The Company of
by John Buchan
"Qu'est-c'qui passe ici si tard,
Compagnons de la Marjolaine,"
-CHANSONS DE FRANCE
...I came down from the mountain and into the pleasing valley of
the Adige in as pelting a heat as ever mortal suffered under. The way
underfoot was parched and white; I had newly come out of a wilderness
of white limestone crags, and a sun of Italy blazed blindingly in an
azure Italian sky. You are to suppose, my dear aunt, that I had had
enough and something more of my craze for foot-marching. A fortnight
ago I had gone to Belluno in a post-chaise, dismissed my fellow to
carry my baggage by way of Verona, and with no more than a valise on
my back plunged into the fastnesses of those mountains. I had a fancy
to see the little sculptured hills which made backgrounds for
Gianbellini, and there were rumours of great mountains built wholly of
marble which shone like the battlements.
...1 This extract from the unpublished papers of the Manorwater
family has seemed to the Editor worth printing for its historical
interest. The famous Lady Molly Carteron became Countess of
Manorwater by her second marriage. She was a wit and a friend of
wits, and her nephew, the Honourable Charles Hervey-Townshend
(afterwards our Ambassador at The Hague), addressed to her a series
of amusing letters while making, after the fashion of his
contemporaries, the Grand Tour of Europe. Three letters, written at
various places in the Eastern Alps and despatched from Venice, contain
the following short narrative....
of the Celestial City. So at any rate reported young Mr. Wyndham,
who had travelled with me from Milan to Venice. I lay the first night
at Pieve, where Titian had the fortune to be born, and the landlord at
the inn displayed a set of villainous daubs which he swore were the
early works of that master. Thence up a toilsome valley I journeyed
to the Ampezzan country, valley where indeed I saw my white mountains,
but, alas! no longer Celestial. For it rained like Westmorland for
five endless days, while I kicked my heels in an inn and turned a
canto of Aristo into halting English couplets. By-and-by it cleared,
and I headed westward towards Bozen, among the tangle of rocks where
the Dwarf King had once his rose-garden. The first night I had no
inn but slept in the vile cabin of a forester, who spoke a tongue half
Latin, half Dutch, which I failed to master. The next day was a blaze
of heat, the mountain-paths lay thick with dust, and I had no wine
from sunrise to sunset. Can you wonder that, when the following noon
I saw Santa Chiara sleeping in its green circlet of meadows, my
thought was only of a deep draught and a cool chamber? I protest that
I am a great lover of natural beauty, of rock and cascade, and all the
properties of the poet: but the enthusiasm of Rousseau himself would
sink from the stars to earth if he had marched since breakfast in a
cloud of dust with a throat like the nether millstone.
Yet I had not entered the place before Romance revived. The
little town--a mere wayside halting-place on the great mountain-road
to the North--had the air of mystery which foretells adventure. Why
is it that a dwelling or a countenance catches the fancy with the
promise of some strange destiny? I have houses in my mind which I
know will some day and somehow be intertwined oddly with my life; and
I have faces in memory of which I know nothing--save that I shall
undoubtedly cast eyes again upon them. My first glimpses of Santa
Chiara gave me this earnest of romance. It was walled and fortified,
the streets were narrow pits of shade, old tenements with bent fronts
swayed to meet each other. Melons lay drying on flat roofs, and yet
now and then would come a high-pitched northern gable. Latin and
Teuton met and mingled in the place, and, as Mr. Gibbon has taught
us, the offspring of this admixture is something fantastic and
unpredictable. I forgot my grievous thirst and my tired feet in
admiration and a certain vague expectation of wonders. Here, ran my
thought, it is fated, maybe, that romance and I shall at last compass
a meeting. Perchance some princess is in need of my arm, or some
affair of high policy is afoot in this jumble of old masonry. You
will laugh at my folly, but I had an excuse for it. A fortnight in
strange mountains disposes a man to look for something at his next
encounter with his kind, and the sight of Santa Chiara would have
fired the imagination of a judge in Chancery.
I strode happily into the courtyard of the Tre Croci, and
presently had my expectation confirmed for I found my fellow,--a
faithful rogue I got in Rome on a Cardinal's recommendation,--hot in
dispute with a lady's maid. The woman was old, harsh-featured--no
Italian clearly, though she spoke fluently in the tongue. She rated
my man like a pickpocket, and the dispute was over a room.
"The signor will bear me out," said Gianbattista. "Was not I sent
to Verona with his baggage, and thence to this place of ill manners?
Was I not bidden engage for him a suite of apartments? Did I not duly
choose these fronting on the gallery, and dispose therein the signor's
baggage? And lo! an hour ago I found it all turned into the yard and
this woman installed in its place. It is monstrous, unbearable! Is
this an inn for travellers, or haply the private mansion of these
"My servant speaks truly," I said firmly yet with courtesy, having
no mind to spoil adventure by urging rights. "He had orders to take
these rooms for me, and I know not what higher power can countermand
The woman had been staring at me scornfully, for no doubt in my
dusty habit I was a figure of small count; but at the sound of my
voice she started, and cried out, "You are English, signor?"
I bowed an admission. "Then my mistress shall speak with you,"
she said, and dived into the inn like an elderly rabbit.
