All this time Jim Schuyler's motor had been waiting. It was strange to go out into the sunshine and see the smart chauffeur in his place, placidly reading a newspaper.
"Won't you come with me to Monte Carlo?" Peter asked. "We may find Mary at a hotel."
"I will come," Vanno said. "Her letter was posted there, yet I feel she has gone. She used to talk about Italy, but I don't think she would go to the house Hannaford left her. She couldn't bear the idea of living in his place."
"Let's go straight to Mrs. Winter's and ask her advice," Peter suggested. "She told me all about the Château Lontana last night."
They sat silent as the motor carried them swiftly along the white road. Peter longed to talk, but all the things she most wished to say were impossible to put into words. How Marie had checkmated them! It was like her, Peter thought; but she did not doubt the truth of that thing the Princess had said. There are some looks, some tones, which cannot lie.
Peter did not see what other course they could have taken, instead of that which they had chosen quickly, without discussion, accepting the inevitable. She believed, and she thought Vanno believed, that Marie would have kept her word and killed herself if they had persisted in telling Angelo what she was and had done. She had begged them to "wait a little while," but it was not only a question of waiting. Marie, as usual, had done well for herself. Vanno could not in cold blood, after months had passed and Marie was the mother of his brother's child, tell Angelo the story. At least, Peter was sure he would not bring himself to do that. Even she, who detested Marie now with an almost tigerish hatred, could not imagine herself pouring out such a tale when the first fire of rage had died--no, not even in defence of Mary; for Mary would be the one of all others to say, "Do not speak." Yet it filled Peter with fury to think that now no one could fight for Mary--sweet Mary, who was not by nature one to fight for herself. The great wrong had been done. Vanno could not forgive his brother's injustice. The two would be separated in heart and life while Marie lived. All this through Marie's sin and cowardice in covering it. Yet even those she had injured could not urge her on to death.
Suddenly, just as the motor slowed down near the Monaco frontier, Peter cried out, "There's Mrs. Winter, walking!"
She touched an electric bell, and the chauffeur stopped his car.
Rose was taking her morning exercise. She looked up, smiling at sight of Peter and Vanno getting out of the automobile to meet her.
"Where's Mary?" she asked, then checked herself quickly. She saw by the two faces that something was wrong. "Mary's not ill, I hope?" she amended her question.
Peter left the explanation to Vanno. It concerned his family, and how much he might choose to tell she did not know.
"There's been a misunderstanding," he said. "I came back this morning to find Mary gone. I'm afraid my brother and sister-in-law were not kind to her, and nothing can ever be the same between us again because of that. But the one important thing is to find Mary. She has--thrown me over, in a letter, and it does not tell me where she is. Do you think she can be in Monte Carlo?"
"No, I don't," Rose replied with her usual promptness. "What a shame I was out when she called the other night. Perhaps she would have confided in me. Now I see why she took her jewellery. Maybe she needed money. If we'd been at home, we'd have made her stay with us. Do you know, I shouldn't wonder if she'd gone to the Château Lontana?"
"I thought of that," Vanno said, "but she didn't want to live in Hannaford's house."
"With you! But now she's alone and sad, poor child. If we could only be sure, you could telegraph, not to waste time. I'll tell you what! If she went there, she probably drove instead of taking a train. Wait a minute, while I ask the hunchbacked beggar if he saw her. They were great chums; and it was talking to him I came across her first."
Rose began running to the bridge, where the dwarf, in his shady hat and comfortable cloak, was engaged in eating his luncheon on a newspaper, kept down on the parapet with stones. Vanno and Peter followed quickly, but before they arrived Rose had extracted the desired information. "He did see Mary three nights ago, in a carriage, driving in the direction of Italy," she announced in triumph. "He was just starting for home. What a good thing he hadn't gone!"
"There was another lady in the carriage with my Mademoiselle," added the beggar in bad French, his mouth full of bread and cheese.
"Another lady!" Rose echoed. "Who could it have been?"
"A dark lady, young but not a girl," the hunchback cheerfully went on. "She looked out at me, then threw herself back as if she did not want me to see who she was. Perhaps because she did not wish to spare me a penny, and was ashamed. Some people are stingy."
"Did you know the lady's face?"
"No, I never saw it before that I can remember. It was not a sweet face like Mademoiselle's. That lady would laugh while a beggar starved. I always know at the first look. I have trained myself to judge. It is my métier."
