Read ROME : CHAPTER VII of Olive in Italy , free online book, by Moray Dalton, on ReadCentral.com.

Olive walked home to Ripetta. She felt tired and shaken, and unhappily conscious of some effort that must be made presently.

“He will be killed and for me.” “For me.” “For me.” She heard that echo of her thought through all the clamour of the streets, the shrill cries, the clatter of hoofs, the rattling of wheels over the cobble stones. She heard it as she climbed the stairs to her room. When she had taken off her hat and coat she poured some eau-de-cologne with water into a cup and drank it not this time to Italy or the joy of life. She lay down on her bed and stayed there for a while, not resting, but thinking or trying to think.

Was she really a sort of number thirteen, a grain of spilt salt, ill-omened, disastrous? Camille would not think so; but it seemed to her that she had never been able to make anyone happy, and that there must be some taint in her therefore, some flaw in her nature.

Now, here, at last, was a thing well worth doing. She must risk her soul, lose it, perhaps, or rather, exchange it for a man’s life. She had hoarded it hitherto, had been miserly, selfish, seeking to save the poor thing as though it were a pearl of price. Now she saw herself as the veriest rag of flesh parading virtue, useless, comfortless, helpless, clinging to her code, and justifying all the trouble she gave to others by a reference to the impalpable, elusive and possible non-existent immortal and inner self she had held so dear. She was ashamed. Ah, now at last she would give ungrudgingly. Her feet should not falter, nor her eyes be dimmed by any shadow of fear or of regret, though she went by perilous ways to an almost certain end.

Soon after noon she got up and prepared to face the world again, and towards three o’clock she returned to the Villa Medici. She had to ring the porter’s bell as the garden gate was shut, and the old man came grumblingly as usual.

“Monsieur Michelin will see no one. Did he not tell you so this morning?”

“But I have come for Monsieur Gontrand,” she said.

She hoped now above all things to find the black Gascon alone in his atelier near the Belvedere. The first move depended upon him, and there was no time to spare. She determined to await his return in the wood if he were out, but there was no need. He opened his door at once in answer to her knocking.

“I have come may I speak to you for a moment?” she began rather confusedly. He looked tired and worried, and was so evidently alarmed at the sight of her, and afraid of what she was going to say next, that she could hardly help smiling. “I want to ask you two questions. I hope you will answer them.”

“I should be glad to please you, mademoiselle, but ”

She hurried on. “First, when are they going to fight? Oh, tell me, tell me! I know you were to be with him. I know you are his friend. Be mine too! What harm can it do? I swear I will keep it secret.”

“Ah, well, if you promise that,” he said. “It is to be to-morrow afternoon.”

“Where?”

He shook his head. “I really cannot tell you that.”

“Well, the hour is fixed. It will not be changed?”

“No, the Prince preferred the early morning, but Michelin has an appointment he must keep with Vandervelde at noon.”

“Nothing will persuade him to alter it then?” she insisted.

“Nothing.”

“That is well,” she said sighing. “Good-bye, M’sieur Gontrand. You you will do your best for Camille.”

“You may rely on me,” he answered.

She went down the steps of Trinità del Monte, and across the Piazza di Spagna to the English book-shop at the corner, where she bought a Roman Herald. Three minutes study of the visitors’ list sufficed to inform her that the Prince was staying at the Hotel de Russie close by. The afternoon was waning, and already the narrow streets of the lower town were in shadow; soon the shops would be lit up and gay with the gleam of marbles, the glimmer of Roman pearls and silks, and the green, grotesque bronzes that strangers buy.

Olive walked down the Via Babuino past the ugly English church, crossed the road, and entered the hall of the hotel in the wake of a party of Americans. They went on towards the lift and left her uncertain which way to turn, so she appealed to the gold-laced, gigantic, and rather awful porter.

“Prince Tor di Rocca?”

He softened at her mention of the illustrious name.

“If you will go into the lounge there I will send to see if the Prince is in. What name shall I say?”

“Miss Agar. I have no card with me.”

She chose a window-seat near a writing-table at the far end of the room, and there Filippo found her when he came in five minutes later. He was prepared for anything but the smile in the blue eyes lifted to his, and he paled as he took the hand she gave and raised it to his lips.

“Ah,” he said fervently, “if you were always kind.”

“You would be good?”

“Yes.”

“For a week, or a month? But you need not answer me. Filippo, I should like some tea.”

“Of course,” he said eagerly. “Forgive me,” and he hurried away to order it.

When he returned his dark face was radiant. “Do you know that is the second time you have called me by my name? You said Filippo this morning. Ah, I heard you, and I have thought of it since.”

The girl hardened her heart. She realised she had always realised that this man was dangerous. A fire consumed him. It was a fire that blazed up to destroy, no pleasant light and warmth upon the hearth of a good life, but women were apt to flutter, moth-like, into the flame of it nevertheless.

He sat down beside her and took her hand in his.

“I know I was violent this morning; I could not help myself. I am a Tor di Rocca. It would be so easy for you to make me happy ”

She listened quietly.

A waiter brought the tea and set it on a little table between them.

“You had coffee yesterday,” she said. “It seems years ago.”

“I have forgotten yesterday, Incipit vita nuova! Do you remember I came to you dressed in Dante’s red lucco?”

“Yes, but you are not a bit like him.”

She came to the point presently. “Filippo, you say you want me?”

“More than anything in this world.”

Her eyes met his and held them. “Well, if you will get out of fighting M’sieur Michelin I will come to you meet you anywhere and at any hour after noon to-morrow.”

“Ah, you make conditions.”

“Of course.”

“How can I get out of fighting him? The man struck me, insulted me.”

“Yes,” she said, “and you know why!”

“I have asked your pardon for that,” he said with an effort that brought the colour into his face.

