"Mad!" screamed Harriet, - "absolutely stark, staring, raving mad!"
Philip judged it better not to contradict her.
"What's she here for? Answer me that. What's she doing in Monteriano in August? Why isn't she in Normandy? Answer that. She won't. I can: she's come to thwart us; she's betrayed us - got hold of mother's plans. Oh, goodness, my head!"
He was unwise enough to reply, "You mustn't accuse her of that. Though she is exasperating, she hasn't come here to betray us."
"Then why has she come here? Answer me that."
He made no answer. But fortunately his sister was too much agitated to wait for one. "Bursting in on me - crying and looking a disgusting sight - and says she has been to see the Italian. Couldn't even talk properly; pretended she had changed her opinions. What are her opinions to us? I was very calm. I said: 'Miss Abbott, I think there is a little misapprehension in this matter. My mother, Mrs. Herriton - ' Oh, goodness, my head! Of course you've failed - don't trouble to answer - I know you've failed. Where's the baby, pray? Of course you haven't got it. Dear sweet Caroline won't let you. Oh, yes, and we're to go away at once and trouble the father no more. Those are her commands.
Commands! COMMANDS!" And Harriet also burst into tears.
Philip governed his temper. His sister was annoying, but quite reasonable in her indignation. Moreover, Miss Abbott had behaved even worse than she supposed.
"I've not got the baby, Harriet, but at the same time I haven't exactly failed. I and Signor Carella are to have another interview this afternoon, at the Caffe Garibaldi.
He is perfectly reasonable and pleasant. Should you be disposed to come with me, you would find him quite willing to discuss things. He is desperately in want of money, and has no prospect of getting any. I discovered that. At the same time, he has a certain affection for the child." For Philip's insight, or perhaps his opportunities, had not been equal to Miss Abbott's.
Harriet would only sob, and accuse her brother of insulting her; how could a lady speak to such a horrible man? That, and nothing else, was enough to stamp Caroline.
Oh, poor Lilia!
Philip drummed on the bedroom window-sill. He saw no escape from the deadlock. For though he spoke cheerfully about his second interview with Gino, he felt at the bottom of his heart that it would fail. Gino was too courteous: he would not break off negotiations by sharp denial; he loved this civil, half-humorous bargaining. And he loved fooling his opponent, and did it so nicely that his opponent did not mind being fooled.
"Miss Abbott has behaved extraordinarily," he said at last; "but at the same time - "
His sister would not hear him. She burst forth again on the madness, the interference, the intolerable duplicity of Caroline.
"Harriet, you must listen. My dear, you must stop crying. I have something quite important to say."
"I shall not stop crying," said she. But in time, finding that he would not speak to her, she did stop.
"Remember that Miss Abbott has done us no harm. She said nothing to him about the matter. He assumes that she is working with us: I gathered that."
"Well, she isn't."
"Yes; but if you're careful she may be. I interpret her behaviour thus: She went to see him, honestly intending to get the child away. In the note she left me she says so, and I don't believe she'd lie."
"When she got there, there was some pretty domestic scene between him and the baby, and she has got swept off in a gush of sentimentalism. Before very long, if I know anything about psychology, there will be a reaction. She'll be swept back."
"I don't understand your long words. Say plainly - "
"When she's swept back, she'll be invaluable. For she has made quite an impression on him. He thinks her so nice with the baby. You know, she washed it for him."
Harriet's ejaculations were more aggravating than the rest of her. But Philip was averse to losing his temper.
The access of joy that had come to him yesterday in the theatre promised to be permanent. He was more anxious than heretofore to be charitable towards the world.
"If you want to carry off the baby, keep your peace with Miss Abbott. For if she chooses, she can help you better than I can."
"There can be no peace between me and her," said Harriet gloomily.
"Did you - "
"Oh, not all I wanted. She went away before I had finished speaking - just like those cowardly people! - into the church."
"Into Santa Deodata's?"
"Yes; I'm sure she needs it. Anything more unchristian - "
In time Philip went to the church also, leaving his sister a little calmer and a little disposed to think over his advice. What had come over Miss Abbott? He had always thought her both stable and sincere. That conversation he had had with her last Christmas in the train to Charing Cross - that alone furnished him with a parallel. For the second time, Monteriano must have turned her head. He was not angry with her, for he was quite indifferent to the outcome of their expedition. He was only extremely interested.
