Read CHAPTER XXXIX - THE VILLA of Charles O' Malley‚ The Irish Dragoon Volume 1, free online book, by Charles Lever, on ReadCentral.com.

The first object which presented itself to my eye the next morning was the midshipman’s packet intrusted to my care by Power. I turned it over to read the address more carefully, and what was my surprise to find that the name was that of my fair friend Donna Inez.

“This certainly thickens the plot,” thought I. “And so I have now fallen upon the real Simon Pure, and the reefer has had the good fortune to distance the dragoon. Well, thus far, I cannot say that I regret it. Now, however, for the parade, and then for the villa.”

“I say, O’Malley,” cried out Monsoon, as I appeared on the Plaza, “I have accepted an invitation for you to-day. We dine across the river. Be at my quarters a little before six, and we’ll go together.”

I should rather have declined the invitation; but not well knowing why, and having no ready excuse, acceded, and promised to be punctual.

“You were at Don Emanuel’s last night. I heard of you!”

“Yes; I spent a most delightful evening.”

“That’s your ground, my boy. A million of moidores, and such a campagna in Valencia. A better thing than the Dalrymple affair. Don’t blush. I know it all. But stay; here they come.”

As he spoke, the general commanding, with a numerous staff, rode forward. As they passed, I recognized a face which I had certainly seen before, and in a moment remembered it was that of the dragoon of the evening before. He passed quite close, and fixing his eyes steadfastly on me, evinced no sign of recognition.

The parade lasted above two hours; and it was with a feeling of impatience I mounted a fresh horse to canter out to the villa. When I arrived, the servant informed me that Don Emanuel was in the city, but that the senhora was in the garden, offering, at the same time, to escort me. Declining this honor, I intrusted my horse to his keeping and took my way towards the arbor where last I had seen her.

I had not walked many paces, when the sound of a guitar struck on my ear. I listened. It was the senhora’s voice. She was singing a Venetian canzonetta in a low, soft, warbling tone, as one lost in a revery; as though the music was a mere accompaniment to some pleasant thought. I peeped through the dense leaves, and there she sat upon a low garden seat, an open book on the rustic table before her, beside her, embroidery, which seemed only lately abandoned. As I looked, she placed her guitar upon the ground and began to play with a small spaniel that seemed to have waited with impatience for some testimony of favor. A moment more, and she grew weary of this; then, heaving a long but gentle sigh, leaned back upon her chair and seemed lost in thought. I now had ample time to regard her, and certainly never beheld anything more lovely. There was a character of classic beauty, and her brow, though fair and ample, was still strongly marked upon the temples; the eyes, being deep and squarely set, imparted a look of intensity to her features which their own softness subdued; while the short upper lip, which trembled with every passing thought, spoke of a nature tender and impressionable, and yet impassioned. Her foot and ankle peeped from beneath her dark robe, and certainly nothing could be more faultless; while her hand, fair as marble, blue-veined and dimpled, played amidst the long tresses of her hair, that, as if in the wantonness of beauty, fell carelessly upon her shoulders.

It was some time before I could tear myself away from the fascination of so much beauty, and it needed no common effort to leave the spot. As I made a short detour in the garden before approaching the arbor, she saw me as I came forward, and kissing her hand gayly, made room for me beside her.

“I have been fortunate in finding you alone, Senhora,” said I, as I seated myself by her side, “for I am the bearer of a letter to you. How far it may interest you, I know not, but to the writer’s feelings I am bound to testify.”

“A letter to me? You jest, surely?”

“That I am in earnest, this will show,” said I, producing the packet.

She took it from my hands, turned it about and about, examined the seal; while, half doubtingly, she said:

“The name is mine; but still ”

“You fear to open it; is it not so? But after all, you need not be surprised if it’s from Howard; that’s his name, I think.”

“Howard! from little Howard!” exclaimed she, enthusiastically; and tearing open the letter, she pressed it to her lips, her eyes sparkling with pleasure and her cheek glowing as she read. I watched her as she ran rapidly over the lines; and I confess that, more than once, a pang of discontent shot through my heart that the midshipman’s letter could call up such interest, not that I was in love with her myself, but yet, I know not how it was, I had fancied her affections unengaged; and without asking myself wherefore, I wished as much.

“Poor dear boy!” said she, as she came to the end. How these few and simple words sank into my heart, as I remembered how they had once been uttered to myself, and in perhaps no very dissimilar circumstances.

“But where is the souvenir he speaks of?” said she.

“The souvenir. I’m not aware ”

“Oh, I hope you’ve not lost the lock of hair he sent me!” I was quite dumfounded at this, and could not remember whether I had received it from Power or not, so answered, at random,

“Yes; I must have left it on my table.”

“Promise me, then, to bring it to-morrow with you?”

“Certainly,” said I, with something of pique in my manner. “If I find such a means of making my visit an agreeable one, I shall certainly not omit it.”

“You are quite right,” said she, either not noticing or not caring for the tone of my reply. “You will, indeed, be a welcome messenger. Do you know, he was one of my lovers?”

“One of them, indeed! Then pray how many do you number at this moment?”

“What a question; as if I could possibly count them! Besides, there are so many absent, some on leave, some deserters, perhaps, that I might be reckoning among my troops, but who, possibly, form part of the forces of the enemy. Do you know little Howard?”

“I cannot say that we are personally acquainted, but I am enabled through the medium of a friend to say that his sentiments are not strange to me. Besides, I have really pledged myself to support the prayer of his petition.”

“How very good of you! For which reason you’ve forgotten, if not lost, the lock of hair.”

“That you shall have to-morrow,” said I, pressing my hand solemnly to my heart.

“Well, then, don’t forget it. But hush; here comes Captain Trevyllian. So you say Lisbon really pleases you?” said she, in a tone of voice totally changed, as the dragoon of the preceding evening approached.

“Mr. O’Malley, Captain Trevyllian.”

We bowed stiffly and haughtily to each other, as two men salute who are unavoidably obliged to bow, with every wish on either side to avoid acquaintance. So, at least, I construed his bow; so I certainly intended my own.

It requires no common tact to give conversation the appearance of unconstraint and ease when it is evident that each person opposite is laboring under excited feelings; so that, notwithstanding the senhora’s efforts to engage our attention by the commonplaces of the day, we remained almost silent, and after a few observations of no interest, took our several leaves. Here again a new source of awkwardness arose; for as we walked together towards the house, where our horses stood, neither party seemed disposed to speak.

“You are probably returning to Lisbon?” said he, coldly.

I assented by a bow; upon which, drawing his bridle within his arm, he bowed once more, and turned away in an opposite direction; while I, glad to be relieved of an unsought-for companionship, returned alone to the town.