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Title: Don Orsino
Author: Crawford, F. Marion (Francis Marion), 1854-1909
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Don Orsino" ***

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DON ORSINO


BY

F. MARION CRAWFORD

AUTHOR OF "THE THREE FATES," "ZOROASTER," "DR. CLAUDIUS," "SARACINESCA,"
ETC.


NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS

1891, MACMILLAN AND CO.

Reprinted January, April, December, 1893; June, 1894; January, November,
1895; June, 1896, January, 1898, June, 1899; July, 1901 June, 1903;
June, 1905; January, 1907.


_Fifty-sixth Thousand_


Norwood Press J.S. Cushing & Co.--Berwick & Smith Norwood Mass. U.S.A.



DON ORSINO.

CHAPTER I.


Don Orsino Saracinesca is of the younger age and lives in the younger
Rome, with his father and mother, under the roof of the vast old palace
which has sheltered so many hundreds of Saracinesca in peace and war,
but which has rarely in the course of the centuries been the home of
three generations at once during one and twenty years.

The lover of romance may lie in the sun, caring not for the time of day
and content to watch the butterflies that cross his blue sky on the way
from one flower to another. But the historian is an entomologist who
must be stirring. He must catch the moths, which are his facts, in the
net which is his memory, and he must fasten them upon his paper with
sharp pins, which are dates.

By far the greater number of old Prince Saracinesca's contemporaries are
dead, and more or less justly forgotten. Old Valdarno died long ago in
his bed, surrounded by sons and daughters. The famous dandy of other
days, the Duke of Astrardente, died at his young wife's feet some three
and twenty years before this chapter of family history opens. Then the
primeval Prince Montevarchi came to a violent end at the hands of his
librarian, leaving his English princess consolable but unconsoled,
leaving also his daughter Flavia married to that other Giovanni
Saracinesca who still bears the name of Marchese di San Giacinto; while
the younger girl, the fair, brown-eyed Faustina, loved a poor
Frenchman, half soldier and all artist. The weak, good-natured Ascanio
Bellegra reigns in his father's stead, the timidly extravagant master of
all that wealth which the miser's lean and crooked fingers had consigned
to a safe keeping. Frangipani too, whose son was to have married
Faustina, is gone these many years, and others of the older and graver
sort have learned the great secret from the lips of death.

But there have been other and greater deaths, beside which the mortality
of a whole society of noblemen sinks into insignificance. An empire is
dead and another has arisen in the din of a vast war, begotten in
bloodshed, brought forth in strife, baptized with fire. The France we
knew is gone, and the French Republic writes "Liberty, Fraternity,
Equality" in great red letters above the gate of its habitation, which
within is yet hung with mourning. Out of the nest of kings and princes
and princelings, and of all manner of rulers great and small, rises the
solitary eagle of the new German Empire and hangs on black wings between
sky and earth, not striking again, but always ready, a vision of armed
peace, a terror, a problem--perhaps a warning.

Old Rome is dead, too, never to be old Rome again. The last breath has
been breathed, the aged eyes are closed for ever, corruption has done
its work, and the grand skeleton lies bleaching upon seven hills, half
covered with the piecemeal stucco of a modern architectural body. The
result is satisfactory to those who have brought it about, if not to the
rest of the world. The sepulchre of old Rome is the new capital of
united Italy.

The three chief actors are dead also--the man of heart, the man of
action and the man of wit, the good, the brave and, the cunning, the
Pope, the King and the Cardinal--Pius the Ninth, Victor Emmanuel the
Second, Giacomo Antonelli. Rome saw them all dead.

In a poor chamber of the Vatican, upon a simple bed, beside which burned
two waxen torches in the cold morning light, lay the body of the man
whom none had loved and many had feared, clothed in the violet robe of
the cardinal-deacon. The keen face was drawn up on one side with a
strange look of mingled pity and contempt. The delicate, thin hands were
clasped together on the breast. The chilly light fell upon the dead
features, the silken robe and the stone floor. A single servant in a
shabby livery stood in a corner, smiling foolishly, while the tears
stood in his eyes and wet his unshaven cheeks. Perhaps he cared, as
servants will, when no one else cares. The door opened almost directly
upon a staircase and the noise of the feet of those passing up and down
upon the stone steps disturbed the silence in the death chamber. At
night the poor body was thrust unhonoured into a common coach and driven
out to its resting-place.

In a vast hall, upon an enormous catafalque, full thirty feet above the
floor, lay all that was left of the honest king. Thousands of wax
candles cast their light up to the dark, shapeless face, and upon the
military accoutrements of the uniform in which the huge body was
clothed. A great crowd pressed to the railing to gaze their fill and go
away. Behind the division tall troopers in cuirasses mounted guard and
moved carelessly about. It was all tawdry, but tawdry on a magnificent
scale--all unlike the man in whose honour it was done. For he had been
simple and brave.

When he was at last borne to his tomb in the Pantheon, a file of
imperial and royal princes marched shoulder to shoulder down the street
before him, and the black charger he had loved was led after him.

In a dim chapel of St. Peter's lay the Pope, robed in white, the
jewelled tiara upon his head, his white face calm and peaceful. Six
torches burned beside him; six nobles of the guard stood like statues
with drawn swords, three on his right hand and three on his left. That
was all. The crowd passed in single file before the great closed gates
of the Julian Chapel.

At night he was borne reverently by loving hands to the deep crypt
below. But at another time, at night also, the dead man was taken up
and driven towards the gate to be buried without the walls. Then a great
crowd assembled in the darkness and fell upon the little band and stoned
the coffin of him who never harmed any man, and screamed out curses and
blasphemies till all the city was astir with riot. That was the last
funeral hymn.

Old Rome is gone. The narrow streets are broad thoroughfares, the Jews'
quarter is a flat and dusty building lot, the fountain of Ponte Sisto is
swept away, one by one the mighty pines of Villa Ludovisi have fallen
under axe and saw, and a cheap, thinly inhabited quarter is built upon
the site of the enchanted garden. The network of by-ways from the
Jesuits' church to the Sant' Angelo bridge is ploughed up and opened by
the huge Corso Vittorio Emmanuele. Buildings which strangers used to
search for in the shade, guide-book and map in hand, are suddenly
brought into the blaze of light that fills broad streets and sweeps
across great squares. The vast Cancelleria stands out nobly to the sun,
the curved front of the Massimo palace exposes its black colonnade to
sight upon the greatest thoroughfare of the new city, the ancient Arco
de' Cenci exhibits its squalor in unshadowed sunshine, the Portico of
Octavia once more looks upon the river.

