小说搜索     点击排行榜   最新入库
选择底色: 选择字号:【大】【中】【小】
Sir Henry Wilberforce sat sipping his morning coffee in his most leisurely fashion by the table in his own private salon at the H?tel de l'Allemagne in Rome. 'Capital man, this fellow Churchill,' he said to himself approvingly, as he saw Colin close the door noiselessly behind him! 'By far the best person for the place I've ever had since that fool Simpson went off so suddenly and got married, confound him. He's so quiet and unobtrusive in all his movements, and he talks so well, and has such a respectable accent and manner. Now Dobbs's accent was quite enough to drive a man wild. I always wanted to throw a boot at him—indeed I've done it more than once—he was so utterly unendurable. This fellow, on the other hand, talks really just like a gentleman; in fact, the only thing I've got to say against him, so far (there's always something or other turning up in the long run), the only thing I've got to say against him yet, is that he's positively a deuced sight too gentlemanly and nice-looking and well-mannered altogether. A servant oughtn't to be too well-mannered. Why, that old Mrs. Cregoe, with the obvious wig and the powdered face, who sits at the table d'hote nearly opposite me, actually went up and spoke to him in the passage yesterday, taking him for one of the visitors! Awkward, exceedingly awkward, when people mistake your man for your nephew, as she did! But otherwise, the fellow's really a capital servant. He—well, what the dickens do you want now, I wonder?'

'A signorina below wishes to speak with you, excellency,' the Italian servant put in, bowing.

'A signorina! What the deuce! Did she give her card, Agostino?'

'The signorina said you would not know her, signor. Shall I introduce her? Ah! here she is.'

Sir Henry rose and made a slight stiff inclination, as who should say: 'Now what the devil can you want with me, I wonder?' Gwen, nothing abashed, laid down her card upon the table, which Sir Henry then and there took up and looked at narrowly, putting on his eyeglass for the purpose.

'What an ill-mannered surly old bear,' Gwen thought to herself; 'and what an absurd thing that that delightful Mr. Churchill should have to go as the old wretch's valet. I shall take care to put a stop to that arrangement, anyhow.'

'Well,' Sir Henry said, glancing suspiciously from the card to Gwen 'May I ask—ur—to what I owe the honour of this visit?'

'Oh, certainly,' Gwen answered with perfect composure (she was never lacking in that repose that stamps the caste of Vere de Vere). 'But as it's rather a long story to tell, perhaps you'll excuse my sitting down while I tell it.' And Gwen half took a chair herself, but at the same time half compelled Sir Henry to push it towards her also, with a sort of grudging unmannerly politeness. Sir Henry, after standing himself for a second or two longer, and then discovering that Gwen was waiting for him to be seated before beginning to disclose her business, dropped in a helpless querulous fashion into the small armchair opposite, and prepared himself feebly for the tête-à-tête.

'The business I've come about,' Gwen went oft quietly, is a rather peculiar one. The fact is my father and I travelled to Rome the other day in the same railway carriage with your servant, whose name, he told us, is Colin Churchill.'

Sir Henry nodded a non-committing acquiescence. 'The deuce!' he thought to himself. 'Something or other turned up already against him.—I hope, I'm sure, Miss—ur—let me see your card here once more—ur—Miss Howard-Russell—I hope, I'm sure, he didn't in any way behave impertinently, or make himself at all disagreeable to you. You see, one's obliged to put one's servants into carriages with other people on these continental lines, which of course is very unpleasant for—ur—for those other people.'

'Not at all,' Gwen answered with a charming smile, which almost melted even stony old Sir Henry. 'Not at all; quite the contrary, I assure you. His society and conversation were really quite delightful. Indeed, that's just what I've come about.'

Sir Henry wriggled uneasily in his chair, put up his eyeglass for the third time, and stared at Gwen in puzzled wonderment. His valet's society was really quite delightful! How extraordinary! Could this very handsome and quite presentable young woman—with a double-barrelled surname too—be after all nothing more than a lady's maid who had had a flirtation with his new valet? But if so, and if she had come to propose for Churchill, so to speak, what the deuce could she want to see him for? He dropped his eyeglass once more in silent dubitation, and merely muttered cautiously: 'Indeed!'

'Yes, very much so altogether,' Gwen went on boldly, in spite of Sir Henry's freezing rigidity. 'The fact is, I wanted to speak to you about him, because, you know, really and truly, he isn't a valet at all, and he oughtn't to be one.'

