XIX

FROM THE SAME TO THE SAME.

A Fellowe and his Wife

Villa Mallerini, l'Ariccia,
                 December 26.

MY DEAR ODO:

What a wild night it is! I can easily imagine myself at Jaromar, or by the forlornest shores of our native north.  The wind that sweeps howling up from the Campagna might be that which hurls its sleet against the windows of our Schloss. I am so restless. I cannot sleep ; I cannot read ; I doubt if I can even write long. What a melancholy place this is! It is difficult to believe that I am in Italy. Christmas day was so gloriously bright and warm; I even heard an unwary thrush trying over one of its lost April songs: Poor thing, it failed miserably. What did it think today, I wonder, 'When the sky grew gray and then sooty-brown, and a chilly sighing wind moaned up from the Maremma! I wish you were here, Odo. Everything seems to have gone wrong to-day. After dinner, the violence of the gale was so great that we all instinctively spoke in lowered tones. The only person who affected cheerfulness was Herwegh, but I must say he did not succeed. Even his good spirits were damped after a while; to my relief, for he did not seem himself. It was a horrid meal. Lilien Rörich had her dinner in her own apartment, as she bad a headache, and her husband was absent, having gone to Rome for the night. The other Christmas guests have left. At the table there were only our two hosts, Egidio Mallerini and his wife Aurore, Herwegh and myself. Long before the meal was over we had subsided into complete silence. Cesare Mallerini stared straight before him, a stony glitter in his eyes. Lucrezia sat back, even more frozen, if possible. I could not see her eyes, as she never raised them, or only so swiftly that they evaded my searching glance. Egidio and his wife were as impassive as practicable without obtrusive rudeness. As for Herwegh, after his collapse he was as reticent as the rest of us. Unfortunately, we were at opposite sides of the table, and so could do nothing to relieve the strain. It was scarce better when we were in the salon. I was asked to sing, but had not the spirit for it. Lucrezia chillily declined. Madame Aurore indulged us with some Parisian school-girl music, for all the world like a company of bats shrilling and gibbering. She tortured these poor high notes till---but there, never mind her; I dare say she pleased Signor Egidio. I wonder what is the matter. Perhaps the brothers have fallen out---or their wives. Perhaps it is all due to a matrimonial quarrel. Perhaps Cesare and Herwegh have begun hostilities. What makes me think that this guess may be near the mark is that he (Her-wegh) did not speak to his hostess after we went into the drawing-room. Yet her eyes have watched him like a cat's ! Altogether, this is a fitting end to a wretched evening. I meant to write you a long letter about our Christmas doings, but I find myself quite unable. We had, however, ample entertainment, though it is only fair to Herwegh to add that without him we should have found the hours, particularly in the afternoon and evening, somewhat heavy. It would be absurd to term either of the Mallerinis genial, but they were courteously agreeable. My hostess even went so far as to call me Ilse (which she pronounces deliberately), and to ask me to address her as Lucrezia. But I 've forgotten all about Christmas by this time, and can think only of this forbidding day, this sullen evening, this dreary eerie night, which makes me so nervous. I wonder if it is another such night with you. I wish Jaromar were not so far away. I feel more alone tonight than I have ever done in my life. I wonder if I were to call you, Odo, would you come to me ? If I were to . . .

P. S.

Palazzo Malaspin, Rome,
December 27.

You will, to your amazement, see by this P. S. that I am at home again ! I was just about to tear up the foregoing unfinished letter, but I leave it as it is. It will help to explain.