He who was born and bred in the Rome of twenty years ago comes back
after a long absence to wander as a stranger in streets he never knew,
among houses unfamiliar to him, amidst a population whose speech sounds
strange in his ears. He roams the city from the Lateran to the Tiber,
from the Tiber to the Vatican, finding himself now and then before some
building once familiar in another aspect, losing himself perpetually in
unprofitable wastes made more monotonous than the sandy desert by the
modern builder's art. Where once he lingered in old days to glance at
the river, or to dream of days yet older and long gone, scarce
conscious of the beggar at his elbow and hardly seeing the half dozen
workmen who laboured at their trades almost in the middle of the public
way--where all was once aged and silent and melancholy and full of the
elder memories--there, at that very corner, he is hustled and jostled by
an eager crowd, thrust to the wall by huge, grinding, creaking carts,
threatened with the modern death by the wheel of the modern omnibus,
deafened by the yells of the modern newsvendors, robbed, very likely, by
the light fingers of the modern inhabitant.

And yet he feels that Rome must be Rome still. He stands aloof and gazes
at the sight as upon a play in which Rome herself is the great heroine
and actress. He knows the woman and he sees the artist for the first
time, not recognising her. She is a dark-eyed, black-haired, thoughtful
woman when not upon the stage. How should he know her in the strange
disguise, her head decked with Gretchen's fair tresses, her olive cheek
daubed with pink and white paint, her stately form clothed in garments
that would be gay and girlish but which are only unbecoming? He would
gladly go out and wait by the stage door until the performance is over,
to see the real woman pass him in the dim light of the street lamps as
she enters her carriage and becomes herself again. And so, in the
reality, he turns his back upon the crowd and strolls away, not caring
whither he goes until, by a mere accident, he finds himself upon the
height of Sant' Onofrio, or standing before the great fountains of the
Acqua Paola, or perhaps upon the drive which leads through the old Villa
Corsini along the crest of the Janiculum. Then, indeed, the scene thus
changes, the actress is gone and the woman is before him; the capital of
modern Italy sinks like a vision into the earth out of which it was
called up, and the capital of the world rises once more, unchanged,
unchanging and unchangeable, before the wanderer's eyes. The greater
monuments of greater times are there still, majestic and unmoved, the
larger signs of a larger age stand out clear and sharp; the tomb of
Hadrian frowns on the yellow stream, the heavy hemisphere of the
Pantheon turns its single opening to the sky, the enormous dome of the
world's cathedral looks silently down upon the sepulchre of the world's
masters.

Then the sun sets and the wanderer goes down again through the chilly
evening air to the city below, to find it less modern than he had
thought. He has found what he sought and he knows that the real will
outlast the false, that the stone will outlive the stucco and that the
builder of to-day is but a builder of card-houses beside the architects
who made Rome.

So his heart softens a little, or at least grows less resentful, for he
has realised how small the change really is as compared with the first
effect produced. The great house has fallen into new hands and the
latest tenant is furnishing the dwelling to his taste. That is all. He
will not tear down the walls, for his hands are too feeble to build them
again, even if he were not occupied with other matters and hampered by
the disagreeable consciousness of the extravagances he has already
committed.

Other things have been accomplished, some of which may perhaps endure,
and some of which are good in themselves, while some are indifferent and
some distinctly bad. The great experiment of Italian unity is in process
of trial and the world is already forming its opinion upon the results.
Society, heedless as it necessarily is of contemporary history, could
not remain indifferent to the transformation of its accustomed
surroundings; and here, before entering upon an account of individual
doings, the chronicler may be allowed to say a few words upon a matter
little understood by foreigners, even when they have spent several
seasons in Rome and have made acquaintance with each other for the
purpose of criticising the Romans.

Immediately after the taking of the city in 1870, three distinct
parties declared themselves, to wit, the Clericals or Blacks, the
Monarchists or Whites, and the Republicans or Beds. All three had
doubtless existed for a considerable time, but the wine of revolution
favoured the expression of the truth, and society awoke one morning to
find itself divided into camps holding very different opinions.

At first the mass of the greater nobles stood together for the lost
temporal power of the Pope, while a great number of the less important
families followed two or three great houses in siding with the
Royalists. The Republican idea, as was natural, found but few
sympathisers in the highest class, and these were, I believe, in all
cases young men whose fathers were Blacks or Whites, and most of whom
have since thought fit to modify their opinions in one direction or the
other. Nevertheless the Red interest was, and still is, tolerably strong
and has been destined to play that powerful part in parliamentary life,
which generally falls to the lot of a compact third party, where a
fourth does not yet exist, or has no political influence, as is the case
in Rome.

For there is a fourth body in Rome, which has little political but much
social importance. It was not possible that people who had grown up
together in the intimacy of a close caste-life, calling each other
"thee" and "thou," and forming the hereditary elements of a still feudal
organisation, should suddenly break off all acquaintance and be
strangers one to another. The brother, a born and convinced clerical,
found that his own sister had followed her husband to the court of the
new King. The rigid adherent of the old order met his own son in the
street, arrayed in the garb of an Italian officer. The two friends who
had stood side by side in good and evil case for a score of years saw
themselves suddenly divided by the gulf which lies between a Roman
cardinal and a Senator of the Italian Kingdom. The breach was sudden and
great, but it was bridged for many by the invention of a fourth,
proportional. The points of contact between White and Black became Grey,
and a social power, politically neutral and constitutionally
indifferent, arose as a mediator between the Contents and the
Malcontents. There were families that had never loved the old order but
which distinctly disliked the new, and who opened their doors to the
adherents of both. There is a house which has become Grey out of a sort
of superstition inspired by the unfortunate circumstances which oddly
coincided with each movement of its members to join the new order. There
is another, and one of the greatest, in which a very high hereditary
dignity in the one party, still exercised by force of circumstances,
effectually forbids the expression of a sincere sympathy with the
opposed power. Another there is, whose members are cousins of the one
sovereign and personal friends of the other.

A further means of amalgamation has been found in the existence of the
double embassies of the great powers. Austria, France and Spain each
send an Ambassador to the King of Italy and an Ambassador to the Pope,
of like state and importance. Even Protestant Prussia maintains a
Minister Plenipotentiary to the Holy See. Russia has her diplomatic
agent to the Vatican, and several of the smaller powers keep up two
distinct legations. It is naturally neither possible nor intended that
these diplomatists should never meet on friendly terms, though they are
strictly interdicted from issuing official invitations to each other.
Their point of contact is another grey square on the chess-board.

The foreigner, too, is generally a neutral individual, for if his
political convictions lean towards the wrong side of the Tiber his
social tastes incline to Court balls; or if he is an admirer of Italian
institutions, his curiosity may yet lead him to seek a presentation at
the Vatican, and his inexplicable though recent love of feudal princedom
may take him, card-case in hand, to that great stronghold of Vaticanism
which lies due west of the Piazza di Venezia and due north of the
Capitol.