It was now nearly midday, and the streets were clearing. But the intense heat had broken, and there was a pleasant suggestion of rain. The Piazza, with its three great attractions - the Palazzo Pubblico, the Collegiate Church, and the Caffe Garibaldi: the intellect, the soul, and the body - had never looked more charming. For a moment Philip stood in its centre, much inclined to be dreamy, and thinking how wonderful it must feel to belong to a city, however mean. He was here, however, as an emissary of civilization and as a student of character, and, after a sigh, he entered Santa Deodata's to continue his mission.
There had been a FESTA two days before, and the church still smelt of incense and of garlic. The little son of the sacristan was sweeping the nave, more for amusement than for cleanliness, sending great clouds of dust over the frescoes and the scattered worshippers. The sacristan himself had propped a ladder in the centre of the Deluge - which fills one of the nave spandrels - and was freeing a column from its wealth of scarlet calico. Much scarlet calico also lay upon the floor - for the church can look as fine as any theatre - and the sacristan's little daughter was trying to fold it up.
She was wearing a tinsel crown. The crown really belonged to St. Augustine. But it had been cut too big: it fell down over his cheeks like a collar: you never saw anything so absurd. One of the canons had unhooked it just before the FIESTA began, and had given it to the sacristan's daughter.
"Please," cried Philip, "is there an English lady here?"
The man's mouth was full of tin-tacks, but he nodded cheerfully towards a kneeling figure. In the midst of this confusion Miss Abbott was praying.
He was not much surprised: a spiritual breakdown was quite to be expected. For though he was growing more charitable towards mankind, he was still a little jaunty, and too apt to stake out beforehand the course that will be pursued by the wounded soul. It did not surprise him, however, that she should greet him naturally, with none of the sour self-consciousness of a person who had just risen from her knees. This was indeed the spirit of Santa Deodata's, where a prayer to God is thought none the worse of because it comes next to a pleasant word to a neighbour.
"I am sure that I need it," said she; and he, who had expected her to be ashamed, became confused, and knew not what to reply.
"I've nothing to tell you," she continued. "I have simply changed straight round. If I had planned the whole thing out, I could not have treated you worse. I can talk it over now; but please believe that I have been crying."
"And please believe that I have not come to scold you," said Philip. "I know what has happened."
"What?" asked Miss Abbott. Instinctively she led the way to the famous chapel, the fifth chapel on the right, wherein Giovanni da Empoli has painted the death and burial of the saint. Here they could sit out of the dust and the noise, and proceed with a discussion which promised to be important.
"What might have happened to me - he had made you believe that he loved the child."
"Oh, yes; he has. He will never give it up."
"At present it is still unsettled."
"It will never be settled."
"Perhaps not. Well, as I said, I know what has happened, and I am not here to scold you. But I must ask you to withdraw from the thing for the present. Harriet is furious. But she will calm down when she realizes that you have done us no harm, and will do none."
"I can do no more," she said. "But I tell you plainly I have changed sides."
"If you do no more, that is all we want. You promise not to prejudice our cause by speaking to Signor Carella?"
"Oh, certainly. I don't want to speak to him again; I shan't ever see him again."
"Quite nice, wasn't he?"
"Well, that's all I wanted to know. I'll go and tell Harriet of your promise, and I think things'll quiet down now."
But he did not move, for it was an increasing pleasure to him to be near her, and her charm was at its strongest today. He thought less of psychology and feminine reaction. The gush of sentimentalism which had carried her away had only made her more alluring. He was content to observe her beauty and to profit by the tenderness and the wisdom that dwelt within her.
"Why aren't you angry with me?" she asked, after a pause.
"Because I understand you - all sides, I think, - Harriet, Signor Carella, even my mother."
"You do understand wonderfully. You are the only one of us who has a general view of the muddle."
He smiled with pleasure. It was the first time she had ever praised him. His eyes rested agreeably on Santa Deodata, who was dying in full sanctity, upon her back.
There was a window open behind her, revealing just such a view as he had seen that morning, and on her widowed mother's dresser there stood just such another copper pot.
