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POOR LITTLE MRS. VILLIERS.

    “Where is little Mrs. Villiers” demanded Miss Hooley.
The question was prefaced by a disconcerting gaze directed
towards the new-comer in the seat opposite—a seat presumably
occupied as a rule by the lady of the diminutive.

    Mrs. Lawrence concealed a smile. Though her school-
days were now somewhat dim memories, she felt distinctly
like the new girl who is expected to apologize for her existence.
Glancing down the long table she was aware that a pension
bore a ghastly resemblance to a boarding-school, twenty years
after. Was “little Mrs. Villiers” the popular girl, she
wondered? And if so, on what grounds?

    “She’s changed her place,” volunteered Miss Pembridge,
a spare lady, who dressed with the chastened smartness of one
ever mindful of her high calling as the niece of a bishop.

    “Oh! I’m so sorry. She will be a great loss to our table,
dear little thing,” exclaimed Miss Mullins. She delivered the
remark, amiable in substance, with the air of one hurling a
bomb-shell, and Mrs. Lawrence awaited the explosion of the
apparently harmless missile with some curiosity, Its effect
was almost instantaneous.

    “That’s entirely a matter of opinion,” ejaculated Miss
Rigg, her opposite neighbour. The observation was attended
by a prolonged sniff, and Miss Mullins’ comfortable fat face
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slowly crimsoned with indignation. While she meditated a
sufficiently crushing retort, her opportunity for making it was
cut short by the first speaker.

    “Where’s she going to sit then?” enquired Miss Hooley,
refusing macaroni with the air of one wearied with an oft
repeated performance.

    “There, of course,” returned Miss Rigg, sniffing again, as
she nodded in the direction of a small table near the wall.

    At the table indicated a young man was already seated.
His shamefaced manner of glancing about the room while he
eat his soup, not only proclaimed him a fresh arrival, but one
somewhat overwhelmed by the eternal feminine.

    “That’s too bad of you,” stammered Miss Mullins.
“Poor little thing!—under the circumstances too.”

    “The very circumstances you’d expect it under,” returned
Miss Rigg, with an acrimony as obvious as her sentence was
obscure.”

    “I agree with Miss Mullins entirely. Potatoes raw
again,” exclaimed Miss Hooley.

    During the course of the dinner, Mrs. Lawrence learnt to
disentangle this lady’s ejaculations about the food, from the
main trend of her conversation, but the effect was at first con-
fusing.

    “She’s very late,” ventured Miss Pembridge diluting with
filtered water the dangerous strength of her vin ordinaire,

    “Got to dress up for the occasion of course,” was Miss
Rigg’s instant explanatinon. “Ah! here she comes, at last.
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Now you’ll see whether I’m right!”

    Mrs. Lawrence looked up with interest as the door opened,
and noticed that “little Mrs. Villiers” was not only very pretty
but also singlarly childish in appearance.

    Her hair—soft brown fluffy hair, hung in baby tendrils on
her forehead and round her little ears, and her wide opened blue
eyes had the wondering half startled child-look so touching in
baby faces. She was very simply dressed in white muslin,
and a row of pink corals round her throat, emphasised her
youth, and the charming innocence of her expression. At the
door she paused a moment, with an air of hesitation, and a
surprised glance to find all the seats at the long table occupied.

    Guiseppe, the waiter, darted forward. “Madame is placed
at the little table to-night,” he explained, leading the way.

    “Oh! is my place changed then?” she murmured,
following.

    “Very much surprised, no doubt,” ejaculated the irrepres-
sible Miss Rigg in a triumphant undertone.

    “If there’s anything I despise it’s a spiteful mind. Boiled
beef again,” said Miss Hooley in something that was intended
for a whisper.

    Mrs. Lawrence, meanwhile, watched with some curiosity
the effect produced upon the grave young man across the room,
by the sudden appearance of youth and beauty at his lonely
table. He reddened visibly; moved forks and spoons about
with nervous hesitation, and kept his eyes fixed upon the rim
of his plate.