During the early years which followed the change, the attitude of
society in Rome was that of protest and indignation on the one hand, of
enthusiasm and rather brutally expressed triumph on the other. The line
was very clearly drawn, for the adherence was of the nature of personal
loyalty on both sides. Eight years and a half later the personal feeling
disappeared with the almost simultaneous death of Pius IX. and Victor
Emmanuel II. From that time the great strife degenerated by degrees into
a difference of opinion. It may perhaps be said also that both parties
became aware of their common enemy, the social democrat, soon after the
disappearance of the popular King whose great individual influence was
of more value to the cause of a united monarchy than all the political
clubs and organisations in Italy put together. He was a strong man. He
only once, I think, yielded to the pressure of a popular excitement,
namely, in the matter of seizing Rome when the French troops were
withdrawn, thereby violating a ratified Treaty. But his position was a
hard one. He regretted the apparent necessity, and to the day of his
death he never would sleep under the roof of Pius the Ninth's Palace on
the Quirinal, but had his private apartments in an adjoining building.
He was brave and generous. Such faults as he had were no burden to the
nation and concerned himself alone. The same praise may be worthily
bestowed upon his successor, but the personal influence is no longer the
same, any more than that of Leo XIII. can be compared with that of Pius
IX., though all the world is aware of the present Pope's intellectual
superiority and lofty moral principle.

Let us try to be just. The unification of Italy has been the result of a
noble conception. The execution of the scheme has not been without
faults, and some of these faults have brought about deplorable, even
disastrous, consequences, such as to endanger the stability of the new
order. The worst of these attendant errors has been the sudden
imposition of a most superficial and vicious culture, under the name of
enlightenment and education. The least of the new Government's mistakes
has been a squandering of the public money, which, when considered with
reference to the country's resources, has perhaps no parallel in the
history of nations.

Yet the first idea was large, patriotic, even grand. The men who first
steered the ship of the state were honourable, disinterested,
devoted--men like Minghetti, who will not soon be forgotten--loyal,
conservative monarchists, whose thoughts were free from exaggeration,
save that they believed almost too blindly in the power of a
constitution to build up a kingdom, and credited their fellows almost
too readily with a purpose as pure and blameless as their own. Can more
be said for these? I think not. They rest in honourable graves, their
doings live in honoured remembrance--would that there had been such
another generation to succeed them.

And having said thus much, let us return to the individuals who have
played a part in the history of the Saracinesca. They have grown older,
some gracefully, some under protest, some most unbecomingly.

In the end of the year 1887 old Leone Saracinesca is still alive, being
eighty-two years of age. His massive head has sunk a little between his
slightly rounded shoulders, and his white beard is no longer cut short
and square, but flows majestically down upon his broad breast. His step
is slow, but firm still, and when he looks up suddenly from under his
wrinkled lids, the fire is not even yet all gone from his eyes. He is
still contradictory by nature, but he has mellowed like rare wine in the
long years of prosperity and peace. When the change came in Rome he was
in the mountains at Saracinesca, with his daughter-in-law, Corona and
her children. His son Giovanni, generally known as Prince of Sant'
Ilario, was among the volunteers at the last and sat for half a day upon
his horse in the Pincio, listening to the bullets that sang over his
head while his men fired stray shots from the parapets of the public
garden into the road below. Giovanni is fifty-two years old, but though
his hair is grey at the temples and his figure a trifle sturdier and
broader than of old, he is little changed. His son, Orsino, who will
soon be of age, overtops him by a head and shoulders, a dark youth,
slender still, but strong and active, the chief person in this portion
of my chronicle. Orsino has three brothers of ranging ages, of whom the
youngest is scarcely twelve years old. Not one girl child has been given
to Giovanni and Corona and they almost wish that one of the sturdy
little lads had been a daughter. But old Saracinesca laughs and shakes
his head and says he will not die till his four grandsons are strong
enough to bear him to his grave upon their shoulders.

Corona is still beautiful, still dark, still magnificent, though she has
reached the age beyond which no woman ever goes until after death. There
are few lines in the noble face and such as are there are not the scars
of heart wounds. Her life, too, has been peaceful and undisturbed by
great events these many years. There is, indeed, one perpetual anxiety
in her existence, for the old prince is an aged man and she loves him
dearly. The tough strength must give way some day and there will be a
great mourning in the house of Saracinesca, nor will any mourn the dead
more sincerely than Corona. And there is a shade of bitterness in the
knowledge that her marvellous beauty is waning. Can she be blamed for
that? She has been beautiful so long. What woman who has been first for
a quarter of a century can give up her place without a sigh? But much
has been given to her to soften the years of transition, and she knows
that also, when she looks from her husband to her four boys.

Then, too, it seems more easy to grow old when she catches a glimpse
from time to time of Donna Tullia Del Ferice, who wears her years
ungracefully, and who was once so near to becoming Giovanni
Saracinesca's wife. Donna Tullia is fat and fiery of complexion,
uneasily vivacious and unsure of herself. Her disagreeable blue eyes
have not softened, nor has the metallic tone of her voice lost its
sharpness. Yet she should not be a disappointed woman, for Del Ferice is
a power in the land, a member of parliament, a financier and a
successful schemer, whose doors are besieged by parasites and his
dinner-table by those who wear fine raiment and dwell in kings' palaces.
Del Ferice is the central figure in the great building syndicates which
in 1887 are at the height of their power. He juggles with millions of
money, with miles of real estate, with thousands of workmen. He is
director of a bank, president of a political club, chairman of half a
dozen companies and a deputy in the chambers. But his face is
unnaturally pale, his body is over-corpulent, and he has trouble with
his heart. The Del Ferice couple are childless, to their own great
satisfaction.

Anastase Gouache, the great painter, is also in Rome. Sixteen years ago
he married the love of his life, Faustina Montevarchi, in spite of the
strong opposition of her family. But times had changed. A new law
existed and the thrice repeated formal request for consent made by
Faustina to her mother, freed her from parental authority and brotherly
interference. She and her husband passed through some very lean years in
the beginning, but fortune has smiled upon them since that. Anastase is
very famous. His character has changed little. With the love of the
ideal republic in his heart, he shed his blood at Mentana for the great
conservative principle, he fired his last shot for the same cause at the
Porta Pia on the twentieth of September 1870; a month later he was
fighting for France under the gallant Charette--whether for France
imperial, regal or republican he never paused to ask; he was wounded in
fighting against the Commune, and decorated for painting the portrait of
Gambetta, after which he returned to Rome, cursed politics and married
the woman he loved, which was, on the whole, the wisest course he could
have followed. He has two children, both girls, aged now respectively
fifteen and thirteen. His virtues are many, but they do not include
economy. Though his savings are small and he depends upon his brush, he
lives in one wing of an historic palace and gives dinners which are
famous. He proposes to reform and become a miser when his daughters are
married.

