nore," then said Maria, lowering her voice. "My father, I think, is descending."

"Very well, signorina," said the Count in a much more ordinary tone. "It is understood. Addio!"

Douglas heard the house door close, and shutting his own door, proceeded with his toilet. He stepped to the window. The Count lived at the cemetery end of the city, and would probably, as usual, pass towards the piazza. There he was, indeed, with the little parcel under his arm, a gray felt Tyrolese hat on his head; for the rest, perfectly gloved, and with a slender umbrella. It had rained in the night, and there were puddles on the road. The Count was careful to avoid the puddles.

For maybe a full minute Douglas kept the gentleman in sight, until he was near by the trees which here bordered the great piazza.

Douglas was buttoning his braces and about to turn away, when suddenly he seemed to freeze from head to foot. Could he believe his eyes? The unfor tunate Masuccio had disappeared, and instead of him there was a little cloud of particles which- But of course he could believe his eyes. The report as of a cannon which sounded a moment later told him everything.

Staring horror-stricken, he saw the eloud die away. There was no welldressed Count Enzio Masuccio visible where the cloud had been; but a gendarme and a man in an operative's blue smock were running towards the site of the explosion.

Douglas slipped into his coat without troubling about anything else.

The silence of the house was almost a stunning contrast to that fatal roar whose echo was still in his ears. Not a sound now came from the cobbler upstairs. But when he opened his door he heard a whisper from below, and a subdued patter of prayers from Maria Bassano drifted towards him. "Holy

Virgin, intercede for us in this our hour of greatest need!" While he paused, irresolute, Douglas heard this much of the piteous little petition fly off to heaven.

A shout from the cobbler broke upon the girl's prayers like something sacrilegious. "My daughter!" yelled the


Maria Bassano sprang up the stairs. "Oh, signore!" she gasped as she fled past Douglas.

A minute later she rushed down.

In the meantime Douglas had waited and resumed his dressing. There was a crowd on the piazza now-men, women, and boys looking about them as if they were hunting for many lost pieces of money. At times one would stoop, pick up something, and drop it again. Upstairs the cobbler and his daughter conversed strenuously.

And then the girl descended, and Douglas intercepted her.

"Well?" he said. "The Count-you know, perhaps he has been exterminated. He, the sixth!"

Maria Bassano clasped her hands on her bosom. The agony in her eyes was dreadful to Douglas. Yet she spoke calmly in assent.

"Si, signore, the sixth! But it was a mistake. It does not matter. We are, of course, ruined this time. But it was not Masuccio who was decreed to die. Dio mio! no. My father, in his agitation, placed it in the wrong boot-that of Masuccio. He has discovered that it was so."

Looking up, Douglas saw the pallid face of Bassano himself at the top of the stairs. But in spite of his pallor there was an expression of vigor in the cobbler's eyes which was new to Douglas. He had the air, indeed, of a man whose back was against a wall, and who meant to fight.

Thus standing, the cobbler spoke. "Are you a friend to us, signorino?" he asked steadily.

"That is it, caro signorino,” whispered the girl, still with her fingers locked on her bosom. "You will not betray us, you who are so amiable and good? There is a train for Parma in an hour." "Ah!"

Douglas glanced from father to daughter, and from daughter to father. Then he turned to the window. It was their simplicity that had first impressed him. As if he could intervene between them and their fate in such a moment! But now, on further knowledge, he perceived that there was at present no evidence to connect this disintegrated Count Enzio with the house he had left five minutes ago. The crowd had swelled. There were several police, who seemed quite at a loss whether to look up to heaven or down upon the ground for information about the identity of the luckless sixth in this chain of calamities. That a sixth citizen of Milan, or otherwise, had been blown to uttermost fragments was no doubt clear to them; but how could they ascertain more than that?

"Tell me," said Douglas to the cobbler, who had come downstairs, "you are an instrument in the hands of others? Is it not so?"

"A most unhappy and unwilling instrument, signorinó,” replied Bassano, tremulously as of old, with shaking hands. "Before God, I swear it."

"And did not mean to murder that man?"

"His Excellency the Count, signore? No, by the bones of San Carlo! I confused them. I will confess to you, Signore Inglese, as to God Almighty. The man whom I must not name brought the thing which I must not talk about, and a certain boot. I was to put it in the heel of the boot. Undoubtedly there was a resemblance between the two boots, and being so fatigued last night, I- But your goodness understands without more words."

"An infernal machine in the heel of

[ocr errors]

a boot?" said Douglas, almost incredulous.

"Si, signorino," replied the cobbler. "An invention of the devil! I know nothing about it, God be praised! I do but obey the commands which are forced upon me."

"But how"-Douglas lost sight of all else for the time save the ingenuity and energy of such murders-"how came he to put it on here-the boot?"

