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Corbario was not pleased with the account given by Settimia in the letter she wrote him after reaching Pontresina with Regina and Marcello, who had chosen the Engadine as the coolest place he could think of in which to spend the hot months, and had preferred Pontresina to Saint Moritz as being quieter and less fashionable. Settimia wrote that the dear patient had looked better the very day after arriving; that the admirable companion was making him drink milk and go to bed at ten o'clock; that the two spent most of the day in the pine-woods, and that Marcello already talked of an excursion up the glacier and of climbing some of the smaller peaks. If the improvement continued, Settimia wrote, it was extremely likely that the dear patient would soon be better than he had ever been in his life.
Folco destroyed the letter, lit a cigarette, and thought the matter over. He had deemed it wise to pretend assent when the Contessa had urged him to join Marcello at once, but he had not had the least intention of doing so, and had come back to Paris as soon as he was sure that the Contessa was gone. But he had made a mistake in his calculations. He had counted on Regina for the love of excitement, display, and inane dissipation which women in her position very often develop when they find that a man will give them anything they like; and he had counted very little on her love for Marcello. Folco was still young enough to fall into one of the most common errors of youth, which is to believe most people worse than they are. Villains, as they grow older, learn that unselfish devotion is more common than they had thought, and that many persons habitually speak the truth, for conscience' sake; finding this out, villains have been known to turn into good men in their riper years, and have sometimes been almost saints in their old age. Corbario smoked his cigarette and mentally registered his mistake, and it is to be feared that the humiliation he felt at having made it was much more painful than the recollection of having dropped one deadly tablet into a little bottle that contained many harmless ones. He compared it in his mind to the keen disappointment he had felt when he had gone down to hide Marcello's body, and had discovered that he had failed to kill him. It is true that what he had felt then had been accompanied by the most awful terror he could imagine, but he distinguished clearly between the one sensation and the other. There was nothing to fear now; he had simply lost time, but that was bad enough, since it was due to his own stupidity.
He thought over the situation carefully and considered how much it would be wise to risk. Another year of the life Marcello had been leading in Paris would have killed him to a certainty; perhaps six months would have done it. But a summer spent at Pontresina, living as it was clear that Regina meant him to live, would give the boy strength enough to last much longer, and might perhaps bring him out of all danger.
Corbario considered what might be done, went over many plans in his mind, compared many schemes, for the execution of some of which he might have paid dearly; and in the end he was dissatisfied with all, and began over again. Still he reached no conclusion, and he attributed the fault to his own dulness, and his dulness to the life he had been leading of late, which was very much that which he wished Marcello to lead. But he had always trusted his nerves, his ingenuity, and his constitution; if one of the three were to fail him, now that he was rich, it was better that it should be his ingenuity.
He made up his mind to go to the Engadine and see for himself how matters looked. He could stay at Saint Moritz, or even Samaden, so as not to disturb Marcello's idyl, and Marcello could come down alone to see him. He should probably meet acquaintances, and would give them to understand that he had come in order to get rid of Regina and save his stepson from certain destruction. Society was very lenient to young men as rich as Marcello, he reflected, but was inclined to lay all the blame of their doings on their natural guardians. There was no reason why Corbario should expose himself to such criticism, and he was sure that the Contessa had only said what many people clearly thought, namely, that he was allowing Marcello far too much liberty. The world should see that he was doing his duty by the boy.
He left Paris with regret, as he always did, after writing to Marcello twenty-four hours beforehand. He wrote at the same time to Settimia.
"Folco will be here to-morrow," Marcello said, as he and Regina sat under the pine-trees beyond the stream, a little way above the town.
Regina sat leaning against the trunk of a tree, and Marcello lay on his side, resting on his elbow and looking up to her. He saw her face change.
"Why should he come here?" she asked. "We are so happy!"
"He will not disturb us," Marcello answered. "He will stop at Saint Moritz. I shall go down to see him there. I am very fond of him, you know, and we have not seen each other for at least two months. I shall be very glad to see him."
The colour was sinking in Regina's face, and her eyelids were almost closed.
"You are the master," she said quietly enough. "You will do as you will."