Gianbattista was for sending for the landlord and making a riot in
that hostelry; but I stayed him, and bidding him fetch me a flask of
white wine, three lemons, and a glass of eau de vie, I sat down
peaceably at one of the little tables in the courtyard and prepared
for the quenching of my thirst. Presently, as I sat drinking that
excellent compound of my own invention, my shoulder was touched, and I
turned to find the maid and her mistress. Alas for my hopes of a
glorious being, young and lissom and bright with the warm riches of
the south! I saw a short, stout little lady, well on the wrong side
of thirty. She had plump red cheeks, and fair hair dressed
indifferently in the Roman fashion. Two candid blue eyes redeemed her
plainness, and a certain grave and gentle dignity. She was notably a
gentlewoman, so I got up, doffed my hat, and awaited her commands.
She spoke in Italian. "Your pardon,signor, but I fear my good
Cristine has done you unwittingly a wrong."
Cristine snorted at this premature plea of guilty, while I
hastened to assure the fair apologist that any rooms I might have
taken were freely at her service.
I spoke unconsciously in English, and she replied in a halting
parody of that tongue. "I understand him," she said, "but I do not
speak him happily. I will discourse, if the signor pleases, in our
She and her father, it appeared, had come over the Brenner, and
arrived that morning at the Tre Croci, where they purposed to lie for
some days. He was an old man, very feeble, and much depending upon
her constant care. Wherefore it was necessary that the rooms of all
the party should adjoin, and there was no suite of the size in the inn
save that which I had taken. Would I therefore consent to forgo my
right, and place her under an eternal debt?
I agreed most readily, being at all times careless where I sleep,
so the bed be clean, or where I eat, so the meal be good. I bade my
servant see the landlord and have my belongings carried to other
rooms. Madame thanked me sweetly, and would have gone, when a thought
"It is but courteous," she said, "that you should know the names
of those whom you have befriended. My father is called the Count
d'Albani, and I am his only daughter. We travel to Florence, where
we have a villa in the environs."
"My name," said I, "is Hervey-Townshend, an Englishman travelling
abroad for his entertainment."
"Hervey?" she repeated. "Are you one of the family of Miladi
"My worthy aunt," I replied, with a tender recollection of that
Madame turned to Cristine, and spoke rapidly in a whisper.
"My father, sir," she said, addressing me, "is an old frail man,
little used to the company of strangers; but in former days he has
had kindness from members of your house, and it would be a
satisfaction to him, I think, to have the privilege of your
She spoke with the air of a vizier who promises a traveller a
sight of the Grand Turk. I murmured my gratitude, and hastened after
Gianbattista. In an hour I had bathed, rid myself of my beard, and
arrayed myself in decent clothing. Then I strolled out to inspect the
little city, admired an altar-piece, chaffered with a Jew for a cameo,
purchased some small necessaries, and returned early in the afternoon
with a noble appetite for dinner.
The Tre Croci had been in happier days a Bishop's lodging, and
possessed a dining-hall ceiled with black oak and adorned with
frescos. It was used as a general salle a manger for all dwellers in
the inn, and there accordingly I sat down to my long-deferred meal.
At first there were no other diners, and I had two maids, as well as
Gianbattista, to attend on my wants. Presently Madame d'Albani
entered, escorted by Cristine and by a tall gaunt serving-man, who
seemed no part of the hostelry. The landlord followed, bowing
civilly, and the two women seated themselves at the little table at
the farther end. "Il Signor Conte dines in his room," said Madame to
the host, who withdrew to see to that gentleman's needs.
I found my eyes straying often to the little party in the cool
twilight of that refectory. The man-servant was so old and battered,
and of such a dignity, that he lent a touch of intrigue to the thing.
He stood stiffly behind Madame's chair, handing dishes with an air of
great reverence--the lackey of a great noble, if I had ever seen the
type. Madame never glanced toward me, but conversed sparingly with
Cristine, while she pecked delicately at her food. Her name ran in my
head with a tantalizing flavour of the familiar. Albani! D'Albani!
It was a name not uncommon in the Roman States, but I had never heard
it linked to a noble family. And yet I had somehow, somewhere; and in
the vain effort at recollection I had almost forgotten my hunger.
There was nothing bourgeois in the little lady. The austere
servants, the high manner of condescension, spake of a stock used to
deference, though, maybe, pitifully decayed in its fortunes. There
was a mystery in these quiet folk which tickled my curiosity.
Romance after all was not destined to fail me at Santa Chiara.
My doings of the afternoon were of interest to me alone. Suffice
it to say that when at nightfall I found Gianbattista the trustee of
a letter. It was from Madame, written in a fine thin hand on a
delicate paper, and it invited me to wait upon the signor her father,
that evening at eight o'clock. What caught my eye was a coronet
stamped in a corner. A coronet, I say, but in truth it was a crown,
the same as surmounts the Arms Royal of England on the sign-board of a
Court tradesman. I marvelled at the ways of foreign heraldry. Either
this family of d'Albani had higher pretensions than I had given it
credit for, or it employed an unlearned and imaginative stationer. I
scribbled a line of acceptance and went to dress.
The hour of eight found me knocking at the Count's door. The grim
serving-man admitted me to the pleasant chamber which should have been
mine own. A dozen wax candles burned in sconces, and on the table
among fruits and the remains of supper stood a handsome candelabra of
silver. A small fire of logs had been lit on the hearth, and before
it in an armchair sat a strange figure of a man. He seemed not so
much old as aged. I should have put him at sixty, but the marks he
bore were clearly less those of time than of life. There sprawled
before me the relics of noble looks. The fleshy nose, the pendulous
cheek, the drooping mouth, had once been cast in looks of manly
beauty. Heavy eyebrows above and heavy bags beneath spoiled the
effect of a choleric blue eye, which age had not dimmed. The man was
gross and yet haggard; it was not the padding of good living which
clothed his bones, but a heaviness as of some dropsical malady. I
could picture him in health a gaunt loose-limbed being, high-featured
and swift and eager. He was dressed wholly in black velvet, with
fresh ruffles and wristbands, and he wore heeled shoes with antique
silver buckles. It was a figure of an older age which rose to greet
me, in one hand a snuff-box and a purple handkerchief, and in the
other a book with finger marking place. He made me a great bow as
Madame uttered my name, and held out a hand with a kindly smile.
