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Chapter 13 THE LADY OF THE PERGOLA

  • > April, April, > Laugh, thy girlish laughter; > Then, the moment after, > Weep thy girlish, tears!
  • > April, that mine ears > Like a lover greetest, > If I tell thee, sweetest, > All my hopes and fears, > April, April, > Laugh thy golden laughter, > But, the moment after, > Weep thy golden tears!
  • >
  • > —William Watson.
  • A few photographs of foreign scenes tacked on the walls; a Roman blanket hun_s a tapestry over the mantel; a portfolio and traveler's writing material_istributed about a table produced for the purpose, and additions to th_eager book-shelf—a line of Baedekers, a pocket atlas, a comprehensiv_merican railway guide, several volumes of German and French poetry—and th_lace was not so bad. Armitage slept for an hour after a simple luncheon ha_een prepared by Oscar, studied his letters and cablegrams—made, in fact, som_otes in regard to them—and wrote replies. Then, at four o'clock, he tol_scar to saddle the horses.
  • "It is spring, and in April a man's blood will not be quiet. We shall go fort_nd taste the air."
  • He had studied the map of Lamar County with care, and led the way out of hi_wn preserve by the road over which they had entered in the morning. Oscar an_is horses were a credit to the training of the American army, and would hav_assed inspection anywhere. Armitage watched his adjutant with approval. Th_an served without question, and, quicker of wit than of speech, his buff- gauntleted hand went to his hat-brim whenever Armitage addressed him.
  • They sought again the spot whence Armitage had first looked down upon Stor_alley, and he opened his pocket map, the better to clarify his ideas of th_egion.
  • "We shall go down into the valley, Oscar," he said; and thereafter it was h_hat led.
  • They struck presently into an old road that had been an early highway acros_he mountains. Above and below the forest hung gloomily, and passing cloud_arkened the slopes and occasionally spilled rain. Armitage drew on his cloa_nd Oscar enveloped himself in a slicker as they rode through a sharp shower.
  • At a lower level they came into fair weather again, and, crossing a bridge, rode down into Storm Valley. The road at once bore marks of care; and the_assed a number of traps that spoke unmistakably of cities, and riders whos_ounts knew well the bridle-paths of Central Park. The hotel loomed massivel_efore them, and beyond were handsome estates and ambitious mansions scattere_hrough the valley and on the lower slopes.
  • Armitage paused in a clump of trees and dismounted.
  • "You will stay here until I come back. And remember that we don't know an_ne; and at our time of life, Oscar, one should be wary of making ne_cquaintances."
  • He tossed his cloak over the saddle and walked toward the inn. The size of th_lace and the great number of people going and coming surprised him, but i_he numbers he saw his own security, and he walked boldly up the steps of th_ain hotel entrance. He stepped into the long corridor of the inn, where man_eople lounged about, and heard with keen satisfaction and relief the click o_ telegraph instrument that seemed at once to bring him into contact with th_emote world. He filed his telegrams and walked the length of the broad hall, his riding-crop under his arm. The gay banter and laughter of a group of youn_en and women just returned from a drive gave him a touch of heartache, fo_here was a girl somewhere in the valley whom he had followed across the sea, and these people were of her own world—they undoubtedly knew her; very likel_he came often to this huge caravansary and mingled with them.
  • At the entrance he passed Baron von Marhof, who, by reason of the death of hi_oyal chief, had taken a cottage at the Springs to emphasize his abstentio_rom the life of the capital. The Ambassador lifted his eyes and bowed t_rmitage, as he bowed to a great many young men whose names he neve_emembered; but, oddly enough, the Baron paused, stared after Armitage for _oment, then shook his head and walked on with knit brows. Armitage had lifte_is hat and passed out, tapping his leg with his crop.
  • He walked toward the private houses that lay scattered over the valley an_long the gradual slope of the hills as though carelessly flung from a dic_ox. Many of the places were handsome estates, with imposing houses set ami_eautiful gardens. Half a mile from the hotel he stopped a passing negro t_sk who owned a large house that stood well back from the road. The ma_nswered; he seemed anxious to impart further information, and Armitag_vailed himself of the opportunity.
  • "How near is Judge Claiborne's place?" he asked.
  • The man pointed. It was the next house, on the right-hand side; and Armitag_miled to himself and strolled on.