Read the last sentence of it again, and then imagine me dropping my pen in sudden sickening affright, and calling out I know not what! For just as I was wondering idly if you would come at my summons, I looked up. The door had silently opened, and a tall white figure stood in the semi-darkness. But though an indescribable fear possessed me for a moment, I saw at a glance that it was Lucrezia Mallerini. Yet I was almost as unnerved when I recognized that woman as when I thought for the breath of a second, that my prayer had been answered by the dead. She had a most evil look on her face. It was deadly pale, and her eyes were like luminous jet. At last I rose very slowly, and then, having regained my control, spoke. " Well, Contessa, do you wish to speak to me ? I did not hear you knock." She did not answer, but stood looking fixedly at me, and, then let her gaze wander round and round the room. At last she moved. Having closed my door, she crossed to that of the dressing-room, and raised a small lamp from a side-table so as to examine the interior. Naturally, I concluded that she was suspicious of eaves-droppers, though I was quite unable to guess what she wanted to confide to me. The rain slapped the window panes viciously, and in every hole and corner of that old house the wind howled or shrieked or moaned. Her first words, uttered in a savagely ironical tone, startled me.  "When are you going back to Rome ? To-night?" I admit that I at once jumped to the conclusion she was mad, yet as she had no appearance of frenzy, I had no other course than to treat her as though she were not. "If you wish to be relieved of my company, Contessa Mallerini," I exclaimed, "you may be sure that I will not long inconvenience you. But, obviously, I can scarce leave this solitary place on such a night as this." Strangely enough, my answer seemed to suit her. Her tense look relaxed somewhat, and she even made a slightly deprecating motion with her right hand. " Excuse me," was, how-ever, all she said, and in a cold, formal way. I waited, at first patiently, and then impatiently.   The wind had a wail in it that made me shiver, and I felt as though the very stones of the wall must be soaked with the steady slush-slush of the rain. " Did you hear the noise? " she asked me suddenly. "What noise ? " I demanded, listening intently, and startled by her question. "The shots, half an hour ago." "Shots ! no, I heard none. If there were any, I should not have recognized them in this wild night." After that, another prolonged silence. I began to understand. Lucrezia was hysterically nervous; there was no doubt of it ; she had been upset by the savage and unwonted violence of the gale. "I am going to bed," I said, gently; "do you not think you would be wise to do the same ? " "Yes, Signora, if you will permit me to rest here," was her reply, in a strange voice and with a stranger parody of a smile. I pressed her to occupy my bed, but she refused. All she wanted was to sit in my large arm-chair. It was impossible for her, she said, to sleep during that tempest, and she felt better beside me, but she would feel still better if I were to go to bed and to sleep. At last I did lie down, though, not unnaturally, sleep, for all my weariness, would not come to me. After an hour or so I was, however, just about to doze off when, through my almost closed lids, I caught sight of Lucrezia rising from her chair. She stealthily moved my letter to you till it was within the faint illumination from the corridor lamp, and then I saw her turn it over and read the beginning. I was so indigant that I almost sprang from my bed ; then I nearly laughed at her chagrin, for she knows little or no German, But when she replaced my letter, she did not seem chagrined, only weary, and strained, and curiously intent. It must have been nearly an hour later when she suddenly rose again. This time she went to the window, and crouched behind the curtain. My heart beat, for I thought she must be mad. I knew that she was listening with all her nerves alive. But there was nothing, save the rising and falling wail of the wind, and the sudden flurry of sleety rain. I saw her lean forward and peer so intently that at last she almost touched the glass of the window. To my relief, after some minutes, she went back to her chair. I fancied she had fallen asleep at last, when I heard a sob. But as absolute silence followed, I thought it best to take no notice. I must have dozed shortly after, for when I sat up with a start I saw she was no longer in the room. It was close on dawn when she returned. With the first dull gleam of day the wind abruptly ceased. I heard the rain still, but it was softly incessant, and had that trickling sound I used to get so weary of when it dripped among the lilacs under my window at Ilsenstein. I never can understand why people lie objectlessly. When Lucrezia rose once more she noticed that I was awake.   "I am glad the storm is over, my friend," she began hesitatingly, and added, " but I have slept well, thanks to you. I dropped off to sleep as soon, as you did, and it seems scarce five minutes ago." I felt contemptuous as well as angry, and made no effort to detain her. The night she passed certainly did not improve her. She looked wretchedly wan. That ivory skin of hers was quite yellow, and her dull black eyes were as lack-lustre as sodden coal. Well, I dressed rapidly, and ere long was ready for breakfast. When it was brought to me, I found Ermerilda, the maid, exasperatingly reticent ; but what I did gather made me decide to leave for Rome as soon as I decently could. It appeared that there was an accident last night. I could not understand Ermerilda's rapid and complicated explanations, and she simply would not, or could not, give me a direct answer. Count Cesare had been hurt, and was now seriously unwell, and in high fever. The Contessa was too distressed to appear, and wished to see no one. Signora, the other Contessa, was in bed; il Conte Egidio was with his brother. Signor Herwegh ? Oh, il signor scultore had---well, I really could make nothing out of that stupid Ermerilda; the only approach to information I could educe was that Herwegh, notwithstand ing the fury of the tempest, had left the villa at midnight, and had returned to Rome. The girl was such a fool, or perhaps only pretended to be one, and Italian servants are so exasperatingly secretive, --- that I fully expected to encounter him in the salon when I went down stairs. I didn't however. Frau Röhrich I found in the most blissful ignorance of everything. She asked if we had had another delightful evening. I briefly explained why we had to leave at once ; and, to be succinct, thus it is that I am at the Palazzo Malaspina again. I am too tired, and indeed too overwrought, to write any more just now. Of course, now, any letter will reach me after a tiresome delay, as it will have to, be forwarded from I'Ariccia.

 

Addio, dear Odo.

ILSE.

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