He was surprised, and he felt a little resentment at her tone. He liked her better when she dominated him, as on that night in Paris when she had made him promise to come away, and had refused to let him drink more wine, and had sent him to bed like a child. Now she spoke as her forefathers, serfs born to the plough and bound to the soil, must have spoken to their lords and owners. There was no ancient aristocratic blood in his own veins; he was simply a middle-class Italian gentleman who chanced to be counted with the higher class because he had been born very rich, had been brought up by a lady, and had been more or less well educated. That was all. It did not seem natural to him that she should call him "the master" in that tone. He knew that she was not his equal, but somehow it was a little humiliating to have to own it, and he often wished that she were. Often, not always; for he had never been sure that he should have cared to make her his wife, had she been ever so well born. He scarcely knew what he really wanted now, for he had lost his hold on himself, and was content with mere enjoyment from day to day. He could no longer imagine living without her, and while he was conscious that the present state of things could not last very long, he could not face the problem of the future.
He did not answer at once, and she sat quite still, almost closing her eyes.
"Why should you be displeased because I am going to see Folco?" he asked after a while.
"He comes to take you away from me," she answered, without moving.
"That is absurd!" cried Marcello, annoyed by her tone.
"No. It is true. I know it."
"You are unreasonable. He is the best friend I have in the world. Do you expect me to promise that I will never see him again?"
"You are the master."
She repeated the words in the same dull tone, and her expression did not change in the least. Marcello moved and sat up opposite to her, clasping his hands round his knees. He was very thin, but the colour was already coming back to his face, and his eyes did not look tired.
"Listen to me," he said. "You must put this idea out of your head. It was Folco who found the little house in Trastevere for you. He arranged everything. It was he who got you Settimia. He did everything to make you comfortable, and he has never disturbed us once when we have been together. He never so much as asked where I was going when I used to go down to see you every afternoon. No friend could have done more."
"I know it," Regina answered; but still there was something in her tone which he could not understand.
"Then why do you say that he means to separate us?"
Regina did not reply, but she opened her eyes and looked into Marcello's long and lovingly. She knew something that he did not know, and which had haunted her long. When Folco had come to the bedside in the hospital, she had seen the abject terror in his face, the paralysing fear in his attitude, the trembling limbs and the cramped fingers. It had only lasted a moment, but she could never forget it. A child would have remembered how Folco looked then, and Regina knew that there was a mystery there which she could not understand, but which frightened her when she thought of it. Folco had not looked as men do who see one they love called back from almost certain death.
"What are you thinking?" Marcello asked, for her deep look stirred his blood, and he forgot Folco and everything in the world except the beautiful creature that sat there, within his reach, in the lonely pine-woods.
She understood, and turned her eyes to the distance; and she saw the quiet room in the hospital, the iron bedstead painted white, the smooth pillow, Marcello's emaciated head, and Corbario's face.
"I was thinking how you looked when you were ill," she answered simply.
The words and the tone broke the soft little spell that had been weaving itself out of her dark eyes. Marcello drew a short, impatient breath and threw himself on his side again, supporting his head on his hand and looking down at the brown pine-needles.
"You do not know Folco," he said discontentedly. "I don't know why you should dislike him."
"I will tell you something," Regina answered. "When you are tired of me, you shall send me away. You shall throw me away like an old coat."
"You are always saying that!" returned Marcello, displeased. "You know very well that I shall never be tired of you. Why do you say it?"
"Because I shall not complain. I shall not cry, and throw myself on my knees, and say, 'For the love of heaven, take me back!' I am not made like that. I shall go, without any noise, and what must be will be. That is all. Because I want nothing of you but love, I shall go when you have no more love. Why should I ask you for what you have not? That would be like asking charity of the poor. It would be foolish. But I shall tell you something else."
"What?" asked Marcello, looking up to her face again, when she had finished her long speech.
"If any one tries to make me go before you are tired of me, it shall be an evil day for him. He shall wish that he had not been born into this world."
"You need not fear," Marcello said. "No one shall come between us."
"Well, I have spoken. It does not matter whether I fear Signor Corbario or not, but if you like I will tell him what I have told you, when he comes. In that way he will know."
She spoke quietly, and there was no murderous light in her eyes, nor any dramatic gesture with the words; but she was a little paler than before, and there was an odd fixedness in her expression, and Marcello knew that she was deeply moved, by the way she fell back into her primitive peasant's speech, not ungrammatical, but oddly rough and forcible compared with the language of educated society which she had now learned tolerably well from him.
After that she was silent for a while, and then they talked as usual, and the day went by as other days had gone.
On the next afternoon Folco Corbario reached Saint Moritz and sent a note up to Marcello asking him to come down on the following morning.
