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- The Beautiful Lady - 6/10 -
a benefit I could get on just as well without."
"She is in North America?"
"No; over here."
"Ah! Then we will go where she is. That will be even better for you! Where is she?"
"I don't know. She asked me not to follow her. Somebody else is doing that."
The young man's voice was steady, and his face, as usual, showed no emotion, but I should have been an Italian for nothing had I not understood quickly. So I waited for a little while, then spoke of old Pilatus out there in the sky, and we went to bed very late, for it was out last night in Lucerne.
Two days later we roared our way out of the gloomy St. Gotthard and wound down the pass, out into the sunshine of Italy, into that broad plain of mulberries where the silkworms weave to enrich the proud Milanese. Ah, those Milanese! They are like the people of Turin, and look down upon us of Naples; they find us only amusing, because our minds and movements are too quick for them to understand. I have no respect for the Milanese, except for three things: they have a cathedral, a picture, and a dead man.
We came to our hotel in the soft twilight, with the air so balmy one wished to rise and float in it. This was the hour for the Cathedral; therefore, leaving Leonardo and his fresco for the to-morrow, I conducted my uncomplaining ward forth, and through that big arcade of which the people are so proud, to the Duomo. Poor Jr. showed few signs of life as we stood before that immenseness; he said patiently that it resembled the postals, and followed me inside the portals with languor.
It was all grey hollowness in the vast place. The windows showed not any colour nor light; the splendid pillars soared up into the air and disappeared as if they mounted to heights of invisibility in the sky at night. Very far away, at the other end of the church it seemed, one lamp was burning, high over the transept. One could not see the chains of support nor the roof above it; it seemed a great star, but so much all alone. We walked down the long aisle to stand nearer to it, the darkness growing deeper as we advanced. When we came almost beneath, both of us gazing upward, my companion unwittingly stumbled against a lady who was standing silently looking up at this light, and who had failed to notice our approach. The contact was severe enough to dislodge from her hand her folded parasol, for which I began to grope.
There was a hurried sentence of excusation from Poor Jr., followed by moments of silence before she replied. Then I heard her voice in startled exclamation:
"Rufus, it is never you?"
He called out, almost loudly,
Then I knew that it was the second time I had lifted a parasol from the ground for the lady of the grey pongee and did not see her face; but this time I placed it in her own hand; for my head bore no shame upon it now.
In the surprise of encountering Poor Jr. I do not think she noticed that she took the parasol or was conscious of my presence, and it was but too secure that my young friend had forgotten that I lived. I think, in truth, I should have forgotten it myself, if it had not been for the leaping of my heart.
Ah, that foolish dream of mine had proven true: I knew her, I knew her, unmistaking, without doubt or hesitancy--and in the dark! How should I know at the mere sound of her voice? I think I knew before she spoke!
Poor Jr. had taken a step toward her as she fell back; I could only see the two figures as two shadows upon shadow, while for them I had melted altogether and was forgotten.
"You think I have followed you," he cried, "but you have no right to think it. It was an accident and you've got to believe me!"
"I believe you," she answered gently. "Why should I not?"
"I suppose you want me to clear out again," he went on, "and I will; but I don't see why."
Her voice answered him out of the shadow: "It is only you who make a reason why. I'd give anything to be friends with you; you've always known that."
"Why can't we be?" he said, sharply and loudly. "I've changed a great deal. I'm very sensible, and I'll never bother you again -- that other way. Why shouldn't I see a little of you?"
I heard her laugh then--happily, it seemed to me,--and I thought I perceived her to extend her hand to him, and that he shook it briefly, in his fashion, as if it had been the hand of a man and not that of the beautiful lady.
"You know I should like nothing better in the world--since you tell me what you do," she answered.
"And the other man?" he asked her, with the same hinting of sharpness in his tone. "Is that all settled?"
"Almost. Would you like me to tell you?"
"Only a little--please!"
His voice had dropped, and he spoke very quietly, which startlingly caused me to realize what I was doing. I went out of hearing then, very softly. Is it creible that I found myself trembling when I reached the twilit piazza? It is true, and I knew that never, for one moment, since that tragic, divine day of her pity, had I wholly despaired of beholding her again; that in my most sorrowful time there had always been a little, little morsel of certain knowledge that I should some day be near her once more.
And now, so much was easily revealed to me: it was to see her that the good Lambert R. Poor Jr., had come to Paris, preceding my patron; it was he who had passed with her on the last day of my shame, and whom she had addressed by his central name of Rufus, and it was to his hand that I had restored her parasol.
I was to look upon her face at last--I knew it--and to speak with her. Ah, yes, I did tremble! It was not because I feared she might recognize her poor slave of the painted head-top, nor that Poor Jr. would tell her. I knew him now too well to think he would do that, had I been even that other of whom he had spoken, for he was a brave, good boy, that Poor Jr. No, it was a trembling of another kind--something I do not know how to explain to those who have not trembled in the same way; and I came alone to my room in the hotel, still trembling a little and having strange quickness of breathing in my chest.
I did not make any light; I did not wish it, for the precious darkness of the Cathedral remained with me--magic darkness in which I beheld floating clouds made of the dust of gold and vanishing melodies. Any person who knows of these singular things comprehends how little of them can be told; but to those people who do not know of them, it may appear all great foolishness. Such people are either too young, and they must wait, or too old--they have forgotten!
It was an hour afterward, and Poor Jr. had knocked twice at my door, when I lighted the room and opened it to him. He came in, excitedly flushed, and, instead of taking a chair, began to walk quickly up and down the floor.
"I'm afraid I forgot all about you, Ansolini," he said, "but that girl I ran into is a--a Miss Landry, whom I have known a long--"
I put my hand on his shoulder for a moment and said:
"I think I am not so dull, my friend!"
He made a blue flash at me with his eyes, then smiled and shook his head.
"Yes, you are right," he answered, re-beginning his fast pace over the carpet. "It was she that I meant in Lucerne--I don't see why I should not tell you. In Paris she said she didn't want me to see her again until I could be--freiendly--the old way instead of something considerably different, which I'd grown to be. Well, I've just told her not only that I'd behave like a friend, but that I'd changed and felt like one. Pretty much of a lie that was!" He laighed, without any amusement. "But it was successful, and I suppose I can keep it up. At any rate we're going over to Venice with her and her mother to-morrow. Afterwards, we'll see them in Naples just before they sail."
"To Venice with them!" I could not repress crying out.
"Yes; we join parties for two days," he said, and stopped at a window and looked out attentively at nothing before he went on: "It won't be very long, and I don't suppose it will ever happen again. The other man is to meet them in Rome. He's a countryman of yours, and I believe--I believe it's--about--settled!"
He pronounced these last words in an even voice, but how slowly! Not more slowly than the construction of my own response, which I heard myself making:
"This countryman of mine--who is he?"
"One of your kind of Kentucky Colonels," Poor Jr. laughed mournfully. At first I did not understand; then it came to me that he had sometimes previously spoken in that idiom of the nobles, and that it had been his custom to address one of his Parisian followers, a vicomte, as "Colonel."
"What is his name?"
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