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- Where Angels Fear to Tread - 20/34 -
"You see," she began, "Harriet knows nothing."
"No more do I. He was out."
"But what's that to do with it?"
He presented her with an unpleasant smile. She fenced well, as he had noticed before. "He was out. You find me as ignorant as you have left Harriet."
"What do you mean? Please, please Mr. Herriton, don't be mysterious: there isn't the time. Any moment Harriet may be down, and we shan't have decided how to behave to her. Sawston was different: we had to keep up appearances. But here we must speak out, and I think I can trust you to do it. Otherwise we'll never start clear."
"Pray let us start clear," said Philip, pacing up and down the room. "Permit me to begin by asking you a question. In which capacity have you come to Monteriano--spy or traitor?"
"Spy!" she answered, without a moment's hesitation. She was standing by the little Gothic window as she spoke--the hotel had been a palace once--and with her finger she was following the curves of the moulding as if they might feel beautiful and strange. "Spy," she repeated, for Philip was bewildered at learning her guilt so easily, and could not answer a word. "Your mother has behaved dishonourably all through. She never wanted the child; no harm in that; but she is too proud to let it come to me. She has done all she could to wreck things; she did not tell you everything; she has told Harriet nothing at all; she has lied or acted lies everywhere. I cannot trust your mother. So I have come here alone--all across Europe; no one knows it; my father thinks I am in Normandy--to spy on Mrs. Herriton. Don't let's argue!" for he had begun, almost mechanically, to rebuke her for impertinence. "If you are here to get the child, I will help you; if you are here to fail, I shall get it instead of you."
"It is hopeless to expect you to believe me," he stammered. "But I can assert that we are here to get the child, even if it costs us all we've got. My mother has fixed no money limit whatever. I am here to carry out her instructions. I think that you will approve of them, as you have practically dictated them. I do not approve of them. They are absurd."
She nodded carelessly. She did not mind what he said. All she wanted was to get the baby out of Monteriano.
"Harriet also carries out your instructions," he continued. "She, however, approves of them, and does not know that they proceed from you. I think, Miss Abbott, you had better take entire charge of the rescue party. I have asked for an interview with Signor Carella tomorrow morning. Do you acquiesce?"
She nodded again.
"Might I ask for details of your interview with him? They might be helpful to me."
He had spoken at random. To his delight she suddenly collapsed. Her hand fell from the window. Her face was red with more than the reflection of evening.
"My interview--how do you know of it?"
"From Perfetta, if it interests you."
"Who ever is Perfetta?"
"The woman who must have let you in."
"Into Signor Carella's house."
"Mr. Herriton!" she exclaimed. "How could you believe her? Do you suppose that I would have entered that man's house, knowing about him all that I do? I think you have very odd ideas of what is possible for a lady. I hear you wanted Harriet to go. Very properly she refused. Eighteen months ago I might have done such a thing. But I trust I have learnt how to behave by now."
Philip began to see that there were two Miss Abbotts--the Miss Abbott who could travel alone to Monteriano, and the Miss Abbott who could not enter Gino's house when she got there. It was an amusing discovery. Which of them would respond to his next move?
"I suppose I misunderstood Perfetta. Where did you have your interview, then?"
"Not an interview--an accident--I am very sorry--I meant you to have the chance of seeing him first. Though it is your fault. You are a day late. You were due here yesterday. So I came yesterday, and, not finding you, went up to the Rocca--you know that kitchen-garden where they let you in, and there is a ladder up to a broken tower, where you can stand and see all the other towers below you and the plain and all the other hills?"
"Yes, yes. I know the Rocca; I told you of it."
"So I went up in the evening for the sunset: I had nothing to do. He was in the garden: it belongs to a friend of his."
"And you talked."
"It was very awkward for me. But I had to talk: he seemed to make me. You see he thought I was here as a tourist; he thinks so still. He intended to be civil, and I judged it better to be civil also."
"And of what did you talk?"
"The weather--there will be rain, he says, by tomorrow evening--the other towns, England, myself, about you a little, and he actually mentioned Lilia. He was perfectly disgusting; he pretended he loved her; he offered to show me her grave--the grave of the woman he has murdered!"
"My dear Miss Abbott, he is not a murderer. I have just been driving that into Harriet. And when you know the Italians as well as I do, you will realize that in all that he said to you he was perfectly sincere. The Italians are essentially dramatic; they look on death and love as spectacles. I don't doubt that he persuaded himself, for the moment, that he had behaved admirably, both as husband and widower."
"You may be right," said Miss Abbott, impressed for the first time. "When I tried to pave the way, so to speak--to hint that he had not behaved as he ought--well, it was no good at all. He couldn't or wouldn't understand."
There was something very humorous in the idea of Miss Abbott approaching Gino, on the Rocca, in the spirit of a district visitor. Philip, whose temper was returning, laughed.
"Harriet would say he has no sense of sin."
"Harriet may be right, I am afraid."
"If so, perhaps he isn't sinful!"
Miss Abbott was not one to encourage levity. "I know what he has done," she said. "What he says and what he thinks is of very little importance."
Philip smiled at her crudity. "I should like to hear, though, what he said about me. Is he preparing a warm reception?"
"Oh, no, not that. I never told him that you and Harriet were coming. You could have taken him by surprise if you liked. He only asked for you, and wished he hadn't been so rude to you eighteen months ago."
"What a memory the fellow has for little things!" He turned away as he spoke, for he did not want her to see his face. It was suffused with pleasure. For an apology, which would have been intolerable eighteen months ago, was gracious and agreeable now.
She would not let this pass. "You did not think it a little thing at the time. You told me he had assaulted you."
"I lost my temper," said Philip lightly. His vanity had been appeased, and he knew it. This tiny piece of civility had changed his mood. "Did he really--what exactly did he say?"
"He said he was sorry--pleasantly, as Italians do say such things. But he never mentioned the baby once."
What did the baby matter when the world was suddenly right way up? Philip smiled, and was shocked at himself for smiling, and smiled again. For romance had come back to Italy; there were no cads in her; she was beautiful, courteous, lovable, as of old. And Miss Abbott--she, too, was beautiful in her way, for all her gaucheness and conventionality. She really cared about life, and tried to live it properly. And Harriet--even Harriet tried.
This admirable change in Philip proceeds from nothing admirable, and may therefore provoke the gibes of the cynical. But angels and other practical people will accept it reverently, and write it down as good.
"The view from the Rocca (small gratuity) is finest at sunset," he murmured, more to himself than to her.
"And he never mentioned the baby once," Miss Abbott repeated. But she had returned to the window, and again her finger pursued the delicate curves. He watched her in
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