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The Lady Paramount   By: (1861-1905)

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First Page:

THE LADY PARAMOUNT

By HENRY HARLAND

Author of

"THE CARDINAL'S SNUFF BOX"

JOHN LANE: THE BODLEY HEAD

LONDON & NEW YORK MCMII

Copyright, 1902

BY JOHN LANE

All rights reserved

To

EDMUND GOSSE

The Lady Paramount

I

On the twenty second anniversary of Susanna's birth, old Commendatore Fregi, her guardian, whose charge, by the provisions of her father's will, on that day terminated, gave a festa in her honour at his villa in Vallanza. Cannon had been fired in the morning: two and twenty salvoes, if you please, though Susanna had protested that this was false heraldry, and that it advertised her, into the bargain, for an old maid. In the afternoon there had been a regatta. Seven tiny sailing boats, monotypes, the entire fleet, indeed, of the Reale Yacht Club d'Ilaria had described a triangle in the bay, with Vallanza, Presa, and Veno as its points; and I need n't tell anyone who knows the island of Sampaolo that the Marchese Baldo del Ponte's Mermaid , English name and all, had come home easily the first. Then, in the evening, there was a dinner, followed by a ball, and fire works in the garden.

Susanna was already staying at the summer palace on Isola Nobile, for already though her birthday falls on the seventeenth of April the warm weather had set in; and when the last guests had gone their way, the Commendatore escorted her and her duenna, the Baroness Casaterrena, down through the purple Italian night, musical with the rivalries of a hundred nightingales, to the sea wall, where, at his private landing stage, in the bat haunted glare of two tall electric lamps, her launch was waiting. But as he offered Susanna his hand, to help her aboard, she stepped quickly to one side, and said, with a charming indicative inclination of the head, "The Baronessa."

The precedence, of course, was rightfully her own. How like her, and how handsome of her, thought the fond old man, thus to waive it in favour of her senior. So he transferred his attention to the Baroness. She was a heavy body, slow and circumspect in her motions; but at length she had safely found her place among the silk cushions in the stern, and the Commendatore, turning back, again held out his hand to his sometime ward. As he was in the act of doing so, however, his ears were startled by a sound of puffing and of churning which caused him abruptly to face about.

"Hi! Stop!" he cried excitedly, for the launch was several yards out in the bay; and one could hear the Baroness, equally excited, expostulating with the man at the machine:

"He! Ferma, ferma!"

"It's all right," said Susanna, in that rather deep voice of hers, tranquil and leisurely; "my orders."

And the launch, unperturbed, held its course towards the glow worm lights of Isola Nobile.

The Commendatore stared. . . .

For a matter of five seconds, his brows knitted together, his mouth half open, the Commendatore stared, now at Susanna, now after the bobbing lanterns of the launch, whilst, clear in the suspension, the choir of nightingales sobbed and shouted.

" Your orders?" he faltered at last. Many emotions were concentrated in the pronoun.

"Yes," said Susanna, with a naturalness that perhaps was studied. "The first act of my reign."

He had never known her to give an order before, without asking permission; and this, in any case, was such an incomprehensible order. How, for instance, was she to get back to the palace?

"But how on earth," he puzzled, "will you get back to "

"Oh, I 'm not returning to Isola Nobile tonight," Susanna jauntily mentioned, her chin a little perked up in the air. Then, with the sweetest smile through which there pierced, perhaps, just a faint glimmer of secret mischief? "I 'm starting on my wander year," she added, and waved her hand imperially towards the open sea.

It was a progression of surprises for the tall, thin old Commendatore. No sooner had Susanna thus bewilderingly spoken, than the rub and dip of oars became audible, rhythmically nearing; and a minute after, from the outer darkness, a row boat, white and slender, manned by two rowers in smart nautical uniforms, shot forward into the light, and drew up alongside the quay... Continue reading book >>




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