The saint looked neither at the view nor at the pot, and at her widowed mother still less. For lo! she had a vision: the head and shoulders of St. Augustine were sliding like some miraculous enamel along the rough-cast wall. It is a gentle saint who is content with half another saint to see her die. In her death, as in her life, Santa Deodata did not accomplish much.
"So what are you going to do?" said Miss Abbott.
Philip started, not so much at the words as at the sudden change in the voice. "Do?" he echoed, rather dismayed. "This afternoon I have another interview."
"It will come to nothing. Well?"
"Then another. If that fails I shall wire home for instructions. I dare say we may fail altogether, but we shall fail honourably."
She had often been decided. But now behind her decision there was a note of passion. She struck him not as different, but as more important, and he minded it very much when she said -
"That's not doing anything! You would be doing something if you kidnapped the baby, or if you went straight away. But that! To fail honourably! To come out of the thing as well as you can! Is that all you are after?"
"Why, yes," he stammered. "Since we talk openly, that is all I am after just now. What else is there? If I can persuade Signor Carella to give in, so much the better. If he won't, I must report the failure to my mother and then go home. Why, Miss Abbott, you can't expect me to follow you through all these turns - "
"I don't! But I do expect you to settle what is right and to follow that. Do you want the child to stop with his father, who loves him and will bring him up badly, or do you want him to come to Sawston, where no one loves him, but where he will be brought up well? There is the question put dispassionately enough even for you. Settle it. Settle which side you'll fight on. But don't go talking about an 'honourable failure,' which means simply not thinking and not acting at all."
"Because I understand the position of Signor Carella and of you, it's no reason that - "
"None at all. Fight as if you think us wrong. Oh, what's the use of your fair-mindedness if you never decide for yourself? Any one gets hold of you and makes you do what they want. And you see through them and laugh at them - and do it. It's not enough to see clearly; I'm muddle-headed and stupid, and not worth a quarter of you, but I have tried to do what seemed right at the time. And you - your brain and your insight are splendid. But when you see what's right you're too idle to do it. You told me once that we shall be judged by our intentions, not by our accomplishments. I thought it a grand remark. But we must intend to accomplish - not sit intending on a chair."
"You are wonderful!" he said gravely.
"Oh, you appreciate me!" she burst out again. "I wish you didn't. You appreciate us all - see good in all of us.
And all the time you are dead - dead - dead. Look, why aren't you angry?" She came up to him, and then her mood suddenly changed, and she took hold of both his hands. "You are so splendid, Mr. Herriton, that I can't bear to see you wasted. I can't bear - she has not been good to you - your mother."
"Miss Abbott, don't worry over me. Some people are born not to do things. I'm one of them; I never did anything at school or at the Bar. I came out to stop Lilia's marriage, and it was too late. I came out intending to get the baby, and I shall return an 'honourable failure.' I never expect anything to happen now, and so I am never disappointed. You would be surprised to know what my great events are. Going to the theatre yesterday, talking to you now - I don't suppose I shall ever meet anything greater. I seem fated to pass through the world without colliding with it or moving it - and I'm sure I can't tell you whether the fate's good or evil.
I don't die - I don't fall in love. And if other people die or fall in love they always do it when I'm just not there.
You are quite right; life to me is just a spectacle, which - thank God, and thank Italy, and thank you - is now more beautiful and heartening than it has ever been before."
She said solemnly, "I wish something would happen to you, my dear friend; I wish something would happen to you."
"But why?" he asked, smiling. "Prove to me why I don't do as I am."
She also smiled, very gravely. She could not prove it.
No argument existed. Their discourse, splendid as it had been, resulted in nothing, and their respective opinions and policies were exactly the same when they left the church as when they had entered it.
Harriet was rude at lunch. She called Miss Abbott a turncoat and a coward to her face. Miss Abbott resented neither epithet, feeling that one was justified and the other not unreasonable. She tried to avoid even the suspicion of satire in her replies. But Harriet was sure that she was satirical because she was so calm. She got more and more violent, and Philip at one time feared that she would come to blows.
"Look here!" he cried, with something of the old manner, "it's too hot for this. We've been talking and interviewing each other all the morning, and I have another interview this afternoon. I do stipulate for silence. Let each lady retire to her bedroom with a book."
