- CHAPTER XIX The Little Rift within the Lute
|<< chapter 18||< chapter 1||chapter 20 >||chapter 31 >>|
The Little Rift within the Lute
And nothing is ever the same again;
WE devoted three days to some exquisite excursions, which more than half consoled me for sacrificing Mont Blanc to make a tyrant's holiday, and then decided to push on to Aix-les-Bains, stopping on the way for a glimpse of Annecy.
The Contessa had planned to go from Chamounix to Aix by rail with her friends, but she had either fallen in love with our mode of travelling or pretended it. A hint to the Boy, and Fanny-anny was placed at her disposal for a ride from Chamounix to Annecy, a lady's saddle being easily picked up in a town of shops which miss no opportunities. As for the Baron and Baronessa, it was plain to see the drift of their minds. So angry were they at the change of programme, that it would have been a satisfaction to quarrel with Gaetà, and leave her in a huff. But their devotion to Paolo, which was almost pathetic, forbade them this form of self-indulgence. They curbed their annoyance with the bit of common-sense, though it galled their mouths, and consented to drive to Annecy in a carriage provided by Gaetà for their accommodation. They even constrained themselves to be civil to the Boy and me, | | 225 though their heavy politeness had the electrical quality of a lull before a storm. How that storm would break I could not foresee, but that it would presently burst above our heads I was sure.
There was no longer a question that Boy was hot favourite in the race for Gaetà's smiles. There might have been betting on me for "place," but it would have been foolish to put money on my chances as winner. The young wretch scarcely gave me a chance for a word with the Contessa, for if I walked on the left he walked on the right of her as she rode, his little brown hand on the new saddle, which had taken the place of the old one sent on to Annecy by grande vitesse. I would have surrendered, being too lazy for a struggle, had I not been somewhat piqued by the Boy's behaviour. He had affected not to care for Gaetà at first, and had even feigned annoyance at the temporary addition to our party, while in reality he could have had little genuine wish for my society, or he would not now betray such eagerness in the game he was playing. The vague sense of wrong I suffered gave me a wish for reprisal of some sort, and the only one convenient at the moment was to prevent the offender from having a clear course. I found a certain mean pleasure in stirring the Boy to jealousy by reviving, when I could, some half-dead ember of Gaetà's former interest in me, and his face showed sometimes that my assiduity displeased him.
This was encouragement to persevere, and I praised the Contessa to him when we happened to be alone together. "You have a short memory, it seems," said he. "You told me not so long ago that you'd been in love with a girl who jilted you. Have you forgotten her already?"| | 226
I winced under this thrust, but hoped that the Boy did not see it. His stab reminded me that I had found very little time lately to regret Miss Blantock, now Lady Jerveyson; and Molly Winston's words recurred to me: "If I could only prove to you that you aren't and never have been in love with Helen." I had retorted that to accomplish this would be difficult, and she had confidently replied that she would engage to do it, if I would "take her prescription." I had taken her prescription, and--indisputably the wound had become callous, though I was not prepared to admit that it had healed. However, if I had ceased actively to mourn the grocer's triumph, it was not Gaetà who had wrought the magic change. What had caused it I was myself at a loss to understand, but I did not wish to argue the matter with the Boy. He was welcome to think what he chose.
"Hearts are caught in the rebound sometimes, if for once a proverb can be right," said I evasively; though a few weeks ago, when Molly had been constantly alluding to her friend Mercédès, I had told myself that no one could achieve such a feat with mine.
To this suggestion the Boy made no response, save to tighten his lips, resolving, I supposed, that if hearts were flying about like shuttlecocks, his battle-dore should be ready to catch the Contessa's.
Our road from Chamounix to Annecy led us past gorges and over high precipices and among noble mountains, but my mind was no longer in a condition to receive or retain strong impressions of natural beauty. I was irritable and "out of myself," vainly wishing back the days when the Boy and I, undisturbed by feminine society, had travelled tran- | | 227 quilly, side by side, giving each other thought for thought.
Better, so call it, only not the same,"
We were all to stay at Annecy for a night and a day, the Contessa having announced that she and her friends would stop too; then Gaetà and the others were to go on to Aix-les-Bains by rail, and the Boy and I were to follow on foot, attended by our satellites. Later, we were to spend a few days at the Contessa's villa and get upon our way again, journeying south. But it did not seem to me that my little Pal and I would ever be as we had been before, even though we walked from Aix-les-Bains all the way down to the Riviera shoulder to shoulder. I had the will to be the same, but he was different now; and though we left Gaetà in the flesh at her villa, entertaining guests, Gaetà in the spirit would still flit between us as we went. The Boy would be thinking of her; I should know that he was thinking of her, and--there would be an end of our confidences.
