The countess beckoned Murietta to enter the carriage. Little Sunshine leaned from the carriage as they stepped in, and with his face half hidden in his curls, was trying to balance a little balloon that had hardly made up its mind whether to lie down on the ground or rise up into the air.
"Writing it down! writing it down!" murmured the lady. "They are writing down everything I do or say. They are getting up evidence to put me in a madhouse. I — "
She caught the eyes of little Sunshine, reached out her hands, took him in her lap, set him down between herself and Murietta, and laughing softly, and toying with his hair, and adjusting her dress, she made a sign to the maid seated before her. The maid pulled a string; the man pushed the driver; the driver drew the reins, and they sped away at a sharp trot over the little square paving stones, around the end of the great curving colonnade under the Vatican, and out through the gate of Saint Angelo.
Murietta felt bored at first, after fairly settling himself in the carriage, and was certain that now he was to hear a long history of domestic warfare, that could only be painful and unpleasant to hear.
She lifted her face, looked up at Monte Mario before them, and pointing with her little baby hand, said :
"It was on that mountain the French first planted the cannon which drove Garibaldi from Rome. You see it is the highest point within ten miles of the city. It is the key of Rome. It is Rome herself. But wonderful as it is to tell. Garibaldi had not mounted a single gun. Look at those black cedars! Well, we will drive up some day, and I will show you tracks of the cannon. You can see where those red-mouthed orators stood on the summit of the mountain, and talked in unmistakable terms to the dear old city below."
"What an oversight in the Liberator!"
"Ah, just what you might expect from Garibaldi. Garibaldi, you know, never was a general. He is only a colonel. He can handle a regiment perhaps better than any man since Caesar. Beyond that, he is beyond his depth. He is, however, the next best man in Italy after the king, for he is honest and unselfish, and has more political ability than all the Mazzinis that have ever been. In fact, do you know, while Garibaldi led his men to battle, that man lay hidden away in an old garret in the Jew quarter, trembling for his life."
"It is incredible!"
"It is very true nevertheless."
The lady again played with the long sunny hair that fell from the little head leaning on her breast, and there was a silence.
Murietta, who had at first been bored with the fear that he should have to listen to a recital of wrongs, now began to fear she would not relate her story at all, and tried in a desultory sort of way to lead back again to the scene in St. Peter's.
She seemed not to understand the drift of his observations, and there was again a silence.
They were passing up close to the borders of the Tiber, between a long long avenue of locust trees, and poplar, and chestnut, that almost shut out the light. Men were treading wine by the roadside; women were singing as they gathered corn from the yellow shocks, and some peasant minstrels in goatskins piped and played as the carriages passed, and caught the pennies thrown them as they danced, and before they touched the ground.
As they approached Ponte Malo, leading away towards Florence, they came upon the Field of Mars by the left roadside, and close to the banks of the turbid river.
The field was full of soldiers. Cannon were booming against the Sabine hills, and now and then long lines of riflemen would wheel to the front, and the rattle of musketry would make strange music as it fell in the interrupted rests of the cannon fired at the target fixed at the base of the Sabine hills.
The horses stepped gingerly. The Italian servants lightened up as if they took a pride in this mimic battle that was going on, and held a little of the old fire that animated men when Rome was Rome.
A little man with a waist and a face like a woman's, galloped by with a handful of followers. His enormous blond moustache, such a big moustache on such a little face, looked as if he wore a coat of fur about his throat
"The Crown Prince of Italy," said the countess. "Look at that face. Do you fancy those little hands can hold together the unsettled States of Rome, when the reins fall from the hands of his great father?"
Murietta only answered with his eyes.
"You see, the king is great. He is really great, a wonderful man. He is born out of his time. Not in advance of his time, understand, but at least a thousand years behind it. He is a sort of wild boar. A perfect grizzly bear. He has the will and the strength of a lion. If he lives, Italy lives; if he dies, Italy is worse off than when under the popes."
There was a smell of powder in the air as they passed out of the avenue of trees, and turned to the right and passed under the tower of Porta Malo.
They passed long lines of peasants bearing wood on their backs to Rome. Some of these carried loads of cork, some had charcoal, some had willows to be woven into baskets. Little mules drew little carts loaded with wine for the city, and here and there a shepherd in a sheepskin co4t, with naked legs, led a sheep or a goat to the city to be sold and slaughtered.
Now and then they would meet splendid equipages on their way out to the Patadii or to the grand and pleasant drives on Sabine hills beyond the Tiber.
At last they drew up close to the gate of Rome, known as the Porto I Still was the fair lady playing with the golden hair, and still was she silent on the subject of which Marietta was now most curious to hear her speak.
Perhaps he was a little bit vulgar in his curiosity. He was even now ashamed of it, and would not freely admit to himself that just at this time he would give a great deal to have her tell him who she was, and by what right that great vulgar sailor swore at or even spoke to her at all.
They drove under the great arch with great difficulty. It was like going up against the current of a very swift and narrow stream, for the people were pouring out in thousands to walk in the Borghese or to cross the Tiber, and see the soldiers at drill, or the flocks on the green hills beyond.
The Corso was full of people on foot. These people walk in the middle of the street and among the carriages with perfect impunity.
These Italian cities have not, or had not till very lately, any sidewalks at alL They were built for only two classes, were these cities of Italy, the peasant on foot and the prince in his carriage.