"I retire to pack," said Harriet. "Please remind Signor Carella, Philip, that the baby is to be here by half-past eight this evening."
"Oh, certainly, Harriet. I shall make a point of reminding him."
"And order a carriage to take us to the evening train."
"And please," said Miss Abbott, "would you order a carriage for me too?"
"You going?" he exclaimed.
"Of course," she replied, suddenly flushing. "Why not?"
"Why, of course you would be going. Two carriages, then. Two carriages for the evening train." He looked at his sister hopelessly. "Harriet, whatever are you up to?
We shall never be ready."
"Order my carriage for the evening train," said Harriet, and departed.
"Well, I suppose I shall. And I shall also have my interview with Signor Carella."
Miss Abbott gave a little sigh.
"But why should you mind? Do you suppose that I shall have the slightest influence over him?"
"No. But - I can't repeat all that I said in the church.
You ought never to see him again. You ought to bundle Harriet into a carriage, not this evening, but now, and drive her straight away."
"Perhaps I ought. But it isn't a very big 'ought.' Whatever Harriet and I do the issue is the same. Why, I can see the splendour of it - even the humour. Gino sitting up here on the mountain-top with his cub. We come and ask for it. He welcomes us. We ask for it again. He is equally pleasant. I'm agreeable to spend the whole week bargaining with him. But I know that at the end of it I shall descend empty-handed to the plains. It might be finer of me to make up my mind. But I'm not a fine character. And nothing hangs on it."
"Perhaps I am extreme," she said humbly. "I've been trying to run you, just like your mother. I feel you ought to fight it out with Harriet. Every little trifle, for some reason, does seem incalculably important today, and when you say of a thing that 'nothing hangs on it,' it sounds like blasphemy. There's never any knowing - (how am I to put it?) - which of our actions, which of our idlenesses won't have things hanging on it for ever."
He assented, but her remark had only an aesthetic value.
He was not prepared to take it to his heart. All the afternoon he rested - worried, but not exactly despondent.
The thing would jog out somehow. Probably Miss Abbott was right. The baby had better stop where it was loved. And that, probably, was what the fates had decreed. He felt little interest in the matter, and he was sure that he had no influence.
It was not surprising, therefore, that the interview at the Caffe Garibaldi came to nothing. Neither of them took it very seriously. And before long Gino had discovered how things lay, and was ragging his companion hopelessly.
Philip tried to look offended, but in the end he had to laugh. "Well, you are right," he said. "This affair is being managed by the ladies."
"Ah, the ladies - the ladies!" cried the other, and then he roared like a millionaire for two cups of black coffee, and insisted on treating his friend, as a sign that their strife was over.
"Well, I have done my best," said Philip, dipping a long slice of sugar into his cup, and watching the brown liquid ascend into it. "I shall face my mother with a good conscience. Will you bear me witness that I've done my best?"
"My poor fellow, I will!" He laid a sympathetic hand on Philip's knee.
"And that I have - " The sugar was now impregnated with coffee, and he bent forward to swallow it. As he did so his eyes swept the opposite of the Piazza, and he saw there, watching them, Harriet. "Mia sorella!" he exclaimed. Gino, much amused, laid his hand upon the little table, and beat the marble humorously with his fists. Harriet turned away and began gloomily to inspect the Palazzo Pubblico.
"Poor Harriet!" said Philip, swallowing the sugar. "One more wrench and it will all be over for her; we are leaving this evening."
Gino was sorry for this. "Then you will not be here this evening as you promised us. All three leaving?"
"All three," said Philip, who had not revealed the secession of Miss Abbott; "by the night train; at least, that is my sister's plan. So I'm afraid I shan't be here."
They watched the departing figure of Harriet, and then entered upon the final civilities. They shook each other warmly by both hands. Philip was to come again next year, and to write beforehand. He was to be introduced to Gino's wife, for he was told of the marriage now. He was to be godfather to his next baby. As for Gino, he would remember some time that Philip liked vermouth. He begged him to give his love to Irma. Mrs. Herriton - should he send her his sympathetic regards? No; perhaps that would hardly do.