Sir Henry started visibly. 'Not a valet!' he cried. 'Why, if it conies to that, I've found him a very useful and capable person for the place. But I don't quite understand you. Am I to gather that you mean he's an impostor—a thief in disguise, or something of that sort? I picked him up, certainly, under rather peculiar circumstances, just because he could speak a little Italian.'

Gwen laughed a little joyous ringing laugh. 'Oh, no!' she said quickly, 'nothing of that sort, certainly. I meant quite the opposite. Mr. Churchill's a sculptor, and a very accomplished well-read artist.'

Sir Henry rose from his chair nervously.

'You don't mean to say so!' he cried in surprise. 'You quite astonish me. And yet, now you mention it, I've certainly noticed that the young man had a very gentlemanly voice and accent. And then his manners—quite unexceptionable. But what the deuce—excuse an old man's freedom of language—what the deuce, my dear madam, does he mean by playing such a scurvy trick upon me as this—passing himself off for an ordinary valet?'

'That's just what I've come about, Sir Henry. He happened to mention your name to my father and myself, and to allude to the nature of his relations with you; and I was so much interested in the young man that I looked your name up in the visitors' list in the “Italian Times,” and came round to speak to you about him.'

Sir Henry raised his eyebrows slightly, but answered nothing.

'And he's not playing you any trick; that's the worst of it,' Gwen went on boldly, taking no notice of Sir Henry's indifferent politeness. 'He's poor, and he's a sculptor. He's been working for several years with a small Italian artist in the Marylebone Road.'

'Ah! yes, yes; I remember. He said he'd been engaged as a marble-cutter since he left his last situation. Why, bless my soul, his last situation was with old Mr. Philip Howard-Russell, of Wootton Mandeville. Let me see—your card—ah! quite so. He must have been some relation of yours, I should imagine.'

'My uncle,' Gwen answered, glancing up at him defiantly. To her the relationship was no introduction.

Sir Henry bowed again slightly. 'Excuse my stupidity,' he said, with more politeness than he had hitherto shown. 'I ought of course to have recognised your name at once. I knew your uncle. A most delightful man, and a brother collector.—The selfish old pig,' he thought to himself with an internal sneer; 'he was the most disagreeable bumptious old fellow I ever met in the whole course of my experience. Why, he pretended to doubt the genuineness of my Pinturicchio! But at least he was a man of good family, and his niece, in spite of the interest she evidently takes in my servant Churchill, is no doubt a person whom one ought to treat civilly.' For Sir Henry was one of those ingenuous people who don't think there is any necessity at all for treating civilly that inconsiderable section of humanity which doesn't happen to be connected with men of good family.

'Yes,' Gwen went on, 'Mr. Churchill, as we learnt quite incidentally, was a long time since, when he was quite a boy, in my Uncle Philip's employment. But he has risen by his own talent since then, and now he's a sculptor: there's his card which he gave me, and he has described himself there correctly, as you see. Now, he's poor, it seems, and as he was very anxious to come to Rome, and could find no other way of coming, he decided to come here as a valet. Wasn't that splendid of him! You can see at once that such devotion to art shows what a very remarkable young man he must really be—you're a lover of art yourself, and so you can sympathise with him—to come away as a servant, so as to get to Rome and see the works of Michael Angelo, and Raphael, and—and—and—all that sort of thing, you know,' Gwen added feebly, breaking down in her strenuous effort for a completion to her imagined trio.

Sir Henry hawed a moment. 'Well, 'he said slowly, 'I must confess I don't exactly agree with you that it was such a very splendid thing of him to palm himself off upon me as a servant in this abominable underhand manner. You'll excuse me, my dear madam, but it seems to me—I may be wrong, but it seems to me certainly—that a man's either a servant or a sculptor: confound it all, he can't very well be both together. If he comes to me and gets a place on the representation that he's a valet, and then goes and represents to you that he's a sculptor, why, in that case—in that case, I say, it's the very devil. You'll excuse my saying it, but hang me if I can see what there is after all so very fine or splendid about it.'

Gwen bit her lip. 'If you'd heard how beautifully he talked about art in the train,' she said persuasively, 'and how much he knew about Millet and Thorwaldsen and the old masters, and how at home he was in all the great picture-galleries in England, you wouldn't be surprised that he should wish, by hook or by crook, to come to Italy. Why, he can talk quite charmingly and delightfully about—about—about Titian and Perugino and Caravaggio, and I'm sure I don't know how many other great painters and people.'

