipation, too, in the curate’s faithful breast.

Some weeks after this conversation another event occurred which
surprised everybody. It happened when Diana was out, so that for a full
hour the servants had the privilege of discussing what had happened
before any elucidation was possible. It was in the afternoon that it
happened--the drowsiest moment of the day. Common cabs from the station
carrying luggage very seldom appeared in the beautiful avenue, and the
butler knew that no visitor was expected. But Diana’s servants did not
dare to be uncivil. It was Mrs. Norton who was in the cab, and her big
box, made for Continental travel, which weighted that humble vehicle
above. “The Red House--oh, I would not take the liberty,” she said, with
a little tremor in her voice as she stepped out. She was as dignified as
travel and weariness would permit, though her bonnet was not so neat as
usual. “If you will be so very good as let the man wait in the
stableyard till I see Miss Trelawny. Oh, is she out? I am very sorry,”
said the little lady, growing pale. “I think I must wait and see her. I
think I shall have time to wait and see her. I wonder if there will be
time before the train.” She was so tired and nervous, and ready to cry
with this disappointment, that Jervis made bold to inquire if all was
well with Madam and the baby. “She said, ‘Oh, the Countess is very
well, I thank you, Jervis,’” he reported, when he went downstairs, “as
grand as possible. But you take my word there’s some screw loose.
Meantime, I’ll take the poor old girl a cup of tea.” This is how our
servants speak of us, with that familiar affection which is so great a
bond between the different classes of society; and Mrs. Norton found
Jervis so respectful and so kind, that her heart swelled within her as
she sat in Diana’s little morning-room, and sipped her cup of tea. It
was so good, and the house was so large and quiet, with that well-bred
calm which exists only in an English house, the returned wanderer said
to herself--oh, so different from old Antonio, who delivered his
opinions along with every dish he served. When Jervis went downstairs
she wept a little, and stifled her sobs in her handkerchief. What would
Diana say? Would she blame her for this step she had taken? Would she
advise her to go back again by the next train? Mrs. Norton had not
ventured even to have her big box taken down from the cab, which stood
looking so shabby in Diana’s stableyard. She was proud, though she was
so humble-minded, and she would not make any appeal to Diana’s
generosity, or look as if she expected to stay. When she had finished
her tea and her crying, she went to the mirror and straightened her
bonnet, and tried to look as if she had never known what a tear was. But
when Diana came in all smiling, and cordial as of old, and looked at her
with indulgent kind eyes that found no fault and expressed no suspicion,
Mrs. Norton broke down. She threw herself into her friend’s arms,
regardless of her bonnet. “Oh, Diana, here I am back again a poor old
lonely woman. And--I could not be in England without first coming to see
you; and I feel as if I had nobody but you----”

“What is the matter?” cried Diana, in alarm. “Sophy----?”

“Oh, Sophy is very well; indeed there is nothing the matter. I--I got
homesick I suppose. I--wanted my own country. She has her baby now,
Diana, she has her friends: she is fond of her own way: and--oh, she
does not want me any more!”

“Well,” said Diana, cheerfully, “and so you have come home? How sensible
that was!--the very wisest and best thing you could do.”

“Oh, do you think so, Diana?” The little lady brightened under these
words of commendation. “But I have no right to presume upon coming
_home_ after all this long time,” she said, wistfully. “And I know,
dear, it was Sophy you cared for. How could it be me? I was always
g-glad to think that it was S-Sophy that was cared for. But now she has
her baby, Diana, and I am only a trouble to her. She does not want me.
Oh, Diana, she would not be so frivolous if he did not leave her so
much! No, no, I am not blaming him; he was always kind, you know, but he
did not understand us,--he never made a companion of her. And now she
has so many friends, and talks Italian like a native (she always was
clever at languages), and they chatter and chatter, and I do not
understand a word, and then she calls me cross. _Me_ cross, Diana! And
such strange ways with the baby, as if I knew nothing about babies. She
even told me so, that I never had one, and how could I know? And so
strange altogether--a strange man, and a strange house, and no pleasant
fires, and such strange food! Oh, my dear, what could I do? He was very
kind, and asked me to stay, but she--she!--never asked me. She didn’t
w-want me--oh, Diana! I think it will b-break my h-heart!”