So the two young men parted with a good deal of genuine affection. For the barrier of language is sometimes a blessed barrier, which only lets pass what is good. Or - to put the thing less cynically - we may be better in new clean words, which have never been tainted by our pettiness or vice. Philip, at all events, lived more graciously in Italian, the very phrases of which entice one to be happy and kind. It was horrible to think of the English of Harriet, whose every word would be as hard, as distinct, and as unfinished as a lump of coal.
Harriet, however, talked little. She had seen enough to know that her brother had failed again, and with unwonted dignity she accepted the situation. She did her packing, she wrote up her diary, she made a brown paper cover for the new Baedeker. Philip, finding her so amenable, tried to discuss their future plans. But she only said that they would sleep in Florence, and told him to telegraph for rooms. They had supper alone. Miss Abbott did not come down. The landlady told them that Signor Carella had called on Miss Abbott to say good-bye, but she, though in, had not been able to see him. She also told them that it had begun to rain. Harriet sighed, but indicated to her brother that he was not responsible.
The carriages came round at a quarter past eight. It was not raining much, but the night was extraordinarily dark, and one of the drivers wanted to go slowly to the station. Miss Abbott came down and said that she was ready, and would start at once.
"Yes, do," said Philip, who was standing in the hall.
"Now that we have quarrelled we scarcely want to travel in procession all the way down the hill. Well, good-bye; it's all over at last; another scene in my pageant has shifted."
"Good-bye; it's been a great pleasure to see you. I hope that won't shift, at all events." She gripped his hand.
"You sound despondent," he said, laughing. "Don't forget that you return victorious."
"I suppose I do," she replied, more despondently than ever, and got into the carriage. He concluded that she was thinking of her reception at Sawston, whither her fame would doubtless precede her. Whatever would Mrs. Herriton do?
She could make things quite unpleasant when she thought it right. She might think it right to be silent, but then there was Harriet. Who would bridle Harriet's tongue?
Between the two of them Miss Abbott was bound to have a bad time. Her reputation, both for consistency and for moral enthusiasm, would be lost for ever.
"It's hard luck on her," he thought. "She is a good person. I must do for her anything I can." Their intimacy had been very rapid, but he too hoped that it would not shift. He believed that he understood her, and that she, by now, had seen the worst of him. What if after a long time - if after all - he flushed like a boy as he looked after her carriage.
He went into the dining-room to look for Harriet.
Harriet was not to be found. Her bedroom, too, was empty.
All that was left of her was the purple prayer-book which lay open on the bed. Philip took it up aimlessly, and saw - "Blessed be the Lord my God who teacheth my hands to war and my fingers to fight." He put the book in his pocket, and began to brood over more profitable themes.
Santa Deodata gave out half past eight. All the luggage was on, and still Harriet had not appeared. "Depend upon it," said the landlady, "she has gone to Signor Carella's to say good-bye to her little nephew." Philip did not think it likely. They shouted all over the house and still there was no Harriet. He began to be uneasy. He was helpless without Miss Abbott; her grave, kind face had cheered him wonderfully, even when it looked displeased. Monteriano was sad without her; the rain was thickening; the scraps of Donizetti floated tunelessly out of the wineshops, and of the great tower opposite he could only see the base, fresh papered with the advertisements of quacks.
A man came up the street with a note. Philip read, "Start at once. Pick me up outside the gate. Pay the bearer. H. H."
"Did the lady give you this note?" he cried.
The man was unintelligible.
"Speak up!" exclaimed Philip. "Who gave it you - and where?"
Nothing but horrible sighings and bubblings came out of the man.
"Be patient with him," said the driver, turning round on the box. "It is the poor idiot." And the landlady came out of the hotel and echoed "The poor idiot. He cannot speak.
He takes messages for us all."
Philip then saw that the messenger was a ghastly creature, quite bald, with trickling eyes and grey twitching nose. In another country he would have been shut up; here he was accepted as a public institution, and part of Nature's scheme.
"Ugh!" shuddered the Englishman. "Signora padrona, find out from him; this note is from my sister. What does it mean? Where did he see her?"
"It is no good," said the landlady. "He understands everything but he can explain nothing."
"He has visions of the saints," said the man who drove the cab.