“Yes, but that is not enough. I don’t choose that this unpleasantness should go any further. Write a letter to him now we will concoct it together and and I will be nice to you.”

She smiled at him, and there was no shadow of fear or of regret in the blue eyes that looked towards the almost certain end.

“Well, I must be let down easily,” he said unwillingly. “I am not going to lick his boots.”

They sat down at the writing-table together, and she began to dictate. “Just scribble this, and if it does you can make a fair copy afterwards.

“’DEAR MONSIEUR MICHELIN, On reflection I understand that your conduct this morning was justifiable from your point of view, and I withdraw ’”

Filippo laid down the pen. “I shall not say that.”

“Begin again then,” she said patiently.

“’I have been asked to write to you by a third person whom I wish to please. She tells me that this morning’s unpleasantness resulted from a misunderstanding. She says she has deceived you, and she hopes that you will forgive her. I suppose from what she has said that your hasty action was excusable, as you thought her other than she is, and I think that you may now regret it and agree with me that this need go no farther ’”

“This is better for me,” he said.

“Yes.” She took the pen from him and wrote under his signature: “You will be sorry to know that your child is a liar. Try to forget her existence.”

“You can send it now by someone who must wait for an answer,” she explained. “I shall stay here until it comes.”

“Very well,” he said sulkily, and he went out into the hall to confer with the porter. “An important letter, Eccellenza? A vetturino will take it for you ”

Olive heard the opening and shutting of doors, the shrill whistle answered by harsh, raucous cries, the rattling of wheels. Filippo came back to her.

“I have done my part.” Then, looking at her closely, he saw that she was very pale. “Is all you have implied and I have written true?”

“No.”

“You must love him very much.”

“I? Not at all, as you understand love.”

The ensuing half-hour seemed long to the girl; Filippo talked desultorily, but there were intervals of silence. She was too tired to attempt to answer him, and, besides, his evident restlessness, his inattention, afforded her some acrid amusement. He was like a boy, eager in pursuit of the bird in the bush, heedless of the poor thing fluttering, dying in his hand. It was now near the dinner-hour, and people were coming into the lounge to await the sounding of the gong; from where Olive sat she could see all the entrances and exits as in a glass darkly in the clouded surface of a mirror that hung on the wall and reflected the white gleam of shirt fronts, the shimmer of silks, and she was quick to note that Filippo was interested in what she saw as a pink blur.

His love was as fully winged for flight as any Beast of the book of Revelations; it was swift as a sword to pierce and be withdrawn. He could not be altogether loyal for a day. Olive’s heart was filled with pity for the women who had cared.

When, at last, the answer to the letter came, the Prince gave it to her to read. It was very short, a mere scrawl of scarlet ink on the brown, rough-edged paper that was one of Camille’s affectations.

“My zeal was evidently misplaced and I regret its
excess.”

Olive was speechless; her eyes were dimmed, her throat ached with tears. How easily he believed the worst this man who had been her friend. She rose to go, but Filippo laid a detaining hand upon her arm.

“To-morrow.” He had already told her where and when to meet him, and had given her two keys.

“Are you sure you want me?” she said hurriedly. “There are so many women in your life. You remind me of the South American Republic that made and shot seventeen presidents in six months.”

He laughed. “Do I? You remind me of an eel, or a little grey mouse trying to get out of a trap. There is no way out, my dear, unless, of course, you want me to kill your Frenchman. I am a good shot.”

“I will come.”

She looked for pink as she went out of the room, and saw a very pretty woman in rose-coloured tulle sitting alone and near the door.

She had given ungrudgingly, unfaltering, and there was no shadow of regret in her eyes; it was nothing to her that he should care for this other little body, for bare white shoulders and a fluff of yellow hair. He had never been more to her than a means to an end, and he was to be that now.

She took a tram from the Piazza del Popolo to the Rotonda. There was a large ironmonger’s shop at the corner; she remembered having noticed it before. She went in and asked to look at some of the pistols they had in the window. Several were brought out for her to see, and she chose a small one. The young man who served her showed her how to load it and pull the trigger. He wrapped it in brown paper and made a loop in the string for her to carry it by. She thanked him.

The bells of all the churches were ringing the Ave Maria when she left the Hotel de Russie an hour ago, and it was dark when she reached her own room. The stars were bright, shining through a rift of clouds that hid the crescent moon. Olive laid the awkwardly-shaped parcel she carried down upon the table while she lit her candle. Then she got her scissors and cut the string. This was the key of a door through which she must pass. Death was the way out.

The little flame of the candle gleamed on the polished steel. It was almost a pretty thing, so smooth and shining. It was well worth the money she had paid for it; it was going to be useful, indispensable to-morrow.

Suddenly, in spite of herself, she began to think of her grave. It would be dug soon. She would be brought to it in a black covered cart. No prayers would be said, and there would be no sound at all but that of the earth falling upon the coffin.

She sprang up, her face chalk white, her eyes wide and dark with terror. She was afraid, horribly afraid of this lonely and violent end. Jean would never know that she died rather than let another man Jean would never know Jean

“I can’t! I can’t!” she said aloud piteously.

She was trembling so that she had to cling to the banisters as she went down the stairs to save herself from falling. There was a post-office at the corner. She went in and explained that she wanted to send a telegram. The young woman behind the counter glanced at the clock.

“Where to? You have half an hour.”

“To Florence.” She wrote it and gave it in.

“To JEAN AVENEL, Villa Fiorelli, Settignano, Florence.

“If you would help me come if you can to the Villino Bella Vista at Albano to-morrow soon after noon; watch for me and follow me in. I know it may not be possible, but the danger is real to me and I want you so much. In any case remember that my heart was yours only. OLIVE.”