He spoke with pride, but no one was listening.
"A dark woman," Vanno repeated. "What has become of the Dauntreys? Do you know, Mrs. Winter?"
"I heard yesterday that they'd disappeared, owing every one money."
"Miss Maxwell, will you let me go now at once to Italy in your car?" Vanno asked.
"Yes," Peter said. "It's not my car, but it belongs to my best friend. He and I will both be glad, but you must take me with you."
Rose looked wistful, but she did not ask to go. The others were not thinking of her.
"Do you know the Château Lontana?" she inquired of Schuyler's chauffeur. "And have you got your papers for Italy?"
The man, who was English, touched his cap. "Yes, Madam, I know where the place is. And everything is in order."
As a last thought, Vanno went to the beggar and put two gold pieces into his knotted hand. The little man's red-rimmed eyes glittered with joyful astonishment. He bit first one coin, then the other.
Peter had expected Jim in the afternoon, but Rose promised to telephone.
Neither the girl nor Vanno thought of lunching. They went on without a pause except for the formalities at the Italian frontier, and it was early in the afternoon when the car slowed down before the closed gates of the Château Lontana. The chauffeur got out and tried to open them, but they were locked. He turned to the Prince for instructions. "What are we to do, sir? There is no bell." His tone was plaintive, for he was hungry and consequently irritable.
Vanno jumped out and tried the gates in vain. The chauffeur looked at the ground to hide his pleasure in the gentleman's failure. Peter peered from the car anxiously. "Perhaps Mary didn't come here after all, or else she's gone away," the girl suggested. "It would have meant a horrid delay, trying to find the cabman who drove her from Monte Carlo, but after all it might have been better."
Vanno was ungallant enough not to answer. He was hardly conscious that Peter was speaking. The iron gates, set between tall stone posts, were very high. On the other side an ill-kept road overgrown with bunches of rough grass wound up the cypress and olive clad hill. At the very top stood the house which somewhat pretentiously named itself a château. It was built of the beautiful mottled stone of the country, brown and gray, veined and splashed with green, purple, yellow, and rose pink. There were two square towers and several large balconies and terraces with windows looking out upon them; but the windows in sight were closed and shuttered. The thick flowering creepers which almost covered the walls as high as the windows of the second story--roses, bougainvillea, plumbago, and convolvulus--were tangled and matted together, great branches trailing over the shut eyes of the windows. Cypresses and olives were untrimmed, and there was a straggling wilderness of orange trees. The place had a sad yet poetic look of having been forgotten by the world.
Vanno knew little of its history, except that an elderly French woman, a great actress long before his time, had bought and lived in the house for many years, letting the whole property fall into decay while her money was given to the Casino.
It seemed impossible that Mary could be there behind those shuttered windows, but he was determined not to go away without being sure. Rose Winter had said half jestingly that Lady Dauntrey was a woman who might "look on her neighbour's jewels when it was dark." And Vanno had taken a dislike to the hostess at the Villa Bella Vista. He had been glad to take Mary out of her hands, to put her in charge of Rose Winter. As he stood and stared at the high, locked gates he remembered what the beggar had said about the dark woman who threw herself back in the carriage as if she did not wish to be seen.
"Shall I blow my horn and try to make some one come?" asked Schuyler's chauffeur.
"No, I think not," Vanno said on reflection. "I have an idea that if people are there, they won't come down for that. I can get over all right if you'll back the car close to the gates."
The chauffeur's expression withdrew itself like a snail within its shell, but suddenly he became interested enough to forget his hunger. He had supposed that the young lady wished to pay a mere call at a time of day inconvenient to him: but evidently there was something under the surface of this excursion. He had not stopped the engine, and turning the motor with the bonnet toward France, he carefully backed against the iron grating. In a moment Vanno had climbed on to the top of the car, had swung himself over the gate, and dropped down on the other side. The chauffeur, who, like most of his countrymen, hated to be made conspicuous, rejoiced that this was accomplished when the road was empty. He would not have enjoyed being stared at even by a peasant in a cart.
Peter was out in the road, watching Vanno's manoeuvres. "I wish I could do that!" she exclaimed.
"I'll let you in, or send some one to unlock the gates if possible," he promised. Then as he walked swiftly up the avenue his thoughts rushed far ahead, and he forgot Peter.
