“We have known him,” went on the old lady, “very nearly thirty years. He used to largely frequent the salon of our dear, our cherished Madame Lilli.”
The tears came into the old lady’s eyes. No doubt those days seemed near and dear to her; she did not see the dust on those faded triumphs.
“That’s all stale news!” cried Miss Prunty, jumping up. “And Gon’ril (since I’ll have to call her so) must be tired of waiting in the garden.”
They walked out on the terrace. The girl was not there; but by the gate into the olive-yard, where there was a lean-to shed for tools, they found her sitting on a cask, whittling a piece of wood and talking to a curly-headed little contadino.
Hearing steps, Goneril turned round. “He was asleep,” she said. “Fancy, in such beautiful weather!”
Then, remembering that two of the ladies were strangers, she made an old-fashioned little curtsey.
“I hope you won’t find me a trouble, ladies,” she said.
“She is charming!” said Madame Petrucci, throwing up her hands.
Goneril blushed; her hat had slipped back and showed her short brown curls of hair, strong, regular, features, and flexile scarlet mouth, laughing upwards like a faun’s. She had sweet dark eyes, a little too small and narrow.
“I mean to be very happy,” she exclaimed.
“Always mean that, my dear,” said Miss Prunty.
“And now, since Gonerilla is no longer a stranger,” added Madame Petrucci, “we will leave her to the rustic society of Angiolino, while we show Miss Hamelyn our orangery.”
“And conclude our business!” said Bridget Prunty.
One day when Goneril, much browner and rosier for a week among the mountains, came in to lunch at noon, she found no signs of that usually regular repast. The little maid was on her knees, polishing the floor; Miss Prunty was scolding, dusting, ordering dinner, arranging vases, all at once; strangest of all, Madame Petrucci had taken the oil-cloth cover from her grand piano, and, seated before it, was practising her sweet and faded notes, unheedful of the surrounding din and business.
“What’s the matter!” cried Goneril.
“We expect the signorino,” said Miss Prunty.
“And is he going to stay here?”
“Don’t be a fool!” snapped that lady; and then she added—“Go into the kitchen and get some of the pastry and some bread and cheese, there’s a good girl.”
“All right!” said Goneril.
Madame Petrucci stopped her vocalising. “You shall have all the better a dinner to compensate you, my Gonerilla!” She smiled sweetly, and then again became Zerlina.
Goneril cut her lunch, and took it out of doors to share with her companion, Angiolino. He was harvesting the first corn under the olives, but at noon it was too hot to work. Sitting still there was, however, a cool breeze that gently stirred the sharp-edged olive-leaves.