"Misery will be the foundation of my second manner, my angel," he says
to his wife, when he has done something unusually extravagant.

But Faustina laughs softly and winds her arm about his neck as they look
together at the last great picture. Anastase has not grown fat. The gods
love him and have promised him eternal youth. He can still buckle round
his slim waist the military belt of twenty years ago, and there is
scarcely one white thread in his black hair.

San Giacinto, the other Saracinesca, who married Faustina's elder sister
Flavia, is in process of making a great fortune, greater perhaps than
the one so nearly thrust upon him by old Montevarchi's compact with
Meschini the librarian and forger. He had scarcely troubled himself to
conceal his opinions before the change of government, being by nature a
calm, fearless man, and under the new order he unhesitatingly sided with
the Italians, to the great satisfaction of Flavia, who foresaw years of
dulness for the mourning party of the Blacks. He had already brought to
Rome the two boys who remained to him from his first marriage with
Serafina Baldi--the little girl who had been born between the other two
children had died in infancy--and the lads had been educated at a
military college, and in 1887 are both officers in the Italian cavalry,
sturdy and somewhat thick-skulled patriots, but gentlemen nevertheless
in spite of the peasant blood. They are tall fellows enough but neither
of them has inherited the father's colossal stature, and San Giacinto
looks with a very little envy on his young kinsman Orsino who has
outgrown his cousins. This second marriage has brought him issue, a boy
and a girl, and the fact that he has now four children to provide for
has had much to do with his activity in affairs. He was among the first
to see that an enormous fortune was to be made in the first rush for
land in the city, and he realised all he possessed, and borrowed to the
full extent of his credit to pay the first instalments on the land he
bought, risking everything with the calm determination and cool judgment
which lay at the root of his strong character. He was immensely
successful, but though he had been bold to recklessness at the right
moment, he saw the great crash looming in the near future, and when the
many were frantic to buy and invest, no matter at what loss, his
millions were in part safely deposited in national bonds, and in part as
securely invested in solid and profitable buildings of which the rents
are little liable to fluctuation. Brought up to know what money means,
he is not easily carried away by enthusiastic reports. He knows that
when the hour of fortune is at hand no price is too great to pay for
ready capital, but he understands that when the great rush for success
begins the psychological moment of finance is already passed. When he
dies, if such strength as his can yield to death, he will die the
richest man in Italy, and he will leave what is rare in Italian finance,
a stainless name.

Of one person more I must speak, who has played a part in this family
history. The melancholy Spicca still lives his lonely life in the midst
of the social world. He affects to be a little old-fashioned in his
dress. His tall thin body stoops ominously and his cadaverous face is
more grave and ascetic than ever. He is said to have been suffering from
a mortal disease these fifteen years, but still he goes everywhere,
reads everything and knows every one. He is between sixty and seventy
years old, but no one knows his precise age. The foils he once used so
well hang untouched and rusty above his fireplace, but his reputation
survives the lost strength of his supple wrist, and there are few in
Rome, brave men or hairbrained youths, who would willingly anger him
even now. He is still the great duellist of his day; the emaciated
fingers might still find their old grip upon a sword hilt, the long,
listless arm might perhaps once more shoot out with lightning speed, the
dull eye might once again light up at the clash of steel. Peaceable,
charitable when none are at hand to see him give, gravely gentle now in
manner, Count Spicca is thought dangerous still. But he is indeed very
lonely in his old age, and if the truth be told his fortune seems to
have suffered sadly of late years, so that he rarely leaves Rome, even
in the hot summer, and it is very long since he spent six weeks in Paris
or risked a handful of gold at Monte Carlo. Yet his life is not over,
and he has still a part to play, for his own sake and for the sake of
another, as shall soon appear more clearly.



CHAPTER II.


Orsino Saracinesca's education was almost completed. It had been of the
modern kind, for his father had early recognised that it would be a
disadvantage to the young man in after life if he did not follow the
course of study and pass the examinations required of every Italian
subject who wishes to hold office in his own country. Accordingly,
though he had not been sent to public schools, Orsino had been regularly
entered since his childhood for the public examinations and had passed
them all in due order, with great difficulty and indifferent credit.
After this preliminary work he had been at an English University for
four terms, not with any view to his obtaining a degree after completing
the necessary residence, but in order that he might perfect himself in
the English language, associate with young men of his own age and
social standing, though of different nationality, and acquire that final
polish which is so highly valued in the human furniture of society's
temples.

Orsino was not more highly gifted as to intelligence than many young men
of his age and class. Like many of them he spoke English admirably,
French tolerably, and Italian with a somewhat Roman twang. He had
learned a little German and was rapidly forgetting it again; Latin and
Greek had been exhibited to him as dead languages, and he felt no more
inclination to assist in their resurrection than is felt by most boys in
our day. He had been taught geography in the practical, continental
manner, by being obliged to draw maps from memory. He had been
instructed in history, not by parallels, but as it were by tangents, a
method productive of odd results, and he had advanced just far enough in
the study of mathematics to be thoroughly confused by the terms
"differentiation" and "integration." Besides these subjects, a multitude
of moral and natural sciences had been made to pass in a sort of
panorama before his intellectual vision, including physics, chemistry,
logic, rhetoric, ethics and political economy, with a view to
cultivating in him the spirit of the age. The Ministry of Public
Instruction having decreed that the name of God shall be for ever
eliminated from all modern books in use in Italian schools and
universities, Orsino's religious instruction had been imparted at home
and had at least the advantage of being homogeneous.

It must not be supposed that Orsino's father and mother were satisfied
with this sort of education. But it was not easy to foresee what social
and political changes might come about before the boy reached mature
manhood. Neither Giovanni nor his wife were of the absolutely
"intransigent" way of thinking. They saw no imperative reason to prevent
their sons from joining at some future time in the public life of their
country, though they themselves preferred not to associate with the
party at present in power. Moreover Giovanni Saracinesca saw that the
abolition of primogeniture had put an end to hereditary idleness, and
that although his sons would be rich enough to do nothing if they
pleased, yet his grandchildren would probably have to choose between
work and genteel poverty, if it pleased the fates to multiply the race.
He could indeed leave one half of his wealth intact to Orsino, but the
law required that the other half should be equally divided among all;
and as the same thing would take place in the second generation, unless
a reactionary revolution intervened, the property would before long be
divided into very small moieties indeed. For Giovanni had no idea of
imposing celibacy upon his younger sons, still less of exerting any
influence he possessed to make them enter the Church. He was too broad
in his views for that. They promised to turn out as good men in a
struggle as the majority of those who would be opposed to them in life,
and they should fight their own battles unhampered by parental authority
or caste prejudice.