"But my sister - where has she gone? How has she met him?"
"She has gone for a walk," asserted the landlady. It was a nasty evening, but she was beginning to understand the English. "She has gone for a walk - perhaps to wish good-bye to her little nephew. Preferring to come back another way, she has sent you this note by the poor idiot and is waiting for you outside the Siena gate. Many of my guests do this."
There was nothing to do but to obey the message. He shook hands with the landlady, gave the messenger a nickel piece, and drove away. After a dozen yards the carriage stopped. The poor idiot was running and whimpering behind.
"Go on," cried Philip. "I have paid him plenty."
A horrible hand pushed three soldi into his lap. It was part of the idiot's malady only to receive what was just for his services. This was the change out of the nickel piece.
"Go on!" shouted Philip, and flung the money into the road. He was frightened at the episode; the whole of life had become unreal. It was a relief to be out of the Siena gate. They drew up for a moment on the terrace. But there was no sign of Harriet. The driver called to the Dogana men. But they had seen no English lady pass.
"What am I to do?" he cried; "it is not like the lady to be late. We shall miss the train."
"Let us drive slowly," said the driver, "and you shall call her by name as we go."
So they started down into the night, Philip calling "Harriet! Harriet! Harriet!" And there she was, waiting for them in the wet, at the first turn of the zigzag.
"Harriet, why don't you answer?"
"I heard you coming," said she, and got quickly in. Not till then did he see that she carried a bundle.
"Hush - "
"Whatever is that?"
"Hush - sleeping."
Harriet had succeeded where Miss Abbott and Philip had failed. It was the baby.
She would not let him talk. The baby, she repeated, was asleep, and she put up an umbrella to shield it and her from the rain. He should hear all later, so he had to conjecture the course of the wonderful interview - an interview between the South pole and the North. It was quite easy to conjecture: Gino crumpling up suddenly before the intense conviction of Harriet; being told, perhaps, to his face that he was a villain; yielding his only son perhaps for money, perhaps for nothing. "Poor Gino," he thought. "He's no greater than I am, after all."
Then he thought of Miss Abbott, whose carriage must be descending the darkness some mile or two below them, and his easy self-accusation failed. She, too, had conviction; he had felt its force; he would feel it again when she knew this day's sombre and unexpected close.
"You have been pretty secret," he said; "you might tell me a little now. What do we pay for him? All we've got?"
"Hush!" answered Harriet, and dandled the bundle laboriously, like some bony prophetess - Judith, or Deborah, or Jael. He had last seen the baby sprawling on the knees of Miss Abbott, shining and naked, with twenty miles of view behind him, and his father kneeling by his feet. And that remembrance, together with Harriet, and the darkness, and the poor idiot, and the silent rain, filled him with sorrow and with the expectation of sorrow to come.
Monteriano had long disappeared, and he could see nothing but the occasional wet stem of an olive, which their lamp illumined as they passed it. They travelled quickly, for this driver did not care how fast he went to the station, and would dash down each incline and scuttle perilously round the curves.
"Look here, Harriet," he said at last, "I feel bad; I want to see the baby."
"I don't mind if I do wake him up. I want to see him.
I've as much right in him as you."
Harriet gave in. But it was too dark for him to see the child's face. "Wait a minute," he whispered, and before she could stop him he had lit a match under the shelter of her umbrella. "But he's awake!" he exclaimed. The match went out.
"Good ickle quiet boysey, then."
Philip winced. "His face, do you know, struck me as all wrong."
"All puckered queerly."
"Of course - with the shadows - you couldn't see him."
"Well, hold him up again." She did so. He lit another match. It went out quickly, but not before he had seen that the baby was crying.
"Nonsense," said Harriet sharply. "We should hear him if he cried."
"No, he's crying hard; I thought so before, and I'm certain now."
Harriet touched the child's face. It was bathed in tears. "Oh, the night air, I suppose," she said, "or perhaps the wet of the rain."
"I say, you haven't hurt it, or held it the wrong way, or anything; it is too uncanny - crying and no noise. Why didn't you get Perfetta to carry it to the hotel instead of muddling with the messenger? It's a marvel he understood about the note."
"Oh, he understands." And he could feel her shudder.
