My Cousin Rachel
would have hit him for the bare suggestion.
    “I have never seen Ambrose drunk in my life,” I told him.
    “Nor I either,” he said drily. “I am merely trying to choose the better of two evils. I think you had better make up your mind to go to Italy.”
    “That,” I remarked, “I had already decided upon before I came to see you,” and I rode home again, without the remotest idea how to set about the journey.
    There was no vessel sailing from Plymouth that would help me. I was obliged to travel up to London, and thence to Dover, catch the packet to Boulogne, and then cross France into Italy by the usual diligence. Granted no delay, I should be in Florence within three weeks or so. My French was poor, my Italian nonexistent, but none of this bothered me as long as I could get to Ambrose. I bade a short farewell to Seecombe and the servants, telling them only that I intended paying a hurried visit to their master but saying nothing of his illness, and so set forth for London on a fine morning in July, with the prospect of nearly three weeks’ traveling in a strange country ahead of me.
    As the carriage turned onto the Bodmin road I saw the groom riding towards us with the postbag. I told Wellington to rein the horses, and the boy handed me the bag. The chance was one in a thousand that there would be a further letter from Ambrose, but it so happened that the chance was there. I took the envelope from the bag and sent the boy on home. As Wellington whipped up the horses I drew out the scrap of paper and held it to the window for light.
    The words were scrawled, almost illegible.
    “For God’s sake come to me quickly. She has done for me at last, Rachel my torment. If you delay, it may be too late. Ambrose.”
    That was all. There was no date upon the paper, no mark upon the envelope, which was sealed with his own ring.
    I sat in the carriage, the scrap of paper in my hand, knowing that no power on heaven or earth could bring me to him before mid-August.

    When the conveyance brought me and the other passengers to Florence and dumped us down at the hostelry beside the Arno, I felt I had been a lifetime upon the road. It was now the fifteenth of August. No traveler, setting his foot upon the continent of Europe for the first time, was ever less impressed than I. The roads we traversed, the hills and valleys, the cities, French or Italian, where we halted for the night, seemed all alike to me. Everywhere was dirty, verminous, and I was nearly deafened by the noise. Used to the silence of a well-nigh empty house—for the servants slept away in their own quarters beneath the clock tower—where I heard no sound at night but the wind in the trees and the lash of rain when it blew from the southwest, the ceaseless clatter and turmoil of foreign cities came near to stupefying me.
    I slept, yes, who does not sleep at twenty-four, after long hours upon the road, but into my dreams came all the alien sounds; the banging of doors, the screech of voices, footsteps beneath the window, cart wheels on the cobbled stones, and always, every quarter, the chime of a church bell. Perhaps, had I come abroad upon some other errand, it would have been different. Then, I might have leaned from my window in the early mornings with a lighter heart, watched the barefooted children playing in the gutter and thrown coins to them, heard all the new sounds and voices with fascination, wandered at night among the narrow twisting streets and come to like them. As it was, I looked upon what I saw with indifference, passing to hostility. My need was to reach Ambrose, and because I knew him to be ill in a foreign country my anxiety turned to loathing of all things alien, even of the very soil itself.
    It grew hotter every day. The sky was a glazed hard blue, and it seemed to me, twisting and turning along those dusty roads in Tuscany, that the sun had drawn all moisture from the land. The valleys were baked brown, and the little villages hung parched

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