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- Where Angels Fear to Tread - 3/34 -
There won't be any letters."
"No, dear; please go. I'll sow the peas, but you shall cover them up--and mind the birds don't see 'em!"
Mrs. Herriton was very careful to let those peas trickle evenly from her hand, and at the end of the row she was conscious that she had never sown better. They were expensive too.
"Actually old Mrs. Theobald!" said Harriet, returning.
"Read me the letter. My hands are dirty. How intolerable the crested paper is."
Harriet opened the envelope.
"I don't understand," she said; "it doesn't make sense."
"Her letters never did."
"But it must be sillier than usual," said Harriet, and her voice began to quaver. "Look here, read it, Mother; I can't make head or tail."
Mrs. Herriton took the letter indulgently. "What is the difficulty?" she said after a long pause. "What is it that puzzles you in this letter?"
"The meaning--" faltered Harriet. The sparrows hopped nearer and began to eye the peas.
"The meaning is quite clear--Lilia is engaged to be married. Don't cry, dear; please me by not crying--don't talk at all. It's more than I could bear. She is going to marry some one she has met in a hotel. Take the letter and read for yourself." Suddenly she broke down over what might seem a small point. "How dare she not tell me direct! How dare she write first to Yorkshire! Pray, am I to hear through Mrs. Theobald--a patronizing, insolent letter like this? Have I no claim at all? Bear witness, dear"--she choked with passion--"bear witness that for this I'll never forgive her!"
"Oh, what is to be done?" moaned Harriet. "What is to be done?"
"This first!" She tore the letter into little pieces and scattered it over the mould. "Next, a telegram for Lilia! No! a telegram for Miss Caroline Abbott. She, too, has something to explain."
"Oh, what is to be done?" repeated Harriet, as she followed her mother to the house. She was helpless before such effrontery. What awful thing--what awful person had come to Lilia? "Some one in the hotel." The letter only said that. What kind of person? A gentleman? An Englishman? The letter did not say.
"Wire reason of stay at Monteriano. Strange rumours," read Mrs. Herriton, and addressed the telegram to Abbott, Stella d'Italia, Monteriano, Italy. "If there is an office there," she added, "we might get an answer this evening. Since Philip is back at seven, and the eight-fifteen catches the midnight boat at Dover--Harriet, when you go with this, get 100 pounds in 5 pound notes at the bank."
"Go, dear, at once; do not talk. I see Irma coming back; go quickly.... Well, Irma dear, and whose team are you in this afternoon--Miss Edith's or Miss May's?"
But as soon as she had behaved as usual to her grand-daughter, she went to the library and took out the large atlas, for she wanted to know about Monteriano. The name was in the smallest print, in the midst of a woolly-brown tangle of hills which were called the "Sub-Apennines." It was not so very far from Siena, which she had learnt at school. Past it there wandered a thin black line, notched at intervals like a saw, and she knew that this was a railway. But the map left a good deal to imagination, and she had not got any. She looked up the place in "Childe Harold," but Byron had not been there. Nor did Mark Twain visit it in the "Tramp Abroad." The resources of literature were exhausted: she must wait till Philip came home. And the thought of Philip made her try Philip's room, and there she found "Central Italy," by Baedeker, and opened it for the first time in her life and read in it as follows:--
MONTERIANO (pop. 4800). Hotels: Stella d'Italia, moderate only; Globo, dirty. * Caffe Garibaldi. Post and Telegraph office in Corso Vittorio Emmanuele, next to theatre. Photographs at Seghena's (cheaper in Florence). Diligence (1 lira) meets principal trains.
Chief attractions (2-3 hours): Santa Deodata, Palazzo Pubblico, Sant' Agostino, Santa Caterina, Sant' Ambrogio, Palazzo Capocchi. Guide (2 lire) unnecessary. A walk round the Walls should on no account be omitted. The view from the Rocca (small gratuity) is finest at sunset.
