“‘Tis an Italian town,
Almost a city yet not metropolitan wholly.
Houses red-roofed, white-walled, lofty in height with iron
Narrow and twisted the streets, with rough irregular pavements:
Below are the shops with their awnings o’er windows, filled with
gaudy wares we see not in England,
Amid which stand the shop-keepers, shrill-voiced, thievish,
voluble and smiling.
‘Questo è troopo? ‘Non e molto’–question and answer and
question once more,
While in the burning sunshine, in nooks, in corners, in courts,
in door-ways,
Lie the dark shadows, fit for the hiding of lovers, of bravos,
of damsels and men-at-arms ruffianly.”

Relations were rather strained between Eustace and his young friend,
the reason being as usual to be found in the unconquerable selfishness
of the former. With his habitual egotism, Gartney insisted that the
lad whom he had chosen for a friend should attend solely to him, watch
his every action with dog-like fidelity, and have nothing to do with
the rest of the world.

This Otterburn, high-spirited and wilful, naturally enough refused to
do, though he had hitherto been obedient to Gartney’s whims and
fancies in every way. Not having heretofore had anything to attract
his attention in any great degree, and being fascinated by the strange
nature of his poet-friend, Angus had duly given him unlimited measure
of the admiring adulation he so much desired. He had listened
patiently to Gartney’s brilliant though somewhat egotistical
discourses, but now, with the irrepressible nature of youth, having
fallen in love with Victoria Sheldon he began to grow tired of his
friend’s dour nature and pessimistic railings against the artfulness
of womankind.

They had now been nearly a week at the Italian lakes, and from being
her boyish admirer, Otterburn had become the faithful slave of
Victoria, and finding that he could not serve both master and mistress
in a strictly impartial manner, he renounced his fidelity to Eustace.
Of course he was still very friendly with him and liked to listen to
his epigrammatic conversation–on occasions, but showed plainly that
he much preferred Miss Sheldon’s society, a discovery which vexed his
quondam friend mightily, the more so as he saw in such preference a
distinct triumph for Victoria.

That young lady had early announced her dislike to Eustace, deeming
him cold, vain, proud and an enemy to her sex; so, seeing Otterburn
was to a certain extent indispensable to him, she tried her hardest to
bring about a separation between these two close friends–and

Not that she cared over much for Angus. He was certainly a very nice
boy, and wonderfully useful as a carry-and-fetch poodle–but the
possibility of Otterburn taking jest for earnest never occurred to
her, and, ignoring with the calm egotism of a woman the chance that he
might break his heart for her sake, she gave him sweet looks,
undeserved frowns, was hot and cold, kind and cruel, doleful and
capricious, just as the humour took her, and by a dexterous use of the
whole armament of female wiles successfully accomplished the task she
had set herself.

So Otterburn having surrendered at discretion, which was hardly to be
wondered at against such a crafty enemy, was now devoted to his
conqueror and saw comparatively little of Eustace, who though
distinctly annoyed at his defeat cloaked his real feelings caused by
Otterburn’s desertion under the guise of careless indifference, and
either mooned dismally about alone or sought solace in the society of
the Erringtons, who were now making preparations for their departure
to England.

Before leaving, however, Lady Errington with characteristic good
nature had thrown aside all formality and called upon Mrs. Trubbles
and Miss Sheldon at the Villa Medici. She took a great fancy to
Victoria, both on account of her beauty and her generous
straightforward nature, while Mrs. Trubbles amused her mightily with
the eccentricities of her character, so she asked them to a dinner at
the Villa Tagni, thereby earning the eternal gratitude of Angus, who
foresaw a chance of obtaining Victoria all to himself for one whole

Of course she also invited Eustace, whom she pitied for his evident
unhappiness, thinking, with the natural fondness of a woman for
romance, that it sprang from some unrequited love affair and not, as
was actually the case, from satiety and cynicism. Eustace graciously
accepted the invitation, and for once in his life looked forward to
such entertainment with some pleasure, as the cold, irresponsive
nature of Lady Errington roused his curiosity and made him anxious to
learn more of her inner life.