  • He looked down in a moment upon a pretty estate, distinguished by its forma_arden, but with the broad acres of a practical farm stretching far out int_he valley. The lawn terraces were green, broken only by plots of sprin_lowers; the walks were walled in box and privet; the house, of the pillare_olonial type, crowned a series of terraces. A long pergola, with pillar_opped by red urns, curved gradually through the garden toward the mansion.
  • Armitage followed a side road along the brick partition wall and contemplate_he inner landscape. The sharp snap of a gardener's shears far up the slop_as the only sound that reached him. It was a charming place, and he yielde_o a temptation to explore it. He dropped over the wall and strolled awa_hrough the garden, the smell of warm earth, moist from the day's ligh_howers, and the faint odor of green things growing, sweet in his nostrils. H_alked to the far end of the pergola, sat down on a wooden bench, and gav_imself up to reverie. He had been denounced as an impostor; he was o_laiborne soil; and the situation required thought.
  • It was while he thus pondered his affairs that Shirley, walking over the sof_awn from a neighboring estate, came suddenly upon him.
  • Her head went up with surprise and—he was sure—with disdain. She stoppe_bruptly as he jumped to his feet.
  • "I am caught— _in flagrante delicto_! I can only plead guilty and pray fo_ercy."
  • "They said—they said you had gone to Mexico?" said Shirley questioningly.
  • "Plague take the newspapers! How dare they so misrepresent me!" he laughed.
  • "Yes, I read those newspaper articles with a good deal of interest. And m_rother—"
  • "Yes, your brother—he is the best fellow in the world!"
  • She mused, but a smile of real mirth now played over her face and lighted he_yes.
  • "Those are generous words, Mr. Armitage. My brother warned me against you i_uite unequivocal language. He told me about your match-box—"
  • "Oh, the cigarette case!" and he held it up. "It's really mine—and I'm goin_o keep it. It was very damaging evidence. It would argue strongly against m_n any court of law."
  • "Yes, I believe that is true." And she looked at the trinket with fran_nterest.
  • "But I particularly do not wish to have to meet that charge in any court o_aw, Miss Claiborne."
  • She met his gaze very steadily, and her eyes were grave. Then she asked, i_uch the same tone that she would have used if they had been very old friend_nd he had excused himself for not riding that day, or for not going upon _unt, or to the theater:
  • "Why?"
  • "Because I have a pledge to keep and a work to do, and if I were forced t_efend myself from the charge of being the false Baron von Kissel, everythin_ould be spoiled. You see, unfortunately—most unfortunately—I am not quit_ithout responsibilities, and I have come down into the mountains, where _ope not to be shot and tossed over a precipice until I have had time to watc_ertain people and certain events a little while. I tried to say as much t_aptain Claiborne, but I saw that my story did not impress him. And now I hav_aid the same thing to you—"
  • He waited, gravely watching her, hat in hand.
  • "And I have stood here and listened to you, and done exactly what Captai_laiborne would not wish me to do under any circumstances," said Shirley.
  • "You are infinitely kind and generous—"
  • "No. I do not wish you to think me either of those things—of course not!"
  • Her conclusion was abrupt and pointed.
  • "Then—"
  • "Then I will tell you—what I have not told any one else—that I know very wel_hat you are not the person who appeared at Bar Harbor three years ago an_almed himself off as the Baron von Kissel."
  • "You know it—you are quite sure of it?" he asked blankly.
  • "Certainly. I saw that person—at Bar Harbor. I had gone up from Newport for _eek—I was even at a tea where he was quite the lion, and I am sure you ar_ot the same person."
  • Her direct manner of speech, her decisive tone, in which she placed the matte_f his identity on a purely practical and unsentimental plane, gave him a ne_mpression of her character.
  • "But Captain Claiborne—"
  • He ceased suddenly and she anticipated the question at which he had faltered, and answered, a little icily:
  • "I do not consider it any of my business to meddle in your affairs with m_rother. He undoubtedly believes you are the impostor who palmed himself of_t Bar Harbor as the Baron von Kissel. He was told so—"
  • "By Monsieur Chauvenet."
  • "So he said."
  • "And of course he is a capital witness. There is no doubt of Chauvenet'_ntire credibility," declared Armitage, a little airily.
  • "I should say not," said Shirley unresponsively. "I am quite as sure that h_as not the false baron as I am that you were not."
  • Armitage laughed.
  • "That is a little pointed."
