Murietta arose at mid day, still worn from travel and wearied in mind from the excitement of the scene at the Coliseum the evening before.
As he dressed, he began to ask himself if he really wished to leave Rome and again enter the arena of war. He found that he did not.
"And is it because the countess is here?" He looked honestly and earnestly in his heart, and then answered himself "No, it is not because the countess is here. I am perfectly certain of that."
"And then is it because Annette is not here?"
He snapped his fingers for a sort of defiant negative; threw down the brush, took up his hat, and sauntered out into the heart of Rome.
There is something singularly relaxing in the atmosphere here. For the first day you are all excitement. You lie down to sleep. You sleep and sleep and sleep as if you never would awaken; and then when you do waken, you only do it in half. You seem to be never thoroughly awake in Rome. So it was with Murietta this morning. He looked over the fields of action, remembered perfectly well what had been his plans the day before, and wondered why he was now so dull and indifferent. He began to despise himself.
This man's nature was contradictory. That is, he was not always alike by a great deal. To-day he was all impetuosity — all passion; to-morrow he might be all repose, all peace.
He was as sudden and stormy at times as a mountain flood of Mexico; he also was as suddenly exhausted. Today the tide was out, the flood had exhausted its force, and the man was dull and indifferent in body and in mind.
Still he resolved to go on to Spain, and plunge into the war as he had first proposed on leaving Naples. He tried to laugh at the enigmatical position of the Countess Edna, and by so doing come to despise her. The remembrance of her pitiful face brought tears to his eyes.
Then he recalled the scorn of the lady on the pier of St. Paul by the sea at Naples. After all, did she really know him? he asked himself. Might it not have been that she took him for one of the thousand tourists met at every turn, a stranger?
"Yes," he answered, "and that rapacious bovine mentioned in the nursery tale, and so often alluded to by doubting Thomas's, might have devoured the grinding stone. But it is not at all probable that she did."
Then he laughed to himself and thought, "No, no; whatever others may do I will not cheat myself."
He quickened his pace, and soon stood before a dingy old palace, bearing above its portal the banner and crest of Spain.
The porter limped upstairs, bowing all the time and looking back and showing his teeth in the friendliest fashion to Marietta, for besides the card he bore also a little five-franc note.
The porter limped down, like a robin of a frosty morning, on one leg; and Marietta went up.
The secretary of legation received him in that most obsequious manner peculiar to all men in subordinate positions in the Latin countries. He would scarcely be seated in his presence.
"But I wish to see his excellency the Minister of Spain to the Court of Italy."
"But his excellency — his excellency is — not — is not — Really, Signor Murietta, it is but two o'clock."
"And at what time can I hope to have my card sent to his excellency?"
"Well, really, we rise early here in Rome. At home you know we rise at four; here his excellency kindly sacrifices himself to the cares of office and the fortunes of his country, and may be seen as early as three o'clock."
The polite clerk bowed as he said this — bowed very low and very profoundly, and shut his eyes and held his breath at the very mention of such a sacrifice on the part of a high-born Spaniard. The secretary was perfectly certain that this was the liveliest Spaniard and the widest awake Spaniard in all Europe.
"I will wait" said Murietta at last, and began to roll a cigarette.
"Good, good, that is best; you are the first here; you will certainly be the first to see his excellency by right of priority — to say nothing of your name."
Murietta bowed. The secretary rolled a cigarette, lighted it, put it in his mouth, and blew it out in smoke through his nose; as if his nose was a sort of double barrelled shotgun to be loaded up with paper and discharged with smoke.
Then there was a silence. Through the smoke Murietta saw that the coat of the kind secretary was literally threadbare. The furniture was so poor it was reduced in many cases to perfect skeletons. There was a sofa standing on three legs like a poor broken-down horse. It looked as if it had been led and was standing before the door of the soap factory, waiting to be knocked on the head and cut into chunks, and boiled into jelly and converted into cakes of first-class fashionable Windsor soap. The curtains were of another century. The carpet looked as if it had been marched over by the iron feet of Time for a thousand years. The secretary was indeed very poor; therefore he tried to be very agreeable.
He loaded his mouth with paper again, touched a match to the fuse, and turning round toward Murietta fired his double- barrelled shot-gun right at his breast. Murietta too had loaded up, and elevating his nose gave the secretary as good as he had sent. Then they both loaded up again; and the innocent duel went on till the dusty old clock began to point toward the time when his excellency would allow a card to be sent into his presence.
"Rome is filling up rapidly," observed the secretary.
"Yes, yes. Rome you see is a great bowl — a great basin. Rome is set out here like a tub under the great heavens. Well, it rains; and Rome fills up. No? You do not catch my figure? Well, look here. Rome has a great wall, a great round wall; that wall suggests the rim of a basin or bowl. Good. Now it rains; that is, you people, you travellers, you pour into Rome. You rain down upon us. Ha! ha! You fill us up Kke a flood. Ha! ha! Now you understand? You see — " and here the secretary bowed over toward the artist as if about to tell a great secret — " you see I have written novels. I owe, in fact and in confidence, I owe my position here, as secretary of legation of the — of the — of — of Spain! — to the fact that I was once a novelist — well, men who write novels fall into a habit of using these figures, and — and you will pardon me.
A profound bow, and then a silence. Then the guns were loaded, fired; and still his excellency did not appear.
"Spain certainly is not in need of my help if her minister has so much time for repose," mused Murietta, and he began to be terribly bored.