Sir Henry bent his head again in silent acquiescence. He remembered now that mysterious remark of Colin's, on the day of their first meeting, as to the rival Pinturicchio in the Knowle gallery. The woman was evidently right: that fellow Churchill was a bit of an artist, and had been quizzing his personal peculiarities for a whole fortnight, under cover of acting as valet. Now it's all very well for an enthusiastic young sculptor to go coming to Rome as a man-servant, in order to study Michael Angelo and Thorwald-sen, so long as he comes as somebody else's man-servant; but when he comes as one's own attendant, hang it all, you know, that's quite another matter. 'Well,' Sir Henry said, looking curiously at Gwen's embarrassed face, 'and what do you wish to ask me about my man Churchill?'

Gwen flushed up angrily at the obvious insolence of his inquiry, but she took no notice of it in words for the sake of her errand. 'I only called,' she said quietly, 'though it's a little unusual for a lady to do so' (Sir Henry inclined his head gravely once more, as who should say I quite agree with you), 'because I felt so much interested in Mr. Churchill. I think it isn't right to let him remain as a servant; he ought to be allowed to continue his work as a sculptor without delay. Sir Henry, you'll release him from his engagement, I'm sure, and let him go on with his own proper studies.'

'Release him, my dear young lady,' Sir Henry answered sardonically. 'Release him! release him! By Jove, that's hardly the word I should myself apply to it. I shall certainly send him packing, you may be sure, at the earliest convenient opportunity, and he may consider himself deuced lucky if I don't get him into serious trouble for engaging himself to me under what comes perilously near being false pretences. You must excuse my frankness, Miss Howard-Russell; but I'm an old man, and I don't see why I should be left at a minute's notice here in Rome, at the mercy of these confounded foreigners, without a valet. After what you tell me, it's plain I can't have him here spying upon me all the time in every action; but it's devilish uncomfortable, I can tell you, to be left a thousand miles away from home without anybody on earth to do anything for one.'

What could Gwen say? She felt instinctively in her own mind that Sir Henry's complaint was perfectly natural and excusable. When a man engages a man-servant, he means to engage a person of a certain comparatively fixed and recognisable social status, and he certainly doesn't want to have his habits and manners of life made an open secret to a fellow-being of something like his own level of intelligence and education; But, on the other hand, she could see, too, that this nice distinction was never likely to occur to Colin's simple intelligence. Little as she had seen of him, and little as he had told her of his story, she quite understood that the old vicar's expageboy wouldn't be able, in all probability, to feel the difference to Sir Henry Wilberforce between having him for a valet and having any ordinary gentleman's servant. However, happily, it didn't much matter what Sir Henry thought about it: the important point was that that clever young Mr. Churchill was to be released forthwith from his absurd engagement and left free to follow his own natural artistic promptings. That was all, of course, that Gwen, for her part, really cared about.

'Then you'll dismiss him, I suppose?' she asked again after an awkward pause. 'You'll allow him to take to his proper work as a sculptor?'

'Why, really, my dear lady, I don't care twopence, so far as that goes, what the dickens he chooses to take to as soon as he's left me; but I'm certainly not going to keep an educated sculptor fellow spying about me any longer and collecting notes to retail by-and-by to half Rome upon my personal peculiarities. Oh dear no, certainly not. I shall pay him his month's wages and compensation for board and lodging, and I shall send him about his business this very minute.'

Gwen rose and bowed slightly in her most stately manner. 'If that's so,' she said quietly, 'the object of my visit's more than attained already. I won't keep you any longer. Good morning.'

Sir Henry rose in return and answered,

'Good morning,' with frigid courtesy.

Gwen moved towards the door, which Sir Henry was just about to open for her, when Agostino flung it wide once more from outside, and announced in a loud voice: 'Signor Churchill, Signor Vintrop.'

Gwen trembled a little. Mr. Churchill! Must she meet him, then, face to face under these very awkward circumstances? It seemed so, for there was no escape from it. She couldn't get away before they entered.

The two strangers thus announced walked into the salon together, and in a moment Gwen saw that it wasn't Colin, but somebody else, somewhat older, yet a little like him. At the very same moment Hiram Winthrop, entering that unknown room in that unknown city, felt a sudden thrill course fiercely through his inmost marrow, and looked up with a glance of instantaneous recognition to the strange lady. How wonderful! how magnificent! how unexpected! It was she; it was the glorious apparition of the Thousand Islands; it was (he knew no other name for her), it was Gwen of Chester!

