In a Winter City/Chapter 11

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The next day was Ash Wednesday.

Madame Mila awoke too late for mass, and with a feverish throbbing in her temples. She and the Archduchess had only left the Veglione as the morning sun came up bright and tranquil over the shining waters of the river from behind the eastern hills.

Madame Mila yawned and yawned again a score of times, drank a little green tea to waken herself, thought how horrid Lent was, and ran over in her mind how much she would confess at confession.

She determined to repent her sins very penitently. She would only go to musical parties, she would wear no low bodices, she would eat fish twice a-week—the red mullets were really very nice—and she would go for all holy week en retraite: if she did all that, the most severe monitor could not require her to give up Maurice.

Poor Maurice! she smiled to herself, in the middle of a yawn; how devoted he was!—he only lived on her breath, and if she dismissed him would kill himself with absinthe. She really believed it. She did not dream that Maurice, submissive slave though he was, had his consolations for slavery, and was at that moment looking into the eyes of the prettiest artist's model in Floralia.

It was the Day of Ashes, as all the bells of the city had tolled out far and wide; and Madame Mila, over her green tea, really felt penitent. For the post had brought her three terribly thick letters, and the letters were bills; and the sum total that was wanted immediately was some sixty thousand francs, and how could a poor dear little woman who had spent all her money send that or a tenth of it: and Spiridion wouldn't—he had too many bills of Blanche Souris' to pay; and poor Maurice couldn't—he invariably lost at play much more than he possessed, after the manner of his generation.

Madame Mila really cried about it, and felt ready to promise any amount of repentance if she could get those sixty thousand francs this Lent.

"And to think of me running myself off my feet in that muslin apron collecting for the poor!" she thought, with a sense that heaven behaved very ill to her in return for her charities. "I suppose I must ask Hilda," she reflected; "she always does give when you ask her—if that man don't prevent her now."

For the champagne and the mask and the great joyousness of her soul had prevented Madame Mila from observing any difference between her cousin and Della Rocca, and as he had left the box immediately after her cousin, she had supposed that they had gone away together—why shouldn't they?

"I must ask Hilda to lend it me," she said to herself.

To say lend was agreeable to her feelings, not of course that there was any serious necessity to repay between such near relatives; and she sent her maid across the corridor to enquire when she could come into her cousin's room.

The maid returned with a little unsealed note which the Lady Hilda had desired should be given to Madame Mila when she should awake. The note only said: "I am gone to Rome for some few weeks, dear; write to me at the Iles Britanniques if you want anything."

"Good gracious, what can have happened!" said Madame Mila, in utter amaze. "They must have quarrelled last night." And she proceeded to cross-examine all the hotel people. Lady Hilda had left by the morning train, and had not taken her carriage horses with her, only the riding horses, and had kept on her rooms at the Murat: that was all they knew.

"She is very uncertain and uncomfortable to have to do with," thought Madame Mila, in vague irritation. "Anybody else would have asked me to go with her."

A sudden idea occurred to her, and she sent her maid to find out. if the Duca della Rocca were in Floralia.

At his palace they said that he was.

"Dear me, perhaps he'll go after her," thought Madame Mila. "But I don't know why she's so secret about it, and takes such precautions. Nobody'd cut her for anything she might do so long as she's all that money; and so long as she don't marry she can't lose it."

Madame Mila did not understand it at all. Her experience in the world assured her that her cousin might have Della Rocca, or anybody else, constantly beside her whenever she liked, and nobody would say anything—so long as she had all that money.

She felt that she was badly treated, that there was something not confided to her, and also she certainly ought to have been asked to go to Rome at her cousin's expense. She was sulky and irritated.

"Hilda is so queer and so selfish," she said to herself, and began a letter to the Iles Britanniques; with many tender endearments and much pathos, and the most gracefully worded appeal possible for the loan of the sixty thousand francs.

She would have gone to Borne herself, being well aware that written demands are much more easily repulsed than spoken ones. But she had no money at all. She had lost a quarter's income at play since she had been in the town, and she could not pay the hotel people till her husband should send her more money, and he was hunting bears on the Pic du Midi, with Blanche Souris established at Pau, and when that creature was with him he was always very tardy in answering letters for money, bears or no bears, and of course he would make the bears his excuse now.

Fairly overwhelmed, poor little Madame Mila had a long fit of hysterics, and her maids had to send in great haste for ether and the Vicomte Maurice.

She rallied by dinner time enough to eat two dozen oysters, some lobster croquettes, an omelette aux fines herbes, and some prawn soup, with a nice little bottle of Veuve. Clicquot's sweetest wine, the most maigre repast in the world, and one that must have satisfied even S. Francis had he been there; but still things were very dreadful, and on the whole she was in the proper frame of mind for the Day of Ashes, and in the confessional next morning sobbed so much that her confessor was really touched, and was not too severe with her about her Maurices, past, present, or to come.

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This work was published before January 1, 1925, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.