Never before in the history of his connection with the Hotel du Lac had Gustavo encountered such a munificent, companionable, expansive, entertaining, ‘thoroughly’ unique and inexplicable guest Even the fact that he was American scarcely accounted for everything. Yesterday this guest had rung the bell and demanded a partner to play lawn tennis – as if the hotel kept partners laid away in drawers like so many sheets. The guest, Jerymn Hilliard, Jr., is unexpectedly at loose ends in tiny Valedolmo. He has seen all the ‘Baedeker’ sights already… Then he learns that in a rose-colored villa, surrounded with cypress and with a ‘terrazzo’ on the lake, lives another American – one with a daughter: a Signorina Constantina: ‘beautiful like the angels in Paradise,’
150 pages, with a reading time of ~2.5 hours (37,703 words), and first published in 1907. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2014.
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The courtyard of the Hotel du Lac, furnished with half a dozen tables and chairs, a red and green parrot chained to a perch, and a shady little arbour covered with vines, is a pleasant enough place for morning coffee, but decidedly too sunny for afternoon tea. It was close upon four of a July day, when Gustavo, his inseparable napkin floating from his arm, emerged from the cool dark doorway of the house and scanned the burning vista of tables and chairs. He would never, under ordinary circumstances, have interrupted his siesta for the mere delivery of a letter; but this particular letter was addressed to the young American man, and young American men, as every head waiter knows, are an unreasonably impatient lot. The courtyard was empty, as he might have foreseen, and he was turning with a patient sigh towards the long arbour that led to the lake, when the sound of a rustling paper in the summer-house deflected his course. He approached the doorway and looked inside.
The young American man, in white flannels with a red guide-book protruding from his pocket, was comfortably stretched in a lounging chair engaged with a cigarette and a copy of the Paris Herald. He glanced up with a yawn–excusable under the circumstances–but as his eye fell upon the letter he sprang to his feet.
‘Hello, Gustavo! Is that for me?’
‘Ecco! She is at last arrive, ze lettair for which you haf so moch weesh.’ He bowed a second time and presented it. ‘Meestair Jayreen Ailyar!’
The young man laughed.
‘I don’t wish to hurt your feelings, Gustavo, but I’m not sure I should answer if my eyes were shut.’
He picked up the letter, glanced at the address to make sure–the name was Jerymn Hilliard, Jr.–and ripped it open with an exaggerated sigh of relief. Then he glanced up and caught Gustavo’s expression. Gustavo came of a romantic race; there was a gleam of sympathetic interest in his eye.
‘Oh, you needn’t look so knowing! I suppose you think this is a love-letter? Well it’s not. It is, since you appear to be interested, a letter from my sister informing me that they will arrive to-night, and that we will pull out for Riva by the first boat to-morrow morning. Not that I want to leave you, Gustavo, but–Oh thunder!’
He finished the reading in a frowning silence while the waiter stood at polite attention, a shade of anxiety in his eye–there was usually anxiety in his eye when it rested on Jerymn Hilliard, Jr. One could never foresee what the young man would call for next. Yesterday he had rung the bell and demanded a partner to play lawn tennis, as if the hotel kept partners laid away in drawers like so many sheets.
He crumpled up the letter and stuffed it in his pocket.
‘I say, Gustavo, what do you think of this? They’re going to stay in Lucerne till the tenth–that’s next week–and they hope I won’t mind waiting; it will be nice for me to have a rest. A rest, man, and I’ve already spent three days in Valedolmo!’
‘Si, signore, you will desire ze same room?’ was as much as Gustavo thought.
‘Ze same room? Oh, I suppose so.’
He sank back into his chair and plunged his hands into his pockets with an air of sombre resignation. The waiter hovered over him, divided between a desire to return to his siesta, and a sympathetic interest in the young man’s troubles. Never before in the history of his connexion with the Hotel du Lac had Gustavo experienced such a munificent, companionable, expansive, entertaining, thoroughly unique and inexplicable guest. Even the fact that he was American scarcely accounted for everything.
The young man raised his head and eyed his companion gloomily.
‘Gustavo, have you a sister?’
‘A sister?’ Gustavo’s manner was uncomprehending but patient. ‘Si, signore, I have eight sister.’
‘Eight! Merciful saints. How do you manage to be so cheerful?’
‘Tree is married, signore, one uvver is betrofed, one is in a convent, one is dead, and two is babies.’
‘I see–they’re pretty well disposed of; but the babies will grow up, Gustavo, and as for that betrothed one, I should still be a little nervous if I were you; you can never be sure they are going to stay betrothed. I hope she doesn’t spend her time chasing over the map of Europe making appointments with you to meet her in unheard of little mountain villages where the only approach to Christian reading matter is a Paris Herald four days old, and then doesn’t turn up to keep her appointments?’
Gustavo blinked. His supple back achieved another bow.
‘Sank you,’ he murmured.
‘And you don’t happen to have an aunt?’
‘An aunt, signore?’ There was vagueness in his tone.