History: Monteriano, the Mons Rianus of Antiquity, whose Ghibelline tendencies are noted by Dante (Purg. xx.), definitely emancipated itself from Poggibonsi in 1261. Hence the distich, "POGGIBONIZZI, FAUI IN LA, CHE MONTERIANO SI FA CITTA!" till recently enscribed over the Siena gate. It remained independent till 1530, when it was sacked by the Papal troops and became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It is now of small importance, and seat of the district prison. The inhabitants are still noted for their agreeable manners.
- - - - -
The traveller will proceed direct from the Siena gate to the Collegiate Church of Santa Deodata, and inspect (5th chapel on right) the charming * Frescoes....
Mrs. Herriton did not proceed. She was not one to detect the hidden charms of Baedeker. Some of the information seemed to her unnecessary, all of it was dull. Whereas Philip could never read "The view from the Rocca (small gratuity) is finest at sunset" without a catching at the heart. Restoring the book to its place, she went downstairs, and looked up and down the asphalt paths for her daughter. She saw her at last, two turnings away, vainly trying to shake off Mr. Abbott, Miss Caroline Abbott's father. Harriet was always unfortunate. At last she returned, hot, agitated, crackling with bank-notes, and Irma bounced to greet her, and trod heavily on her corn.
"Your feet grow larger every day," said the agonized Harriet, and gave her niece a violent push. Then Irma cried, and Mrs. Herriton was annoyed with Harriet for betraying irritation. Lunch was nasty; and during pudding news arrived that the cook, by sheer dexterity, had broken a very vital knob off the kitchen-range. "It is too bad," said Mrs. Herriton. Irma said it was three bad, and was told not to be rude. After lunch Harriet would get out Baedeker, and read in injured tones about Monteriano, the Mons Rianus of Antiquity, till her mother stopped her.
"It's ridiculous to read, dear. She's not trying to marry any one in the place. Some tourist, obviously, who's stopping in the hotel. The place has nothing to do with it at all."
"But what a place to go to! What nice person, too, do you meet in a hotel?"
"Nice or nasty, as I have told you several times before, is not the point. Lilia has insulted our family, and she shall suffer for it. And when you speak against hotels, I think you forget that I met your father at Chamounix. You can contribute nothing, dear, at present, and I think you had better hold your tongue. I am going to the kitchen, to speak about the range."
She spoke just too much, and the cook said that if she could not give satisfaction--she had better leave. A small thing at hand is greater than a great thing remote, and Lilia, misconducting herself upon a mountain in Central Italy, was immediately hidden. Mrs. Herriton flew to a registry office, failed; flew to another, failed again; came home, was told by the housemaid that things seemed so unsettled that she had better leave as well; had tea, wrote six letters, was interrupted by cook and housemaid, both weeping, asking her pardon, and imploring to be taken back. In the flush of victory the door-bell rang, and there was the telegram: "Lilia engaged to Italian nobility. Writing. Abbott."
"No answer," said Mrs. Herriton. "Get down Mr. Philip's Gladstone from the attic."
She would not allow herself to be frightened by the unknown. Indeed she knew a little now. The man was not an Italian noble, otherwise the telegram would have said so. It must have been written by Lilia. None but she would have been guilty of the fatuous vulgarity of "Italian nobility." She recalled phrases of this morning's letter: "We love this place--Caroline is sweeter than ever, and busy sketching--Italians full of simplicity and charm." And the remark of Baedeker, "The inhabitants are still noted for their agreeable manners," had a baleful meaning now. If Mrs. Herriton had no imagination, she had intuition, a more useful quality, and the picture she made to herself of Lilia's FIANCE did not prove altogether wrong.
So Philip was received with the news that he must start in half an hour for Monteriano. He was in a painful position. For three years he had sung the praises of the Italians, but he had never contemplated having one as a relative. He tried to soften the thing down to his mother, but in his heart of hearts he agreed with her when she said, "The man may be a duke or he may be an organ-grinder. That is not the point. If Lilia marries him she insults the memory of Charles, she insults Irma, she insults us.
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