Many years earlier Giovanni had expressed his convictions in regard to
the change of order then imminent. He had said that he would fight as
long as there was anything to fight for, but that if the change came he
would make the best of it. He was now keeping his word. He had fought as
far as fighting had been possible and had sincerely wished that his
warlike career might have offered more excitement and opportunity for
personal distinction than had been afforded him in spending an afternoon
on horseback, listening to the singing of bullets overhead. His amateur
soldiering was over long ago, but he was strong, brave and intelligent,
and if he had been convinced that a second and more radical revolution
could accomplish any good result, he would have been capable of devoting
himself to its cause with a single-heartedness not usual in these days.
But he was not convinced. He therefore lived a quiet life, making the
best of the present, improving his lands and doing his best to bring up
his sons in such a way as to give them a chance of success when the
struggle should come. Orsino was his eldest born and the results of
modern education became apparent in him first, as was inevitable.

Orsino was at this time not quite twenty-one years of age, but the
important day was not far distant and in order to leave a lasting
memorial of the attaining of his majority Prince Saracinesca had decreed
that Corona should receive a portrait of her eldest son executed by the
celebrated Anastase Gouache. To this end the young man spent three
mornings in every week in the artist's palatial studio, a place about as
different from the latter's first den in the Via San Basilio as the
Basilica of Saint Peter is different from a roadside chapel in the
Abruzzi. Those who have seen the successful painter of the nineteenth
century in his glory will have less difficulty in imagining the scene of
Gouache's labours than the writer finds in describing it. The workroom
is a hall, the ceiling is a vault thirty feet high, the pavement is of
polished marble; the light enters by north windows which would not look
small in a good-sized church, the doors would admit a carriage and pair,
the tapestries upon the walls would cover the front of a modern house.
Everything is on a grand scale, of the best period, of the most genuine
description. Three or four originals of great masters, of Titian, of
Reubens, of Van Dyck, stand on huge easels in the most favourable
lights. Some scores of matchless antique fragments, both of bronze and
marble, are placed here and there upon superb carved tables and shelves
of the sixteenth century. The only reproduction visible in the place is
a very perfect cast of the Hermes of Olympia. The carpets are all of
Shiraz, Sinna, Gjordez or old Baku--no common thing of Smyrna, no
unclean aniline production of Russo-Asiatic commerce disturbs the
universal harmony. In a full light upon the wall hangs a single silk
carpet of wonderful tints, famous in the history of Eastern collections,
and upon it is set at a slanting angle a single priceless Damascus
blade--a sword to possess which an Arab or a Circassian would commit
countless crimes. Anastase Gouache is magnificent in all his tastes and
in all his ways. His studio and his dwelling are his only estate, his
only capital, his only wealth, and he does not take the trouble to
conceal the fact. The very idea of a fixed income is as distasteful to
him as the possibility of possessing it is distant and visionary. There
is always money in abundance, money for Faustina's horses and carriages,
money for Gouache's select dinners, money for the expensive fancies of
both. The paint pot is the mine, the brush is the miner's pick, and the
vein has never failed, nor the hand trembled in working it. A golden
youth, a golden river flowing softly to the red gold sunset of the
end--that is life as it seems to Anastase and Faustina.

On the morning which opens this chronicle, Anastase was standing before
his canvas, palette and brushes in hand, considering the nature of the
human face in general and of young Orsino's face in particular.

"I have known your father and mother for centuries," observed the
painter with a fine disregard of human limitations. "Your father is the
brown type of a dark man, and your mother is the olive type of a dark
woman. They are no more alike than a Red Indian and an Arab, but you are
like both. Are you brown or are you olive, my friend? That is the
question. I would like to see you angry, or in love, or losing at play.
Those things bring out the real complexion."

Orsino laughed and showed a remarkably solid set of teeth. But he did
not find anything to say.

"I would like to know the truth about your complexion," said Anastase,
meditatively.

"I have no particular reason for being angry," answered Orsino, "and I
am not in love--"

"At your age! Is it possible!"

"Quite. But I will play cards with you if you like," concluded the young
man.

"No," returned the other. "It would be of no use. You would win, and if
you happened to win much, I should be in a diabolical scrape. But I wish
you would fall in love. You should see how I would handle the green
shadows under your eyes."

"It is rather short notice."

"The shorter the better. I used to think that the only real happiness in
life lay in getting into trouble, and the only real interest in getting
out."

"And have you changed your mind?"

"I? No. My mind has changed me. It is astonishing how a man may love his
wife under favourable circumstances."

Anastase laid down his brushes and lit a cigarette. Reubens would have
sipped a few drops of Rhenish from a Venetian glass. Teniers would have
lit a clay pipe. Dürer would perhaps have swallowed a pint of Nüremberg
beer, and Greuse or Mignard would have resorted to their snuff-boxes. We
do not know what Michelangelo or Perugino did under the circumstances,
but it is tolerably evident that the man of the nineteenth century
cannot think without talking and cannot talk without cigarettes.
Therefore Anastase began to smoke and Orsino, being young and imitative,
followed his example.

"You have been an exceptionally fortunate man," remarked the latter, who
was not old enough to be anything but cynical in his views of life.

"Do you think so? Yes--I have been fortunate. But I do not like to think
that my happiness has been so very exceptional. The world is a good
place, full of happy people. It must be--otherwise purgatory and hell
would be useless institutions."

"You do not suppose all people to be good as well as happy then," said
Orsino with a laugh.

"Good? What is goodness, my friend? One half of the theologians tell us
that we shall be happy if we are good and the other half assure us that
the only way to be good is to abjure earthly happiness. If you will
believe me, you will never commit the supreme error of choosing between
the two methods. Take the world as it is, and do not ask too many
questions of the fates. If you are willing to be happy, happiness will
come in its own shape."

Orsino's young face expressed rather contemptuous amusement. At twenty,
happiness is a dull word, and satisfaction spells excitement.

"That is the way people talk," he said. "You have got everything by
fighting for it, and you advise me to sit still till the fruit drops
into my mouth."

"I was obliged to fight. Everything comes to you naturally--fortune,
rank--everything, including marriage. Why should you lift a hand?"

"A man cannot possibly be happy who marries before he is thirty years
old," answered Orsino with conviction. "How do you expect me to occupy
myself during the next ten years?"

"That is true," Gouache replied, somewhat thoughtfully, as though the
consideration had not struck him.

"If I were an artist, it would be different."

"Oh, very different. I agree with you." Anastase smiled good-humouredly.