Regina was left alone for a few hours, and she went out with the idea of taking a long walk by herself. It would be a relief and almost a pleasure to walk ten miles in the clear air, breathing the perfume of the pines and listening to the roar of the torrent. Marcello could not walk far without being tired, and she never thought of herself when he was with her; but when she was alone a great longing sometimes came over her to feel the weight of a conca full of water on her head, to roll up her sleeves and scrub the floors, to carry burdens and work with her hands all day long, as she had done ever since she was a child, with the certainty of being tired and hungry and sleepy afterwards. Her hands had grown smooth and white in a year, and her feet were tender, and she had almost forgotten what bodily weariness meant.
But she was alone this morning, and she was full of gloomy presentiments. To stay indoors, or even to go and sit in the accustomed place under the pine-trees, would be unbearable. She felt quite sure that when Marcello came back he would be changed, that his expression would be less frank and natural, that he would avoid her eyes, and that by and by he would tell her something that would hurt her very much. Folco had come to take him away, she was quite sure, and it would be intolerable to sit still and think of it.
She walked fast along the road that leads to the Rosegg glacier, not even glancing at the few people she met, though most of them stared at her, for almost every one in Pontresina knew who she was. The reputation of a great beauty is soon made, and Regina had been seen often enough in Paris alone with Marcello in a box at the theatre, or dining with him and two or three other young men at Ritz's or the Café Anglais, to be an object of interest to the clever Parisian "chroniclers." The papers had duly announced the fact that the beauty had arrived at Pontresina, and the dwellers in the hotel were delighted to catch a glimpse of her, while those at Saint Moritz wished that she and Marcello had taken up their quarters there instead of in the higher village. Old maids with shawls and camp-stools glared at her round the edge of their parasols. English girls looked at her in frank admiration, till they were reproved by their mothers, who looked at her with furtive interest. Young Englishmen pretended not to see her at all, as they strode along with their pipes in their mouths; but they had an odd habit of being about when she passed. An occasional party of German students, who are the only real Bohemians left to the world in these days of progress, went sentimentally mad about her for twenty-four hours, and planned serenades in her honour which did not come off. A fashionable Italian composer dedicated a song to her, and Marcello asked him to dinner, for which he was more envied by the summer colony than for his undeniable talent. The Anglican clergyman declared that he would preach a sermon against her wickedness, but the hotel-keepers heard of his intention and unanimously requested him to let her alone, which, he did, reluctantly yielding to arguments which shall remain a secret. A certain Archduchess who was at Saint Moritz and was curious to see her adopted the simple plan of asking her to tea without knowing her, at which Marcello was furious; a semi-imperial Russian personage unblushingly scraped acquaintance with Marcello and was extremely bland for a few days, in the hope of being introduced to Regina. When he found that this was impossible, he went away, not in the least disconcerted, and he was heard to say that the girl "would go far."
Regina would have been blind if she had not been aware that she attracted all this attention, and as she was probably not intended by nature for a saint, she would have been pleased by it if there had been room in her thoughts for any one but Marcello--even for herself.
She walked far up the road, and after the first mile or two she met no one. At that hour the people who made excursions were already far away, and those who meant to do nothing stayed nearer to Pontresina. She grew tired of the road after a time. It led straight to the foot of the glacier, and she was not attracted by snow and ice as northern people are; there was something repellent to her in the thought of the bleakness and cold, and the sunshine itself looked as hard as the distant peaks on which it fell. But on the right there were rocky spurs of the mountains, half covered with short trees and brilliant with wild flowers that grew in little natural gardens here and there, not far below the level of perpetual snow. She left the road, and began to climb where there was no path. The air was delicious with the scent of flowers and shrubs; there were alp-roses everywhere, and purple gentian, and the little iva blossom that has an aromatic smell, and on tiny moss ledges the cold white stars of the edelweiss seemed to be keeping themselves as far above reach as they could. But she climbed as lightly as a savage woman, and picked them and sat down to look at them in the sunshine. Just beyond where she rested, the rock narrowed suddenly to a steep pass, within which were dark shadows. People who do not attempt anything in the way of ascending peaks often wander in that direction in search of edelweiss, but Regina fancied that she was sure to be alone as long as she pleased to stay.
