Meanwhile, if, as I hope, you feel some interest in Caterina and her friends at Cheverel Manor, you are perhaps asking, How came she to be there? How was it that this tiny, dark-eyed child of the south, whose face was immediately suggestive of olive-covered hills and taper-lit shrines, came to have her home in that stately English manor-house, by the side of the blonde matron, Lady Cheverel—almost as if a humming-bird were found perched on one of the elm-trees in the park, by the side of her ladyship’s handsomest pouter-pigeon? Speaking good English, too, and joining in Protestant prayers! Surely she must have been adopted and brought over to England at a very early age. She was.
During Sir Christopher’s last visit to Italy with his lady, fifteen years before, they resided for some time at Milan, where Sir Christopher, who was an enthusiast for Gothic architecture, and was then entertaining the project of metamorphosing his plain brick family mansion into the model of a Gothic manor-house, was bent on studying the details of that marble miracle, the Cathedral. Here Lady Cheverel, as at other Italian cities where she made any protracted stay, engaged a maestro to give her lessons in singing, for she had then not only fine musical taste, but a fine soprano voice. Those were days when very rich people used manuscript music, and many a man who resembled Jean Jacques in nothing else, resembled him in getting a livelihood ’a copier la musique a tant la page’. Lady Cheverel having need of this service, Maestro Albani told her he would send her a poveraccio of his acquaintance, whose manuscript was the neatest and most correct he knew of. Unhappily, the poveraccio was not always in his best wits, and was sometimes rather slow in consequence; but it would be a work of Christian charity worthy of the beautiful Signora to employ poor Sarti.
The next morning, Mrs. Sharp, then a blooming abigail of three-and-thirty, entered her lady’s private room and said, ’If you please, my lady, there’s the frowsiest, shabbiest man you ever saw, outside, and he’s told Mr. Warren as the singing-master sent him to see your ladyship. But I think you’ll hardly like him to come in here. Belike he’s only a beggar.’
‘O yes, show him in immediately.’
Mrs. Sharp retired, muttering something about ‘fleas and worse’. She had the smallest possible admiration for fair Ausonia and its natives, and even her profound deference for Sir Christopher and her lady could not prevent her from expressing her amazement at the infatuation of gentlefolks in choosing to sojourn among ’Papises, in countries where there was no getting to air a bit o’ linen, and where the people smelt o’ garlick fit to knock you down.’