Shy and retiring as he was by nature, Hiram so far forgot everything else at that moment, except his joy at this unexpected meeting, that he advanced quite naturally and held out his hand to Gwen, who took it frankly, but with a curious smile of half-inquiring welcome.

'You don't remember me, Miss Gwen,' he said in a voice of some little disappointment (he could only call her by her Christian name, which mode of address sounds far less familiar to American ears than to us more ceremonious English). 'My name is Winthrop, and I've had the pleasure of meeting you before—once—have you forgotten?... at the Thousand Islands.'

Gwen shook her head a little doubtfully. 'Well, to say the truth,' she answered with a pleasant smile, 'I don't quite recollect you. We met so many people, you see, while we were in America.'

'But I was painting a sketch of a little island near Alexandria Bay,' Hiram went on eagerly, but somewhat crestfallen (how strange that he should remember her every feature so well, while she! she had utterly forgotten him). 'Don't you recollect? you were walking with your father near the river, and you came across two of us sketching, under a little cliff at Alexandria Bay, and you came down and looked at my picture.'

'Oh, yes,' Gwen cried, a sudden flash of recognition spreading over her face. 'I remember all about it now. I remember your picture perfectly.' (Hiram's eyes brightened immediately.) 'There was a single little island in it, of course, with a solitary great dark pine towering above it, against a liquid deep blue background of cloudless sky.' (Hiram nodded in delight at her accurate description.) 'Oh yes, I remember the picture perfectly, though I've quite forgotten you yourself.

But I recollect your friend so well; such a charming person, the most delightful conversation—a Mr. Audouin, he said his name was. I remember him more distinctly than almost anybody else we met during the whole of our American visit.'

Poor Hiram! How little Gwen knew as she said those simple words she was plunging a dagger into his very heart! He almost reeled beneath that crushing, terrible disappointment. Here for all those long months he had been treasuring up the picture of Gwen upon his mental vision, thinking of her, looking at her, dreaming about her; he had come to Europe hoping and trusting somewhere or other at last to find her; he had stumbled up against her accidentally his very first day in Rome, and now that he stood there actually face to face with her, the queen of his fancy, his heart's ideal—why, she herself had positively forgotten all about him!

She remembered Audouin, that supplanter Audouin; but she had clean forgotten poor solitary yearning Hiram! What else could he expect, indeed? It was all perfectly natural. Who was he, that such a one as Gwen should ever remember him? What presumption, what folly on his part to expect he could have left the slightest image imprinted upon her memory! And yet, somehow, in spite of sober reason, he couldn't help feeling horribly and unutterably disappointed. His face fell with a sudden collapse, but he managed feebly to mutter half aloud: 'Oh, yes, a most delightful person, Mr. Audouin.'

Meanwhile, Sir Henry, fidgeting with the back of a chair in his hand, stood waiting to hear what was the meaning of this singular irruption of American barbarians. Who were they? Had they come by appointment? Why did they recognise this real or pretended niece of that old idiot, Howard-Russell? Was it all a plant to rob or intimidate him? Why the deuce did they all stand there, shaking hands and exchanging reminiscences in his own hired salon, and take no notice at all of him, Sir Henry Wilberforce, the real proprietor and sole representative authority of that sacred apartment? It was really all most extraordinary, most irregular, most mysterious.

Sam broke the momentary silence by coming forward towards the old man, and saying in his clear, half-American tone: 'I presume I'm addressing Sir Henry Wilberforce?'

Sir Henry nodded. A Yankee, clearly. And yet he gave his name as Churchill, and wanted no doubt to represent himself as the other Churchill's brother!

'Well,' Sam went on (and Gwen could not help but wait and listen), 'I've come to see you about my brother. I asked for him from the person in the white choker——'

'Agostino,' Sir Henry murmured feebly.

'But he said, as far as I could make out his lingo, that my brother was gone out. So I just thought the best thing, under the circumstances, would be to come in and speak to you.' 'And may I ask,' Sir Henry inquired, still fingering the back of the chair in a nervous manner, 'who your brother may be, and what the devil I have got to do with him?'

'Oh, his name's Churchill,' Sam answered, with some little confusion, glancing over towards Gwen, who stood listening, half-amused and half-embarrassed. 'Colin Churchill.

