F. Marion Crawford.

Taquisara online

. (page 10 of 33)
Online LibraryF. Marion CrawfordTaquisara → online text (page 10 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


least idea of what he had been saying. He had produced only a very
slight and transparent shadow amongst the figures of her recollections.
It was a severe tax on her credulity to try and believe that he was
dying for love of her. If it were true, she thought, why had he not had
the courage to make her understand it? The fact that the offer made by
his family had not been communicated to her might have been hard to
explain, but she was not disturbed for want of an explanation. She did
not care for the man in the least, and there might be fifty reasons why
her aunt and uncle should think him undesirable. On the whole, she
believed that Taquisara had enormously exaggerated the state of the
case. The Sicilian himself impressed her as singularly honest and bold,
but she was much more ready to believe that the friend who had sent him
might have interested views, than that Bosio Macomer, whom she liked and
admired, was anxious to get possession of her fortune.

Taquisara himself had struck her as something new in the way of a man,
of a sort such as she had never seen nor dreamt of, and her mind dwelt
long on the recollection of the interview. In some way which she could
not explain, she vaguely connected him with the book she was now
reading - the Bride of Lammermoor; in other words, he appeared to her in
the light of a romantic character, and the first that had ever come
within the circle of her experience. His recklessness of formalities, of
all the limits supposed to be set upon the conversation of mere
acquaintance, of what she might or might not think of him individually,
so long as she would listen to what he had to say for his friend, seemed
to her to belong to a type of humanity with which she had never come in
contact. He, and he only, as yet had stirred some thought of another
existence than the one which seemed to lie straight before her, - a
broad, plain road, as the wife of Bosio.

Of love, indeed, there was nothing in her heart, for any man. Within her
all was yet dim and still as a sweet summer's night before the dawning.
In her firmament still shone the myriad stars that were her maiden
thoughts, not yet lost in the high twilight, to be forgotten when love's
sun should rise, in peace, or storm, as rise he must. Under her feet,
low, virgin flowers still bloomed in dusk, such as she should find not
again in the rose gardens or the thorn-land that lay before her. In
maidenhood's tender eyes the greater tenderness of woman awaited still
the coming day.




CHAPTER IX.


The weather changed during the night, and when Veronica awoke in the
morning the gusty southwest was driving the rain from the roof of the
opposite house into a grey whirl of spray that struck across swiftly, to
scourge the thick panes with a thousand lashes of watery lace.

As Veronica watched her maid opening the heavy old-fashioned shutters,
one by one, the sight of each wet window hurt her a little more,
progressively, until, when all were visible, she could have cried out of
sheer disappointment. For she had unconsciously been looking forward to
another day like yesterday, calm and clear and peaceful with much
sunshine. But even in Naples it cannot always be spring in
December - though it generally is in January. She had hoped for just such
another day as the preceding one. She had remembered how she and
Taquisara had stood in the sunlight by the marble steps in Bianca
Corleone's garden, and she had expected to stand there again this
morning with Gianluca, to hear what he had to say.

That was impossible, however, and while she was slowly dressing she
tried to decide what she should do. It was easy enough to make up her
mind that she must see Gianluca, but it was much more difficult to
determine exactly how she should find an excuse for going out alone on
such a morning. It seemed probable that, whatever she might propose as a
reason, her aunt would immediately wish to accompany her. They had given
her the afternoon and the evening of the previous day in which to think
over her answer, and Matilde might naturally enough expect to hear it
this morning. In any case she should not be able to order the carriage
and slip out alone as she had done the first time. She had meant to go
out on foot with her maid, and then to take a cab in the street and
drive to the villa. But in such weather as this she could not do such a
thing without exciting remark. It was a week-day, and there were no
masses to hear, as an excuse, by the time she was dressed.

She watched herself in the glass, while her maid was doing her hair. The
dull light of the rainy morning made her own face look grey and sallow.
She had not slept very well, and her eyes were heavy, she thought. The
glaring whiteness of the thing she had thrown over her shoulders while
her hair was being brushed made her look worse. She had little vanity
about her appearance, as a rule, but on that particular day she would
have been glad to look her best.