The motor moved a little away from the gates, and waited. It waited a long time and no sign of life showed on the blank face of the house. For many minutes Peter stood in the road, looking up, hoping to see Vanno, or a servant coming with a key. But nothing happened, and when she had grown very tired of standing, she reluctantly went back to the car. She sat leaning forward, her face at the window, gazing at the house; and at last she began to be angry with Vanno. Surely he might come or send, knowing how anxious she must be to hear of Mary. It was too inconsiderate to leave her there in suspense!
Vanno hoped that he might find Mary in the garden; for mounting from lower to higher levels, above the cypresses and olives which formed a wind screen for upper terraces near the house, he saw viewpoints furnished with seats of old, carved marble, pergolas roofed with masses of banksia, and one long arbour, darkly green, with crimson camelias flaming at the far end like a magic lamp. At any moment a slender white figure might start up from a marble bench, or gleam out like a statue against a background of clipped laurel or box. He began to feel so strongly conscious of a loved and loving presence, that he was as much surprised as disappointed when he reached the steps leading up to the house-terrace without having seen Mary. If he had been willing to harbour superstitious fancies then, he would have believed that Mary had sent her spirit to meet him in this mournfully sweet garden; but less than at any other time would he listen to whispers of superstition. Vanno pulled the old-fashioned bell of the front door, and heard it ring janglingly with that peculiar plaintiveness which bells have in empty houses. It seemed to complain of being roused from sleep, when waking could give no promise of hope or pleasure.
Twice Vanno rang, and then there came the sound of unlocking and unbolting. A handsome and very dark young woman of the peasant class looked out at him questioningly, with eyes of topaz under black brows that met in a straight line across her forehead. The eyes lit when Vanno spoke to her in Italian, and she beamed when he inquired for Miss Grant.
"The beautiful Signorina!" she exclaimed. "The gracious Signore is a relative who has come for her?"
"We are to be married," he answered with the frank simplicity of Italians in such matters.
"Heaven be praised!" the woman cried. "Will the Signore step into the house?"
"She is here, then?" Vanno asked, entering the vestibule that opened into the white coldness of the hall.
"She has been here for three nights and two days."
"Thank God!" Vanno muttered under his breath. An immense relief, like a bath of balm, eased the pain of suspense. He felt that he had come to the end of his trouble. After all, what did Angelo or any one in the world matter, except Mary? He trusted himself to make her realize this. A few minutes more and she would be in his arms, on his heart, and her scruples would be burnt to ashes in the fire of his love.
"Will you tell the Signorina that Prince Giovanni Della Robbia has come?" he said.
The woman threw out her hands in a gesture of apology and regret.
"The Signora will not let me go into the room," she answered, and a look of sullen ferocity opened a door into depths of her nature where fire smouldered. She lifted her eyes to Vanno's, and for a long instant the Prince and the peasant gazed fixedly at each other. At the end of that instant Vanno knew that this woman hated the "Signora" and her commands; and Apollonia knew that this man would protect her through any disobedience.
"Why does the Signorina keep her room?"
"It seems that she is not well."
"When did you see her last?"
"Yesterday morning, Principe. I went then to her room to prepare her bath, and to take her coffee with bread which I had toasted."
"Was she not well then?"
"When I inquired after her health she said she had not slept. And the night before it had been the same. She was pale, very pale, and there were shadows under her eyes, but she did not complain of illness. While I was there the Signora came and since then the young lady has not been out of her room."
"What is that Signora's name?" Vanno asked.
"I do not know, Principe, I have not been told, and I do not understand the sound of English words, though I have learned a little French."
"Is the lady's husband here?"
"Oh, yes, a very sad, tired-looking gentleman who seems to be ill himself; but he is a doctor. I know that, for when I offered to make a tisane of orange flowers for the Signorina to soothe her nerves and bring her sleep, she thanked me, but said the Signore had got her a sleeping draught made up the day before, when he went back over the French frontier. She told me that he was a doctor, and had prescribed for her."
"A doctor!" Vanno repeated, suddenly puzzled. He had been confident that the "Signore and Signora" were Lord and Lady Dauntrey. But he had never heard that Dauntrey had studied medicine and practised in South Africa. "Where is the Signore now?" he asked quickly.