That's my card, you see, colonel——-'

Sir Henry took it and looked at it languidly. 'I see,' he said. 'You are—ahem—my valet's brother.'

Sam flushed a little angrily. 'That's the very business I've come here about,' he said, looking as though he would like to knock down the feeble supercilious old Pantaloon who stood there quavering and shivering before him. 'My brother being determined to come to Rome to be a sculptor, and not having the means to come with of his own, you see, colonel——-'

'My precise military rank, if any, must be a matter of absolute indifference to you, sir,' Sir Henry interrupted coolly.

'Well, he didn't apply to his family for the means to do so, as he might have done,' Sam went on, without noticing the interruption, 'but chose to take a place, quite beneath his natural position, as your valet, Sir Henry Wilberforce. I happened to come to England at the time from America, where I've been residing for some years, and learnt on inquiry that he had taken this very foolish step; so I followed him at once to Rome, to release him from such an unwise arrangement, if possible, and to make things pleasant all round, as between the whole lot of us. I ain't sorry that Colin's gone out, for it enables us to clear off the whole thing right away, without telling him anything about it. What I propose, Sir Henry Wilberforce,'—Sam repeated the full name each time a little viciously, with some adopted republican aversion—'is just this: I'll telegraph to London to the Couriers' Society to get you a suitable person sent out here to replace him. If you like, I'll get you a selection sent out on approval, and I'll pay their expenses; we don't want to put you to any inconvenience, you understand, Sir Henry Wilberforce. But what we stick at is only one point—my brother Colin can't stop here with you another minute; that's certain. He's got to leave right away, and go straight off to his own business.'

Sir Henry Wilberforce wrung his hands in helpless despair at this inexplicable inroad of so many aggressive strangers. 'Upon my word,' he said piteously, 'I wish to goodness I'd never seen or heard at all of this extraordinary young man Churchill. Such a deuce of a hullabaloo and corrobboree as they're kicking up about him, the whole three of them, I never heard in all my confounded lifetime. Dash their geniuses! Who the dickens wants a genius for a valet? I'll take precious good care, when once I'm out of this deuced hobble, that I never engage a fellow who's been first cousin to a marble-cutter as my servant in future. First this young lady comes down upon me and lectures me in the name of high art, what the devil do I mean by keeping this delightful young sculptor pottering about as my own body-servant. And then this pair of Yankees come down upon me, in the name of brotherly affection, and ask me what the devil do I mean by keeping this eminently respectable brother of theirs in a menial position that I never for a moment wanted him to get into.—Why, what the devil do you mean yourself, sir, by invading my premises in this unceremonious manner? Who the devil cares twopence about you or your brother? If your brother's a sculptor, why the devil doesn't he stick to his own profession? What the devil does he mean by coming and passing himself off upon me as a servant? Will you have the kindness, all of you, to leave my rooms at your earliest convenience, and be dashed to you? And will you tell this interesting young sculptor, if you see him, that he may pack up his traps and clear out as soon as possible? That'll do, thank you. Good morning. Good morning.' And Sir Henry stood with the door in his hand, waiting for the three to take their departure.

That same evening, when Sir Henry came in from dinner much agitated, he found an envelope lying on his table, which he took up and opened in a surly fashion, saying to himself meanwhile: 'Some deuced impertinence of that fellow Churchill, I'll be bound—the confounded rascal.' But it contained only a couple of English bank-notes; a small memorandum of Colin's railway expenses and other disbursements made by Sir Henry on his account, as well as of the month's wages, due by a servant who voluntarily leaves his master without full notice; and finally a sheet of white note-paper, bearing the words, 'With Saml. Churchill's compliments.'

Sir Henry crumpled up the paper and memorandum angrily, with hardly a glance, and flung them into the empty grate; but he folded the notes carefully, and put them into the inner compartment of his purse. Then he sat down at his davenport and wrote out a telegram from Wilberforce, Rome, to Dobbs, 74 Albert Terrace, Dalston, London. 'Come here at once; expenses paid; wages raised five pounds; no boots thrown. Answer immediately. W.'

'And if ever I have anything to do again with these confounded marble-cutters and sculptors,' he soliloquised vehemently, 'why, my name isn't Henry Wilberforce.'


©英文小说网 2005-2010

有任何问题,请给我们留言,管理员邮箱:tinglishi@gmail.com  站长QQ :点击发送消息和我们联系56065533