A few days before the Errington dinner-party, Mrs. Trubbles so far
overcame her disposition to sleep as to propose a day’s shopping in
Como to which Victoria eagerly agreed, being anxious to see as much
local Lombardian colour as possible. On the morning of their proposed
outing, however, Eustace, not being able to endure with equanimity the
prospect of a whole afternoon in the company of Mrs. Trubbles,
craftily betook himself on a boating excursion to the Villa Pliniana,
so Otterburn nothing loth formed the sole escort of the two ladies,
and this party of three were now standing in the Piazza awaiting the
arrival of the steamer.

A large, fat, good-natured woman was Mrs. Trubbles, with a broad red
face ever wearing a sleepy smile and a portly body arrayed in rainbow
colours with plenty of jewellery. Everybody in town knew the birth,
parentage, and bringing up of Mrs. Trubbles as her history had long
ago passed the nine days’ wonder of scandal, and was already somewhat
stale and forgotten by all except her most intimate friends, who never
forgot to remind the good-natured lady that she was noble only by the
accident of marriage.

The Honourable Henry Trubbles was a detestable little man with a bass
voice and an overweening vanity concerning his political capabilities,
though he had long ago failed in diplomatic circles. A perusal of
Beaconsfield’s novels in his youth had fired his ambition to emulate
their hero, and like a very second-rate Numa Pompilius he went to seek
an Egeria who would inspire him with great ideas. The Hon. Henry,
however, was so singularly plain in person and disagreeable in manner
that no lady in his own rank of life would agree to help him to attain
to the Cabinet, so not being able to secure rank he married money in
the person of Miss Matilda Barsip, whose papa had made a fortune in
army-contracting during the Crimean War. The noble house of which
Trubbles was a cadet offered no opposition to the match, being rather
glad to get the budding diplomatist settled and done for, so Miss
Barsip was duly married with great pomp to her withered little stick
of a lover, and six months after the army contractor had the good
taste to die, leaving them all his money.

The Family, to whom Mrs. Trubbles always alluded in a tone of awe as
to some unseen divinities, took the young couple up, and having
floated them both into smooth social waters left them to carry on
their lives in their own way, which they did. The Hon. Henry, now
being in command of plenty of money, spent his life in hanging on to
the outside fringe of politics and pretended to know all the secrets
of the Cabinet, though as a matter of fact he was acquainted with
nothing but what he learned through the medium of the papers. He tried
to get into Parliament several times but was such a palpable idiot
that no constituency would elect him, so Mr. Trubbles not being able
to serve his country, which did not want him, fluttered round St.
Stephen’s, worried the ministers and bored the members so much that if
they could have given him the Governorship of a nice yellow-fever
island they certainly would have done so in order to get rid of him.
All the Colonial Governors, however, were healthy at present, so the
Honourable Henry stayed in town and exasperated everyone with his
tea-cup statesmanship.

Mrs. Henry on her side had no ambition whatsoever, but drifted
leisurely through life, spending her money in a comfortable homely
kind of fashion. She was presented at Court on her marriage by the
Dowager Duchess of Margate, but did not appreciate the honour, so
never went near St. James’ again in spite of the orders of Henry, who
thought the appearance of his rich wife might improve his diplomatic

Notwithstanding the efforts of the Misses Wilkers, whose academy she
had attended at Hampstead, English was not Mrs. Trubbles’ strong
point, and being a good-natured old soul, who never pretended to be
anything else but what she was, the worthy Matilda was a great
favourite with her social circle. Her dinners were always excellent,
her dances pleasant and fashionable, and her portly person decked out
in gay colours was to be seen at many places, though for the most part
she preferred to rest in her own house whenever she got a chance.

“I’m too stout to be skipping about,” she said candidly; “that
worriting husband of mine is always hopping round like a cat on hot
bricks, but for my part I like peace and quietness.”

She was certainly a most popular lady, such as the men about Town
called a “jolly good sort” and the ladies in Society approved of
greatly, because she did not give herself airs above her position; so
in spite of her defective English, her loud taste in dress, and the
lowliness of her birth, the Hon. Mrs. Trubbles got on very well
indeed, and had a good number of friends and no enemies, which says a
good deal for her kindly disposition.

The trip to Italy had been undertaken at the suggestion of the
Honourable Henry, who wanted to study some political question
concerning the Great Powers, of which he knew absolutely nothing; so
Matilda had also come with him to have a look at foreign parts, and
had taken Victoria with her, by permission of Aunt Jelly.

