Produced by David Clarke, Louise Pryor and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net
_BY THE SAME AUTHOR._ UNIFORM WITH THIS VOLUME Daddy-Long-Legs. Just Patty. Patty and Priscilla. The Four Pools Mystery. The Wheat Princess. Dear Enemy. Much Ado about Peter. LONDON: HODDER & STOUGHTON.
By JEAN WEBSTER Author of "Dear Enemy," etc
HODDER AND STOUGHTON LONDON NEW YORK TORONTO
Copyright, 1907, by THE CENTURY CO.
* * * * *
Copyright, 1906, 1907, by THE CROWELL PUBLISHING COMPANY.
The courtyard of the Hotel du Lac, furnished with half a dozen tables andchairs, a red and green parrot chained to a perch, and a shady littlearbour covered with vines, is a pleasant enough place for morning coffee,but decidedly too sunny for afternoon tea. It was close upon four of aJuly day, when Gustavo, his inseparable napkin floating from his arm,emerged from the cool dark doorway of the house and scanned the burningvista of tables and chairs. He would never, under ordinary circumstances,have interrupted his siesta for the mere delivery of a letter; but thisparticular letter was addressed to the young American man, and youngAmerican men, as every head waiter knows, are an unreasonably impatientlot. The courtyard was empty, as he might have foreseen, and he wasturning with a patient sigh towards the long arbour that led to the lake,when the sound of a rustling paper in the summer-house deflected hiscourse. He approached the doorway and looked inside.
The young American man, in white flannels with a red guide-bookprotruding from his pocket, was comfortably stretched in a loungingchair engaged with a cigarette and a copy of the Paris _Herald_. Heglanced up with a yawn--excusable under the circumstances--but as his eyefell upon the letter he sprang to his feet.
'Hello, Gustavo! Is that for me?'
'_Ecco_! She is at last arrive, ze lettair for which you haf so mochweesh.' He bowed a second time and presented it. 'Meestair JayreenAilyar!'
The young man laughed.
'I don't wish to hurt your feelings, Gustavo, but I'm not sure I shouldanswer if my eyes were shut.'
He picked up the letter, glanced at the address to make sure--the namewas Jerymn Hilliard, Jr.--and ripped it open with an exaggerated sigh ofrelief. Then he glanced up and caught Gustavo's expression. Gustavo cameof a romantic race; there was a gleam of sympathetic interest in his eye.
'Oh, you needn't look so knowing! I suppose you think this is alove-letter? Well it's not. It is, since you appear to be interested, aletter from my sister informing me that they will arrive to-night, andthat we will pull out for Riva by the first boat to-morrow morning. Notthat I want to leave you, Gustavo, but--Oh thunder!'
He finished the reading in a frowning silence while the waiter stood atpolite attention, a shade of anxiety in his eye--there was usuallyanxiety in his eye when it rested on Jerymn Hilliard, Jr. One could neverforesee what the young man would call for next. Yesterday he had rung thebell and demanded a partner to play lawn tennis, as if the hotel keptpartners laid away in drawers like so many sheets.
He crumpled up the letter and stuffed it in his pocket.
'I say, Gustavo, what do you think of this? They're going to stay inLucerne till the tenth--that's next week--and they hope I won't mindwaiting; it will be nice for me to have a rest. A _rest_, man, and I'vealready spent three days in Valedolmo!'
'_Si_, signore, you will desire ze same room?' was as much as Gustavothought.
'Ze same room? Oh, I suppose so.'
He sank back into his chair and plunged his hands into his pockets withan air of sombre resignation. The waiter hovered over him, dividedbetween a desire to return to his siesta, and a sympathetic interest inthe young man's troubles. Never before in the history of his connexionwith the Hotel du Lac had Gustavo experienced such a munificent,companionable, expansive, entertaining, thoroughly unique andinexplicable guest. Even the fact that he was American scarcely accountedfor everything.
The young man raised his head and eyed his companion gloomily.
'Gustavo, have you a sister?'
'A sister?' Gustavo's manner was uncomprehending but patient. '_Si_,signore, I have eight sister.'
'Eight! Merciful saints. How do you manage to be so cheerful?'
'Tree is married, signore, one uvver is betrofed, one is in a convent,one is dead, and two is babies.'