"Mr. Hervey-Townshend," he said, "we will speak English, if you
please. I am fain to hear it again, for 'tis a tongue I love. I
make you welcome, sir, for your own sake and for the sake of your
kin. How is her honourable ladyship, your aunt? A week ago she sent
me a letter."
I answered that she did famously, and wondered what cause of
correspondence my worthy aunt could have with wandering nobles of
He motioned me to a chair between Madame and himself, while a
servant set a candle on a shelf behind him. Then he proceeded to
catechise me in excellent English, with now and then a phrase of
French, as to the doings in my own land. Admirably informed this
Italian gentleman proved himself. I defy you to find in Almack's
more intelligent gossip. He inquired as to the chances of my Lord
North and the mind of my Lord Rockingham. He had my Lord Shelburne's
foibles at his fingers' ends. The habits of the Prince, the aims of
the their ladyships of Dorset and Buckingham, the extravagance of this
noble Duke and that right honourable gentleman were not hid from him.
I answered discreetly yet frankly, for there was no ill-breeding in
his curiosity. Rather it seemed like the inquiries of some fine lady,
now buried deep in the country, as to the doings of a forsaken
Mayfair. There was humour in it and something of pathos.
"My aunt must be a voluminous correspondent, sir," I said.
He laughed, "I have many friends in England who write to me, but I
have seen none of them for long, and I doubt I may never see them
again. Also in my youth I have been in England." And he sighed as at
Then he showed the book in his hand. "See," he said, "here is one
of your English writings, the greatest book I have ever happened on."
It was a volume of Mr. Fielding. For a little he talked of books and
poets. He admired Mr. Fielding profoundly, Dr. Smollet somewhat less,
Mr. Richardson not at all. But he was clear that England had a
monopoly of good writers, saving only my friend M. Rousseau, whom he
valued, yet with reservations. Of the Italians he had no opinion. I
instanced against him the plays of Signor Alfieri. He groaned, shook
his head, and grew moody.
"Know you Scotland?" he asked suddenly.
I replied that I had visited Scotch cousins, but had no great
estimation for the country. "It is too poor and jagged," I said,
"for the taste of one who loves colour and sunshine and suave
outlines." He sighed. "It is indeed a bleak land, but a kindly.
When the sun shines at all he shines on the truest hearts in the
world. I love its bleakness too. There is a spirit in the misty
hills and the harsh sea-wind which inspires men to great deeds.
Poverty and courage go often together, and my Scots, if they are
poor, are as untamable as their mountains."
"You know the land, sir?" I asked.
"I have seen it, and I have known many Scots. You will find them
in Paris and Avignon and Rome, with never a plack in their pockets.
I have a feeling for exiles, sir, and I have pitied these poor
people. They gave their all for the cause they followed."
Clearly the Count shared my aunt's views of history--those views
which have made such sport for us often at Carteron. Stalwart Whig
as I am, there was something in the tone of the old gentleman which
made me feel a certain majesty in the lost cause.
"I am Whig in blood and Whig in principle," I said,--"but I have
never denied that those Scots who followed the Chevalier were too
good to waste on so trumpery a leader."
I had no sooner spoken the words than I felt that somehow I had
been guilty of a betise.
"It may be so," said the Count. "I did not bid you here, sir, to
argue on politics, on which I am assured we should differ. But I
will ask you one question. The King of England is a stout upholder
of the right of kings. How does he face the defection of his American
"The nation takes it well enough, and as for his Majesty's
feelings, there is small inclination to inquire into them. I
conceive of the whole war as a blunder out of which we have come as
we deserved. The day is gone by for the assertion of monarchic rights
against the will of a people."
"May be. But take note that the King of England is suffering
to-day as--how do you call him?--the Chevalier suffered forty years
ago. 'The wheel has come full circle,' as your Shakespeare says. Time
has wrought his revenge."
He was staring into a fire, which burned small and smokily.
"You think the day for kings is ended. I read it differently. The
world will ever have need of kings. If a nation cast out one it will
have to find another. And mark you, those later kings, created by the
people, will bear a harsher hand than the old race who ruled as of
right. Some day the world will regret having destroyed the kindly and
legitimate line of monarchs and put in their place tyrants who govern
by the sword or by flattering an idle mob.
This belated dogma would at other times have set me laughing, but
the strange figure before me gave no impulse to merriment. I glanced
at Madame, and saw her face grave and perplexed, and I thought I read
a warning gleam in her eye. There was a mystery about the party which
irritated me, but good breeding forbade me to seek a clue.
"You will permit me to retire, sir," I said. "I have but this
morning come down from a long march among the mountains east of this
valley. Sleeping in wayside huts and tramping those sultry paths make
a man think pleasantly of bed."
The Count seemed to brighten at my words. "You are a marcher,
sir, and love the mountains! Once I would gladly have joined you,
for in my youth I was a great walker in hilly places. Tell me, now,
how many miles will you cover in a day?"
I told him thirty at a stretch.