“Where’s Mr. Trubbles to-day?” asked Otterburn, digging his stick into
the gravel.

“Oh, Henry,” said Mrs. Trubbles placidly, looking at the water in a
somnolent manner, “he’s gone to Bell-baggio, I think.”

“Bellaggio,” corrected Victoria.

“Something like that,” replied Mrs. Trubbles complacently. “Dear!
dear! how curious these foreigners do talk!–they call a steamer a
vapour-bottle, which is a curious name. Dear me, Mr. Macjean, what are
you laughing at?”

Otterburn pulled himself up promptly, and had the grace to blush under
the severe eye of Victoria.

“It’s _battello di vapore_,” he said lightly, “but indeed, Mrs.
Trubbles, I’m as much at sea as you are about Italian. I prefer our
gude Scottish tongue.”

“Glesgay,” suggested Victoria, whereat Angus made a gesture of horror.

“No! no I mean the language of Jeannie Deans, of Highland Mary, and of
those Jacobite songs that sprang from the leal hearts of the people.”

“I once saw _Rob Roy_,” observed Mrs. Trubbles heavily; “they were all
dressed in tartans. I don’t think the dress is very respectable

“Then I’ll never come before you in the garb of old Gaul,” said Angus

“I should think it would suit you splendidly,” said Miss Sheldon
approvingly, glancing at his stalwart figure; “if you go to a fancy
dress ball you must wear it.”

Otterburn laughed, and promised to obey her commands, but at this
moment the steamer drew in to the pier, and they were soon on board,
steaming up to Como.

It was a beautiful morning, and as yet not too warm, the heat of the
sun being tempered by the cool breeze, which, blowing from the shore,
brought with it the resinous odours of fir and pine. On either side
precipitous mountains towered up into the intense blue of the summer
sky, the innumerable villas made pleasant spots of colour here and
there, while the bosom of the lake, placidly treacherous, was of
changeful hues, like the varying colours of a peacock’s neck.

Plenty of tourists, in all sorts of extraordinary garbs, were on the
deck of the steamer, chattering Italian, German, English, and French,
according to their different nationalities, all laden with umbrellas,
alpenstocks, Baedekers, luncheon-bags, marine glasses, and such-like
evidences of travel. Mrs. Trubbles, having established herself in a
comfortable corner, was trying to get a short sleep prior to facing
the fatigues of Como, so Victoria and her attentive cavalier, being
left to their own devices, began to talk about everyone and

“How these tourists do hold on to their guide-books,” said Victoria
disdainfully, “one would think they’d be quite lost without them.”

“Very likely they would,” replied Otterburn, pulling his straw hat
over his eyes with a yawn, “they have a prejudice against looking at
any place without knowing all about it.”

“It’s such a trouble reading up all about cathedrals and pictures–I
like to ask questions.”

“Oh! guides!”

“No! no I–they’re worse than Baedeker. They never stop talking, and
their information is so scrappy.”

“Extensive but not accurate,” suggested Macjean with a laugh.

“I’m not sure even about the extensive part,” observed Victoria
gaily; “when I was in England I went to a cathedral–I won’t mention
names–and the verger had a cut-and-dried story about the place. When
he finished his little narrative I began to ask him questions. You’ve
no idea how exasperated he became, because he knew absolutely nothing,
and at last said, in despair, ‘Why, Miss, you must be an American.’ I
told him I was an Australian, so he promptly replied, ‘Well, Miss,
that’s quite as bad–for questions.'”

As in duty bound, Angus laughed at this story, which was simple enough
in itself, but the telling of it seemed to establish a more friendly
feeling between them, of which this artful young man took full
advantage, and began to point out the various objects of interest on
the lake.

“You see that villa over there,” he said in an official tone, “it
belongs to the Visconti lot. They used to be Dukes of Milan, you

“Dear me! and why aren’t they Dukes of Milan now?”

“Haven’t the least idea,” replied Angus, whose historical knowledge
was of the vaguest description. “Napoleon, you know, I think he upset
the apple-cart–turned them out, I mean. You see, Miss Sheldon, I’m
like your verger–I know a stereotyped story, but if you ask me
anything beyond I’m up a tree.”

“You’re a very honest guide, at all events,” said Victoria with a
smile. “What is that tower on the hill?”

“Oh, the castle of Baradello.”

