“No, no,” said the officer, quietly, reassuringly. “Get cool. Tell me how Lisetta looks and is dressed, and if we can not find her here, I will take you up to your friend’s balcony.”
“O, no, not there. Anywhere else, but not there.”
“Why not?” asked Bero.
“Because, because,—yes, I will tell you,” said Mae, remembering her wrongs, and suddenly moved by the sympathy and softness of the great eyes above her,—“because they think I am home ill, and here I am, you see,” and she laughed a little hurriedly,—“besides, I go away with Lisetta to-morrow morning,—hush, let no one hear,—to Sorrento. You must never, never tell. How do I look? Will I make a good peasant, when once the dear sun has browned my hands and forehead, and I have grown Italianized?” And she lifted her face, into which the saucy gaiety had returned, up to him temptingly.
His warm blood was kindled. “You are a little child of the sun-god now,” he exclaimed, passionately. “May I share some of your days in heaven? I am ordered to Naples tomorrow night; shall be only twelve hours behind you. May I come on the day after to see you in your new home?”
“O, how delightful! But, perhaps, my lord, our little cottage by the sea isn’t grand enough for your spurs and buttons and glory. We are simple folks you know,—peasants all,—but our hearts, Signor, they are hospitable, and such as we have we will gladly give you. What do you say to the bay of Naples, and oranges for our luncheon day after tomorrow?” And Mae laughed lightly and joyously. Her little burnt taper fell to the ground, and she clasped her hands together. “What a happy thing life will be!”
“Will you live there and be a peasant forever?” asked Bero, leaning forward. “There are villas by the sea, too, Signorina.”
Mae didn’t hear these last words. Her heart had stood still on that “forever.” Live there forever, forever, and never see her mother or Eric, or,—or any one again! “I hadn’t thought of that,” she said, “I hadn’t thought of that.” She stood still with her hands clasped, thinking. The officer at her side, looking down at her, was thinking also. He was fighting a slight mental struggle, a sort of combat he was quite unused to. Should he let the child go on in this wild freak? He knew the cottage by the sea; the peasant home would be dreadful to her. He knew that by that same day after to-morrow, life in lower Italy, with the dirty, coarse people about her would be a burden. Yet he hesitated. He fought the battle in this way: Should he not stand a better chance if he let her go? He had his leave of absence for three weeks (this was true; “ordered to Naples,” he had called it to Mae). Three weeks away from his world, near this winsome, strange, magnetic little being, with the bay of Naples, and moonlight, and his own glories and her loveliness! He couldn’t give up this chance. No, no. He would surely see her in a few hours after her troubles began, and comfort her. So he only smiled quietly down at her again, as she stood troubled by his side, and said: “Lisetta will seek you near your balcony if she knows where it is. Don’t be troubled.”