“Hush! here is Jervis,” said Diana. Mrs. Norton stopped short in the
midst of her sob. She gave herself a rapid shake, raised her shoulders,
cut short the heave of her little bosom. No other check could have told
so effectually. It is one thing to break your heart, but to give way
before the servants is quite another thing. She was not capable of such
a breakdown. What Jervis saw when he came in was a little figure very
erect upon the sofa, with shoulders squared and bonnet straightened, and
a smile upon her face. “Oh yes, Diana, the Countess is quite well, and
the baby is a darling,” said the deceitful little woman. She did not
think it was deceitfulness, but only a proper pride.

And the end was that Mrs. Norton was taken in “for good,” and her big
box dislodged from the cab, and carried to a pretty room very near
Diana’s. She was not sent away even to the pleasant solitude of the Red
House. When Mrs. Hunstanton heard of this, she came over in hot haste to
know, first, how long it was going to last; second, how Diana could be
so incredibly foolish; and lastly, whether anything was to be found out
about the pair whom even she now was compelled to call the Pandolfinis.
But Mrs. Norton, it need not be said, put on triple armour of defence
against the assaults of this unkindly critic. She met her with smiles
more impenetrable than chain-armour. The dear baby was so well, and
Sophy was so well, she had taken the opportunity to run over and see her
friends. “For, however happy one may be,” Mrs. Norton said with
feeling, “and however great may be the happiness one sees around, one’s
heart yearns for one’s old friends.” Thus the enemy was baffled with
equal skill and sweetness: and no one ever heard from Diana why it was
that Sophy’s aunt had come back. She took to watching over Diana,
growing pale when she coughed, and miserable when her head ached, as she
had watched over Sophy; and settled down into her pretty rooms, with
pretty little protestations that it was too much--far too much! yet
pious hopes that she might be of use to Diana, who was so good to
everybody. And Mrs. Norton clearly saw a Higher Hand in all that had led
to this final arrangement, which was so happy a solution of all
difficulties. “The hand of Providence was never more clear,” she would
say with cheerful solemnity from her easy-chair. “If Sophy had not had
that cough, neither Diana nor any of us would have gone to Pisa, and we
never should have met dear Count Pandolfo, and Sophy would never have
married him. And if Sophy had never been established in Italy, and so
comfortable, you would not have thought of taking me into your own
delightful house, and making me so happy. Oh, how thankful we should be,
Diana! This is how everything works for good. It is seldom, very
seldom, that one sees it so very clear!”

Was it so clear?--was it all for this that the Palazzo dei Sogni had
witnessed so many agitations, and that life had changed so strangely for
that one grave Tuscan, whose days were so full of business, and whose
little English wife had so many gossips? Poor Pandolfini! Diana made no
answer to her guest’s happy trust in the Providence which had made such
elaborate arrangements for her comfort. That chapter of life was over,
whatever might have been in it,--over and closed and ended, till the
time when the harvest shall be gathered, and all shall be known--where
the tares came from, and where the wheat.

But Pandolfini never brought his wife to England, notwithstanding the
impulse of mingled recollection and jealousy which made her long to go
home when she heard of Diana’s adoption of her aunt. “Go, Sophy, if you
will: but this little one is too young to travel,” he said. And Sophy,
grumbling, stayed at home. After all, the man had the best of it. What
flower of happiness so exquisite as this child could have come into his
barren days, but for Mr. Hunstanton’s mistake? Mrs. Norton betrayed that
he had carried it away, according to the custom of his Church, and had
it christened the day after it was born, without even consulting the
mother about its name. He had called it Stella, though that was not a
family name even. Why Stella?--though it was a pretty name enough. And
it is not quite clear that even Diana knew why.


THE END.


PRINTED BY F. A. BROCKHAUS, LEIPZIG.





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