"Ah," he said, "I have done fifty, without food, over the roughest
and mossiest mountains. I lived on what I shot, and for drink I had
spring-water. Nay, I am forgetting. There was another beverage,
which I wager you have never tasted. Heard you ever, sir, of that eau
de vie which the Scots call usquebagh? It will comfort a traveller as
no thin Italian wine will comfort him. By my soul, you shall taste
it. Charlotte, my dear, bid Oliphant fetch glasses and hot water and
lemons. I will give Mr. Hervey-Townshend a sample of the brew. You
English are all tetes-de-fer, sir, and are worthy of it."
The old man's face had lighted up, and for the moment his air had
the jollity of youth. I would have accepted the entertainment had I
not again caught Madame's eye. It said, unmistakably and with serious
pleading, "Decline." I therefore made my excuses, urged fatigue,
drowsiness, and a delicate stomach, bade my host good-night, and in
deep mystification left the room.
Enlightenment came upon me as the door closed. There in the
threshold stood the manservant whom they called Oliphant, erect as a
sentry on guard. The sight reminded me of what I had once seen at
Basle when by chance a Rhenish Grand Duke had shared the inn with me.
Of a sudden a dozen clues linked together--the crowned notepaper,
Scotland, my aunt Hervey's politics, the tale of old wanderings.
"Tell me," I said in a whisper, "who is the Count d'Albani, your
master?" and I whistled softly a bar of "Charlie is my darling."
"Ay," said the man, without relaxing a muscle of his grim face.
"It is the King of England--my king and yours."
In the small hours of the next morning I was awoke by a most
unearthly sound. It was as if all the cats on all the roofs of Santa
Chiara were sharpening their claws and wailing their battle-cries.
Presently out of the noise came a kind of music--very slow, solemn,
and melancholy. The notes ran up in great flights of ecstasy, and
sunk anon to the tragic deeps. In spite of my sleepiness I was held
spellbound and the musician had concluded with certain barbaric grunts
before I had the curiosity to rise. It came from somewhere in the
gallery of the inn, and as I stuck my head out of my door I had a
glimpse of Oliphant, nightcap on head and a great bagpipe below his
arm, stalking down the corridor.
The incident, for all the gravity of the music, seemed to give a
touch of farce to my interview of the past evening. I had gone to
bed with my mind full of sad stories of the deaths of kings.
Magnificence in tatters has always affected my pity more deeply than
tatters with no such antecedent, and a monarch out at elbows stood for
me as the last irony of our mortal life. Here was a king whose
misfortunes could find no parallel. He had been in his youth the hero
of a high adventure, and his middle age had been spent in fleeting
among the courts of Europe, and waiting as pensioner on the whims of
his foolish but regnant brethren. I had heard tales of a growing
sottishness, a decline in spirit, a squalid taste in pleasures. Small
blame, I had always thought, to so ill-fated a princeling. And now I
had chanced upon the gentleman in his dotage, travelling with a barren
effort at mystery, attended by a sad-faced daughter and two ancient
domestics. It was a lesson in the vanity of human wishes which the
shallowest moralist would have noted. Nay, I felt more than the
moral. Something human and kindly in the old fellow had caught my
fancy. The decadence was too tragic to prose about, the decadent too
human to moralise on. I had left the chamber of the--shall I say de
jure King of England?--a sentimental adherent of the cause. But this
business of the bagpipes touched the comic. To harry an old valet out
of bed and set him droning on pipes in the small hours smacked of a
theatrical taste, or at least of an undignified fancy. Kings in
exile, if they wish to keep the tragic air, should not indulge in such
My mind changed again when after breakfast I fell in with Madame
on the stair. She drew aside to let me pass, and then made as if she
would speak to me. I gave her good-morning, and, my mind being full
of her story, addressed her as "Excellency."
"I see, sir," she said, " hat you know the truth. I have to ask
your forbearance for the concealment I practised yesterday. It was a
poor requital for your generosity, but is it one of the shifts of our
sad fortune. An uncrowned king must go in disguise or risk the
laughter of every stable-boy. Besides, we are too poor to travel in
state, even if we desired it."
Honestly, I knew not what to say. I was not asked to sympathise,
having already revealed my politics, and yet the case cried out for
sympathy. You remember, my dear aunt, the good Lady Culham, who was
our Dorsetshire neighbour, and tried hard to mend my ways at Carteron?
This poor Duchess--for so she called herself--was just such another.
A woman made for comfort, housewifery, and motherhood, and by no
means for racing about Europe in charge of a disreputable parent. I
could picture her settled equably on a garden seat with a lapdog and
needlework, blinking happily over green lawns and mildly rating an
errant gardener. I could fancy her sitting in a summer parlour, very
orderly and dainty, writing lengthy epistles to a tribe of nieces. I
could see her marshalling a household in the family pew, or riding
serenely in the family coach behind fat bay horses. But here, on an
inn staircase, with a false name and a sad air of mystery, she was
woefully out of place. I noted little wrinkles forming in the
corners of her eyes, and the ravages of care beginning in the plump
rosiness of her face. Be sure there was nothing appealing in her
mien. She spoke with the air of a great lady, to whom the world is
matter only for an afterthought. It was the facts that appealed and
grew poignant from her courage.
"There is another claim upon your good nature," she said.