  • "It was meant to be," said Shirley sternly. "It is"—she weighed th_ord—"ridiculous that both of you should be here."
  • "Thank you, for my half! I didn't know he was here! But I am not exactl_here_ —I have a much, safer place,"—he swept the blue-hilled horizon with hi_and. "Monsieur Chauvenet and I will not shoot at each other in the hote_ining-room. But I am really relieved that he has come. We have an interestin_ashion of running into each other; it would positively grieve me to b_bliged to wait long for him."
  • He smiled and thrust his hat under his arm. The sun was dropping behind th_reat western barricade, and a chill wind crept sharply over the valley.
  • He started to walk beside her as she turned away, but she paused abruptly.
  • "Oh, this won't do at all! I can't be seen with you, even in the shadow of m_wn house. I must trouble you to take the side gate,"—and she indicated it b_ nod of her head.
  • "Not if I know myself! I am not a fraudulent member of the German nobility—yo_ave told me so yourself. Your conscience is clear—I assure you mine i_qually so! And I am not a person, Miss Claiborne, to sneak out by sid_ates—particularly when I came over the fence! It's a long way aroun_nyhow—and I have a horse over there somewhere by the inn."
  • "My brother—"
  • "Is at Fort Myer, of course. At about this hour they are having dress parade, and he is thoroughly occupied."
  • "But—there is Monsieur Chauvenet. He has nothing to do but amuse himself."
  • They had reached the veranda steps, and she ran to the top and turned for _oment to look at him. He still carried his hat and crop in one hand, and ha_ropped the other into the side pocket of his coat. He was wholly at ease, an_he wind ruffled his hair and gave him a boyish look that Shirley liked. Bu_he had no wish to be found with him, and she instantly nodded his dismissa_nd half turned away to go into the house, when he detained her for a moment.
  • "I am perfectly willing to afford Monsieur Chauvenet all imaginabl_ntertainment. We are bound to have many meetings. I am afraid he reached thi_harming valley before me; but—as a rule—I prefer to be a little ahead of him; it's a whim—the merest whim, I assure you."
  • He laughed, thinking little of what he said, but delighting in the picture sh_ade, the tall pillars of the veranda framing her against the white wall o_he house, and the architrave high above speaking, so he thought, for th_mplitude, the breadth of her nature. Her green cloth gown afforded th_appiest possible contrast with the white background; and her hat—(for a gown, let us remember, may express the dressmaker, but a hat expresses the woman wh_ears it)—her hat, Armitage was aware, was a trifle of black velvet caught u_t one side with snowy plumes well calculated to shock the sensibilities o_he Audubon Society. Yet the bird, if he knew, doubtless rejoiced in his fate!
  • Shirley's hand, thrice laid down, and there you have the length of that velve_ap, plume and all. Her profile, as she half turned away, must awaken regre_hat Reynolds and Gainsborough paint no more; yet let us be practical: Sargent, in this particular, could not serve us ill.
  • Her annoyance at finding herself lingering to listen to him was marked in a_lmost imperceptible gathering of her brows. It was all the matter of a_nstant. His heart beat fast in his joy at the sight of her, and the tongu_hat years of practice had skilled in reserve and evasion was possessed by _eckless spirit.
  • She nodded carelessly, but said nothing, waiting for him to go on.
  • "But when I wait for people they always come—even in a strange pergola!" h_dded daringly. "Now, in Geneva, not long ago—"
  • He lost the profile and gained her face as he liked it best, though her hea_as lifted a little high in resentment against her own yielding curiosity. H_as speaking rapidly, and the slight hint of some other tongue than hi_sually fluent English arrested her ear now, as it had at other times.
  • "In Geneva, when I told a young lady that I was waiting for a very wicked ma_o appear—it was really the oddest thing in the world that almost immediatel_onsieur Jules Chauvenet arrived at mine own inn! It is inevitable; it i_lways sure to be my fate," he concluded mournfully.
  • He bowed low, restored the shabby hat to his head with the least bit of _lourish and strolled away through the garden by a broad walk that led to th_ront gate.
  • He would have been interested to know that when he was out of sight Shirle_alked to the veranda rail and bent forward, listening to his steps on th_ravel, after the hedge and shrubbery had hidden him. And she stood thus unti_he faint click of the gate told her that he had gone.
  • She did not know that as the gate closed upon him he met Chauvenet face t_ace.