“And who was he?”

“Some ancient Johnnie, I believe,” returned the young man carelessly,
“a duke or a pirate, or a picture gallery, I forget which.”

“Your information is most accurate,” said Miss Sheldon gravely,
putting up a large red sunshade, which cast a rosy reflection on her
piquant face, “you must study Baedeker very closely.”

Macjean laughed.

“How severe you are,” he replied lightly, “but I’ve got such a beastly
memory. It’s like a sieve–but, I say, hadn’t we better wake up Mrs.
Trubbles? Here’s Como–dirty place, isn’t it?”

“Rather dingy,” assented Victoria, surveying the untidy-looking town
with its picturesque red roofs, above which arose the great Duomo like
a great bubble. “What do you think, Mrs. Trubbles?”

“Eh? what, my dear?” said that lady, whom the stoppage of the steamer
had aroused from a very comfortable slumber. “Very nice indeed. Like a
picture I’ve got over the sideboard in the dining-room–but, dear me,
how dirty the streets are! I’m afraid they haven’t got a Board of
Works. What does this man say?–Bill something–who is he talking to?”

“Biglietti,” explained Victoria, as they paused at the gangway.
“Tickets–you’ve got them, Mr. Macjean.”

“Yes, here they are,” said Angus, and, handing them to the officer in
charge, they went ashore.

“What little men,” said Victoria, catching sight of some of the
military, “they look like tin soldiers.”

“They don’t seem very well fed,” observed Mrs. Trubbles meditatively;
“I don’t think the food is good–very bad quality, I’m afraid. Dear
me, there’s a fountain.”

“It’s more like a squirt,” said Otterburn laughing.

“Plenty of water about this place,” pursued Mrs. Trubbles, putting up
her eyeglass, “but I don’t think these foreigners make enough use of
it. Oh, dear! dear! what a dreadful smell, they really ought to look
after the drains better. I’m so afraid of typhoid. Mr. Macjean, would
you mind smoking?–it’s safer.”

Mr. Macjean was only too delighted, and having lighted a cigarette,
was soon blowing wreaths of smoke as they all walked up one of the
narrow streets, on their way to the Duomo.

“We must do the church, you know,” remarked Angus with great gravity,
“it’s the big lion of Como–built by some one called Roderer or
Rodari–I’m not certain about the name. Sounds like a champagne brand,
doesn’t it? It was built somewhere about the thirteenth or fourteenth
century–I’m not sure which.”

“You don’t seem very sure of anything beyond the fact that there is a
church,” said Miss Sheldon disparagingly, “and as it’s straight before
you, we can be certain it exists. They say it’s all built of white

“It doesn’t look like it then,” remarked Mrs. Trubbles emphatically,
“a good coat of paint wouldn’t hurt it.”

“Oh, that would spoil it,” chorused both the young people, whereupon
Mrs. Trubbles shook her head, and held firmly to her original

Having admired the ornate front, with its delicate Renaissance
carvings they went out of the burning sunshine into the cool twilight
of the cathedral.

Some service was going on as they entered, and in the dim distance
they saw the high altar glittering with gold and silver ornaments,
beneath gorgeous draperies of yellow damask depending from the
ceiling, and innumerable tapers flared like beautiful glittering stars
against the brilliant background.

Numbers of worshippers, with bent heads, were kneeling on the chill
marble pavement, telling their beads, or silently moving their lips in
prayer, while a priest in splendid vestments, attended by a long train
of white-robed acolytes, officiated at the altar, and at intervals the
melodious thunder of the organ broke through the monotonous voices of
the choir. Placid-looking images of saints, dusky pictures of the
Virgin throned amid the hierarchy of heaven, before which burned the
lambent flames of slender white candles, many-coloured tapestries
representing biblical scenes, heavy gold brocaded hangings,
elaborately-carved shrines and the sudden flash of precious metals and
strangely-set jewels appeared in every nook and corner of the immense
building, while from the silver censers of the acolytes arose the
drowsy incense, in white clouds of sensuous perfume, towards the
gilded splendour of the huge dome. Here, from the lofty roof, the rapt
faces of Evangelists, saints, angels and virgins, looked gravely
downward; there, slender shafts of sunlight, streaming in through the
painted windows, tinted the white monuments of the dead with rainbow
hues, and under all this subdued splendour of colour and beauty,
softened by the dusky twilight, knelt a mixed congregation.
Bare-footed _contadini_ from distant hill villages, devoutly told
their beads next to some dark-visaged soldier in all the bravery of
military trappings, and delicately beautiful ladies, arrayed in the
latest Milanese fashion, knelt beside bare-breasted peasants with
sinewy figures full of the lithe grace and suppressed fierceness of
Italian manhood.