"He was with his wife in the room of the Signorina a short time ago."
"Take me to the door of that room, and I will talk with one of them."
"Oh, with the greatest joy, Principe. I have not been happy leaving them alone with her, but what could I do? I am only a servant."
"Why were you not happy leaving them alone with her? Did you think they might do her harm?"
Apollonia shrugged her shoulders, and tears sparkled in her eyes, yellow as the eyes of a lioness. "How can I tell, Principe? She said they were her friends. And the Signore has not a bad face. But it is his wife who rules. And something in myself tells me she is wicked, and does not truly love the Signorina. I have been a wondering whether I should go into that room in spite of those two, and force them to leave her. I would not have minded frightening them with a big knife I keep in the kitchen for cutting bread, only that would have alarmed the Signorina. And perhaps they are not bad after all. Then I should have been wrong. I have thought so much yesterday and to-day about this thing that I seem to have wheels spinning in my head. I thank the blessed saints who have sent the Principe."
"We will go now to the Signorina's door," said Vanno.
"At once, Principe; but we will find it locked."
"How do you know that?"
"I have tried it, softly, more than once, both to-day and last night. Never once have the two left the Signorina alone. Always one was with her. Through the night the Signora was there--with the key turned. One only has come for meals."
"The gate, too, has been locked," said Vanno. "Is that a custom here?"
"No, Principe, it has always been open since I came to serve the Captain Hannaford. It is the only way of entrance, and there is no gate-bell. Not that people often come. But since the Signorina and her friends arrived, it has been locked. It is the Signora who has the key. She seemed to be afraid of thieves, though we have nothing here which thieves can take, unless she herself has brought it. I wondered at first how the Principe had got in, but as soon as he told me he was the betrothed of the Signorina, I knew he would not be stopped by a locked gate."
"I climbed over," Vanno admitted, simply. "Those people must have heard me ring the doorbell, I suppose?"
"It is likely. The Signorina's room is far away, but the bell makes a great noise."
As they talked in low voices which the echoes could not catch and repeat, Apollonia was conducting Vanno upstairs, through an upper hall, and along a corridor. At the end of this passage she paused, without speaking, and indicated a door. The Prince went close to it, and called in a clear tone: "Mary, it's I, Vanno. I've come to find you and take you away."
There was no answer; but it seemed to him that there was a faint rustle as of whispering on the other side. He tried the handle. It did not yield; and Apollonia's yellow eyes sent out a flash of excited expectation. She looked an amazon, waiting the signal to fall upon an enemy.
"Lady Dauntrey, I ask that you will open the door," Vanno said.
Almost immediately a key turned in the lock, the door opened quickly, letting Eve Dauntrey step out, and was closed again by her husband. It would also have been locked, but before Dauntrey could turn the key, Vanno twisted the handle round violently, pushed the door back and thrust his foot into the aperture.
"Take care, Prince," Lady Dauntrey said softly. "You mustn't frighten her. I assure you we're acting for her good."
Her voice was so calm, so gentle and even sincere that in spite of himself Vanno was impressed. He ceased to push against the door, but kept his foot in the opening.
"We were so hoping you'd come," Eve went on, "and I wanted to send for you, but Mary refused. She said that even if you came she would not see you, because she had broken off the engagement, and never wished to meet you again."
"That was all a mistake," Vanno said. "I must see her."
"I quite understand how you feel," Lady Dauntrey agreed, soothingly, "but don't you think, as she's resting for the first time in more than thirty hours, you'd better let the poor child have her sleep out first? I don't know if you are aware that my husband is a doctor; but he is, and practised in South Africa, very successfully. He's with Mary now, and has helped me watch over her. The dear girl begged us to come here. She said there had been trouble between her and your brother and sister-in-law, so she couldn't stay at their villa. Afterward she told us about the broken engagement, and that explained the dreadful state of nervousness she was in from the moment she came to us at Monte Carlo, till she collapsed here, and became delirious. We have done our very best--and I'm so thankful to have been with her, though it was most inconvenient for our plans. We were just ready to start for England when she appealed to us not to let her come to this dreary, haunted sort of place by herself. I don't know what would have become of the poor darling if she'd been alone with this dreadful woman--almost a savage from the mountains, whom Captain Hannaford engaged as caretaker."