"Yes, Rome is filling up. You can go out-I go out of a morning, and I put my finger on the rim of the basin— that is, the wall — and I say, * She filled up that much last night.' Then I walk down the Corso, and I note the density of the crowd there, and I say, 'Ah, how it did rain yesterday and all last night!' I go up to the basin's rim, and I reach my hand, and I say, 'it is so high.' Ha! ha! Rome will soon be full up to the top of the basin's rim, and then she will pour over and spill out, and people will flow on in a sort of river to Egypt and on to Palestine. And so it goes on, and so it will continue to go on for years, centuries, long after you and I have gone the great, great journey."
The secretary stopped, wiped his eyes, and waited for the artist to answer. But Murietta meant business rather than sentiment, and he sat silent, still waiting for the great minister.
"But the great balls, receptions, court, and all that, do not commence just yet — they will not be until the princess and the beauty of ths city, Miss Annette B., return from Naples."
The kind secretary sprang up in alarm. If he had struck the artist in the face he could not have startled him more than he did by the mention of this name. But it was only momentary.
"Pray pardon me, I am nervous this morning. Worn from travel and not strong, never strong now, and — and — Yes, yes. I have seen this lady, Miss Annette B., but do not know her. I do not know her at all. She does not know me. Does she then live in Rome?"
The kind-hearted secretary and novelist sat down, and bowing again, began to roll another cigarette, preparatory to telling all he knew of Miss Annette B.
"Yes — oh yes, the lady lives in Rome. You go up the Corso towards the Capitoline. Near the farther end you come upon great palaces, the finest old palaces in all Rome. Well, on the left hand, just before you come to the palace of the Cardinal Bonaparte — which is on the right — you will see, opening from the Corso, a pretty court. This court is a sort of drive, a place where you turn your carriage or your horses, show off the points of your courser as your lady leans from the iron balcony, and from a safe distance listens and calls back little replies. Well, this court is set all around with bushes, briars, lilies, roses, in season and out of season. It is a sort of paradise. You can see it from the Corso any time you pass-that is, every time between twelve and twelve, when the great gates are not shut. Yes, a sort of paradise, and there lives the one fair woman of Rome."
"The one fair woman of the world," almost groaned the artist, for now he saw how immeasurably she was above him and how hopeless was his love.
"Rome would not be Rome without her," continued the secretary.
"The world would not be the world without her," thought Murietta, and yet he was perfectly certain that he hated her.
"Ah!" thought he, "if she had only proved to be poor. If she had only been an artist, an artist's daughter, a soldier's daughter — anything I had her life led upon any ground at all where our souls might meet with understanding, then it had been better for me, and I should have hoped. Now I am perfectly certain she knew me. Her companions are princesses; her home is a palace. I shall never see her any more. Curse that indolent minister!" The secretary loaded up again, Murietta 1 did the same, and the double-barrelled - guns were fired right in each other's faces, but at a good distance, and the duel did no further harm than giving the room the appearance of having inhaled a breath of London fog.
"Then she is an Italian?"
"Bless me, no."
"Ah, I remember now you told me — Spanish?"
"Spanish? I told you no such thing. I only wish she was. She would be an honour even to his excgllency the Minister of Spain." Here the secretary bowed profoundly again, again shut his eyes, and again caught his breath.
"Then she is — "
"Ah, but she is, and the rarest of the race. You find her name, or the name of her family, in every decade of the country's history for centuries back. And, do you know, she herself is not without a history? "
Murietta rolled a cigarette, put it to his lips, touched a match, and shot it through his nose in a single breath. He twisted up another in an instant, put it between his teeth, touched it off, and blew out a hurri- cane of smoke before him. From behind this barricade, which hung there as a sort of defence against whatever arrows the good secretary might innocently aim at his breast, he said:
"Tell me — tell me all you know."
"Well, as to that, I know but little, save the fact that she has a history. This history — mind you, I did not say I knew the history; I only said she had a history. That is all I know — that is all, perhaps, that the secretary of the Spanish Legation has a right to know."
And here the cautious novelist looked up at the clock, rose hastily, pulled at a bell till he pulled a small boy in lace and buttons into his presence, handed a card to the small boy in lace and buttons, and went on -
"She has herself been in battle time and again."
Murietta half rose out of his chair.
"Yes, it is said that on one great occasion she saved a great battle to her section of the sundered country, and won the love and eternal admiration of all the State."
"Ah, then, there is blood in her veins — there is fire in her blood — there is — "
The minister entered with a cigarette in full smoke. He was a small, fat man, and moved slowly and with a great deal of importance. He puffed away like a little steamboat against a hard stream, and fairly blew sparks from his smoke-stack as he pulled and puffed at his cigarette.
"Yes, Signor Murietta shall have letters to my friend the comandante at Barcelona. He is my very dear friend, and will do all he can for you. Mr. Secretary, you will draw up letters to that effect."
The minister filled a chair, after first examining its legs, and back, and arms. He shut his eyes, rested, reflected, rolled a cigarette, looked up to the ceiling, and went on —
"But you see you cannot get into Barcelona now. Besides, you must be prepared not to find my friend in command. The truth is, the Government is very active, and it removes its leaders every few days. They want new blood, you see. No, you cannot get into Barcelona now. You had better go to Madrid at once. I have sent a great many gentlemen to Madrid."
"And what can I do at Madrid?"
"What can you do? Why wait, as the others do. As fast as the officers are killed off, vacancies occur. You sit down there; you wait your turn. If the war keeps on, in a few years at furthest you will find yourself at the head of your regiment."
"I prefer to go to Barcelona. When can I have my letters?"
"Oh, in a week at furthest; and if you are in great haste to depart, my secretary can have them placed in your hands within s day or two."
Murietta bowed before this little man, this decrepit representative of a decrepit government in the decrepit chair, and shaking the hand of the secretary, went out thoroughly disgusted, and perfectly certain that he had no business in Spain.Start reading Chapter 13 ofThe One Fair Lady