“I wonder what Mactab would say to all this?” muttered Otterburn
involuntarily, as he thought of the severe humility and bareness of
the Kirk o’ Tabbylugs.

“Who is Mactab?” asked Victoria in a subdued whisper. Angus chuckled

“Did I never tell you of Mactab?” he whispered–“oh! I must. He’s a
prominent minister of the Free Kirk, of the severest principles.”

“What are his principles?”

“Eh! what? Oh, he hasn’t got any principals! He’s a Free Kirk, I tell
you. All this heathenish worship would make him take a fit. He
believes in nothing, not even an organ, so the Mactab congregation
sing dreadfully out of tune, but they make up for this by strength of
lungs. They could give that wheezy old ‘kist o’ whustles’ fits in

At this moment Mrs. Trubbles, who had been gazing complacently about
her with the same sort of interest as she would have taken in a
theatre, intimated that she had seen enough, and led the way out into
the hot sunshine.

“I’m rather tired of churches,” said the matron in her deep voice
“we’ve seen such a lot of them in France.”

“Oh, France isn’t in it with Italy in that line,” observed Angus, in
his slangy way. “There are more churches than public-houses here.”

“Well, that’s a very good thing,” replied Victoria.

“I should think so, considering how thin the wines are,” retorted
Macjean, pausing before a variegated kind of arcade; “but look
here–this is the market.”

“Oh, how pretty!” cried Victoria, noting the picturesque colouring of
the different piles of fruit–“just like a scene out of Romeo and

“And there is Juliet said the Master wickedly, waving his stick in the
direction of a ponderous female who was leaning from a projecting iron
balcony chattering to a lady below with shrill volubility over some
skinny-looking poultry.

“Juliet in her old age buying Romeo’s dinner,” replied Victoria,
serenely. “Don’t, please, take the romance out of everything.”

“No; I leave that to Gartney.”

“Horrid man!” said the girl, viciously; “he would disillusionise an

“There are one or two things, my dear Victoria,” observed Mrs.
Trubbles at this moment–“there are one or two things I should like to
take home with me as a kind of mementum of Italy. A fan or a
shell-box–you know, dear; a box with ‘A Present from Como’ on it.
Now, what is the Italian for ‘A Present from Como’?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” said Miss Sheldon, suppressing a smile.
“However, here’s an old curiosity shop. Let us go in and spy out the

“I can’t talk the language myself,” said Mrs. Trubbles, doubtfully, as
her bulky figure filled up the door, “but Victoria—-”

“Is much worse,” interrupted that young lady, quickly. “I know French,
but not Italian, except parrot-like in singing. Now Mr. Macjean—-”

“I’m worst of all,” explained Otterburn, in the most brazen manner.
“‘Questo e troppo’ is all I know.”

“Translate, please.”

“It means ‘That is too much.”

“A very good sentence to know,” said the matron, decidedly. “I believe
these foreign people are rarely honest. I shall learn it–‘Question he
troppus.’ Is that right?”

“Not quite; only three words wrong. ‘Questo e troppo.'”

“‘Questo e troppo,'” repeated Mrs. Trubbles, carefully. “What a pity
these foreigners don’t learn English. It’s so much better than their
own gibberish.”

“I’m afraid we’ll have to go in for the primitive language of signs,”
cried Victoria gaily, as they stood in front of the diminutive counter
behind which a smiling Italian was gesticulating politely.

It would take a long time to describe the difficulties of that
shopping. How the shopkeeper, assisted by his tragic-looking wife,
raved wildly in Italian, and his three customers endeavoured vainly to
find out what they both meant. Sometimes one person would speak, then
the other four would join in, the most powerful voice taking the lead.
What with “Gran’ Dio’s” and “Per Bacco’s” from the sellers, and
“Basta, basta,” “Questo e troppo,” and “Si, si” from the buyers, the
whole transaction was quite operatic in character.