Not that she at all believed that Gianluca was dying for her; but he was
certainly in love with her. Of that she felt sure, for she could not
suppose that Taquisara himself was not convinced of the fact. Nor had
she the smallest beginning of a tender sentimentality about the
fair-haired young man. Nevertheless, if she was to meet him, she did not
wish to be positively ugly, as she seemed to be to herself when she
looked into the mirror, facing the dulness of the rain-beaten window.
Whether she herself was ever to care for him or not, she somehow did not
wish to disappoint him by her appearance, and the undefined fear lest
she might affected her spirits. Then, before she had quite finished
dressing, Matilde Macomer knocked at the door and came in. She was
looking far worse than Veronica, and from the absence of colour in her
face, her eyes seemed to be more near together than ever. Her appearance
made Veronica feel a little more hopeful, and the young girl said to
herself that after all the light of a rainy day was unbecoming to every
one, and much more so to a woman of forty than to a girl of twenty.

She did not wish to be alone with her aunt if she could help it, and she
promptly invented several little things for her maid to do, in order to
keep the latter in the room. The maid was a thin, dark woman of middle
age, from the mountains. She was a widow, and her husband had been an
under-steward on the Serra estate at Muro, who had been brutally
murdered five years earlier by half a dozen peasants whose rents had
been raised, when he endeavoured to exact payment. The rents had been
raised by Gregorio Macomer, and the woman knew it, and remembered. But
she was very quiet and grave, and seemed to be satisfied with her
position. She was certainly devoted to Veronica. Matilde glanced at her
two or three times, as though wishing her to go, but Veronica paid no
attention to the hint.

After exchanging a few words with her niece the countess began to walk
up and down nervously and seeming to hesitate as to what she should say.
She was horribly anxious, and very much afraid of betraying her anxiety.
She knew how dangerous it might be to press Veronica for an answer
before it was ready. And Veronica stood before a tall dressing-mirror,
making disjointed remarks about the weather, between her instructions to
her maid, while apparently altogether dissatisfied with her appearance.
First she wished a little pin at her throat, and then she gave it back
to the woman and told her to look for another which she well knew would
be hard to find. Then she quarrelled with a belt she wore, - for just
then belts were in fashion, as they are periodically without the
slightest reason, - and she thought that perhaps she would not wear one
at all, and she asked Matilde's opinion.

The countess forced herself to consider the matter with an appearance of
interest. But she was not without resources, and she suddenly bethought
her of a belt of her own which Veronica might try, and sent the maid for
it, apparently oblivious of the fact that, being fitted to her own
imposing figure, it would be far too long for her niece. As soon as the
woman had shut the door Matilde seized her opportunity.

"Have you come to any conclusion, Veronica dear?" she asked, making her
voice full of a gentle preoccupation.

"I have not seen Bosio," answered the young girl. "How can I decide,
until I have seen him?"

"I thought that you did not wish to see him last night - "

"No - not last night. I wished to be alone - but - one of these days, I
should like to talk to him."

"One of these days! To-day, dear. Why not? He is naturally anxious for
your answer - "

"Is he? It seems so strange! We have seen each other every day, for so
long - and I never supposed - "

She broke off, not, apparently, from any shyness about going into the
subject, but because she was very much interested in the fastening of
the second pin she had tried.

"I suppose it is much better not to wear any jewelry at all," she said,
with exasperating indifference.

"Until you are married!" answered Matilde, who was not to be kept from
the matter in hand. "You see, everything turns upon that," she
continued, with a low laugh. "The sooner it is decided, the sooner you
may wear your jewels. No," she went on rapidly. "Of course you never
suspected that Bosio loved you, and he would have been very wrong to let
you know it, until your uncle and I had given our permission. But he was
diffident even about mentioning the matter to us. You cannot have known
him so long without having discovered that he has great delicacy of
feeling. He did not like to suggest the marriage. You will see when you
talk with him after this. I have very much doubt whether he will have
the boldness to speak very directly - "

"How absurd!" exclaimed Veronica. "As though we did not know each other
intimately!"

"Yes, but that is the man's nature, and I like it in him. You can easily
manage to let him understand at the first word what you have decided.
But if you would tell me first, - especially if you mean to refuse, - it
would be better. I myself wish only the happiness of you both. You must
be absolutely free in your decision. After all, I daresay that you will
refuse him."