"That was an accident, caro signorino," said Maria. "It was his right foot, and he complained greatly of the tightness of the boot he was wearing. He changed it for the-the mended one, although it was not a perfect pair with the other one, and—”

She covered her face with her hands. "There is little time," protested the cobbler, with urgent eyes between their pink lids. "May we trust you, signorino?"

"Yes, you may trust me; but there is one thing more. These misadventures are they managed by clockwork?" The cobbler hesitated, sighed, and looked earnestly at his daughter.

"The signore is very inquisitive," he remarked. "Shall I tell him this also?" "He is our friend, father. He has said we may trust him. The English do not lie," replied Maria Bassano.

"That is so. I repeat it. I am your friend to the best of my powers," said Douglas. "But I am, as you say, inquisitive. Are they little boxes of witchcraft set to a time?"

"No, signore," replied the cobbler reluctantly. "There is a head to them which the heel presses. But they do not all go off immediately. The pressure has to be sufficient. Is that all the signore wishes to know?"

And then Douglas realized the cruelty of his questioning at such a crisis. "It is all," he said. "Make haste with your preparations, and good luck to you both. I also will pack my little bag." Maria Bassano began to call down

Heaven's blessings upon him; but he urged her not to take that trouble.

There was still no indication outside that any one had knowledge of the deceased Count's movements before the disaster. The crowd had swelled, and included mounted officers of the king's army. The roar of voices in exclamation could be heard through the window.

A certain anxiety now seized Douglas. Supposing this general exodus from the house were noticed, might not dangerous inferences be drawn?

Of course it was so.

He decided at once to take with him only such things as he could conveniently carry about his person; and thus lightly padded he left the room to say "Good-bye" to the Bassanos.

"May I come up?" he called, and taking straightway to the stairs, he was soon in the cobbler's workshop.

"I am going. Once more, 'Good-luck,' he said. He gazed about him as he held out his hand to the pink-eyed accessory in such vile deeds. But there was nothing remarkable in the attic. A bed was in the corner, and the commonplace litter of a cobbler's workshop was all about. He observed, however, a package which evidently contained a boot.

[ocr errors]

The cobbler wiped his hand on his apron ere, with profound respect obvious in his pink-rimmed eyes, he responded to Douglas's courtesy.

"You are a noble benefactor to us, signorino," he stammered.

"By no means," said Douglas. "Don't be rash in your movements, that's all. Let your daughter walk to the station by herself, and you after her. And don't overload yourself with things." He fingered the parcel idly while he spoke, then lifted it with an inquiring smile. "Perhaps this also?" he whispered.

"That, caro signore," said the cobbler huskily, "is the other one. He, the

agent, was to come for it at noon. But his visit will be useless." "Bolla?"

"Si, signore."

"Happy man, then, this other, eh-at least for a time? Well, addio, in conclusion."

Downstairs he had but few words for Maria, whose tearful blue eyes and quivering lips disconcerted him. He merely repeated the precaution which he had mentioned to her father, wished her every happiness amid more enlightened surroundings, and left the house.

A stream of people was in the Via Corta, making for the piazza; and on the spur of the moment Douglas went with the tide.

He stayed for a few minutes on the outskirts of the crowd, quietly looking about and listening to its comments and ejaculations. The police were busy forming an enclosure, as exact as they could guess at it, round the spot of ground which held conjecturable morsels of the unfortunate Masuccio. But this were a difficult matter if a certain gossip of the crowd spoke truth in saying that he had seen no fragments of anything larger than a coat-button.

Back at his hotel in the Corso Vittoria Emanuele, Douglas spent a quiet. thoughtful day and the subsequent night. And the next morning he left for London without paying a second visit to the Cavaliere di Barese. It distressed him a little to act with such apparent incivility, but he feared to face that experienced gentleman. He could not hope to escape easily from such questions as the Cavaliere would be bound to ask; and it were better that the Cavaliere should wonder at his discourtesy than that he should by an involuntary word or look give him cause to suspect the Bassanos. Others might now take up the investigation of

the Via Corta's connection with the mysteries. They undoubtedly would do so at once, and Douglas could only hope that the cobbler and his daughter Chambers's Journal.

might successfully obliterate themselves in Parma or elsewhere.

His own short week in Milan was at any rate one to remember. Charles Edwardes.

(The End.)