The way, though kaleidoscopic with changing beauties, seemed long to Annecy. By the time that we arrived, after two days' going, the Contessa had eyes or dimples or laughter for no one but the Boy. Sometimes he was seized with sudden moods of rebellion against his new slavery, and was almost rude to her, saying things which she would not have forgiven readily from another, but the child-woman appeared to find a keen delight in forgiving him. Seeing the preference bestowed upon the young | | 228 American, Paolo's brother and sister were inclined to make common cause with me.
In the garden of the old-fashioned hotel at Annecy where we all took up our headquarters, they came and encamped beside me, at a table near which I sat alone, smoking, after our first dinner in the place. A moment later Gaetà passed with the Boy, pacing slowly under the interlacing branches of the trees.
"I believe that youth to be a fortune-hunter!" exclaimed the thin, dark Baron.
"You're wrong there," said I, "he's very rich."
"At all events, it is ridiculous, this flirtation," exclaimed the plump Baronessa. "He is a mere child. Gaetà is making a fool of herself. You are her friend. You should see this and put a stop to the affair in some way."
"As to that, many women marry men younger than themselves," I replied, willing to tease the lady, though I could have laughed aloud at the bare idea of marriage for the Boy. "Still," I went on more consolingly, "I hardly think it will come to anything serious between them."
"Ah, if you say that, you little know Gaetà," protested Gaetà's friend. "She is infatuated--infatuated with this youth of seventeen or eighteen, whom she insists, to justify her foolishness, is a year older than he can possibly be. Something must be done, and soon, or she is capable of proposing to him, if he pretend to hang back."
"Something will be done, my dear; do not be unnecessarily excited," said the Baron. "I fear we have not the full sympathy of Lord Lane."
"If you mean, will I do anything to keep the two apart, I confess you haven't," I answered. "The Contessa di Ravello is her own mistress, and I should
"We shall see," murmured the Baron, as the Boy had murmured a few days ago; and behind this hint also I felt that there lurked some definite plan.
I had been to Aix-les-Bains years before, but it had not then occurred to me to visit Annecy, so near by. It was the Boy who had suggested coming, and we had planned excursions up the lake, looking out on our guide-book maps various spots of historic or picturesque interest which we should see en route, especially Menthon, the birthplace of St. Bernard. Now, here we were at Annecy, and in all the world there could not be a town more charming. By the placid blue lake--whose water, I am convinced, would still be the colour of melted turquoises if you corked it up in a bottle--you could wander along shadowed paths, strewn with the gold coin of sunshine, through a park of dells as bosky-green as the fair forest of Arden. In the quaint, old-fashioned streets of the town you were tempted to pause at every other step for one more snap-shot. You longed to linger on the bridge and call up a passing panorama of historic pageants. All these things the Boy and I would have done, and enjoyed peacefully, had we been alone, but Gaetà elected to find Annecy "dull." There was nothing to do but take walks, or sit by the lake, or drive for lunch to the Beau Rivage, or go out for an afternoon's trip in one of the little steamers. Beautiful? Oh, yes; but quiet places made one want to scream or stand on one's head when one had been in them a day or two. It would be much more amusing at Aix. There were the Casinos, and the fêtes de nuit, with lots of coloured lanterns in the gardens, and fireworks, and music; and then, the baccarat! | | 230 That was amusing, if you liked, for half an hour, and when you were bored there was always something else. She must really get to Aix, and see that the Villa Santa Lucia was in order. We would promise--promise-promise to follow at once? We would find our rooms at her villa ready, with flowers in them for a welcome, and we must not be too long on the way.
Gaetà left in the evening, the Boy and I seeing her off at the train; and twelve hours later we started for Châtelard, Joseph taking us away from the highroads--which would have been perfect for Molly's Mercédès--along certain romantic by-paths which he knew from former journeys. Conversation no longer made itself between us; we had to make it, and in the manufacturing process I mentioned my "friends who were motoring."
"They may turn up before long now," I said, "judging from the plans they wrote of in a letter I had from them at Aosta. It's just possible that they will pass through Aix. You would like them."
"I have run away from my own friends, and--gone rather far to do it," said the Boy. "Yet I seem destined to meet other people's. It was with very different intentions that I set out on this journey of mine."
"'Journeys end in lovers' meetings,'" I quoted carelessly. "Perhaps yours will end so."
"I thought I had done with lovers," said the Boy, with one of his odd smiles.
"You're not old enough to begin with them yet."
"I was thinking of--my sister. Her experience was a lesson in love I'm not likely to forget soon. Yet sometimes I--I'm not sure I learned the lesson in the right way. But we won't talk of that. Tell | | 231 me about your friends. I'm becoming inured to social duties now."
"You don't seem to find them too onerous. As for my friends--they're an old chum of mine, Jack Winston, and his bride of a few months, the most exquisite specimen of an American girl I ever met. Perhaps you may have heard of her. She's the daughter of Chauncey Randolph, one of your millionaires. Look out! Was that a stone you stumbled over?"