Eve talked rapidly and gravely, in a whisper. As she spoke of Apollonia, she turned a look upon her; and the woman "made horns" with two pointing fingers. Vanno knew well what this meant.
If Lady Dauntrey's story had begun to impress him, that glance thrown at Apollonia brought back in a flash all his enmity and suspicion. It was a murderous look. He knew that she hated the woman for having brought him to the door of Mary's room.
He was silent for an instant when Eve ceased to speak. Then he said, "I won't disturb Mary. I will go in quietly and look at her while she sleeps."
"You may wake her."
"If she did not wake when I called, she won't wake at the sound of a footstep."
"But my husband--we ought to consult him----"
Before she could finish, Vanno pushed open the door, by virtue of his strength, which was far greater than that of Lord Dauntrey, who kept guard on the other side. Noiselessly the young man entered the room; and as Dauntrey realized that opposition would not avail, he gave way.
It was a large room, sparsely furnished, and so full of light that for a second or two Vanno was confused, after the dimness of the corridor outside. The huge window had no curtains, and the afternoon sunlight poured through it upon the bed which stood near by, facing the door. Mary's face lying low on the pillow was colourless as wax. The sun lit up her hair, and turned it to living gold.
Vanno saw only the bed, and Mary lying there asleep. He did not once look at Dauntrey, who stole out on tiptoe. Eve, waiting for her husband, put a finger to her lips. As Apollonia peered anxiously into the room, not daring to cross the threshold, Lord and Lady Dauntrey went softly away together, as if they were afraid that a creaking board under their feet might wake the sleeper.
It seemed to Peter that she must have been waiting in Schuyler's automobile for an hour, when at last she saw a man and a woman walking quickly down the avenue, toward the gate. She had never seen Lord and Lady Dauntrey, but she knew that Rose Winter and Vanno believed them to be Mary's companions. In the hand of the woman was a small, rather flat bag of dark blue Russian leather, which might be a jewel-case or a miniature dressing-bag such as women carry when motoring.
The pair had come into sight rounding a turn of the drive; and they saw the girl looking up from the window of the waiting car at the moment when her eyes fell upon them. For an instant they slackened their pace, but the woman spoke to the man, and they came on steadily, walking as briskly as before. The man unfastened the gate with a big key, which he left in the lock, and the two stepped out into the road. They glanced casually at Peter, her chauffeur, and the motor, as if they would pass by, but on an impulse Peter leaned from the window and spoke. "Lord and Lady Dauntrey?"
"Yes," the woman replied, stiffly. "I'm afraid I don't remember----"
"Oh, we've never met, but I knew you were both here, and I'm Mary Maxwell, Mary Grant's best friend. I'll go in and find her and Prince Vanno, now the gate's unlocked. I thought perhaps Mary was sending me out her jewel-case, as I see you have it in your hand."
This was a shot in the dark. All that Peter knew of the jewel-case was Rose Winter's description of it, when she told of Mary's arrival in her absence, to take it away; but Lady Dauntrey's face said that the shot had not gone wide of the mark.
"It is Miss Grant's jewel-case, certainly," she replied. "She put it in my charge. Prince Giovanni Della Robbia has insulted me and my husband, and we are going at once; but I'm too fond of poor Mary to leave her property at the mercy of the only servant in the house--a horrible woman, who would murder one for a franc. She knows about the jewels, and as the Prince won't look after them and Mary isn't able to, I meant to take them back to Mrs. Winter."
"How good of you! I'll save you the trouble," Peter said.
Lady Dauntrey looked at her with narrow eyes, Dauntrey standing apart listlessly. "I don't know you," Eve objected.
"You can ask Mr. James Schuyler's chauffeur about me," Peter suggested. "Or if you won't accept his word, wait a little while, and I'll take you both to Monte Carlo and Mrs. Winter's house, where I'm staying."
"I really think you had better trust this lady," Dauntrey said. He looked at his wife with his sad, tired eyes. Eve shrugged her shoulders, and handed Peter the bag. "Well, the responsibility is off my hands, anyhow!" she cried. "That's one comfort. And it's much more convenient for us not to go to Monte Carlo, on other people's business. Mary Grant's jewels are nothing to us."
"Of course not," Peter agreed, pleasantly. "I hope Mary's well?"