If she had not been sure of that she would not have taken off her left shoe to shake out some tiny thing that had got into it and that annoyed her. It turned out to be a bit of pine-needle. It was pleasant to feel her foot freed from the hot leather and resting on the thick moss, and so the other shoe came off too, and was turned upside down and shaken, as an excuse, for there was nothing in it, and both feet rested in the moss, side by side. She wished she could take off her stockings, and if there had been a stream she would have done it, so sure was she that no one would disturb her, up there amongst the rocks and ever so far from Pontresina. It would have been delightful to paddle in the cold running water, for it was much hotter than she had ever supposed that it could be in such a place.
She took off her straw hat, and fanned herself gently with it, letting the sunshine fall full upon her thick black hair. She had never owned a hat in her life till she had been installed in the little house in Trastevere, and she hated the inconvenient things. What was her hair for, if it could not protect her head? But a straw hat made a very good fan. The air was hot and still, and there were none of those thousand little sounds which she would have heard in the chestnut woods above Frascati.
A little cry broke the silence, and she turned her head in the direction whence it came. Then she dropped her hat, sprang to her feet, and ran forwards, forgetting that she had no shoes on. She saw a figure clinging to the rocks, where they suddenly narrowed, and she heard the cry again, desperate with fear and weak with effort. A young girl had evidently been trying to climb down, when she had lost her footing, and had only been saved from a bad fall because her grey woollen frock had caught her upon a projecting point of granite, giving her time to snatch at the strong twigs of some alp-roses, and to find a very slight projection on which she could rest the toe of one shoe. She was hanging there with her face to the rock, eight or ten feet from the ground, which was strewn with big stones, and she was in such a position that she seemed unable to turn her head in order to look down.
In ten seconds Regina was standing directly below the terrified girl, raising herself on tiptoe, and trying to reach her feet with her hands, to guide them to a hold; but she could not.
"Don't be frightened," Regina said in Italian, which was the only language she knew.
"I cannot hold on!" answered the girl, trying to look down, but feeling that her foot would slip if she turned her head far enough.
"Yes, you can," Regina replied, too much roused to be surprised that the answer had come in her own language. "Your dress will hold you, even if you let go with your hands. It is new and it is strong, and it is fairly caught on the rock. I can see that."
"But I can't hang here until you go and get help," cried the girl, not much reassured.
"I am going to climb to the top by an easier way and pull you up again," Regina answered. "Then we can get down together."
While Regina was speaking she had already begun the ascent, which was easy enough for her, at the point she had chosen, though many an Alpine climber might have envied the quickness and sureness of her hold with feet and hands. She realised that she had forgotten her shoes now, and was glad that she had taken them off.
"One minute more!" she cried in an encouraging tone, when she had almost reached the top.
"Quick!" came the imploring answer.
Then Regina was lying flat on the ledge above the girl, stretching both hands down and catching the slender white wrists with a hold like steel. And then, feeling herself held and safe to move, the girl looked up, and Regina was looking into Aurora's face below her. For one instant the two did not recognise each other, for they had only seen each other once, by night, under the portico of the Théâtre Français. But an instant later a flush of anger rose to Aurora's forehead, and the dark woman turned pale, and her brows were suddenly level and stern. They hated each other, as the one hung there held by the other's hands, and the black eyes gazed savagely into the angry blue ones. Aurora was not frightened any longer; she was angry because she was in Regina's power. The strong woman could save her if she would, and Aurora would despise herself ever afterwards for having been saved by her. Or the strong woman could let her fall, and she would probably be maimed for life if she were not killed outright. That seemed almost better. She had never understood before what it could mean to be altogether in the power of an enemy.
Regina meant to save her; that was clear. With quick, commanding words she told her what to do.
"Set your knees against the rock and pull yourself up a little by my hands. So! I can pull you higher now. Get one knee well on that ledge. Now I will hold your left hand with both mine while you disentangle your frock from the point. Now put your right hand round my neck while I raise myself a little. Yes, that way. Now, hold on tight!"
Regina made a steady effort, lifting fully half Aurora's weight with her, as she got first upon one knee and then upon both.
"There! Take breath and then scramble over the edge," she said.
A few seconds, another effort, and Aurora sank exhausted beside Regina, half sitting, half lying, and resting on one hand.
She looked up sideways at the dark woman's face; for Regina stood upright, gazing down into the valley. Aurora turned her eyes away, and then looked up again; she had recovered her breath now.
"Thank you," she said, with an effort.
"It is nothing," Regina answered in an indifferent tone, and without so much as moving her head; she was no more out of breath than if she had been sitting still.