"Yes. I gave my ankle a twist. It's all right now. I daresay my sister knows your friend."
"I must ask Molly Winston, when I write, or see her. But you've never told me your sister's name, except that she's called 'Princess.' If I say Miss Laurence--"
"There are so many Laurences. Did you--ever mention in your letters to--your friends that you were--travelling with anyone?"
"I haven't written to them since I knew your name, but before that, I told them there was a boy whom I had met by accident and chummed up with, just before Aosta. I think I rather spread myself on a description of our meeting."
"You didn'tdo that! How horrid of you!"
"Oh, I put it right afterwards, I assure you, in another letter. I told them that in spite of the bad beginning, we'd become no end of pals. That we travelled together, stopped at the same hotels, and--what's the matter?"
"Nothing. My ankle does hurt a little, after all. Shall you go on in your friends' motor car if you meet them?" He looked up at me very earnestly as he spoke.
"At one time I thought of doing so, if we ran across each other. But now that I've got you--"| | 232
"Who knows how long we may have each other? Either one of us may change his plans--suddenly. You mustn't count on me, Lord Lane."
"Look here," I said crossly, "do speak out. Don't hint things. Do you mean me to understand that you wish to stop at Aix, indefinitely, and play out your little comedy of flirtation to its close?"
"I don't know what I intend to do; now, less than ever," answered the Boy in a very low voice, the shadow of his long lashes on his cheeks.
I was too much hurt to question him further, and we pursued our way in silence, along the lake side, and then up the billowy lower slopes of the Semnoz. We had showers of rain in the sunshine; and the long, thin spears of crystal glittered like spun glass, until dim clouds spread over the bright patches of blue, and the world grew mistily grey-green.
We had planned long ago, before the spell of the Contessa fell upon us, to make the journey we were taking now, by way of the Semnoz, the so-called Rigi of this Alpine Savoy, which is neither wholly French nor wholly Italian. But we had abandoned the idea since, in a fine frenzy to keep our promise of rejoining her with all speed lest she perish alone in the icy disapproval of her friends. When the mists closed round us, we ceased to regret the decision, if we had regretted it; for instead of seeing Savoy spread out beneath us, with its snow mountains and fertile valleys, lit with azure lakes--as many as the Graces--we should have been wrapped in cloud blankets.
After a walk of thirty-two kilometres, we came to Châtelard, and, having known little or nothing of the town, we were surprised to find that most other people knew of it as a great centre for excursions. | | 233 It was almost as unbelievable as that the places where we lived could possibly go on existing in exactly the same way during our absence.
"There are actually three hotels, all said to be good," I remarked, quoting from my guide-book.
"To which shall we go?"
The Boy hesitated. "Choose which you like, for yourself," he replied with a slight appearance of embarrassment. "As for me, I will make up my mind--later."
I could take this in but one way: as a snub. Evidently he had selected this fashion of intimating to me the change that Gaetà's intrusion had worked in our relations. I bit back a sharp word or two which I might have regretted by-and-bye, and answered not at all. In consequence of this little passage, however, the Boy went to one hotel, and I to another, where I put Joseph up also.
A sense of loneliness was upon me, therefore my conscience stirred uneasily, and I reproached myself in that of late I had neglected the affairs of my muleteer. At one time he and I had conversed at length on such subjects as mules, women, perdition, and the like; but for many days now our intercourse had consisted mostly of a "Good morning, Joseph !" "Good morning, Monsieur!"
To-night I sent for him, and enquired whether he had anything to wish for.
"Ah, Monsieur, there is but one thing for which I ask at present," he said.
"Anything I can manage, Joseph?"
"I fear not, Monsieur. It is the assurance that the poor young soul I am trying to lead out of darkness may reach the light before we have to part."
"Innocentina's?"| | 234
"The same, Monsieur."
"You think her conversion within sight?"
"Just round the corner, if I may so express it."
"Yet I hear that she tells her employer she is devoting all her energies towards saving you from eternal fire. It was her excuse for letting the bag drop off Souris' back without noticing it, and allowing Fanny's saddle to chafe."
"Ah, Monsieur, women are ready with excuses. Do you think I would permit any preoccupation of mine to interfere with the well-being of Finois?"
"Even saving a pretty woman's soul? No, Joseph, to do you justice, I don't. But I warn you, you may not have much more time before you to finish your good work. Innocentina's employer and I may part company before long." Though I smiled, I spoke heavily.
Joseph's melancholy dark face flushed, and the light died out of his eyes. "Thank you, Monsieur I will do my best to be quick," said he, as if it had been a question of saddling Finois, instead of rescuing a young lady from the clutches of the Scarlet Woman. Whatever progress he had really been making with Innocentina's soul, it was clear that she had been getting in some deadly work upon his honest heart.
|<< chapter 18||< chapter 1||chapter 20 >||chapter 31 >>|