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When, at the close of a sultry day, Major M'Caskey presented himself at this gate, summoning the porter with a vigorous pull of the bell, he was not admitted till a very careful scrutiny showed that he was alone, and did not, besides, exhibit any thing very formidable in his appearance. He was told, as he passed in, that he must leave his horse at the stables beside the gate, and make the rest of his way on foot. The Major was both tired and hungry; he had been in the saddle since daybreak, had twice missed his way, and tasted no food since he set out.
"Is there much more of this confounded way to go o?" asked he of his guide, as they now mounted a terrace, only to descend again.
"About a quarter of an hour will bring you to the Molo," said the other, just as ill-pleased to have the duty of escorting him. A quick glance at the fellow's face showed the Major how hopeless it would be to expect any information from him; and though he was burning to know who inhabited this lonesome place, and why he lived there, he forebore all questioning, and went along in silence.
"There!" said his guide, at last, as they reached a great archway standing alone in a sort of lawn. "there! you follow that road to the little gate yonder, pass in, cross the garden, and you will be at the side-entrance of the Molo. I don't suppose you want to enter by the grand gate ?"
Major M'Caskey was not much in the habit of suffering an insolence to pass unresented; but he seemed to control himself as he drew forth his purse and took out a crown-piece. "This is for your trouble, my worthy fellow," said he; go and look for it yonder," and he jerked the piece of money over the low parapet, and sent it skimming along the sea a hundred yards off.
Though the man's lips murmured in passion, and his dark eyes flashed anger, one look at the face
of his companion assured him that the safer policy was to restrain his wrath, and, touching his hat in salute, he retired without a word.
As though he felt in better temper with himself for having thus discharged this little debt, the Major stepped more briskly forward, gained the small postern, and entered a large and formal garden, the chief avenue of which showed him the gate at the extremity. It lay open, and he found himself in a large vaulted hall, from which doors led off. In doubt which course to take, he turned to seek for a bell, but there was none to be found; and after a careful search on every side, he determined to announce himself by a stout knocking at one of the doors before him.
The hollow clamour resounded through the whole building, and soon brought down two men in faded livery, half terrified, half angry at the summons.
M'Caskey, at once assuming the upper hand, a habit in which practice had made him a proficient, demanded haughtily to see the Count," their master.
"He is at dinner," said they both together.
"I wish I were so too," said the Major. "Go in and tell him that I am the bearer of a royal despatch, and desire to see him immediately."
They held counsel together in whispers for a few minutes, during which the name Maria occurred frequently between them. "We will tell the Senora Maria you are here," said one, at last.
"And who may she be?" said M'Caskey, haughtily.
"She is the Cameriera of the Countess, and the chief of all the household."
My business is not with a waiting-woman. I have come to see the Count of Amalfi," said the Major, sternly.
The men apparently knew their own duties best, and, civilly asking him to follow, they led the way up a small flight of stairs, and after
traversing some scantily-furnished rooms, showed him into a pretty decorated little chamber, with two windows looking on the sea.
Having politely begged him to be seated, they left him. The Major, besides being hungry and jaded, was irritable and angry. Filangieri had told him his mission was one of importance and high trust; in fact, so much so, that it could not be confided to one less known than himself. And was this the way they received a royal envoy, sent on such an errand? While he thus fumed and chafed, he heard a door open and close, and shortly after the sweep of a woman's dress coming along the corridor; and now the step came nearer, and the door opened, and a tall, sickly-looking woman entered ; but scarcely had she advanced one pace within the room when she uttered a faint scream and fainted.
The Major's first care was to turn the key in the lock, his second was to lift up the almost lifeless figure and place her on a sofa. As he did so, any emotion that his features betrayed was rather of displeasure than astonishment; and in the impatient way he jerked open the window to let the fresh air blow on her there was far more of anger than surprise.
So then you are the Senora Maria, it would seem," were the first words she heard as she rallied from her swoon.
"Oh, Miles!” cried she, with an intense agony, why have you tracked me here? Could you not have let me drag out my few years of life in peace?"
It was difficult to guess how these words affected him, or rather in how many different ways; for though at first his eyes flashed angrily, he soon gave a short jeering sort of laugh, and, throwing himself down into a chair, he crossed his arms on his breast and gazed steadily at her.
The look seemed to remind her of bygone suffering, for she turned
her head away, and then covered her face with her hands.
Senora Maria," said he, slowly -"unless indeed you still desire I should call you Mrs M'Caskey."
"No, no-Maria," cried she, wildly; "I am but a servant-I toil for my bread, but better that than- She stopped, and, after an effort to subdue her emotion, burst into tears and sobbed bitterly.
"It matters little to me, madam, what the name. The chain that ties us is just as irrevocable, whatever we choose to call ourselves. As to anything else, I do not suppose you intend to claim me as your husband."