With great mastery of her tone and manner, she spoke in an indifferent
way. She was trying the dangerous experiment of playing a little upon
Veronica's contrariety. The young girl laughed.

"That is not at all certain!" she answered. "Only I do not see why you
should all be in such a hurry. If Bosio has been in love with me so long
as you say, he will remain in love long enough for me to think over the
matter, will he not? If he has been in a state of anxiety for weeks, it
will not hurt him to be anxious for one day more - or a week more - or
even a month. After all, it is for all my life, you know, Aunt Matilde.
I must see how the idea looks when I am used to it. I am not a child,
and I am not foolishly frightened at the idea of being married, nor out
of my mind with joy at it, either, like a girl of the people."

"Of course not," said Matilde, growing a little pale with sheer
nervousness.

"I daresay that we should be very happy together," continued Veronica.
"But how can I possibly be sure of it? No - I suppose that one is never
sure of anything until one has tried, but one may feel almost sure that
one is going to be sure; that is what I want, before I say 'yes.' Do you
wonder?"

"Oh, no!" answered the countess, quickly agreeing with her. "On the
contrary - "

At this point the conversation was interrupted by the return of the
maid. The belt, as was to be expected, did not fit at all, and Veronica
put on her own again. The maid moved about the room, setting things in
order.

"Give him a sign, if you wish him to speak when you meet," said Matilde,
in a low voice. "It will be so much easier for him. Wear a flower in
your frock to-night at dinner - any flower. May I tell him that?"

"Yes," answered Veronica, for it seemed a charitable suggestion so far
as Bosio was concerned. "I am going out, now," she added suddenly. "May
I have the carriage?"

"Certainly. Shall we go together?"

"Oh, no! I do not want you at all!" cried the young girl, frankly and
laughing. "I have a secret. I will take Elettra with me."

Elettra was the name of the maid.

"Very well," replied Matilde. "I suppose you will tell me the secret
some day. Is it connected with New Year's presents? There are three
weeks yet. You have plenty of time."

Veronica laughed again, which was undoubtedly equivalent to admitting
her aunt's explanation, and therefore not, in theory, perfectly
truthful. But she did not wish the countess to know that she was going
to Bianca Corleone's house, since Matilde would of course suppose, if
she knew it, that she was going to consult Bianca about accepting Bosio,
which was not true either. She laughed, therefore, and said nothing,
having got the use of the carriage, which was all she wanted.

"It is horrible weather," observed Matilde, looking at the window, upon
which the rain was beating like wet whips, making the panes rattle and
shake.

"Yes, but I want some air," answered Veronica, in a tone of decision.

At such a time it was not safe to irritate the girl even about the
smallest matter, and Matilde said nothing more, though under other
circumstances she would have made objections. As it was not yet time to
go out, and in order to get rid of her aunt, Veronica bade Elettra take
out a ball gown which needed some change and improvement, Matilde
understood well enough that it was useless to wait longer for the chance
of being again alone with her niece, and in a few minutes she went away.

On the whole, she had the impression that the prospect was very good.
But after she had closed the door, she turned in the outer room, stood
still a moment and looked back, allowing her face for a moment to betray
what she felt. The expression was a strange one; for it showed doubt,
fear, conditional hatred, and potential vengeance - a complicated state
of mind, which the cleverest judge of human faces could hardly have
understood from Matilde's features. Then, with bent head, and closed
hands hanging by her sides, she went on her way.

An hour later Veronica and her maid were driving through the rain
westward, towards Bianca's villa. As they approached their destination,
Veronica felt that she was by no means as calm and indifferent as she
had expected to be. Yesterday, it had seemed a very simple matter to go
to the garden, to find Gianluca there, to walk ten or twenty paces with
him out of hearing of Bianca, and to listen to what he had to say. In a
manner it had seemed, indeed, a wild and romantic adventure, which she
should remember all her life. But it had looked easy to do, whereas now,
all at once, it looked very hard. Again and again, on the way, she was
on the point of stopping the carriage and returning. It all looked so
different, at the last minute, from what she had expected.