"Because I should have talent--and a talent is an occupation in itself."

"I daresay you would have talent," Gouache answered, still laughing.

"No--I did not mean it in that way--I mean that when a man has a talent
it makes him think of something besides himself."

"I fancy there is more truth in that remark than either you or I would
at first think," said the painter in a meditative tone.

"Of course there is," returned the youthful philosopher, with more
enthusiasm than he would have cared to show if he had been talking to a
woman. "What is talent but a combination of the desire to do and the
power to accomplish? As for genius, it is never selfish when it is at
work."

"Is that reflection your own?"

"I think so," answered Orsino modestly. He was secretly pleased that a
man of the artist's experience and reputation should be struck by his
remark.

"I do not think I agree with you," said Gouache.

Orsino's expression changed a little. He was disappointed, but he said
nothing.

"I think that a great genius is often ruthless. Do you remember how
Beethoven congratulated a young composer after the first performance of
his opera? 'I like your opera--I will write music to it.' That was a
fine instance of unselfishness, was it not. I can see the young man's
face--" Anastase smiled.

"Beethoven was not at work when he made the remark," observed Orsino,
defending himself.

"Nor am I," said Gouache, taking up his brushes again. "If you will
resume the pose--so--thoughtful but bold--imagine that you are already
an ancestor contemplating posterity from the height of a nobler age--you
understand. Try and look as if you were already framed and hanging in
the Saracinesca gallery between a Titian and a Giorgione."

Orsino resumed his position and scowled at Anastase with a good will.

"Not quite such a terrible frown, perhaps," suggested the latter. "When
you do that, you certainly look like the gentleman who murdered the
Colonna in a street brawl--I forget how long ago. You have his portrait.
But I fancy the Princess would prefer--yes--that is more natural. You
have her eyes. How the world raved about her twenty years ago--and raves
still, for that matter."

"She is the most beautiful woman in the world," said Orsino. There was
something in the boy's unaffected admiration of his mother which
contrasted pleasantly with his youthful affectation of cynicism and
indifference. His handsome face lighted up a little, and the painter
worked rapidly.

But the expression was not lasting. Orsino was at the age when most
young men take the trouble to cultivate a manner, and the look of
somewhat contemptuous gravity which he had lately acquired was already
becoming habitual. Since all men in general have adopted the fashion of
the mustache, youths who are still waiting for the full crop seem to
have difficulty in managing their mouths. Some draw in their lips with
that air of unnatural sternness observable in rough weather among
passengers on board ship, just before they relinquish the struggle and
retire from public life. Others contract their mouths to the shape of a
heart, while there are yet others who lose control of the pendant lower
lip and are content to look like idiots, while expecting the hairy
growth which is to make them look like men. Orsino had chosen the least
objectionable idiosyncrasy and had elected to be of a stern countenance.
When he forgot himself he was singularly handsome, and Gouache lay in
wait for his moments of forgetfulness.

"You are quite right," said the Frenchman. "From the classic point of
view your mother was and is the most beautiful dark woman in the world.
For myself--well in the first place, you are her son, and secondly I am
an artist and not a critic. The painter's tongue is his brush and his
words are colours."

"What were you going to say about my mother?" asked Orsino with some
curiosity.

"Oh--nothing. Well, if you must hear it, the Princess represents my
classical ideal, but not my personal ideal. I have admired some one else
more."

"Donna Faustina?" enquired Orsino.

"Ah well, my friend--she is my wife, you see. That always makes a great
difference in the degree of admiration--"

"Generally in the opposite direction," Orsino observed in a tone of
elderly unbelief.

Gouache had just put his brush into his mouth and held it between his
teeth as a poodle carries a stick, while he used his thumb on the
canvas. The modern painter paints with everything, not excepting his
fingers. He glanced at his model and then at his work, and got his
effect before he answered.

"You are very hard upon marriage," he said quietly. "Have you tried it?"

"Not yet. I will wait as long as possible, before I do. It is not every
one who has your luck."

"There was something more than luck in my marriage. We loved each other,
it is true, but there were difficulties--you have no idea what
difficulties there were. But Faustina was brave and I caught a little
courage from her. Do you know that when the Serristori barracks were
blown up she ran out alone to find me merely because she thought I might
have been killed? I found her in the ruins, praying for me. It was
sublime."

"I have heard that. She was very brave--"

"And I a poor Zonave--and a poorer painter. Are there such women
nowadays? Bah! I have not known them. We used to meet at churches and
exchange two words while her maid was gone to get her a chair. Oh, the
good old time! And then the separations--the taking of Rome, when the
old Princess carried all the family off to England and stayed there
while we were fighting for poor France--and the coming back and the
months of waiting, and the notes dropped from her window at midnight and
the great quarrel with her family when we took advantage of the new law.
And then the marriage itself--what a scandal in Rome! But for the
Princess, your mother, I do not know what we should have done. She
brought Faustina to the church and drove us to the station in her own
carriage--in the face of society. They say that Ascanio Bellegra hung
about the door of the church while we were being married, but he had not
the courage to come in, for fear of his mother. We went to Naples and
lived on salad and love--and we had very little else for a year or two.
I was not much known, then, except in Rome, and Roman society refused to
have its portrait painted by the adventurer who had run away with a
daughter of Casa Montevarchi. Perhaps, if we had been rich, we should
have hated each other by this time. But we had to live for each other in
those days, for every one was against us. I painted, and she kept
house--that English blood is always practical in a desert. And it was a
desert. The cooking--it would have made a billiard ball's hair stand on
end with astonishment. She made the salad, and then evolved the roast
from the inner consciousness. I painted a chaudfroid on an old plate. It
was well done--the transparent quality of the jelly and the delicate
ortolans imprisoned within, imploring dissection. Well, must I tell you?
We threw it away. It was martyrdom. Saint Anthony's position was
enviable compared with ours. Beside us that good man would have seemed
but a humbug. Yet we lived through it all. I repeat it. We lived, and we
were happy. It is amazing, how a man may love his wife."

Anastase had told his story with many pauses, working hard while he
spoke, for though he was quite in earnest in all he said, his chief
object was to distract the young man's attention, so as to bring out his
natural expression. Having exhausted one of the colours he needed, he
drew back and contemplated his work. Orsino seemed lost in thought.

"What are you thinking about?" asked the painter.

"Do you think I am too old to become an artist?" enquired the young man.

"You? Who knows? But the times are too old. It is the same thing."

"I do not understand."

"You are in love with the life--not with the profession. But the life is
not the same now, nor the art either. Bah! In a few years I shall be out
of fashion. I know it. Then we will go back to first principles. A
garret to live in, bread and salad for dinner. Of course--what do you
expect? That need not prevent us from living in a palace as long as we
can."

