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      Isola was alone in the spacious Roman drawing-room, its wide windows open to the soft, warm air. The sun was off that side of the house now, and the Venetian shutters had been pushed back; and between the heavy stone pillars of the loggia she saw the orange and magnolia trees in the garden, and the pale gold of the mimosas beyond. The sun was shining full upon the Hill of Gardens, that hill at whose[Pg 302] foot Nero was buried in secret at dead of night by his faithful freedman and the devoted woman who loved him to the shameful end of the shameful life; that hill whose antique groves the wicked C?sar's ghost had once made a place of terror. The wicked ghost was laid now. Modern civilization had sent Nero the way of all phantoms; and fashionable Rome made holiday on the Hill of Gardens. A military band was playing there this afternoon in the golden light, and the familiar melodies in Don Giovanni were wafted ever and anon in little gusts of sweetness to the loggia where the vivid crimson of waxen camelias and the softer rose of oleander blossoms gave brightness and colour to the dark foliage and the cold white stone.

      I am strong, she said. But they are not hard to drive. I have ridden and driven young colts that get up on their hind legs and waltz all round the place; these are quite tame. But they are good horses, conscientiously. Ive never driven a pair so handsome as this.There was a dead silence after the formal voice had ceased.

      "What would I have done, love? Nothing to bring shame on you. Nothing to add to your dishonour or sharpen the agony of remorse. I should have taken my sonmy son could not be left under the shadow of a mother's shame. He and I would have vanished out of your life. You would[Pg 196] have heard no more of us. The world would have known nothing. You would have been cared for and protected from further evilprotected from your own frailty. So far, I would have done my duty as your husband to the last day of my life; but you and I would never have looked upon each other again."

      "And your husbandhe who so fondly loves youhe knows all, and has forgiven all?"Yes, miss, said Barker, passing the strands of golden copper over her hands. It is all the fashion now; but you seldom see it with so much gold in it; none of the dyes can put the light on it youve got; and if you buy the hair, even if its real hair, of the very best quality, it hasnt the sheen on it like this. And she stroked the thick tresses lovingly and enviously.



      Esmeralda looked surprised and thoughtful.He went back to town the next day, and took a hansom to the house in Eaton Square, in which Lady Ada Lancing lived with her guardian, Lady Grange. He asked for Lady Ada, and was shown into the small drawing-room, and stood gnawing his under lip, and looking out of the window, with eyes that saw nothing, waiting for her to appear.


      Later, in the drawing-room, while the Crowther girls were playing a clamorous duet, by the last fashionable Sclavonic composer, Vansittart Crowther directed his conversation almost wholly to Mrs. Disney, as if she were the only person worthy of his attention. He was full of suggestions for future gaieties in which the Disneys were to sharepicnics, boating parties.