    Little Mrs. Villiers studied the menu, and Mrs. Lawrence
was recalled to a sense of social duty by a remark from her too
long neglected left hand neighbour.

    Glancing at the small table at a later stage in the dinner,
she was amused to see the young people chattering like a
couple of children. Now that the boy had lost his awkward
shyness, she thought him a somewhat engaging youth, frank,
boyish and apparently enthusiastic; and his companion was
charming.

    She said as much to the lady on her left, whose assent
was accompanied by a lowering of eyelids, and just the flicker
of a smile at the corner of a humourous mouth.

    The pension drawing-room was much like other pension
drawing-rooms she found, later on, when everyone trooped
towards it.

    The usual little groups, which included the few men of
the party, gathered round the card tables. Nondescript ladies
with knitting, lined the walls. A strenuous, unattached
woman studied Baedeker, and with her short-skirted friend,
planned out a fierce day’s work for the morrow. Groups of
ordinary girls, chattered and giggled, and the usual people
drew white shawls about their shoulders, discussed the
treacherous nature of the Italian climate, grumbled about the
food, and felt the customary draught.

    Mrs. Lawrence moved her chair nearer to Mrs. Coltingham,
the woman who had attracted her at dinner, and whose circum-
stances she had already discovered to be much like her own.

    She too was a childless widow, who had let her London
house to find in travel the mental stimulus denied her in a
somewhat empty and monotonous life.

    “Where is the pretty little lady?” she began tentatively,
with a glance round the room.

    Before Mrs. Coltingham could reply, Miss Rigg had
looked up from her knitting. “Oh! you’ll find her in the
passage, flirting with the boy,” she announced with a laugh.

    “Flirting! Poor little thing! I think her sad circum-
stances might protect her!” declared Miss Mullins, the stout
lady Mrs. Lawrence had already designated as the “mother-
sheep.”

    “Sad circumstances! I was brought up to consider
divorced women not respectable,” retorted Miss Rigg,
warming to the fight.

    “She divorced him remember!” returned Miss Mullins,
pink in her defence of a sister woman.

    “It makes a difference of course,” remarked Miss Pem-
bridge with maidenly hesitation. “Its not a subject one cares to
talk about—quite. Still, sacred as the married tie is—”

    “Sacred fiddlesticks!” interposed Miss Hooley, glaring
at Miss Pembridge whom she detested. “Men are a lot of
brutes, and if a few more women would divorce ’em before
they married ’em, so much the better!”

    Mrs. Lawrence and Mrs. Coltingham exchanged glances
which led to a slightly abrupt change of seat on the part of
both ladies.

    At the further end of the drawing-room, when she could
control her voice, Mrs. Coltingham remarked. “This
happens every night, directly Mrs. Villiers’ name is mentioned.
We are frank in discussion to say the least of it. But
you see most of us have lived here all the winter, and perhaps
we know one another a little too well.”

    Mrs. Lawrence smiled “It’s amusing at first, but I can
imagine it palls . . . Who is this little ‘Mrs. Villiers?'”

    “No one knows, except that she has divorced Mr.
Villiers, whoever he may be.

    “She looks such a child!” “But children nowadays are
precocious.”

    Mrs. Lawrence laughed. “You don’t like her?”

    “Oh! I didn’t say that returned the other lady. Preco-
cious children are sometimes amusing you know, and after
four months in a foreign pension, one welcomes anything
that’s amusing. The house is torn by faction on her
account.” she went on still smiling.

    “She has her devoted adherents, and her no less devoted
enemies. Each party discusses her all day long, and I believe,
far into the night. Every other topic fades into insignificance
before the burning question of Mrs. Villiers’ innocence and
integrity, versus her depravity and guile.”

    “And to which side do you incline?”

    Mrs. Coltingham shrugged her shoulders. “I—Oh, a
plague on both your houses’ is my attitude,” she returned
lightly. “To me she is merely an amusing little person.”