Thereupon Anastase Gouache hummed a very lively little song as he
squeezed a few colours from the tubes. Orsino's face betrayed his
discontentment.

"I was not in earnest," he said. "At least, not as to becoming an
artist. I only asked the question to be sure that you would answer it
just as everybody answers all questions of the kind--by discouraging my
wish do anything for myself."

"Why should you do anything? You are so rich!"

"What everybody says! Do you know what we rich men, or we men who are to
be rich, are expected to be? Farmers. It is not gay."

"It would be my dream--pastoral, you know--Normandy cows, a river with
reeds, perpetual Angelus, bread and milk for supper. I adore milk. A
nymph here and there--at your age, it is permitted. My dear friend, why
not be a farmer?"

Orsino laughed a little, in spite of himself.

"I suppose that is an artist's idea of farming."

"As near the truth as a farmer's idea of art, I daresay," retorted
Gouache.

"We see you paint, but you never see us at work. That is the
difference--but that is not the question. Whatever I propose, I get the
same answer. I imagine you will permit me to dislike farming as a
profession."

"For the sake of argument, only," said Gouache gravely.

"Good. For the sake of argument. We will suppose that I am myself in all
respects what I am, excepting that I am never to have any land, and only
enough money to buy cigarettes. I say, 'Let me take a profession. Let me
be a soldier.' Every one rises up and protests against the idea of a
Saracinesca serving in the Italian army. Why? Remember that your father
was a volunteer officer under Pope Pius Ninth.' It is comic. He spent an
afternoon on the Pincio for his convictions, and then retired into
private life. 'Let me serve in a foreign army--France, Austria, Russia,
I do not care.' They are more horrified than ever. 'You have not a spark
of patriotism! To serve a foreign power! How dreadful! And as for the
Russians, they are all heretics.' Perhaps they are. I will try
diplomacy. 'What? Sacrifice your convictions? Become the blind
instrument of a scheming, dishonest ministry? It is unworthy of a
Saracinesca!' I will think no more about it. Let me be a lawyer and
enter public life. 'A lawyer indeed! Will you wrangle in public with
notaries' sons, defend murderers and burglars, and take fees like the
old men who write letters for the peasants under a, green umbrella in
the street? It would be almost better to turn musician and give
concerts.' 'The Church, perhaps?' I suggest. 'The Church? Are you not
the heir, and will you not be the head of the family some day? You must
be mad.' 'Then give me a sum of money and let me try my luck with my
cousin San Giacinto.' 'Business? If you make money it is a degradation,
and with these new laws you cannot afford to lose it. Besides, you will
have enough of business when you have to manage your estates.' So all my
questions are answered, and I am condemned at twenty to be a farmer for
my natural life. I say so. 'A farmer, forsooth! Have you not the world
before you? Have you not received the most liberal education? Are you
not rich? How can you take such a narrow view! Come out to the Villa and
look at those young thoroughbreds, and afterwards we will drop in at the
club before dinner. Then there is that reception at the old Principessa
Befana's to-night, and the Duchessa della Seecatura is also at home.'
That is my life, Monsieur Gouache. There you have the question, the
answer and the result. Admit that it is not gay."

"It is very serious, on the contrary," answered Gouache who had listened
to the detached Jeremiah with more curiosity and interest than he often
shewed.

"I see nothing for it, but for you to fall in love without losing a
single moment."

Orsino laughed a little harshly.

"I am in the humour, I assure you," he answered.

"Well, then--what are you waiting for?" enquired Gouache, looking at
him.

"What for? For an object for my affections, of course. That is rather
necessary under the circumstances."

"You may not wait long, if you will consent to stay here another quarter
of an hour," said Anastase with a laugh. "A lady is coming, whose
portrait I am painting--an interesting woman--tolerably
beautiful--rather mysterious--here she is, you can have a good look at
her, before you make up your mind."

Anastase took the half-finished portrait of Orsino from the easel and
put another in its place, considerably further advanced in execution.
Orsino lit a cigarette in order to quicken his judgment, and looked at
the canvas.

The picture was decidedly striking and one felt at once that it must be
a good likeness. Gouache was evidently proud of it. It represented a
woman, who was certainly not yet thirty years of age, in full dress,
seated in a high, carved chair against a warm, dark background. A mantle
of some sort of heavy, claret-coloured brocade, lined with fur, was
draped across one of the beautiful shoulders, leaving the other bare,
the scant dress of the period scarcely breaking the graceful lines from
the throat to the soft white hand, of which the pointed fingers hung
carelessly over the carved extremity of the arm of the chair. The lady's
hair was auburn, her eyes distinctly yellow. The face was an unusual one
and not without attraction, very pale, with a full red mouth too wide
for perfect beauty, but well modelled--almost too well, Gouache thought.
The nose was of no distinct type, and was the least significant feature
in the face, but the forehead was broad and massive, the chin soft,
prominent and round, the brows much arched and divided by a vertical
shadow which, in the original, might be the first indication of a tiny
wrinkle. Orsino fancied that one eye or the other wandered a very
little, but he could not tell which--the slight defect made the glance
disquieting and yet attractive. Altogether it was one of those faces
which to one man say too little, and to another too much.

Orsino affected to gaze upon the portrait with unconcern, but in reality
he was oddly fascinated by it, and Gouache did not fail to see the
truth.

"You had better go away, my friend," he said, with a smile. "She will be
here in a few minutes and you will certainly lose your heart if you see
her."

"What is her name?" asked Orsino, paying no attention to the remark.

"Donna Maria Consuelo--something or other--a string of names ending in
Aragona. I call her Madame d'Aragona for shortness, and she does not
seem to object."

"Married? And Spanish?"

"I suppose so," answered Gouache. "A widow I believe. She is not Italian
and not French, so she must be Spanish."

"The name does not say much. Many people put 'd'Aragona' after their
names--some cousins of ours, among others--they are Aranjuez
d'Aragona--my father's mother was of that family."

"I think that is the name--Aranjuez. Indeed I am sure of it, for
Faustina remarked that she might be related to you."

"It is odd. We have not heard of her being in Rome--and I am not sure
who she is. Has she been here long?"

"I have known her a month--since she first came to my studio. She lives
in a hotel, and she comes alone, except when I need the dress and then
she brings her maid, an odd creature who never speaks and seems to
understand no known language."

"It is an interesting face. Do you mind if I stay till she comes? We
may really be cousins, you know."

"By all means--you can ask her. The relationship would be with her
husband, I suppose."

"True. I had not thought of that; and he is dead, you say?"