"He tried to carry the baby - "
"But why not Gino or Perfetta?"
"Philip, don't talk. Must I say it again? Don't talk.
The baby wants to sleep." She crooned harshly as they descended, and now and then she wiped up the tears which welled inexhaustibly from the little eyes. Philip looked away, winking at times himself. It was as if they were travelling with the whole world's sorrow, as if all the mystery, all the persistency of woe were gathered to a single fount. The roads were now coated with mud, and the carriage went more quietly but not less swiftly, sliding by long zigzags into the night. He knew the landmarks pretty well: here was the crossroad to Poggibonsi; and the last view of Monteriano, if they had light, would be from here.
Soon they ought to come to that little wood where violets were so plentiful in spring. He wished the weather had not changed; it was not cold, but the air was extraordinarily damp. It could not be good for the child.
"I suppose he breathes, and all that sort of thing?" he said.
"Of course," said Harriet, in an angry whisper. "You've started him again. I'm certain he was asleep. I do wish you wouldn't talk; it makes me so nervous."
"I'm nervous too. I wish he'd scream. It's too uncanny. Poor Gino! I'm terribly sorry for Gino."
"Because he's weak - like most of us. He doesn't know what he wants. He doesn't grip on to life. But I like that man, and I'm sorry for him."
Naturally enough she made no answer.
"You despise him, Harriet, and you despise me. But you do us no good by it. We fools want some one to set us on our feet. Suppose a really decent woman had set up Gino - I believe Caroline Abbott might have done it - mightn't he have been another man?"
"Philip," she interrupted, with an attempt at nonchalance, "do you happen to have those matches handy? We might as well look at the baby again if you have."
The first match blew out immediately. So did the second. He suggested that they should stop the carriage and borrow the lamp from the driver.
"Oh, I don't want all that bother. Try again."
They entered the little wood as he tried to strike the third match. At last it caught. Harriet poised the umbrella rightly, and for a full quarter minute they contemplated the face that trembled in the light of the trembling flame. Then there was a shout and a crash. They were lying in the mud in darkness. The carriage had overturned.
Philip was a good deal hurt. He sat up and rocked himself to and fro, holding his arm. He could just make out the outline of the carriage above him, and the outlines of the carriage cushions and of their luggage upon the grey road. The accident had taken place in the wood, where it was even darker than in the open.
"Are you all right?" he managed to say. Harriet was screaming, the horse was kicking, the driver was cursing some other man.
Harriet's screams became coherent. "The baby - the baby - it slipped - it's gone from my arms - I stole it!"
"God help me!" said Philip. A cold circle came round his mouth, and, he fainted.
When he recovered it was still the same confusion. The horse was kicking, the baby had not been found, and Harriet still screamed like a maniac, "I stole it! I stole it! I stole it! It slipped out of my arms!"
"Keep still!" he commanded the driver. "Let no one move. We may tread on it. Keep still."
For a moment they all obeyed him. He began to crawl through the mud, touching first this, then that, grasping the cushions by mistake, listening for the faintest whisper that might guide him. He tried to light a match, holding the box in his teeth and striking at it with the uninjured hand. At last he succeeded, and the light fell upon the bundle which he was seeking.
It had rolled off the road into the wood a little way, and had fallen across a great rut. So tiny it was that had it fallen lengthways it would have disappeared, and he might never have found it.
"I stole it! I and the idiot - no one was there." She burst out laughing.
He sat down and laid it on his knee. Then he tried to cleanse the face from the mud and the rain and the tears.
His arm, he supposed, was broken, but he could still move it a little, and for the moment he forgot all pain. He was listening - not for a cry, but for the tick of a heart or the slightest tremor of breath.
"Where are you?" called a voice. It was Miss Abbott, against whose carriage they had collided. She had relit one of the lamps, and was picking her way towards him.
"Silence!" he called again, and again they obeyed. He shook the bundle; he breathed into it; he opened his coat and pressed it against him. Then he listened, and heard nothing but the rain and the panting horses, and Harriet, who was somewhere chuckling to herself in the dark.
Miss Abbott approached, and took it gently from him.
The face was already chilly, but thanks to Philip it was no longer wet. Nor would it again be wetted by any tear.