    In the vestibule, on her way upstairs to bed, Mrs.
Lawrence passed little Mrs. Villiers and the boy. The
vestibule, comfortably furnished and heated, was used as a
second drawing-room by the visitors, and this evening it was
fairly full.

    Mrs. Villiers and her companion were seated near the
door, and were evidently discussing art.

    “Yes, I love pictures too,” the little lady was saying as
Mrs. Lawrence approached. “But I’m so ignorant about
them. If only I could do the galleries with someone who—”
“If you—I mean, might I? could we sometimes,”
stammered the boy.

    “Oh, would you? That would be splendid!” returned
his companion in the natural delighted voice of a child. “I’ve
been longing—”

    By this time the deaf old lady stationed immediately in
front of the door, had become aware that she was being
requested to move, and Mrs. Lawrence was able to make
her escape.

    “I believe she’s quite a nice little thing,” she reflected on
her way up to bed, carrying with her the memory of a girlish
unaffected voice. “What a set these boarding house women
are, to be sure.”

    In the course of the next few weeks Mrs. Lawrence
learnt that “the boy” bore the not uncommon name of
Brown, that this drawback notwithstanding, he was as she
described him, “a delightful young fellow”—fresh, unaffected

and unusually boyish; also that he was falling hopelessly
in love with Mrs. Villiers. Mrs. Lawrence was not sur-
prised. She herself had fallen in love with little Mrs. Villiers.
The child was only two and twenty she discovered, and such
a dear baby at that. It was impossible to realise that this
fresh, girlish creature had experienced not only a woman’s
tragedy, in a wretched marriage, but also the humiliation and
pain of the only escape the law provides. Hers Mrs.
Lawrence reflected, was one of the rare temperaments over
which evil has no power—the radiant joyous child nature
for which every day the world is newly created, and yesterday
has no existence.

    Only once had she ever mentioned her husband’s name
to Mrs. Lawrence, and on that occasion the elder woman had
smiled tenderly over the sweet naivete of her little friend.

    It was while they were walking together in the Boboli
Gardens one warm afternoon in February, that Mrs. Villiers
met an acquaintance. Mrs. Lawrence had already noticed this
woman as she came towards them down one of the long
tunnel-like avenues, and noticed her with disapproval. Showily
dressed, obviously painted, walking with an exaggeration of
the fashionable gait of the moment, her fastidious judgment
had instantly affixed to her the label “bad style.” It was
therefore with a shock, the reverse of pleasant, that she found
such an individual stridently claiming acquaintance with her
little companion. Mrs. Lawrence walked on, and in a few
moments Mrs. Villiers overtook her, a pink flush of annoy-
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ance on her face.

    She was silent for a moment, and then glancing up, she
said abruptly: “You hated the look of that woman?”

    “Well!—to be quite frank”—began Mrs. Lawrence.

    “I know! I know! “she interrupted hastily. “She—She—
was one of my husband’s friends. I was obliged then—” she
broke off, her voice trembling a little.

    They were alone in the avenue, and Mrs. Lawrence put a
kind hand on her arm.

    “I understand dear, of course. But now you are free,
there is no occasion to know such people. Take my advice—
drop her. Drop her at once.”

    “Oh, I will!” she returned with an energy which made
the elder woman laugh.

    “But how unlucky she should be staying in Florence
. . . . I had to know all sorts of people you see. And
some of them—” she paused again; and Mrs. Lawrence
experienced the rush of indignant pity one feels for a child
exposed to evil influences.

    “Oh! I’m so glad that’s all over,” she sighed.

    “Yes,” said Mrs. Villiers, simply. “It was dreadful of
course. But people were very kind to me, and helped me to
get free. And now, do you know, unless something like this
happens to remind me, I have forgotten it.”

    She turned her wide opened blue eyes full upon Mrs.
Lawrence, with an innocent surprised gravity which touched
the elder women.

    “That’s right dear,” she replied heartily. “It’s the best
thing that could happen.”