"Then you'll be disappointed," Eve replied, her eyes very bright. "She's far from well. My husband, an experienced doctor, has been treated unbearably by the Prince. You can bear witness that he leaves his patient only because he was insulted. I advise you, if you're fond of Mary Grant, to get in some one else, or it may be too late. It's impossible to know what she may have done, but my private opinion is that her love troubles were too much for her, and she took something----"
"Eve!" Dauntrey stopped his wife. "Be careful what you say."
"Well, it's no longer our affair, since the Prince has taken matters into his own hands, and practically turned out Mary's best friends. Good afternoon, Miss Maxwell."
They walked off quickly, without looking back, the two tall figures marching shoulder to shoulder in the direction of Latte, the nearest railway station.
"You oughtn't to have said what you did," Dauntrey reproached Eve.
"I'm sorry," she replied. "That girl nearly drove me mad. To think she's got the jewels! Nothing to pay us for it all, except the money from the cheque."
"Serves us right," Dauntrey said grimly. "I'd thank God we're out of it at any price, if God was likely to be looking after us. Better thank the devil."
"Don't talk like that," Eve implored him. "There's nothing against us, nothing. I'm sorry I blurted out that about her taking some stuff, but it can't do us any harm. You said yourself, nobody could find out what----"
"They couldn't prove, but they might suspect. God! What hideous days! I never thought the stuff would act on her like that, or I wouldn't have let you persuade me----"
"I know you wouldn't," Eve cut him short. "It was my fault. You thought there was only a slight risk----"
"Yes, but it acted differently from the beginning. I didn't suppose it would send her to sleep. God knows I did everything I knew to wake her up----"
"Well, we're out of it all now," Eve soothed him. "Remember, they can't prove anything. Even if they send after us, and make us come back, they'll have their trouble for their pains. We've been clever."
"Everything's for and nothing against us. Perhaps it's as well the fellow came, after all. He's given us our excuse to go in a hurry. And we've got money--in gold, no notes, thank goodness. Only--I shall dream of those jewels at night."
"Best to be rid of them, as things have turned out. If she'd given them to us, as you hoped, it would have been all right, but----"
"No use crying over spilt milk," Eve sighed. "Let's walk faster. There ought to be a train for Genoa in twenty minutes, if your time-table is right. That reminds me, I never posted her letter to the convent, but it doesn't matter now."
Mary lay on her back between the pillows, her hair loose around her face, a thick plait of it tossed out over the faded green silk quilt. One arm supported her head, the other was hidden by the bed covering. The bright light that streamed through the window was an illumination.
Suddenly it was as if an iron hand seized Vanno's heart and slowly pressed the blood out of it. The thought had flashed into his head that she was more than ever before like a gentle and lovely Juliet, but Juliet in the tomb, her white beauty lit by many candles.
If she were dead--if those people had killed her----
Never had Vanno seen any one sleep so soundly. There was no flicker of the eyelids, no quivering of the nostrils, no rising and falling of the breast. He laid his hand over her heart, and could not feel it beating, yet he was not sure that it did not beat very faintly. There were bounding pulses in his hand as he touched her. He could not tell whether it was his own blood that throbbed, or whether hers spoke to his, through living veins.
Very gently he lifted her head, and laying it down again, higher on the pillow whence it seemed to have slipped, he moved the arm that had supported it. Then kneeling beside the bed, he kissed her hand again and again. It was very cold, cold as a lily, he thought, yet not so cold as a lily killed by the frost.
If some one had come to him at that moment and said, "Mary is dead," he would have believed that it was the truth, for she looked as if her eyes had seen the light beyond this world. She was not smiling, yet there was a radiance on her face which did not seem to be given by the sunset. Rather did the light appear to come from within. Yet, because no one said aloud the words that went echoing through his heart, Vanno would not believe that Mary was dead.
"If I have lost you in this world," he said aloud, as though she could hear him, "I will follow where you are, to tell you that we belong to one another through all eternity, and nothing can part us. But you haven't gone. You could not leave me so."
As he spoke to her, on his knees, her cold hand pressed against his warm throat, he kept his eyes upon her face, hungrily, watching for some sign that her spirit heard him from very far off. But there was no change. The dark, double line of her lashes did not break. Her lips kept their faint, mysterious half-smile.
Vanno resolved that if she had gone, he too would go, for without her the world was empty and dead.