'I see--they're pretty well disposed of; but the babies will grow up,Gustavo, and as for that betrothed one, I should still be a littlenervous if I were you; you can never be sure they are going to staybetrothed. I hope she doesn't spend her time chasing over the map ofEurope making appointments with you to meet her in unheard of littlemountain villages where the only approach to Christian reading matter isa Paris _Herald_ four days old, and then doesn't turn up to keep herappointments?'
Gustavo blinked. His supple back achieved another bow.
'Sank you,' he murmured.
'And you don't happen to have an aunt?'
'An aunt, signore?' There was vagueness in his tone.
'Yes, Gustavo, an aunt. A female relative who reads you like an openbook, who sees your faults and skips your virtues, who remembers howdear and good and obliging your father was at your age, who hoped greatthings of you when you were a baby, who had intended to make you her heirbut has about decided to endow an orphan asylum--have you, Gustavo, bychance an aunt?'
'I do not think you grasp my question. An _aunt_--the sister of yourfather, or perhaps your mother.'
A gleam of illumination swept over Gustavo's troubled features.
'_Ecco_! You would know if I haf a _zia_--a aunt--yes, zat is it. A aunt._Sicuramente_, signore, I haf ten--leven aunt.'
'Eleven aunts! Before such a tragedy I am speechless; you need say nomore, Gustavo, from this moment we are friends.'
He held out his hand. Gustavo regarded it dazedly; then, since it seemedto be expected, he gingerly presented his own. The result was a shiningnewly-minted two-lire piece. He pocketed it with a fresh succession ofbows.
'_Grazie tanto_! Has ze signore need of anysing?'
'Have I need of anysing?' There was reproach, indignation, disgust in theyoung man's tone. 'How can you ask such a question, Gustavo? Here am I,three days in Valedolmo, with seven more stretching before me. I haveplenty of towels and soap and soft-boiled eggs, if that is what youmean; but a man's spirit cannot be nourished on soap and soft-boiledeggs. What I need is food for the mind--diversion, distraction,amusement--no, Gustavo, you needn't offer me the Paris _Herald_ again. Ialready know by heart the list of guests in every hotel in Switzerland.'
'Ah, it is diversion zat you wish? Have you seen zat ver' beautiful Luiniin ze chapel of San Bartolomeo? It is four hundred years old.'
'Yes, Gustavo, I have seen the Luini in the chapel of San Bartolomeo. Iderived all the pleasure to be got out of it the first afternoon I came.'
'Ze garden of Prince Sartonio-Crevelli? Has ze signore seen ze cedar ofLebanon in ze garden of ze prince?'
'Yes, Gustavo, the signore has seen the cedar of Lebanon in the garden ofthe prince, also the ilex tree two hundred years old and the india-rubberplant from South America. They are extremely beautiful, but they don'tlast a week.'
'Have you swimmed in ze lake?'
'It is lukewarm, Gustavo.'
The waiter's eyes roved anxiously. They lighted on the lunette ofshimmering water and purple mountains visible at the farther end of thearbour.
'Zere is ze view,' he suggested humbly. 'Ze view from ze water front isconsider ver' beautiful, ver' nice. Many foreigners come entirely forhim. You can see Lago di Garda, Monte Brione, Monte Baldo wif ze ruinca
stle of ze Scaliger, Monte Maggiore, ze Altissimo di Nago, ze snowcover peak of Monte----'
Mr. Jerymn Hilliard, Jr., stopped him with a gesture.
'That will do; I read Baedeker myself, and I saw them all the first nightI came. You must know at your age, Gustavo, that a man can't enjoy a viewby himself; it takes two for that sort of thing.--Yes, the truth is thatI am lonely. You can see yourself to what straits I am pushed forconversation. If I had your command of language, now, I would talk to theGerman Alpine climbers.'
An idea flashed over Gustavo's features.
'Ah, zat is it! Why does not ze signore climb mountains? Ver' helful;ver' diverting. I find guide.'
'You needn't bother. Your guide would be Italian, and it's too much of astrain to talk to a man all day in dumb show.' He folded his arms with aweary sigh. 'A week of Valedolmo! An eternity!'
Gustavo echoed the sigh. Though he did not entirely comprehend thetrouble, still he was of a generously sympathetic nature.
'It is a pity,' he observed casually, 'zat you are not acquaint wif zeSignor Americano who lives in Villa Rosa. He also finds Valedolmoundiverting. He comes--but often--to talk wif me. He has fear offorgetting how to spik Angleesh, he says.'