    “But,” Mrs. Villiers added, “you’re quite right about
Mrs.— about the woman who spoke to me just now. I
won’t know her any more. I can’t bear to think of knowing
her when there are dears like you in the world,” she added
slipping her hand into Mrs. Lawrence’s. “You don’t think
it’s forward of me, saying that, do you?” she enquired, an
anxious little pucker appearing on her downy forehead. “I’ve
known you quite a little while, but I don’t remember my
mothor you see; and somehow—”

    The sweetness in her appealing voice made Mrs. Lawrence,
who did not look matronly, ashamed of the twinge she felt.

    “Yes my dear,” she laughed. “I’m getting quite an old
woman of course, but a mother’s a nice thing after all.”

    “Oh a very nice thing,” agreed Mrs. Villiers, patting her
friend’s hand.

    The “idyll” as she called the increasingly intimate friend-
ship of the “Brown boy” and little Mrs. Villiers, became a
source of much affectionate interest to Mrs. Lawrence. She
watched its progress delightedly, and as she stood at the
drawing-room window one afternoon, and saw them start
on an expedition to Fiesole, her satisfaction overflowed into a
comment addressed to Mrs. Coltingham, the only other
occupant of the room.

    “They will make a charming pair!” she exclaimed.

    “I do so want to see the beautiful Mino da Fiesole in the
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church,” murmured Mrs. Coltingham in such admirable imita-
tion of a certain babyish voice, that in spite of her annoyance,
Mrs. Lawrence laughed.

    “You are not fair to that child,” she exclaimed after a
moment, with some heat.

    “Oh! I think I do her justice,” returned the other lady.

    Mrs. Lawrence had intended asking Mrs. Coltingham to
accompany her to the Uffizi that afternoon, but she refrained.
There were moments when she did not like Mrs. Coltingham.
It was all very well to be a woman of the world; she, Mrs.
Lawrence, was that herself, heaven was aware, but it was
another thing to be hard and suspicious; to feel no pity for
youth and misfortune so touchingly allied as in the case of
little Mrs. Villiers. She was disappointed in Mrs. Colting-
ham. It was sad to have to admit that even a woman so
much above the average as this one, could not rise above vulgar
prejudice.

    It was with these reflections passing through her mind,
while she stood buttoning her gloves in the hall, that she en-
countered the padrone, Signora Valli, also ready to start from
the house.

    Mrs. Lawrence was going in her direction. She would
in that case case be more than charmed to accompany
her. Ecco! The post. Two for Madame Lawrence. Ah!
one, and she hoped a pleasant one, for dear little Mrs. Villiers,
the rest Guiseppe could sort, and arrange on the hall table.

    Thus, amidst torrents of English fluent enough if strongly
                                                                                            63

flavoured with foreign accent, they emerged from the pension on
to the Lung Arno.

    “Mrs. Villiers is a favourite of yours I know,” hazarded
Mrs. Lawrence. “Did you know her before she came here?”
But no, it was only since her arrival from England some
weeks since, so touching, so forlorn, that she had grown into
the heart of Signora Valli.

    Did she know anything of Mr. Villiers? The Signora
knew as much as she required of him. Must he not be a
brute, a villain, a devil, who with such an angel to wife,
could maltreat and insult her? A child! A baby! Of a
disposition innocent and loving to a degree which the Signora
had never seen equalled. Of a temper saintly in its sweetness.

    “Her temper is perfect!” agreed Mrs. Lawrence, recalling
with indignation, many a veiled insult borne with admirable
patience.

The Signora’s face darkened. It was not for her to say
a word. Of necessity she must be silent. Never could she
open her lips to discuss the guests in her house. At the same
time there were people possessed of minds so evil, of tongues
so venomous, of hearts so black that the sight of youth, inno-
cence and beauty did but enrage them. For such individuals
contempt, silent contempt was the only possible treatment.
The Signora accordingly proceeded to subject them to a course
of contempt from which the silence was omitted and so over-
whelming was her eloquence that Mrs. Lawrence, deciding
that her head was not sufficiently strong this afternoon, to look
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at pictures, took instead the tram to Fiesole, where the air
would be fresh and invigorating.
    It was a glorious day, and she lingered some time in the
garden of the restaurant which provides tea and a magnificent
prospect, before she crossed the Piazza to enter the little church.