"No, no, never," cried she, impetuously.
"Nor am I less generous, madam. None shall ever hear from me that you were my wife. The contract was one that brought little credit to either of us."
Nothing but misery and misfortune to me!" said she, bitterly; "nothing else-nothing else!"
"You remind me, madam," said he, in a slow deliberate voice, as though he were enunciating some long-resolved sentiment—“ you remind me much of Josephine.'
"Who is Josephine?" asked she, quickly.
"I speak of the Empress Josephine, so you may perceive that I have sought your parallel in high places. She, like you, deemed herself the most unhappy of women, and all because destiny had linked her with a greatness that she could
"Whenever you reduce that pledge to writing, madam, call on ine to be your security for its due performance; be it known to you, therefore, that this meeting was an unexpected happiness to me."
She covered her face, and rocked to and fro like one in the throes of a deep suffering.
"I should be a glutton, madam, if I desired a repetition of such scenes as these; they filled eight years-eight mortal years-of a life not otherwise immemorable."
And what have they done for me?" cried she, roused almost to boldness by his taunting manner.
"Made you thinner, paler, a trifle more aged, perhaps," said he, scanning her leisurely; "but always what Frenchmen would call a femme charmante."
The mockery seemed more than she could bear; for she sprang to her feet, and, in a voice vibrating with passion, said, "Take care, "Take care, Miles M'Caskey-take care; there are men here, if they saw me insult ed, would throw you over that seawall as soon as look at you."
"Ring for your bravos, madamsummon your condottieri at once," said he, with an impudent laugh; they'll have some warmer work than they bargained for."
"Oh, why not leave me in peace -why not let me have these few years of life without more of shame and misery?" said she, throwing herself on her knees before him.
"Permit me to offer you a chair, madam," said he, as he took her hands, and placed her on a seat; "and let me beg that we talk of something else. Who is the Count?"The Onoralissimo e Pregiatissimo, Nobile Conte,' for he read now from the address of a letter he had drawn from his pocket- "Nobile Conte d'Amalfi'-is that the name of the owner of this place?"
'No; it is the Chevalier Butler, formerly Minister at Naples, lives here-Sir Omerod Bramston Butler."
"Ah, then I perceive it is really meant for another person!
thought it was a mode of addressing him secretly. The Count of Amalfi lives here, perhaps."
"I never heard of him." "Who lives here besides Sir Omerod?"
"My lady-that is, the Countess; none else."
"Who is the Countess-Countess of what, and where?"
"She is a Milanese; she was a Brancaleone."
"Brancaleone, Brancaleone! there were two of them. One went to Mexico with the Duke of Sommariva-not his wife."
"This is the other; she is married to Sir Omerod."
"She must be Virginia Brancaleone," said M'Caskey, trying to remember" the same Lord Byron used to rave about."
She nodded an assent, and he continued.
"Nini Brancaleone was a toast, I remember, with Wraxall and Trelawney, and the rest of us. She was the reason fair' of many a good glass of claret which Byron gave us, in those days before he became stingy.”
"You had better keep your memories to yourself in case you meet her," said she, warningly.
"Miles M'Caskey, madam, requires very little advice or admonition in a matter that touches tact or good-breeding." A sickly smile of more than half-derision curled the woman's lip, but she did not speak.
66 And now let us come back to this Count of Amalfi : who is he? where is he?"
"I have told you already I do not know."
"There was a time, madam, you would have required no second intimation that it was your duty to find out."
Ah, I remember those words but too well," cried she, bitterly. Finding out was my task for many a year."
Well, madam, it was an exercise that might have put a fine edge on your understanding, but, like some other advantages of your station, it
slipped by you without profit. I am generous, madam, and I forbear to say more. Tell me of these people here all that you know of them, for they are my more immediate interest at present."
"I will tell you everything, on the simple condition that you never speak to me nor of me again. Promise me but this, Miles M'Caskey, and I swear to you I will conceal nothing that I know of them."
"You make hard terms, madam," said he, with a mock courtesy. "It is no small privation to be denied the pleasure of your agreeable presence, but I comply."
"And this shall be our last meeting?" asked she, with a look of imploring meaning.
"Alas, madam if it must be!" "Take care," cried she, suddenly; "you once by your mockery drove
or are you to be hard-hearted and merciless to the end?"
"I am proud to say, madam, that Miles M'Caskey comes of a house whose motto is 'Semper M'Caskey.'
A scornful curl of her lip seemed to show what respect she felt for the heraldic allusion; but she recovered herself quickly, and said, "I can stay no longer. It is the hour the Countess requires me; but I will come back to-morrow, without you would let me buy off this meeting. Yes, Miles, I am in earnest; this misery is too much forme. Ihave saved a little sum, and I have it by me in gold. You must be more changed than I can believe, or you will be in want of money. You shall have it all, every ducat of it, if you only pledge me your word never to molest me-never to follow me-never to recognise me again!"