The young man opened his eyes.
'What are you talking about--a Signor Americano here in Valedolmo?'
'_Sicuramente_, in zat rose-colour villa wif ze cypress trees and ze_terrazzo_ on ze lake. His daughter, la Signorina Costantina, she livewif him--ver' young, ver' beautiful'--Gustavo rolled his eyes and claspedhis hands--'beautiful like ze angels in Paradise--and she spik Italialike I spik Angleesh.'
Jerymn Hilliard, Jr., unfolded his arms and sat up alertly.
'You mean to tell me that you had an American family up your sleeve allthis time and never said a word about it?' His tone was stern.
'_Scusi_, signore, I have not known zat you have ze plaisir of zeracquaintance.'
'The pleasure of their acquaintance! Good heavens, Gustavo, when oneshipwrecked man meets another shipwrecked man on a desert island mustthey be introduced before they can speak?'
'And why, may I ask, should an intelligent American family be living inValedolmo?'
'I do not know, signore. I have heard ze Signor Papa's healf was no good,and ze doctors in Americk' zay say to heem, "You need change, to breaveze beautiful climate of Italia." And he say, "All right, I go toValedolmo." It is small, signore, but ver' _famosa_. Oh, yes, _moltofamosa_. In ze autumn and ze spring foreigners come from all zeworld--Angleesh, French, German--_tutti_! Ze Hotel du Lac is full. Everyday we turn peoples away.'
'So! I seem to have struck the wrong season.--But about this Americanfamily, what's their name?'
'La familia Veeldair from Nuovo York.'
'Veeldair.' He shook his head. 'That's not American, Gustavo, at leastwhen you say it. But never mind, if they come from New York it's allright. How many are there--just two?'
'But no! Ze papa and ze signorina and ze--ze--' he rolled his eyes insearch of the word--'ze aunt!'
'Another aunt! The sky appears to be raining aunts to-day. What does shedo for amusement--the signorina who is beautiful as the angels?'
Gustavo spread out his hands.
'Valedolmo, signore, is on ze frontier. It is--what you say--garrison_citta_. Many soldiers, many officers--captains, lieutenants, wifuniforms and swords. Zay take tea on ze _terrazzo_ wif ze Signor Papa andze Signora Aunt, and most _specialmente_ wif ze Signorina Costantina. ZeSignor Papa say he come for his healf, but if you ask me, I sink maybe hecome to marry his daughter.'
'I see! And yet, Gustavo, American papas are generally not so keen as youmight suppose about marrying their daughters to foreign captains andlieutenants even if they have got uniforms and swords. I shouldn't besurprised if the Signor Papa were just a little nervous over thesituation. It seems to me there might be an opening for a likely youngfellow speaking the English language, even if he hasn't a uniform andsword. How does he strike you?'
'I'm glad you agree with me. It is now five minutes past four; do youthink the American family would be taking a siesta?'
'I do not know, signore.' Gustavo's tone was still patient.
'And whereabouts is the rose-coloured villa with the terrace on thelake?'
'It is a quarter of a hour beyond ze Porta Sant' Antonio. If ze gate isshut you ring at ze bell and Giuseppe will open. But ze road is ver' hotand ver' dusty. It is more cooler to take ze paf by ze lake. Straight toze left for ten minutes and step over ze wall; it is broken in zat placeand quite easy.'
'Thank you, that is a wise suggestion; I shall step over the wall by allmeans.' He jumped to his feet and looked about for his hat. 'You turn tothe left and straight ahead for ten minutes? Good-bye then till dinner.I go in search of the Signorina Costantina who is beautiful as the angelsin Paradise, and who lives in a rose-coloured villa set in a cypressgrove on the shores of Lake Garda--not a bad setting for romance, is it,Gustavo?--Dinner, I believe, is at seven o'clock?'
'_Si_, signore, at seven; and would you like veal cooked Milanesefashion?'
'Nothing would please me more. We have only had veal Milanese fashionfive times since I came.'
He waved his hand jauntily and strolled whistling down the arbour thatled to the lake. Gustavo looked after him and shook his head. Then hetook out the two-lire piece and rang it on the table. The metal rangtrue. He shrugged his shoulders and turned back indoors to order theveal.