The suggestion was welcomed with a shout, and a broad board was immediately laid on the first long flight of stairs for people to slide on.
Soldiers went first, and then there were calls for the ladies, when Alma took her turn, tucking her dress under her at the top and alighting safely on her feet at the bottom. Other ladies followed her example, with similar good fortune, and then Alma, who had been saying “Such fun! Such lots of fun!” set up a cry of “Margaret Mary.”
I refused at first, feeling ashamed of even looking at such unwomanly folly, but something Alma said to my husband and something that was conveyed by my husband’s glance at me set my heart afire and, poor feverish and entangled fool that I was, I determined to defy them.
So running up to the top and seating myself on the toboggan I set it in motion. But hardly had I done so when it swayed, reeled, twisted and threw me off, with the result that I rolled downstairs to the bottom.
Of course there were shrieks of laughter, and if I had been in the spirit of the time and place I suppose I should have laughed too, and there would have been an end of the matter. But I had been playing a part, a tragic part, and feeling that I had failed and covered myself with ridicule, I was overwhelmed with confusion.
I thought my husband would be angry with me, and feel compromised by my foolishness, but he was not; he was amused, and when at last I saw his face it was running in rivulets from the laughter he could not restrain.
That was the end of all things, and when Alma came up to me, saying everything that was affectionate and insincere, about her “poor dear unfortunate Margaret Mary” (only women know how to wound each other so), I brushed her aside, went off to my bedroom, and lay face down on the sofa, feeling that I was utterly beaten and could fight no more.
Half an hour afterwards my husband came in, and though I did not look up I heard him say, in a tone of indulgent sympathy that cut me to the quick:
“You’ve been playing the wrong part, my child. A Madonna, yes, but a Venus, no! It’s not your metier.”
“What’s the good? What’s the good? What’s the good?” I asked myself.
I thought my heart was broken.
With inexpressible relief I heard the following day that we were to leave for Rome immediately.
Alma was to go with us, but that did not matter to me in the least. Outside the atmosphere of this place, so artificial, so unrelated to nature, her power over my husband would be gone. Once in the Holy City everything would be different. Alma would be different, I should be different, above all my husband would be different. I should take him to the churches and basilicas; I should show him the shrines and papal processions, and he would see me in my true “part” at last!