"Doubtless you were awoke last night by Oliphant's playing upon the
pipes. I rebuked the landlord for his insolence in protesting, but to
you, a gentleman and a friend, an explanation is due. My father
sleeps ill, and your conversation seems to have cast him into a train
of sad memories. It has been his habit on such occasions to have the
pipes played to him, since they remind him of friends and happier
days. It is a small privilege for an old man, and he does not claim
I declared that the music had only pleased, and that I would
welcome its repetition. Where upon she left me with a little bow and
an invitation to join them that day at dinner, while I departed into
the town on my own errands. I returned before midday, and was seated
at an arbour in the garden, busy with letters, when there hove in
sight the gaunt figure of Oliphant. He hovered around me, if such a
figure can be said to hover, with the obvious intention of addressing
me. The fellow had caught my fancy, and I was willing to see more of
him. His face might have been hacked out of grey granite, his clothes
hung loosely on his spare bones, and his stockined shanks would have
done no discredit to Don Quixote. There was no dignity in his air,
only a steady and enduring sadness. Here, thought I, is the one of
the establishment who most commonly meets the shock of the world's
buffets. I called him by name and asked him his desires.
It appeared that he took me for a Jacobite, for he began a
rigmarole about loyalty and hard fortune. I hastened to correct him,
and he took the correction with the same patient despair with which he
took all things. 'Twas but another of the blows of Fate.
"At any rate," he said in a broad Scotch accent, "ye come of kin
that has helpit my maister afore this. I've many times heard tell o'
Herveys and Townshends in England, and a' folk said they were on the
richt side. Ye're maybe no a freend, but ye're a freend's freend, or
I wadna be speirin' at ye."
I was amused at the prologue, and waited on the tale. It soon
came. Oliphant, it appeared, was the purse-bearer of the household,
and woeful straits that poor purse-bearer must have been often put to.
I questioned him as to his master's revenues, but could get no clear
answer. There were payments due next month in Florence which would
solve the difficulties for the winter, but in the meantime expenditure
had beaten income. Travelling had cost much, and the Count must have
his small comforts. The result in plain words was that Oliphant had
not the wherewithal to frank the company to Florence; indeed, I
doubted if he could have paid the reckoning in Santa Chiara. A loan
was therefore sought from a friend's friend, meaning myself.
I was very really embarrassed. Not that I would not have given
willingly, for I had ample resources at the moment and was mightily
concerned about the sad household. But I knew that the little Duchess
would take Oliphant's ears from his head if she guessed that he had
dared to borrow from me, and that, if I lent, her back would for ever
be turned against me. And yet, what would follow on my refusal? In a
day of two there would be a pitiful scene with mine host, and as like
as not some of their baggage detained as security for payment. I did
not love the task of conspiring behind the lady's back, but if it
could be contrived 'twas indubitably the kindest course. I glared
sternly at Oliphant, who met me with his pathetic, dog-like eyes.
"You know that your mistress would never consent to the request
you have made of me?"
"I ken," he said humbly."But payin' is my job, and I simply havena
the siller. It's no the first time it has happened, and it's a sair
trial for them both to be flung out o' doors by a foreign hostler
because they canna meet his charges. But, sir, if ye can lend to me,
ye may be certain that her leddyship will never, hear a word o't.
Puir thing, she takes nae thocht o' where the siller comes frae, ony
mair than the lilies o' the field."
I became a conspirator. "You swear, Oliphant, by all you hold
sacred, to breathe nothing of this to your mistress, and if she
should suspect, to lie like a Privy Councillor?"
A flicker of a smile crossed his face. "I'll lee like a Scotch
packman, and the Father o' lees could do nae mair. You need have no
fear for your siller, sir. I've aye repaid when I borrowed, though
you may have to wait a bittock." And the strange fellow strolled off.
At dinner no Duchess appeared till long after the appointed hour,
nor was there any sign of Oliphant. When she came at last with
Cristine, her eyes looked as if she had been crying, and she greeted
me with remote courtesy. My first thought was that Oliphant had
revealed the matter of the loan, but presently I found that the lady's
trouble was far different. Her father, it seemed, was ill again with
his old complaint. What that was I did not ask, nor did the Duchess
We spoke in French, for I had discovered that this was her
favourite speech. There was no Oliphant to wait on us, and the inn
servants were always about, so it was well to have a tongue they did
not comprehend. The lady was distracted and sad. When I inquired
feelingly as to the general condition of her father's health she
parried the question, and when I offered my services she disregarded
my words. It was in truth a doleful meal, while the faded Cristine
sat like a sphinx staring into vacancy. I spoke of England and of her
friends, of Paris and Versailles, of Avignon where she had spent some
years, and of the amenities of Florence, which she considered her
home. But it was like talking to a nunnery door. I got nothing but
"It is indeed true, sir," or "Do you say so, sir!" till my energy
began to sink. Madame perceived my discomfort, and, as she rose,
murmured an apology. "Pray forgive my distraction, but I am poor
company when my father is ill. I have a foolish mind, easily
frightened. Nay, nay!" she went on when I again offered help, "the
illness is trifling. It will pass off by to-morrow, or at the latest
the next day. Only I had looked forward to some ease at Santa
Chiara, and the promise is belied."
As it chanced that evening, returning to the inn, I passed by the
north side where the windows of the Count's room looked over a little
flower-garden abutting on the courtyard. The dusk was falling, and a
lamp had been lit which gave a glimpse into the interior. The sick
man was standing by the window, his figure flung into relief by the
lamplight. If he was sick, his sickness was of a curious type. His
face was ruddy, his eye wild, and, his wig being off, his scanty hair
stood up oddly round his head. He seemed to be singing, but I could
not catch the sound through the shut casement. Another figure in the
room, probably Oliphant, laid a hand on the Count's shoulder, drew him
from the window, and closed the shutter.
It needed only the recollection of stories which were the property
of all Europe to reach a conclusion on the gentleman's illness. The
legitimate King of England was very drunk.