When "Underwoods" was first published critics did not quite know what to say about it. Nor has the world yet come to any very sure opinion about any of Stevenson's poems, except "A Child's Garden of Verses," which every one is content to enjoy without asking questions about it. One thing, however, is certain about Stevenson's poetry. It is nearly all good reading, and more interesting than a good deal of poetry with a higher reputation. Some of his blank verse pieces are a little dull-most blank verse is dulland only a Scotchman can read the Scotch poems with perfect ease; but the rest, when once you have begun them, lead you on to the end just like his stories and his essays. "I do not set up to be a poet," he said himself, “only an all-round literary man. A man who talks, not one who sings." And he knew how to talk in verse as well as in prose. Several times in his letters he insists that his verse was the verse of a prose writer. Writing to Henley in 1883 he says that he is now a great writer of verses. "Really, I have begun to learn some of the rudiments of that trade, I have written three or four pretty enough pieces of octosyllabic nonsense, semi-serious, semi-smiling. A kind of prose Herrick, divested of the gift of verse, and you behold the Bard. But I like it." He explained the success of "Underwoods" by saying "You

"Poems by Robert Louis Stevenson," in cluding "Underwoods," "Ballads," and "Songs of Travel" (Chatto and Windus, 28. net).

see the verses are sane, that is their strong point." It was their prose merits, he thought, that sent them into a second edition. As to the "Ballads," he had a sneaking idea that they were not altogether without merit. "I don't know if they are poetry; but they're good narrative or I'm deceived."

In fact he professed to be a prose writer who made verses for fun but knew enough of literature not to make dull ones. This may seem poor praise; but dullness is always a danger imminent to verse; and when verse is not dull, when it can be read with real pleasure and not merely by way of an attempt at plain living and high thinking, then we may be sure that it is good of its kind. Verse making was not Stevenson's peculiar craft; and therefore he could but seldom put all the weight of his thought and all the strength of his emotion into it; but he was not content either to prose in his verses. or to leave them rough, like some prose writers such as Emerson, and so commit them to the indulgence of the public as the work of an amateur. He knew that he was not a master of high lyric song, and he was too conscientious to publish mere rough material which he could not perfect. Whatever he wrote he finished as highly as he could; and so in verse he only attempted what he was capable of finishing with his limited craftsmanship. Being "an all-round literary man," he made no mistakes about what was fit for verse and what was not.

We seldom feel about any of his poetry that it would go better in prose, and never that it says nothing. Still he was right when he said that it was rather speech than song, though speech with a very pleasant musical accompaniment.

These musical accompaniments are what have most puzzled his critics in "Underwoods," because most of them are taken from other poets; and yet they do not make the verse sound stale or secondhand. On the one hand Stevenson seems to be playing a game, to be making English verses, like an excellent scholar making Latin ones; but on the other he manages to express himself in these verses, and to speak his own thoughts with his own voice, although to a borrowed tune. "Underwoods" is as full of Stevenson as anything he ever wrote; and yet there never was a book of poems more full of echoes. Echoes in this case is just the right word, for it was always the sound of other poems that Stevenson had in his mind when he wrote; and to that sound he married sense of his own so happily that the two seem to be, as it were, one flesh. He liked to write poems to old tunes, but he wrote them better to old tunes of verse than to old tunes of music. The rhythms and cadences of certain poets suited his own moods so well that he was able to use them as moulds of his own thoughts. He has told us how in his youth he "played the sedulous ape" to great prose writers. In his verse he was content to play the sedulous ape when he was a grown man. But in verse he did not do it out of mere blind admiration. He chose his models to suit what he had to say, and chose them so well that no one unfamiliar with them would suspect that they existed.

Even when you recognize the echoes they add to your pleasure rather than lessen it, seeming to enrich the verse with their associations; and Stevenson

can echo modern poets just as naturally as old ones. Here, for instance, is a tune from "Maud" in "A Visit from the Sea":

Far from the loud sea beaches Where he goes fishing and crying. Here in the inland garden

Why is the sea-gull flying?

Compare with this the lyric beginning

Birds in the high Hall-garden
When twilight was falling.

True there is a difference of metre, but the tune is the same. Then there seems to be an echo from "Ionica" in the poem called "In the States." If Stevenson never read "Ionica" the resemblance is curious, for in this case the sentiment too is exactly that of William Cory.

With half a heart I wander here

As from an age gone by,

A brother-yet though young in years, An elder brother, I.

The verses "To Will. H. Low" are surely written to the tune of Keats's "Bards of Passion and of Mirth" and "Ever let the Fancy roam," as, for instance,

This is unborn beauty: she
Now in air floats high and free,
Takes the sun and breaks the blue:-
Late with stooping pinion flew
Raking hedgerow trees, and wet
Her wing in silver streams, and set
Shining foot on temple roof.

Keats, it is true, got the tune from Fletcher and Wither and other Eliza bethans and only perfected it; but Stevenson seems rather to have taken it from Keats in its perfected form than to have adapted it himself from the original sources. In "The Sick Child" there is naturally an echo from Blake:

Mother, mother, speak low in my ear, Some of the things are so great and near,

« ElőzőTovább »