    Shafts of misty sunlight struck across the aisle and
wavered on the pillars. The church was empty, and solemn
in its silence. Treading lightly, as though afraid to disturb its
quiet, Mrs. Lawrence crossed the stone pavement, and was
half-way up the staircase leading to one of the side chapels,
when she was arrested by the sound of a low agitated voice,
the voice of the Brown boy.

    “I’m poor Kitty, but I’ll work day and night for you if
you will say yes. I love you so much. If you would only
let me take care of you; if you—”

    Mrs. Lawrence turned and noiselessly retraced her steps,
down the stairs, across the stone pavement, and out into the
sunny piazza.

    She was smiling, but there were tears in her eyes. In
almost the same words, had her own dead husband proposed
to her. She could hear in fancy, his voice, as he said “I’m
poor, Mildred, but I’ll work—and I love you.” Well! They
had been very happy. And now life was just beginning for
these two young things; a happy life, surely. Why not?
Tender memories came crowding to her mind as she crossed
the piazza, but in the midst of them, she found herself smiling.
A chapel, even such a secluded chapel as that she had left, was
                                                                                            65

a somewhat dangerous place for a declaration. “But bless the
boy, he’d have proposed in the pension drawing-room just
then! You could hear it in his voice,” she commented
mentally. How pretty ‘ Kitty ‘ must have looked leaning
against the rail of that concealed altar, and listening with half
averted head!

    She had reached the tram by this time, and had taken her
place for the descent, when a moment later the young people
also entered. Mrs. Lawrence was vexed. She had hoped to get
safely away before they left the chapel, and now her presence
would necessitate ceremonious behaviour.

    The boy looked anything but glad to see her, she observed
with rueful amusement, but Kitty was even more affectionate
than usual, and her lively talk never ceased till the pension
door was reached.

    Her letter was lying on the hall table, when they entered,
and she took it with a quick movement. “Come out just a
little while,” Mrs. Lawrence heard the boy pleading in an
undertone, as she was preparing to go upstairs.

    But Mrs. Villiers excused herself. “Not just yet. I’m tired.
I shall see you this evening,” she replied in a voice which,
though hurried, retained all its caressing quality.

    She ran upstairs, opening the letter as she went, and Mrs.
Lawrence, wondering a little, heard her own name pronounced
by the boy.

    Will you come out a little while?” he begged with so
much eagerness that she turned and followed him at once with
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an assenting smile.

    They walked some way along the Lung Arno in silence.

    The boy was obviously nervous, and a little troubled, but
she waited for him to begin. “Mrs. Lawrence,” he burst out
suddenly. “You are so clever, I believe you know that
I—I mean—I have asked Kitty—Mrs. Villiers to marry me, in
fact,” he concluded. His voice lost its hesitation, as he drew
himself up. He spoke like a man, and Mrs. Lawrence liked
him greatly.

    “Yes,” she replied. “I am very glad.”

    “I hoped you would be,” he said eagerly. “Because I
want you to help me.”

    “To help you?”

    “Yes—about Kitty. You see,” he hesitated, “I can’t get
her to promise. I—I—believe she cares for me,” he gulped,
grew red, and went on. “I’m sure she does.” “But it’s
natural she should hesitate just at first. She’s had an awful
time you know. And when a woman’s had an experience like
that,”—his face darkened— “no wonder she—”

    “But, Mrs. Lawrence, you believe I mean to be good to
her don’t you?” He swung round, stopped short, and his
honest, anxious eyes met hers as he faced her.

    “I am sure of it,” she said quietly.

    “Well then, will you tell her so? She’s fond of you—she
trusts you. You’re going to take her to the ball to-night
aren’t you?”