Yet this crowd will part as the carriages approach, will part and come together, and part again, and flow on gaily, pleasantly, laughingly, like a stream of water running among the rocks.
Still the woman in pink was silent. Still her small baby hand lifted and toyed with the golden hair that fell in sunny folds upon her breast.
They reached the palace of the Cardinal Bonaparte, and Murietta lifted his hat. He kissed his hand in the air to some invisible object, and looked as though he really had seen a face that he loved.
The lady looked at him with the old wonder in her wide brown eyes, and the colour began to come back in her face.
Then the colour rose to the fece of Murietta too, and they both looked down in the carriage, and did not look up again till they passed the Via Angelo Custoda and drove under an arch, and entered a great court and stopped at the bottom of great tuffa steps, so wide and low and slanting that you might drive a carriage up them.
"This is my home," sighed the Countess Edna, "and I am almost afraid to enter it."
Marietta began to think, "Now her story will be told." He looked at her inquiringly.
"Yes, I live here, and a sad sort of a life it is. I had rather live alone under a tree. Rather live in a hut, a peasant's hut with but a single grape vine and my little boy about me — than in this great palace in all this gilded misery!"
The artist began to be ashamed of his vulgar curiosity. He pitied her from the bottom of his heart. She was so in earnest, so sad yet so beautiful, so fashioned for happiness, so willing to make others happy around her.
She did not speak again till they had climbed the steps and were standing by the massive doors.
"I want to say a word or two to you. You will come in? If the count is in, or the admiral, you will wait till they go, or you will call soon again? I have something to say to you."
The little hand trembled like a bird that has just been taken in the toils, as it withdrew from his arm. "What then does the woman mean?" thought Murietta. "Here she has let all this time go by and not a word has she uttered. Now at the last moment, she has some awful secret at the end of her tongue. Was ever such a curious thing as woman?"
They passed through the ante-camera, hung with old arms, implements of the chase and of the field, and old and ugly busts and aged pictures and moth eaten tapestry and time stained walls.
Then a smaller hall, then a great triangular salon, gorgeous with all that embellishes the heart of the palace of a perfect Italian. Gilt and mosaics everywhere. Pictures, frescoes, blood red carpets, blood red curtains; vases, flowers, fragrant herbs in basketsful; and about the windows and in the corners of the great triangular salon, built in this shape as a preservative against the evil eye, were perfect little forests of all kinds of beautiful and fragrant vines and roses.
The lady passed through this and led into an adjoining room. This was a round built salon, and arched overhead like the heavens and painted blue, with clouds and a moon and stars, and looking at it you might have imagined you were in a diminutive world of your own, so perfect was the painting of the sky and clouds and twinkling stars.
Gilt and glass agam. Carpets, and curtains, and forests of ferns grouped around against the painted walls of the curious little salon.
"Ah, how beautiful!" cried Murietta. "And do you not think it a beautiful little retreat? It is so beautiful! It is just such a house as I shall have — that is, if I ever have a house." hesitated the artist, looking timidly around. "Yes, I shall have a house just like this room. I will build a house with one great big room. Just one room; that is best. I do not want but one room. That is the way the Indians live, and it is the best and the warmest and the most friendly way to live in the world. You see I would have a fire here." He sprang to the centre of the salon and stamped with his foot. The man was getting lively." Yes, I would have a fire here in the centre, so that we could all get around it in a good and a friendly way. That is as the Indians have it — it is the best way — a sort of wigwam. And there," he pointed up at the top, "I would have a hole — a hole for the light to come in and the smoke to go out."
"Hush, hush, for Heaven's sake! They are coming. Don't let them, don't let him, hear you talk so. They will write it all down and put you in a madhouse."
She had come up to the artist, stood close beside him, laid one little hand on his shoulder, and with the other had closed his mouth.
"Listen, I cannot say more now!" She lifted her finger in the air. "But there is something going on that is not altogether right. I will tell you — I will tell you the first possible chance. In the meantime, promise me, promise me solemnly to return soon."
Murietta said this sullenly and with a sense of humiliation. The excitement had passed away. He felt that he had talked wildly to this strange lady and had humiliated himself. What is more, he felt that he had for a moment been disloyal to his love, to his ideal, to the one fair woman of whom he had dreamed all his life.
It seemed to make no diflference at all to him that his love was hopeless. He had loved Annette before he saw her. He could and would, must and could not help loving her, even after she had scorned him. He had now this day allowed the one woman of his life, the one being set up in his heart, to be shaken for a moment on her pedestal. He was ashamed of himself. He wanted to go up into the mountains and pray, as it were. He wanted to be alone again and bow down before his idol, and make a new covenant to love none but her.
No, he would not sit down. He was tired- He turned, he shook the beautiful pink lady out of his heart — the languid, the moody, the loving beauty — the most worthy, the bravest, and the best woman, quite out of his heart — the one woman who needed his help, his advice, his moral support — and turned on his heel and passed out and down and into the streets.
As he passed the glorious fountain of Trevi, he threw a handful of French and English coins into the water and made, a wish.
That night the artist sat all alone before his canvas till the sun rose up and entered in above the Capitoline.
Then he was not alone, for on his canvas was Annette, looking at him, looking back at him over her shoulder, turning from him, passing away.
Ever she stood before him thus.Start reading Chapter 18 ofThe One Fair Lady