As I went to my room that night I passed the Count's door. There
stood Oliphant as sentry, more grim and haggard than ever, and I
thought that his eye met mine with a certain intelligence. From
inside the room came a great racket. There was the sound of glasses
falling, then a string of oaths, English, French, and for all I know,
Irish, rapped out in a loud drunken voice. A pause, and then came the
sound of maudlin singing. It pursued me along the gallery, an old
childish song, delivered as if 'twere a pot-house catch-
"Qu'est-ce qui passe ici si tard, Compagnons de la Marjolaine---"
One of the late-going company of the Marjolaine hastened to bed.
This king in exile, with his melancholy daughter, was becoming too
much for him.
It was just before noon next day that the travellers arrived. I
was sitting in the shady loggia of the inn, reading a volume of De
Thou, when there drove up to the door two coaches. Out of the first
descended very slowly and stiffly four gentlemen; out of the second
four servants and a quantity of baggage. As it chanced there was no
one about, the courtyard slept its sunny noontide sleep, and the only
movement was a lizard on the wall and a buzz of flies by the fountain.
Seeing no sign of the landlord, one of the travellers approached me
with a grave inclination.
"This is the inn called the Tre Croci, sir?" he asked.
I said it was, and shouted on my own account for the host.
Presently that personage arrived with a red face and a short wind,
having ascended rapidly from his own cellar. He was awed by the
dignity of the travellers, and made none of his usual protests of
incapacity. The servants filed off solemnly with the baggage, and the
four gentlemen set themselves down beside me in the loggia and ordered
each a modest flask of wine.
At first I took them for our countrymen, but as I watched them the
conviction vanished. All four were tall and lean beyond the average
of mankind. They wore suits of black, with antique starched frills to
their shirts; their hair was their own and unpowdered. Massive
buckles of an ancient pattern adorned their square-toed shoes, and the
canes they carried were like the yards of a small vessel. They were
four merchants, I had guessed, of Scotland, maybe, or of Newcastle,
but their voices were not Scotch, and their air had no touch of
commerce. Take the heavy-browed preoccupation of a Secretary of
State, add the dignity of a bishop, the sunburn of a fox-hunter, and
something of the disciplined erectness of a soldier, and you may
perceive the manner of these four gentlemen. By the side of them my
assurance vanished. Compared with their Olympian serenity my Person
seemed fussy and servile. Even so, I mused, must Mr. Franklin have
looked when baited in Parliament by the Tory pack. The reflection gave
me the cue. Presently I caught from their conversation the word
"Washington," and the truth flashed upon me. I was in the presence
of four of Mr. Franklin's countrymen. Having never seen an American in
the flesh, I rejoiced at the chance of enlarging my acquaintance.
They brought me into the circle by a polite question as to the
length of road to Verona. Soon introductions followed. My name
intrigued them, and they were eager to learn of my kinship to Uncle
Charles. The eldest of the four, it appeared, was Mr. Galloway out of
Maryland. Then came two brothers, Sylvester by name, of Pennsylvania,
and last Mr. Fish, a lawyer of New York. All four had campaigned in
the late war, and all four were members of the Convention, or whatever
they call their rough-and-ready parliament. They were modest in their
behaviour, much disinclined to speak of their past, as great men might
be whose reputation was world-wide. Somehow the names stuck in my
memory. I was certain that I had heard them linked with some
stalwart fight or some moving civil deed or some defiant manifesto.
The making of history was in their steadfast eye and the grave lines
of the mouth. Our friendship flourished mightily in a brief hour, and
brought me the invitation, willingly accepted, to sit with them at
There was no sign of the Duchess or Cristine or Oliphant. Whatever
had happened, that household to-day required all hands on deck, and I
was left alone with the Americans. In my day I have supped with the
Macaronies, I have held up my head at the Cocoa Tree, I have avoided
the floor at hunt dinners, I have drunk glass to glass with Tom
Carteron. But never before have I seen such noble consumers of good
liquor as those four gentlemen from beyond the Atlantic. They drank
the strong red Cyprus as if it had been spring-water. "The dust of
your Italian roads takes some cleansing, Mr. Townshend," was their
only excuse, but in truth none was needed. The wine seemed only to
thaw their iron decorum. Without any surcease of dignity they grew
communicative, and passed from lands to peoples and from peoples to
constitutions. Before we knew it we were embarked upon high politics.
Naturally we did not differ on the war. Like me, they held it to
have been a grievous necessity. They had no bitterness against
England, only regrets for her blunders. Of his Majesty they spoke
with respect, of his Majesty's advisers with dignified condemnation.
They thought highly of our troops in America; less highly of our
"Look you, sir," said Mr. Galloway, "in a war such as we have
witnessed the Almighty is the only strategist. You fight against the
forces of Nature, and a newcomer little knows that the success or
failure of every operation he can conceive depends not upon
generalship, but upon the confirmation of a vast country. Our
generals, with this in mind and with fewer men, could make all your
schemes miscarry. Had the English soldiers not been of such stubborn
stuff, we should have been victors from the first. Our leader was not
General Washington but General America, and his brigadiers were
forests, swamps, lakes, rivers, and high mountains."
"And now," I said, "having won, you have the greatest of human
experiments before you. Your business is to show that the Saxon
stock is adaptable to a republic."
It seemed to me that they exchanged glances.
"We are not pedants," said Mr. Fish, "and have no desire to
dispute about the form of a constitution. A people may be as free
under a king as under a senate. Liberty is not the lackey of any type
These were strange words from a member of a race whom I had
thought wedded to the republicanism of Helvidius Priscus.
