“Non, signor; but I will answer questions,” he declared, as he bowed deferentially, and remained standing.
“Did a gentleman and lady arrive here about ten days ago!”
“Si, signor—a grand milord, and a beautiful miladi. But they have been here before, signor, about two years ago.”
“Ah! Where are they now?”
“At their old lodgings, signor—at the cottage of Beppo, the vine-dresser. The signor is a good friend of the young milord and miladi?” questioned the landlord, deferentially, but very anxiously; for just then it flashed upon his memory that two years previous another grand “signor,” of reverend age like this one, had come inquiring about the young pair, and had ended in breaking up their union for the time.
“I have known the lady for about a year, or a little longer; the gentleman only a few months; but I can scarcely lay claim to so an intimate a relation to them as ‘friendship’ would imply,” answered the duke, evasively, and putting a severe constraint upon himself.
The landlord was completely deceived and thrown off his guard.
“How far from the village does this vine-dresser live?” inquired the duke.
“Just on the outside, signor—just at the foot of the mountain—about three miles from this house.”
“Can I have a carriage to take me there this evening.”
“Si, signor, assuredly; but will not the signor refresh himself before he leaves?” inquired the host.
“No; I will refresh myself after I come back. Let me have the carriage as soon as possible.”
“Si, signor,” said the landlord, bowing himself out.
The duke, unable to rest, even after a long and fatiguing journey, walked up and down the floor of his little room, until the landlord re-appeared and announced the carriage.
The duke caught up his rough traveling-cap, clapped it on his head, hurried out and entered the rustic vehicle, dignified with the name of a carriage.
And in another moment he was rolling off in the direction of the Vine-dresser’s cottage at the foot of the mountain.
The sun was setting behind the western ridge, and throwing a deep shadow over the valley, as the rustic vehicle conveying the Duke of Hereward drew up before the vinedresser’s cottage, nestled almost out of sight amid thick foliage and deep shade.
It was the hour of rest, and Beppo, the vine-dresser, sat at the gate, strumming an old, dilapidated lute; his red jacket and white shirt making the only bits of bright color in the sombre picture.
As the rude carriage stopped before the gate, Beppo arose and put aside his lute, and stood with a look of expectancy on his dark face.
The duke did not alight, but put his head out of the carriage window and beckoned the man to approach him.
Beppo came up, curiosity expressing itself in every feature of his speaking countenance.