Madam," said he, severely," this menial station you have descended to must have blunted your sense of honour rudely, or you had never dared to make me such a proposal. Let me see you to-morrow, and for the last time." And haughtily waving his hand, he motioned to her to leave, and she turned away, with her hands over her face, and quitted the room.
CHAPTER XL. THE MAJOR'S TRIALS.
Major Miles M'Caskey is not a foreground figure in this our story, nor have we any reason to suppose that he possesses any attractions for our readers. When such men -and there are such to be found on life's highway-are met with, the world usually gives them what sailors call a "wide berth, and ample room to swing in," sincerely trusting that they will soon trip their anchor and sail off again. Seeing all this, I have no pretension, nor indeed any wish, to impose his company any more than is strictly indispensable, nor dwell on his sojourn at the Molo of Montanara. Indeed, his life at that place was so monotonous and weary to himself,
it would be a needless cruelty to chronicle it.
The Major, as we have once passingly seen, kept a sort of brief journal of his daily doings; and a few short extracts from this will tell us all that we need know of him. On a page of which the upper portion was torn away, we find the following:-" Arrived at Mon the 6th at sunset. Ruined old rookery. Open at land side, and sea defences all carried away; never could have been strong against artillery. Found Mrs M'C. in the style of waiting-woman to a Countess Butler, formerly Nini Brancaleone. A warm interview; difficult to persuade her that I was not
in pursuit of herself a feminine delusion I tried to dissipate. She" -henceforth it is thus he always designates Mrs M'Caskey"she avers that she knows nothing of the Count d'Amalfi, nor has ever seen him. Went into a long story about Sir Omerod Butler, of whom I know more myself. She pretends that Nini is married to him-legally married; don't believe a word of it. Have my own suspicions that the title of Amalfi has been conferred on B. himself, for he lives estranged from England and Englishmen. Will learn all, however, before I leave.
"Roast pigeons, with tomato, a strange fish, and omelette, with Capri to wash it down; a meagre supper, but they say it shall be better to
"Seventh, Wednesday. Slept soundly and had a swim; took a sea view of the place, but could see no one about. Capital breakfast'Frutti di mare,' boiled in Rhine wine; fellow who waited said a favourite dish of his Excellency's, meaning Sir O. B. Best chocolate I ever tasted out of Paris. Found the menue for dinner on the table all right; the wine is au choix, and I begin with La Rose and La Veuve Cliquot. A note from her referring to something said last night; she is ill and cannot see me, but encloses an order on Parodi of Genoa, in favour of the Nobile Signor il Maggiore M'Caskey, for three thousand seven hundred and forty-eight francs, and a small tortoise-shell box, containing eighty-six double ducats in gold, so that it would seem I have fallen into a vrai Californie' here. Reflected, and replied with a refusal; a M'Caskey cannot stoop to this. Reproved her for ignoring the character to whom she addressed such a proposal, and reiterated my remark of last night, that she never rose to the level at which she could rightly take in the native chivalry of my nature.
"Inquired if my presence had been announced to Sir O., and learned it had. Orders given to treat
me with distinguished consideration, but nothing said of an audience.
Pigeons again for supper, with apology; quails had been sent for to Messina, and expected to-morShot at a champagne-flask in the sea, and smoked. Sir O's. tobacco exquisite, and the supply so ample, I am making a petite provision for the future.
"Full moon. Shot at the camelias out of my window. Knocked off seventeen, when I heard a sharp cry-a stray shot, I suppose. Shut the casement and went to bed. Thursday.-Gardener's boy flesh-wound in the calf of the leg; hope Sir O. may hear of it and send for me.
"A glorious capon for dinner, stuffed with oysters-veritable oysters. Drank Mrs M'C.'s health in the impression that this was a polite attention on her part. No message from Sir O.
"Friday. A general fast; a lentil soup and a fish: good but meagre; took it out in wine and tobacco. Had the gardener's boy up, and introduced him to sherry-cobbler. The effect miraculous; danced Tarantella till the bandage came off and he fainted.
"Saturday. - Rain and wind; maccaroni much smoked; cook lays it on the chimney that won't draw with a Levant wind. Read over my instructions again, and understand them as little as before ;-' You will hold yourself at the orders of the Count d'Amalfi till further instructions from this department.' Vague enough all this; and for anything I see, or am likely to see, of this Count, I may pass the autumn here. Tried to attract Sir O.'s attention by knocking off the oranges at top of his wall, and received intimation to fire in some other direction.
"Sunday.-Don Luigi something has come to say mass. Asked him to dinner, but find him engaged to the Countess. A dry old cove, who evidently knows everything but will tell nothing; has promised to lend me a guitar and a book or