"As a loyal subject of a monarchy," I said, "I must agree with
you. But your hands are tied, for I cannot picture the establishment
of a House of Washington and--if not, where are you to turn for your
Again a smile seemed to pass among the four.
"We are experimenters, as you say, sir, and must go slowly. In
the meantime, we have an authority which keeps peace and property
safe. We are at leisure to cast our eyes round and meditate on the
"Then, gentlemen," said I, "you take an excellent way of
meditation in visiting this museum of old sovereignties. Here you
have the relics of any government you please--a dozen republics,
tyrannies, theocracies, merchant confederations, kingdoms, and more
than one empire. You have your choice. I am tolerably familiar with
the land, and if I can assist you I am at your service."
They thanked me gravely "We have letters," said Mr. Galloway; "one
in especial is to a gentleman whom we hope to meet in this place.
Have you heard in your travels of the Count of Albany?"
"He has arrived," said I, "two days ago. Even now he is in the
chamber above us at dinner."
The news interested them hugely.
"You have seen him?" they cried. "What is he like?"
"An elderly gentleman in poor health, a man who has travelled
much, and, I judge, has suffered something from fortune. He has a
fondness for the English, so you will be welcome, sirs; but he was
indisposed yesterday, and may still be unable to receive you. His
daughter travels with him and tends his old age."
" And you--you have spoken with him?"
"The night before last I was in his company. We talked of many
things, including the late war. He is somewhat of your opinion on
matters of government."
The four looked at each other, and then Mr. Galloway rose.
"I ask your permission, Mr. Townshend, to consult for a moment
with my friends. The matter is of some importance, and I would beg
you to await us." So saying, he led the others out of doors, and I
heard them withdraw to a corner of the loggia. Now, thought I, there
is something afoot, and my long-sought romance approaches fruition.
The company of the Marjolaine, whom the Count had sung of, have
arrived at last.
Presently they returned and seated themselves at the table.
"You can be of great assistance to us, Mr. Townshend, and we would
fain take you into our confidence. Are you aware who is this Count of
I nodded. "It is a thin disguise to one familiar with history."
"Have you reached any estimate of his character or capabilities?
You speak to friends, and, let me tell you, it is a matter which
deeply concerns the Count's interests."
"I think him a kindly and pathetic old gentleman. He naturally
bears the mark of forty years' sojourn in the wilderness."
Mr. Galloway took snuff.
"We have business with him, but it is business which stands in
need of an agent. There is no one in the Count's suite with whom we
could discuss affairs?"
"There is his daughter."
"Ah, but she would scarcely suit the case. Is there no man--a
friend, and yet not a member of the family who can treat with us?"
I replied that I thought that I was the only being in Santa Chiara
who answered the description.
"If you will accept the task, Mr. Townshend, you are amply
qualified. We will be frank with you and reveal our business. We are
on no less an errand than to offer the Count of Albany a crown.
I suppose I must have had some suspicion of their purpose, and yet
the revelation of it fell on me like a thunderclap. I could only
stare owlishly at my four grave gentlemen.
Mr. Galloway went on unperturbed. "I have told you that in
America we are not yet republicans. There are those among us who
favour a republic, but they are by no means a majority. We have got
rid of a king who misgoverned us, but we have no wish to get rid of
kingship. We want a king of our own choosing, and we would get with
him all the ancient sanctions of monarchy. The Count of Albany is of
the most illustrious royal stock in Europe--he is, if legitimacy goes
for anything, the rightful King of Britain. Now, if the republican
party among us is to be worsted, we must come before the nation with a
powerful candidate for their favour. You perceive my drift? What more
potent appeal to American pride than to say: 'We have got rid of King
George; we choose of our own free will the older line and King
I said foolishly that I thought monarchy had had its day, and that
'twas idle to revive it.
"That is a sentiment well enough under a monarchical government;
but we, with a clean page to write upon, do not share it. You know
your ancient historians. Has not the repository of the chief power
always been the rock on which republicanism has shipwrecked? If that
power is given to the chief citizen, the way is prepared for the
tyrant. If it abides peacefully in a royal house, it abides with
cyphers who dignify, without obstructing, a popular constitution. Do
not mistake me, Mr. Townshend. This is no whim of a sentimental girl,
but the reasoned conclusion of the men who achieved our liberty.
There is every reason to believe that General Washington shares our
views, and Mr. Hamilton, whose name you may know, is the inspirer of
"But the Count is an old man," I urged; for I knew not where to
begin in my exposition of the hopelessness of their errand.
"By so much the better. We do not wish a young king who may be
fractious. An old man tempered by misfortune is what our purpose
"He has also his failings. A man cannot lead his life for forty
years and retain all the virtues."
At that one of the Sylvesters spoke sharply. "I have heard such
gossip, but I do not credit it. I have not forgotten Preston and
I made my last objection. "He has no posterity--legitimate
posterity--to carry on his line."
The four gentlemen smiled. "That happens to be his chiefest
recommendation," said Mr. Galloway. "It enables us to take the House
of Stuart on trial. We need a breathing-space and leisure to look
around; but unless we establish the principle of monarchy at once the
republicans will forestall us. Let us get our king at all costs, and
during the remaining years of his life we shall have time to settle
the succession problem.
"We have no wish to saddle ourselves for good with a race who
might prove burdensome. If King Charles fails he has no son, and we
can look elsewhere for a better monarch. You perceive the reason of
I did, and I also perceived the colossal absurdity of the whole
business. But I could not convince them of it, for they met my
objections with excellent arguments. Nothing save a sight of the
Count would, I feared, disillusion them.