    “Yes, but you’re coming too?” she asked in surprise.

    “No,—she doesn’t want me to come. I mean—she’s
upset, and she’s afraid people might talk. And perhaps she’s
right. You will have an opportunity, driving there and back,
won’t you, to—to say what you can for me.”

    The entertainment to which at a ridiculously late hour the
same evening, Mrs. Lawrence found herself driving with little
Mrs. Villiers was the gigantic crush known as the Foreigners’
ball, held at the Borghese Palace. It had been arranged for some
time that she, Mrs. Villiers, and “the boy” should look in for
an hour or two more for the sake of seeing the palace and
watching the people, than with any idea of dancing in the
somewhat impossible crowd. The evening’s amusement had
been gaily planned, and Mrs. Lawrence felt it depressing to step
into the carriage without the boy, and to watch him gazing
wistfully after them from the doorstep of the pension. “Couldn’t
we have taken him?” she asked, a shade of reproach in her
voice, as they drove away. She had purposely busied herself
with her wraps while he was folding Mrs. Villiers’ frothy
dress round her little feet, and she did not see his last glance;
but the voice in which he said “Goodbye, I hope you’ll have a
lovely time,” moved her ridiculously.

    Mrs. Villiers who was looking out of the window, turned
and laid a deprecating hand on her arm.

    I am so confused,” she said hesitatingly. “Won’t you
let me think quietly for a little while?” And Mrs. Lawrence
acquiescing, mentally deferred all the wise gentle things she
meant to say, till the homeward drive.

    The palace a blaze of light, a riot of colour with its
crimson carpets, its banks of red and white camellias,
—swarmed and buzzed with the crowd which streamed
through its galleries, through its ante-rooms, and stood closely
packed in its marble pillared ballroom.

    Dazed by the light, bewildered with the roar of talk, as
they passed from one room to another, it was not for some
time that Mrs. Lawrence became aware that her companion
had been separated from her in the throng, and was no longer
by her side.

    An exclamation of annoyance escaped her lips at the dis-
covery. How to find her again in a crowd so dense? For
some time she wandered aimlessly from room to room, till
wearied by what she felt was a fruitless search, she sank
into a vacant seat, backed by a group of palms, and deter-
mined to wait. Chance might as well direct her friend’s steps
to this, as to any other spot, and in any case there was
nothing to be done.

    She was tired. The brilliant lights hurt her eyes; the
incessant talking and laughing of the passing crowd fatigued
her, and she found herself wondering why Mrs. Villiers had
insisted upon coming to such a place to “think quietly.”

    “Restless I suppose,” poor little thing, was her answer
to the question—” restless and troubled. I know the feeling,
and the longing to smother it in outward gaiety and con-
fusion. If only —”

    A woman’s voice almost at her ear disturbed her reflec-
                                                                                            69

tion, and she started before she realised that the speaker was
not addressing her, but was on the other side of the bank of
palms.

    “Let’s sit here, and trust she won’t find us!” The
words were accompanied by a laugh, and a rustling, as the
speaker evidently settled herself in a chair.

    “Seen her?” returned the thick voice of a man.

    “No, but she’s here. I had a note from her just before
I started to say she was coming. Wants to blackguard me to
my face, no doubt. Her letter was bad enough.”

    The man laughed. Rather sick I suppose?

    Not the word—furious, “You see she’s been hanging
about here all the winter waiting for him, and now—” the
speaker broke into an uncontrollable fit of giggling. “Well!”
she went on presently, recovering herself, “It wasn’t my
fault. How should I know he’d changed his plans and gone
to Rome instead. I wrote directly I found out, and the letter
reached her just after the wrong man proposed.” Another
laugh drowned the next few words. “It all fitted in so well,
you see. I told her he was a silly gaby, awfully green and
young; and of course she saw letters of his addressed to
Mildbough Park, The boy he teaches, is a kid of twelve, but
he writes to the whole family. They love him, I believe—
treat him like a friend.”