It was raining, and she should find Bianca indoors. Probably she would
be sitting in her boudoir, beyond the drawing-room, and Pietro Ghisleri
would be with her. Veronica would have to give some little excuse or
reason for coming, on his account, even though Bianca was her intimate
friend. Probably Gianluca would be there already, for it was past eleven
o'clock, and Bianca would understand that his coming was the result of
what Taquisara had said to Veronica on the previous day. She would not
show that she understood, even to Veronica, because she was tactful, but
Veronica knew that she was sure to blush, in spite of herself, at the
thought that Bianca knew why she had come. Then, too, in the
drawing-room, or the boudoir, it would not be easy to be alone with
Gianluca. She could not get up and go and stare stupidly out of the
window at the rain, taking him with her.

She was naturally too obstinate to change her mind, and turn back; yet
by the time the brougham drove into Bianca's gate, she really hoped that
Gianluca might not come at all. But when she crossed the threshold of
the house, she already hoped that he might be there. Her doubts were
soon set at rest by the sight of his thin face and almost colourless
beard, in the distance, as the servant opened the door of the
drawing-room. Bianca was seated at the piano, and Gianluca was standing
on one side of her, while Ghisleri bent over her on the other, looking
at the sheet of music before her. She rose, as Veronica entered, - a
queenly young figure, with a lovely, fateful face. To-day her eyes were
dark and shadowy, and Veronica thought that she must have been crying in
the night.

Gianluca had started visibly when Veronica had appeared, but she did not
look at him until she had kissed Bianca, and had spoken to Ghisleri, who
now, for the first time, understood the meaning of Gianluca's unexpected
morning visit. Bianca had guessed it almost immediately, and had
purposely sat down to the piano to look over the music. It would seem
natural, she thought, when Veronica came, that she should resume her
seat, and play or sing, with Ghisleri to turn over the pages for her,
while Veronica and Gianluca could talk. She was too loyal to her friend,
and too discreet, to have given Ghisleri a hint, even had she been able
to do so after Gianluca had come. But events proved to her that she was
right.

When Veronica, at last, spoke to the younger man, there was an evident
constraint in her manner. He, on his part, blushed suddenly pink, and
then turned white again, almost in a moment. He put out his hand
nervously, and then withdrew it, not finding Veronica's, but before he
had quite taken it back, hers came forward, and hesitated in the air.
Then he took it, and both smiled in momentary embarrassment over the
incident, and a little at the thought of having shaken hands at all, for
it is a custom reserved in the south for married women.

"Do you mind if I go on trying this song?" asked Bianca, sitting down to
the piano again. "Talk as much as you please," she added. "I do not know
it - I only wish to look it over."

Veronica was surprised at the ease and simplicity with which matters
were arranged, and in a few seconds she found herself sitting beside
Gianluca, on a narrow sofa at some distance from Bianca and Ghisleri.
Gianluca looked at her sideways, and then a moment later she looked at
him; but their eyes did not meet. She had only glanced at him once, and
for an instant after they had sat down, side by side, but she had got a
good view of his face in that one look. It was evident to her that he
was really ill, whatever might be the cause of his illness. The delicate
features were unnaturally thin and drawn, and there were blue shadows at
the temples such as consumptive men often have. The blue eyes were sunk
too deep, and there were hollows above the lids, under the brows. His
figure, too, though tall and well proportioned, had seemed frail to her
when she had seen him standing by the piano, and his hands were
positively emaciated.

She could not help pitying him. But it is only pity for sorrow, or for
trouble, that is akin to love, not pity for physical weakness; unless,
perhaps, a woman is very certainly sure that such weakness is indeed the
result of love for herself, wearing the man out night and day - and then
the pity she feels is instantly all but love itself and in fact often
more than love in deeds. But Veronica had no such certainty. She still
believed that Taquisara had overshot the mark of truth. She waited for
Gianluca to speak.

"We have met - I have had the honour of meeting you - several times
already, Donna Veronica, since you came from the convent," he said at
last, after a little preliminary cough.

"Oh yes!" answered Veronica, with a smile. "We have often met. I know
you very well."

"I was not quite sure whether you remembered me," he said.