Mrs. Trubbles’ system of shopping was very simple.

When the shopkeeper said two lire, she replied one; if he requested
five, she offered four, always keeping the price down, being convinced
in her own mind that these foreigners were trying to swindle her, an
idea abhorrent to her sturdy British spirit.

“I’ve got a conversation book somewhere,” she said at last, fishing in
a capacious pocket; “it’s got questions in three languages.”

“And the truth in none,” observed Angus, _sotto voce_.

“Oh, here it is!” exclaimed Mrs. Trubbles, producing a kind of
pamphlet. “Here, Mister Signor,” holding up an olive-wood
paper-cutter, “Wie viel.”

A shrug of the shoulders and a gesture of dismay from the shopkeeper,
who did not understand German.

“Why, he doesn’t know his own language!” said Mrs. Trubbles, with
great contempt. “They need a School Board here.”

“I think,” suggested Victoria, who was suffocating with laughter, “I
think you are talking German.”

“Dear! dear! you don’t say so?” said the lady meekly, somewhat after
the fashion of M. Jourdain, who had talked prose for years and did not
know it. “Yes, quite right. These books are so muddling. Where’s the
Italian? Oh, here; ‘Quanto, quanto?'” shaking the paper-cutter
frantically. “Quanto, signor?”

“Tre lire.”

“Bother the man! I’m not talking about a tray!” cried Mrs. Trubbles,
in an exasperated tone. “Here!–this! Use your eyes. Paper-cutter.
‘Papero cuttero. Quanto?'”

“Tre lire, signora.”

“He means three francs,” explained Victoria.

“Oh, does he. I’ll give him two.”

“Questo e troppo,” said Otterburn, bringing forward his only bit of
Italian with great ostentation. “Two–due–lire, signor. Ah, che la

“No, no,” from the shopkeeper, “non e molto.”

“Now what does that mean?” cried the matron, referring to her
text-book. “Here it is: ‘not much,’–si, si; far too much, too molto,
due–due lire,” producing them triumphantly from her purse.

With many deprecating shrugs and asseverations in fluent Italian that
such a sale would ruin him, the shopkeeper at last accepted the two
lire, and Mrs. Trubbles with great satisfaction secured what she
wanted. They then bought a few more things by pursuing the same system
of beating down the prices, and all three ultimately left the shop
with the firm conviction that they had secured bargains, which they
decidedly had not.

“These pigs of English,” observed the astute shopkeeper to his wife,
“always talk a lot, but they pay in the end.”

Then the three innocents abroad wandered aimlessly through the narrow
streets, saw the statue of the great electrician, Volta, the ruined
battlements, the church of St. Abbondio, and other objects of
interest. Afterwards they had some refreshment at a café, the
proprietors of which Mrs. Trubbles, who was a spendthrift in London
but a miser abroad, denounced as robbers, and then were fortunate
enough to catch a steamer just starting for Cernobbio.

“Oh dear! dear!” moaned Mrs. Trubbles, with a weary sigh, as she sat
down in a comfortable seat–“what with their language, their lies, and
their nobby-stone streets, I’m quite worn out.”

“I think one visit is quite enough for Como,” said Victoria, as the
town receded into the far distance. “When do we leave this place, Mrs.

“In a week, dear,” murmured the lady in a sleepy tone. “My husband
will get all his politics settled by that time, I hope.”

“I hope so, too. I’m tired of the lakes.”

“Don’t say that,” said Otterburn, reproachfully; “I’ll be sorry to
leave the Villa Medici.”

“You needn’t. We can go; you can stay.”

“I don’t want to stay if you go.”

Clearly this obtuse young man was irrepressible, and as he was now
getting on dangerous ground again, Victoria deftly turned the

“I suppose we’ll see you and Mr. Gartney at Rome?”

“Oh, yes. Will you be glad to see us?”

“Perhaps. I don’t like Mr. Gartney; I’ve told you so a dozen times.”

“Then will you be glad to see me?” demanded Otterburn, boldly.

Victoria looked at him mischievously, with a dangerous gleam in her
dark eyes, then lowering her sunshade with a laugh, she turned
abruptly away.

“I shall be glad when we arrive at the Villa Medici,” she said,
lightly; “I’m so hungry.”

How on earth was a young man to make love to such a capricious girl?