The fair girl hated her at that moment as she had never hated any one in her short life, nor had ever dreamed of hating. The flush of anger rose again and again to her forehead, to the very roots of her auburn hair, and lingered a second and sank again. Regina stood perfectly motionless, her face as unchanging as marble.
Aurora rose to her feet, and leaned against the rock. She had suddenly felt herself at a disadvantage in remaining seated on the ground while her adversary was standing. It was the instinct of the animal that expects to be attacked. When two people who hate each other or love each other very much meet without warning in a very lonely place, the fierce old passions of the stone age may take hold of them and sway them, even nowadays.
For a time that seemed long, there was silence; without words each knew that the other had recognised her. The peasant woman spoke first, though with an evident effort, and without turning her eyes.
"When you are rested, we will go down," she said.
Aurora moved a step towards the side on which Regina had climbed up.
"I think I can get down alone," she answered coldly.
Regina looked at her and laughed with a little contempt.
"You will break your neck if you try," she said. "You cannot climb at all!"
"I think I can get down," Aurora repeated.
She went to the edge and was going to begin the attempt when Regina seized her by the wrist and dragged her back in spite of her resistance.
"I have something to tell you first," Regina said. "Afterwards I will take you down, and you shall not fall. You shall reach the bottom safely and go home alone, or I will show you the way, as you please."
"Let go of my wrist!" Aurora spoke angrily, for the strong grasp hurt her and humiliated her.
"Listen to me," continued Regina, loosing her hold at once. "I am Regina. You are Aurora. We have heard of each other, and we have met. Let us talk. This is a good place and we are alone, and the day is long, and we may not meet again soon. We will say what we have to say now, and then we will part."
"What is there to be said?" Aurora asked coldly and drawing back a little.
"We two love the same man," Regina said. "Is that nothing? You know it is true. If we were not Christians we should try to kill each other here, where it is quiet. I could easily have killed you just now, and I wished to."
"I wonder why you did not!" exclaimed Aurora, rather scornfully.
"I thought with myself thus: 'If I kill her, I shall always have the satisfaction of it as long as I live. This is the truth. But I shall go to prison for many years and shall not see him again, therefore I will not do it. Besides, it will not please him. If it would make him happy I would kill her, even if I were to go to the galleys for it. But it would not. He would be very angry.' This is what I thought; and I pulled you up. And now, I will not let you hurt yourself in getting down, because he would be angry with me if he knew that it was my fault."
Aurora listened to this extraordinary argument in silent surprise. She was not in the least frightened, but she saw at a glance that Regina was quite in earnest, and she knew her own people, and that the Roman peasants are not the gentlest of the Italians.
"He would be very angry," Regina repeated. "I am sure he would!"
"Why should he be angry?" Aurora asked, in a tone half contemptuous and yet half sad.
"I know he would, because when he raved in his fever he used to call for you."
Aurora started and fixed her eyes on Regina's.
"Yes," Regina said, answering the look. "He often called you by name. He loved you once."
She pronounced the words with an accent of pity, drawing herself up to her full height; and there was triumph in the light of her eyes. It is not every woman that has a chance of saying so much to her rival.
"We were children then," Aurora said, in the very words she had used to her mother more than two years earlier.
She was almost as pale as Regina now, for the thrust had been straight and sure, and right at her heart. But she was prouder than the peasant woman who had wounded her.
"I have heard that you saved his life," she said presently. "And he loves you. You are happy!"
"I should always be happy if he and I were alone in the world," Regina answered, for she was a little softened by the girl's tone. "But even now they are trying to part us."
"To part you?" Again Aurora looked up suddenly. "Who is trying to do that? A woman?"
Regina laughed a little.
"You are jealous," she said. "That shows that you love him still. No. It is not a woman."
"Corbario?" The name rose instinctively to Aurora's lips.
"Yes," Regina answered. "That is why I am left alone this morning. Signor Corbario is at Saint Moritz and Marcello is gone down to see him. I know he is trying to separate us. You did not know that he was so near?"
"We only came yesterday afternoon," Aurora answered. "We did not know that--that Signor Consalvi was here, or we should not have come at all."
It had stung her to hear Regina speak of him quite naturally by his first name. Regina felt the rebuke.
"I am truly sorry that I should have accidentally found myself in your path," she said, emphasising the rather grand phrase, and holding her handsome head very high.