It was then that Peter stole to the open door with Apollonia, and looked in. Her impulse was to cry out, and run into the room to sob at her friend's feet; but something held her back. It was as if she caught a strain of music; and she remembered the air. It came from the opera of "Romeo è Giuletta," which she had heard in New York a year ago. The music was as reminiscently distinct as if her brain were a gramophone. She had seen a tableau like this, of two lovers, while that music played in the theatre; and with tears in her eyes she had thought, "If only Romeo had waited, if he had had faith, he could have called her back again."
She did not enter the room, but standing by the door she said softly yet clearly, "Don't let her go. Call her spirit. Maybe it is near. Tell her that you are calling her back to happiness and love. I believe she will come to you, because you are her heart and her soul. I am going, and I will bring a doctor. But you are the only one who can save her now."
The girl's voice had no personality for Vanno. He did not turn his mind for an instant to Peter. It was as if his own thoughts spoke aloud and gave him counsel what to do.
He rose from his knees, and sitting on the side of the bed gathered Mary up into his arms. He held her closely against his breast, her hair twined in his clasping fingers. Then he bent his head over the upturned face, and whispered.
"Darling," he said, "heart of my heart, wherever you are have mercy and come back to me. I can't live without you. You are my all. God will give you to me if you will come. You look so happy, but you will be happier with me, for you can't go and leave everything unfinished. Best and dearest one, I need you. Come back! Come back!"
Mary's spirit had crossed the threshold and stood looking out into the unknown, which stretched on and on into endlessness, like a sea of light ringing round the world; and in this sea there was music which seemed to be part of the light. She thought that she had been almost engulfed in a terrible storm with waves mountain-high arising over her head in a great darkness, and explosive noises of machinery loud in her ears as when Carleton took her through the water of the harbour in his hydro-aeroplane. But the noise had ceased, and the darkness was gone. All was light and peace. She was conscious that she had struggled and suffered, that she had borne a burden of unhappiness which had been too heavy for her shoulders. The burden had fallen off. She was no longer unhappy, and though her heart was empty of joy, dimly she seemed to hear an assurance that soon it would be filled to overflowing. The promise was in the music that was part of the light, and of the great sea over which she was passed. She knew that she was far above it now, and rising higher, as she had risen in the aeroplane when she had felt the wonder after the shrinking. But something which had been herself lay under the sea, down in the storm and the darkness she had left behind.
Then, suddenly, the music was disturbed. Through it she listened to a vague undertone of sorrow; and she became aware that some one was suffering as she had suffered, some one whom she had loved--some one whom she would always love. Out of the darkness a voice was calling her to come back. Indistinct and far away at first, it became clear, insistent, irresistible.
A faint shiver ran through Mary's body, and Vanno's heart leaped against her breast, as if he sent his life to warm her heart.
"Come back to me, if you loved me!" he called her.
Very slowly she opened her eyes, dazzled still with the light she had seen through the open door.
"Mary, come back and save me!" he cried to her out of the darkness.
"I am coming," she whispered, not sure if she was answering in a dream to a voice in a dream. But the light of the wondrous sea was dimmed to the light of an earthly sunset. Through it Vanno's eyes called to her as his voice had called--those eyes which had been her stars of love--and she forgot the brighter light, just seen and lost.
"You!" she said. "It's like--heaven----"
"It is heaven--now," he answered, as he held her closely.
When Mary was well again, the curé married her to her Prince, and the two went together into the desert that Vanno loved. There it did not matter to them that Angelo was thinking coldly and harshly of them both; and perhaps there was even an added sweetness in Mary's happiness because a sacrifice of hers could spare pain to one very near to Vanno. She would not let her husband say that he could not forgive his brother.
"But if our love is to be perfect, we must forgive Angelo, and poor Marie too," she told him.
Late in the summer (they had left Egypt long ago, and were in the high mountains of Algeria), one day a letter came to Vanno, forwarded on from place after place, where it had missed him. Angelo had written at last.
"Perhaps you may have seen," he said, "in some paper, that in giving me a little daughter my wife died. She left a letter to be handed me after her death, if a presentiment she had were fulfilled. If she had lived, I would have forgiven her. Will you and Mary forgive me?"
There was no question as to what their answer would be.
"When two people love each other as we do," Vanno said, "I see now that there can be no room for any bitterness in their hearts."