He looked at her, and the blood rose and fell quickly in his cheeks, and
his hands moved uneasily as he clasped them upon one of his knees.

"You must think that I have a very poor memory," observed Veronica,
still smiling, not intentionally, but because she was young enough, and
therefore cruel enough, to be amused by his embarrassment. "The last
time I saw you was at the theatre, I think - at the opening night, last
week - ten days ago - when was it?"

"Yes," he answered quickly. "That was the last time I saw you; but the
last time we spoke was at the San Giuliano's."

"Was it? I do not remember. We have often talked - a little - at different
places."

"I remember very well," said Gianluca, with a good deal of emphasis and
looking earnestly at her.

Veronica tried to recall the conversation on the occasion to which he
referred, but could not remember a word of it.

"Did I say anything especial, that time?" she asked, wondering whether
she had then unfortunately answered 'yes,' in a fit of absence of mind,
to some question of hidden import which he had perhaps addressed to
her.

"Oh yes!" he answered promptly. "You told me that you liked white roses
better than red ones. You see, I have a good memory."

"That was a tremendously important statement." Veronica laughed,
somewhat relieved by the information.

"I always remember everything you say," said Gianluca. "I think I know
by heart all you have ever said to me."

He spoke with a sort of grave and almost child-like conviction.

"I shall remember everything you say to-day," he added, after a moment's
pause.

"I hope not!" exclaimed Veronica. "I sometimes say very foolish things,
not at all worth remembering, I assure you."

"But what you say is worth everything to me," he said, with another
sudden blush, and a quick glance, while his hands twitched.

He was painfully shy and embarrassed, and was producing anything but a
favourable impression upon Veronica. She was sorry for him, indeed, in a
superior sort of fashion, but she thought of Taquisara's bold eyes and
strong face, and of Bosio Macomer's quiet and refined assurance of
manner, and Gianluca seemed to her slightly ridiculous. It was in her
blood, and she could not help it. Some of her people had been bad, and
some good, but most of them had been strong, and she liked strength, as
a natural consequence. Moreover, she had not enough experience of the
world to put Gianluca at his ease; and a sort of girlish feeling that
she must not encourage him to say too much made her answer in such a way
as to throw him off his track.

"It is very kind of you to say so," she answered lightly. "But I am sure
I do not recollect ever saying anything important enough for you to
remember. Take what we are saying now, for instance - "

"I shall know it all, when you are gone," interrupted Gianluca, harking
back again. "Indeed - I hope you will not think me rude or
presumptuous - but I thought that perhaps I might meet you here - if I
came often, I mean; for Taquisara - "

"Oh yes," said Veronica, as he hesitated. "I met Baron Taquisara here
yesterday. I daresay that he told you so."

As his embarrassment had increased, hers had completely
disappeared - which was a bad sign for him and his hopes.

"Yes - yes. He told me - "

Gianluca leaned back suddenly in his seat, overcome with a sort of shame
at the thought that Taquisara had spoken to her for him, and that he
himself could find nothing to say. His face pale and red, and his hands
trembled.

"I like your friend," said Veronica, quietly, wondering whether he felt
ill.

"Yes - I am glad," answered Gianluca. "He is a true friend, a good
friend. If you knew him as well as I do, you would like him still
better."

Veronica thought this probable, but refrained from saying so, and
remained silent. Bianca was touching gentle chords at the piano. Now and
then a few words, sung in deep, soft notes, sad as the south wind,
floated through the room, and then she and Ghisleri talked about the
song, paying no attention whatever to the pair on the sofa.

Gianluca sighed and caught his breath. Veronica glanced quickly at him,
and then looked again at the top of Ghisleri's head, as the latter bent
down. She had not thought that she had expected so much of the meeting.
She certainly had not the slightest personal feeling for the man beside
her. And yet, somehow, she was dismally disappointed. If this was the
man who was dying of love, she infinitely preferred Bosio Macomer.
Gianluca was evidently in bad health. He looked as though he might be in
a decline, and he was clearly very nervous and ill at ease. But he did
not speak at all as she supposed that a man would who was deeply in
love. Taquisara had spoken far better. He had seemed so much in earnest



Online LibraryF. Marion CrawfordTaquisara → online text (page 10 of 33)