Aurora almost smiled at this sudden manifestation of the peasant's nature, and wondered whether Regina ever said such things to Marcello, and whether, if she did, they jarred on him very much. The speech had the very curious effect of restoring Aurora's sense of superiority, and she answered more kindly.
"You need not be sorry," she said. "If you had not chanced to be here I should probably be lying amongst the rocks down there with several broken bones."
"If it were not by my fault I should not care," Regina retorted, with elementary frankness.
"But I should!" Aurora laughed, in spite of herself, and liking this phase of Regina's character better than any she had yet seen. "Come," she said, with a sudden generous impulse, and holding out her hand, "let us stop quarrelling. You saved me from a bad accident, and I was too ungenerous to be grateful. I thank you now, with all my heart."
Regina was surprised and stared hard at her for a moment, and then glanced at her outstretched hand.
"You would not take my hand if there were any one here to see."
"Because they have told you that I am a wicked woman," Regina answered, a slight blush rising in her cheeks. "And perhaps it is true. But it was for him."
"I would take your hand anywhere, because you saved his life," said Aurora, and her voice shook a little as she said the last words. "And besides, no one has told me that you are wicked. Come, what is the use of hating each other?"
Regina took her hand reluctantly, but not suspiciously, and held it a moment.
"It does not mean that I shall not hate you if he ever loves you again," she said. "If I made you think that it would be treachery, and that is the worst sin."
"It only means that I thank you now, quite honestly," Aurora answered, and their hands parted.
"Very well." Regina seemed satisfied. "And I thank you for taking my hand," she added, with something oddly like real gratitude, "and because you said you would do it anywhere, even before other women. I know what I am, and what people call me. But it was for him. Let us not talk of it any more. I will help you down, and you shall go home alone."
"My mother is waiting for me far down, towards the village," Aurora said.
"All the better. A young lady like you should not go about without any one. It is not proper."
Aurora suppressed a smile at the thought of being reproved concerning the proprieties by "Marcello's Regina," and she began the descent. Regina went down first, facing the rock, and planting the young girl's feet in the best stepping places, one after the other, with constant warnings and instructions as to holding on with her hands. They reached the bottom in safety, and came to the place where Regina had left her hat and shoes. She sat down where she had been sitting when she had first heard the cry, and began to put them on.
"I had taken them off for coolness as I sat here," she explained. "You see, until I was fourteen I only wore them on Sundays."
"And yet you have such beautiful feet," Aurora said.
"Have I?" Regina asked indifferently. "I thought all feet were alike. But I have torn my stocking--it is hard to get the shoe on."
"Let me help you." Aurora knelt down quickly, and began to loosen the lacing further, but Regina protested, flushing deeply and trying to draw her foot back.
"No, no!" she cried. "You are a lady!"
"What difference does that make?" asked Aurora, laughing and insisting.
"This is not right!" Regina still protested, and the blush had not left her cheeks.
But Aurora smoothed the torn stocking under the sole of each foot, and slipped on the shoes, which were by no means tight, and tied the lacing fast.
"Thank you, Signorina," Regina said, much confused. "You are too good!"
She picked up her hat and put it on, but she was not clever with the pin, for she was used to having Settimia do everything for her which she had not learned to do for herself before she had come to Rome.
"I can never manage it without Settimia," she said, as if excusing herself for her awkwardness, as she again submitted to Aurora's help.
"Settimia?" repeated the young girl, as she put the hat on and thrust a long pin through it. "Who is Settimia?"
"Our--I mean my maid," Regina explained. "Thank you. You are too good!"
"It is an uncommon name," Aurora said, looking critically at the hat. "But I think I have heard it before."
"She is a wonderful woman. She knows French. She knows everything!"
Aurora said nothing to this, but seemed to be trying to recall something she had long forgotten. Regina was very busy in her turn, pulling down the girl's frock all round, and brushing it with her hand as well as she could, and picking off bits of dry grass and thistles that clung to the grey woollen. Aurora thanked her.
"The way down is very easy now," Regina said. "A few steps farther on we can see the road."
"After all, why should you not come with me till we find my mother?" Aurora asked.
"No," Regina answered with quiet decision. "I am what I am. You must not be seen with Regina. Do not tell your mother that you have been with me, and I shall not tell Marcello--I mean, Signor Consalvi."
"Neither of them would be pleased. Trust me. I know the world. Good-bye, and the Madonna accompany you; and remember what I said when I took your hand."
So they parted, and Regina stood up a long time, and watched the slender grey figure descending to the road in the valley.
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