    “Worth a good deal, aren’t they?” the man enquired.

    “Oh, disgustingly rich. Old Brown was a cotton
spinner or something. Anyway he’s made his pile. The
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son’s about five and twenty, and the old boy thinks its time
he married.”

    “And she knew all this?”

    “Of course. I told her. Thought I’d do her a good
turn; but I ought to have known better than to put myself
out, for the little vixen.”

    “And so she’s been wasting her baby talk on the tutor,
thinking?—” The man’s voice trailed off into suppressed
laughter.

    “Yes! oh, she must have had a beastly dull time. So
afraid of risking anything; she’d hardly speak to me when I
met her the other day. . . . Called Brown too, you see.
Millionaires oughtn’t to be allowed to have names their tutors
are likely to have as well! It’s too confusing, especially
when—”

    “Hulloa! Kit’s found you!” interrupted the man’s voice
in consternation. “Leave you ladies to fight it out—no
place for me.”

    Mrs. Lawrence, who till the last moment had heard the
conversation indifferently, scarcely aware that she was listen-
ing, rose all at once unsteadily to her feet, not however, before
she could escape the sound of a voice she knew—a childish voice,
though shaken with fury. “So here you are, you low
little beast! This was to pay me out for that Jim Blake affair,
I suppose—”

    She roused to consciousness of her surroundings only
when she found herself crossing a street, bareheaded, aimlessly
                                                                                            71

wondering how she could get a carriage.

    Somehow or other she had forced her way out of the glare
and dazzle of the Palace; and now she was thankful to be
overtaken by an empty fiacre and driven home.

    Rising early, after a sleepless night, she dressed and stole
softly downstairs, with the intention of walking a little before
breakfast. The pension servants were already astir. The
hall was full of luggage, and as she passed the trunks on her
way to the door, she saw that they belonged to Mrs. Villiers,
and were labelled Roma.

    It was at the sunset hour, wearied and saddened by the
events of the day, that she climbed the heights of San Miniato.

    Her thoughts were set towards England, now that spring
was here. She was to leave Florence the following morning,
and she found herself feverishly longing for the hour of
departure. The pension had become unendurable. She
recalled with disgust the chatter of the lunch table; the con-
jectures, the surmises, the dark prophecies, the feeble defence.
Miss Pembridge’s downcast eyes and chaste expression.
Miss Hooley’s ejaculatory violence; the platitudes of Miss
Mullins. How tired she was of them all! and yet to recall
their imbecilities with half contemptuous amusement, was a
relief, since it afforded her a moment’s forgetfulness of her
interview with “the boy.” To efface that memory would be
a work of time. He had already left the pension, on the plea
of an urgent summons from England. But though Mrs.
Lawrence knew he intended to wait for the night train, it was
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with a shock of surprise that she saw him leaning on the
parapet which bounds the piazza of San Miniato. The great
open space beneath the church, was empty, save for his
solitary figure. While Mrs. Lawrence hesitated he turned
with an abrupt movement, and she saw his haggard young
face outlined for a moment against the sky. Then, without
seeing her, he moved quickly away, and plunging down the
steps between the cypresses, was lost to sight.

    Mrs. Lawrence crossed to the place where he had stood,
and looked down over the city. The fires of the sunset had
faded, and all the hollow valley was filled with a violet haze,
through which the river gleamed pale, a magic stream, holding
in its depths jewels and shafts of light: gold and silver, and
emerald. Half veiled in swimming vapour, the spires and
domes, campaniles and towers rose from a city, breathless
and spellbound. Groups of cypresses lifted dark fingers
towards the sky, which began to be pierced with trembling
stars.

                                                      NETTA SYRETT.

MLA citation:

Syrett, Netta. “Poor Little Mrs. Villiers.” The Venture: an Annual of Art and Literature, vol. 1, 1903, pp. 53-73. Venture Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://beta.1890s.ca/venturev1-syrett-villiers/.