"DO YOU see that mountain just behind Elizabeth’s toque? A young man fell in love with me there so nicely twenty years ago. Bob your head a minute, would you, Elizabeth, kindly. "
"Yes’m," said Elizabeth, falling forward on the box like an unstiffened doll. Colonel Leyland put on his pince-nez, and looked at the mountain where the young man had fallen in love.
"Was he a nice young man?" he asked, smiling though he lowered his voice a little on account of the maid.
"I never knew. But it is a very gratifying incident to remember at my age. Thank you, Elizabeth. "
"May one ask who he was?"
"A porter," answered Miss Raby in her usual tones. "Not even a certificated guide. A male person who was hired to carry the luggage, which he dropped. "
"Well! well! What did you do?"
"What a young lady should. Screamed and thanked him not to insult me. Ran, which was quite unnecessary, fell, sprained my ankle, screamed again; and he had to carry me half a mile, so penitent that I thought he would fling me over a precipice. In that state we reached a certain Mrs Harbottle, at sight of whom I burst into tears. But she was so much stupider than I was, that I recovered quickly. "
"Of course you said it was all your own fault?"
"I trust I did," she said more seriously. "Mrs Harbottle, who, like most people, was always right, had warned me against him; we had had him for expeditions before. "
"Ah! I see. "
"I doubt whether you do. Hitherto he had known his place. But he was too cheap: he gave us more than our money’s worth. That, as you know, is an ominous sign in a low-born person. "
"But how was this your fault?"
"I encouraged him: I greatly preferred him to Mrs Harbottle. He was handsome and what I call agreeable; and he wore beautiful clothes. We lagged behind, and he picked me flowers. I held out my hand for them—instead of which he seized it and delivered a love oration which he had prepared out of I promessi Sposi. "
"Ah! an Italian. "
They were crossing the frontier at that moment. On the little bridge amid fir trees were two poles, one painted red, white, and green, and the other black and yellow.
"He lived in Italia Irredenta," said Miss Raby. "But we were to fly to the Kingdom. I wonder what would have happened if we had. "
"Good Lord!" said Colonel Leyland, in sudden disgust. On the box Elizabeth trembled.
"But it might have been a most successful match. "
She was in the habit of talking in this mildly conventional way. Colonel Leyland, who made allowances for her brilliancy, managed to exclaim: "Rather! yes, rather!"
She turned on him with: "Do you think I’m laughing at him?"
He looked a little bewildered, smiled, and did not reply. Their carriage was now crawling round the base of the notorious mountain. The road was built over the debris which had fallen and which still fell from its sides; and it had scarred the pine woods with devastating rivers of white stone. But farther up, Miss Raby remembered, on its gentler eastern slope, it possessed tranquil hollows, and flower-clad rocks, and a most tremendous view. She had not been quite as facetious as her companion supposed. The incident, certainly, had been ludicrous. But she was somehow able to laugh at it without laughing much at the actors or the stage.
"I had rather he made me a fool than that I thought he was one," she said, after a long pause.