"You wish me to make this proposal on your behalf?" I asked.
"We shall make the proposal ourselves, but we desire you to
prepare the way for us. He is an elderly man, and should first be
informed of our purpose."
"There is one person whom I beg leave to consult--the Duchess, his
daughter. It may be that the present is an ill moment for approaching
the Count, and the affair requires her sanction."
They agreed, and with a very perplexed mind I went forth to seek
the lady. The irony of the thing was too cruel, and my heart ached
for her. In the gallery I found Oliphant packing some very shabby
trunks, and when I questioned him he told me that the family were to
leave Santa Chiara on the morrow. Perchance the Duchess had awakened
to the true state of their exchequer, or perchance she thought it well
to get her father on the road again as a cure for his ailment.
I discovered Cristine, and begged for an interview with her
mistress on an urgent matter. She led me to the Duchess's room, and
there the evidence of poverty greeted me openly. All the little
luxuries of the menage had gone to the Count. The poor lady's room
was no better than a servant's garret, and the lady herself sat
stitching a rent in a travelling cloak. She rose to greet me with
alarm in her eyes.
As briefly as I could I set out the facts of my amazing mission.
At first she seemed scarcely to hear me. "What do they want with
him?" she asked. "He can give them nothing. He is no friend to the
Americans or to any people who have deposed their sovereign." Then,
as she grasped my meaning, her face flushed.
"It is a heartless trick, Mr. Townshend. I would fain think you
no party to it."
"Believe me, dear madame, it is no trick. The men below are in
sober earnest. You have but to see their faces to know that theirs
is no wild adventure. I believe sincerely that they have the power to
implement their promise."
"But it is madness. He is old and worn and sick. His day is long
past for winning a crown."
"All this I have said, but it does not move them." And I told her
rapidly Mr. Galloway's argument. She fell into a muse. "At the
eleventh hour! Nay, too late, too late. Had he been twenty years
younger, what a stroke of fortune! Fate bears too hard on us, too
Then she turned to me fiercely. "You have no doubt heard, sir,
the gossip about my father, which is on the lips of every fool in
Europe. Let us have done with this pitiful make-believe. My father
is a sot. Nay, I do not blame him. I blame his enemies and his
miserable destiny. But there is the fact. Were he not old, he would
still be unfit to grasp a crown and rule over a turbulent people. He
flees from one city to another, but he cannot flee from himself. That
is his illness on which you condoled with me yesterday."
The lady's control was at breaking-point. Another moment and I
expected a torrent of tears. But they did not come. With a great
effort she regained her composure.
"Well, the gentlemen must have an answer. You will tell them that
the Count, my father--nay--give him his true title if you care--is
vastly obliged to them for the honour they have done him, but would
decline on account of his age and infirmities. You know how to phrase
a decent refusal."
"Pardon me," said I, "but I might give them that answer till
doomsday and never content them. They have not travelled many
thousand miles to be put off by hearsay evidence. Nothing will
satisfy them but an interview with your father himself.
"It is impossible," she said sharply.
"Then we must expect the renewed attentions of our American
friends. They will wait till they see him."
She rose and paced the room.
"They must go," she repeated many times. "If they see him sober
he will accept with joy, and we shall be the laughing-stock of the
world. I tell you it cannot be. I alone know how immense is the
impossibility. He cannot afford to lose the last rags of his dignity,
the last dregs of his ease. They must not see him. I will speak with
"They will be honoured, madame, but I do not think they will be
convinced. They are what we call in my land 'men of business.' They
will not be content till they get the Count's reply from his own lips.
A new Duchess seemed to have arisen, a woman of quick action and
"So be it. They shall see him. Oh, I am sick to death of fine
sentiments and high loyalty and all the vapouring stuff I have lived
among for years. All I ask for myself and my father is a little
peace, and, by Heaven! I shall secure it. If nothing will kill your
gentlemen's folly but truth, why, truth they shall have. They shall
see my father, and this very minute. Bring them up, Mr. Townshend,
and usher them into the presence of the rightful King of England. You
will find him alone." She stopped her walk and looked out of the
I went back in a hurry to the Americans. "I am bidden to bring
you to the Count's chamber. He is alone and will see you. These are
the commands of madame his daughter."
"Good!" said Mr. Galloway, and all four, grave gentlemen as they
were, seemed to brace themselves to a special dignity as befitted
ambassadors to a king. I led them upstairs, tapped at the Count's
door, and, getting no answer, opened it and admitted them.
And this was what we saw. The furniture was in disorder, and on a
couch lay an old man sleeping a heavy drunken sleep. His mouth was
open and his breath came stertorously. The face was purple, and large
purple veins stood out on the mottled forehead. His scanty white hair
was draggled over his cheek. On the floor was a broken glass, wet
stains still lay on the boards, and the place reeked of spirits. The
four looked for a second--I do not think longer at him whom they would
have made their king. They did not look at each other. With one
accord they moved out, and Mr. Fish, who was last, closed the door
very gently behind him.
In the hall below Mr. Galloway turned to me. "Our mission is
ended, Mr. Townshend. I have to thank you for your courtesy." Then to
the others, "If we order the coaches now, we may get well on the way
to Verona ere sundown."
An hour later two coaches rolled out of the courtyard of the Tre
Croci. As they passed, a window was half-opened on the upper floor,
and a head looked out. A line of a song came down, a song sung in a
strange quavering voice. It was the catch I had heard the night
"Qu'est-ce qui passe ici si tard,
Compagnons de la Marjolaine--e!"
It was true. The company came late indeed--too late by forty
years. . . .