Gouache did not answer, for at that moment the lady's footfall was heard
upon the marble floor, soft, quick and decided. She paused a moment in
the middle of the room when she saw that the artist was not alone. He
went forward to meet her and asked leave to present Orsino, with that
polite indistinctness which leaves to the persons introduced the task of
discovering one another's names.

Orsino looked into the lady's eyes and saw that the slight peculiarity
of the glance was real and not due to any error of Gouache's drawing. He
recognised each feature in turn in the one look he gave at the face
before he bowed, and he saw that the portrait was indeed very good. He
was not subject to shyness.

"We should be cousins, Madame," he said. "My father's mother was an
Aranjuez d'Aragona."

"Indeed?" said the lady with calm indifference, looking critically at
the picture of herself.

"I am Orsino Saracinesca," said the young man, watching her with some
admiration.

"Indeed?" she repeated, a shade less coldly. "I think I have heard my
poor husband say that he was connected with your family. What do you
think of my portrait? Every one has tried to paint me and failed, but my
friend Monsieur Gouache is succeeding. He has reproduced my hideous nose
and my dreadful mouth with a masterly exactness. No--my dear Monsieur
Gouache--it is a compliment I pay you. I am in earnest. I do not want a
portrait of the Venus of Milo with red hair, nor of the Minerva Medica
with yellow eyes, nor of an imaginary Medea in a fur cloak. I want
myself, just as I am. That is exactly what you are doing for me. Myself
and I have lived so long together that I desire a little memento of the
acquaintance."

"You can afford to speak lightly of what is so precious to others," said
Gouache, gallantly. Madame d'Aranjuez sank into the carved chair Orsino
had occupied.

"This dear Gouache--he is charming, is he not?" she said with a little
laugh. Orsino looked at her.

"Gouache is right," he thought, with the assurance of his years. "It
would be amusing to fall in love with her."



CHAPTER III.


Gouache was far more interested in his work than in the opinions which
his two visitors might entertain of each other. He looked at the lady
fixedly, moved his easel, raised the picture a few inches higher from
the ground and looked again. Orsino watched the proceedings from a
little distance, debating whether he should go away or remain. Much
depended upon Madame d'Aragona's character, he thought, and of this he
knew nothing. Some women are attracted by indifference, and to go away
would be to show a disinclination to press the acquaintance. Others, he
reflected, prefer the assurance of the man who always stays, even
without an invitation, rather than lose his chance. On the other hand a
sitting in a studio is not exactly like a meeting in a drawing-room. The
painter has a sort of traditional, exclusive right to his sitter's sole
attention. The sitter, too, if a woman, enjoys the privilege of
sacrificing one-half her good looks in a bad light, to favour the other
side which is presented to the artist's view, and the third person, if
there be one, has a provoking habit of so placing himself as to receive
the least flattering impression. Hence the great unpopularity of the
third person--or "the third inconvenience," as the Romans call him.

Orsino stood still for a few moments, wondering whether either of the
two would ask him to sit down. As they did not, he was annoyed with them
and determined to stay, if only for five minutes. He took up his
position, in a deep seat under the high window, and watched Madame
d'Aragona's profile. Neither she nor Gouache made any remark. Gouache
began to brush over the face of his picture. Orsino felt that the
silence was becoming awkward. He began to regret that he had remained,
for he discovered from his present position that the lady's nose was
indeed her defective feature.

"You do not mind my staying a few minutes?" he said, with a vague
interrogation.

"Ask Madame, rather," answered Gouache, brushing away in a lively
manner. Madame said nothing, and seemed not to have heard.

"Am I indiscreet?" asked Orsino.

"How? No. Why should you not remain? Only, if you please, sit where I
can see you. Thanks. I do not like to feel that some one is looking at
me and that I cannot look at him, if I please--and as for me, I am
nailed in my position. How can I turn my head? Gouache is very severe."

"You may have heard, Madame, that a beautiful woman is most beautiful in
repose," said Gouache.

Orsino was annoyed, for he had of course wished to make exactly the same
remark. But they were talking in French, and the Frenchman had the
advantage of speed.

"And how about an ugly woman?" asked Madame d'Aragona.

"Motion is most becoming to her--rapid motion--the door," answered the
artist.

Orsino had changed his position and was standing behind Gouache.

"I wish you would sit down," said the latter, after a short pause. "I
do not like to feel that any one is standing behind me when I am at
work. It is a weakness, but I cannot help it. Do you believe in mental
suggestion, Madame?"

"What is that?" asked Madame d'Aragona vaguely.

"I always imagine that a person standing behind me when I am at work is
making me see everything as he sees," answered Gouache, not attempting
to answer the question.

Orsino, driven from pillar to post, had again moved away.

"And do you believe in such absurd superstitions?" enquired Madame
d'Aragona with a contemptuous curl of her heavy lips. "Monsieur de
Saracinesca, will you not sit down? You make me a little nervous."

Gouache raised his finely marked eyebrows almost imperceptibly at the
odd form of address, which betrayed ignorance either of worldly usage or
else of Orsino's individuality. He stepped back from the canvas and
moved a chair forward.

"Sit here, Prince," he said. "Madame can see you, and you will not be
behind me."

Orsino took the proffered seat without any remark. Madame d'Aragona's
expression did not change, though she was perfectly well aware that
Gouache had intended to correct her manner of addressing the young man.
The latter was slightly annoyed. What difference could it make? It was
tactless of Gouache, he thought, for the lady might be angry.

"Are you spending the winter in Rome, Madame?" he asked. He was
conscious that the question lacked originality, but no other presented
itself to him.

"The winter?" repeated Madame d'Aragona dreamily. "Who knows? I am here
at present, at the mercy of the great painter. That is all I know. Shall
I be here next month, next week? I cannot tell. I know no one. I have
never been here before. It is dull. This was my object," she added,
after a short pause. "When it is accomplished I will consider other
matters. I may be obliged to accompany their Royal Highnesses to Egypt
in January. That is next month, is it not?"

It was so very far from clear who the royal highnesses in question might
be, that Orsino glanced at Gouache, to see whether he understood. But
Gouache was imperturbable.

"January, Madame, follows December," he answered. "The fact is confirmed
by the observations of many centuries. Even in my own experience it has
occurred forty-seven times in succession."

Orsino laughed a little, and as Madame d'Aragona's eyes met his, the red
lips smiled, without parting.

"He is always laughing at me," she said pleasantly.

Gouache was painting with great alacrity. The smile was becoming to her
and he caught it as it passed. It must be allowed that she permitted it
to linger, as though she understood his wish, but as she was looking at
Orsino, he was pleased.

"If you will permit me to say it, Madame," he observed, "I have never
seen eyes like yours."

He endeavoured to lose himself in their depths as he spoke. Madame
d'Aragona was not in the least annoyed by the remark, nor by the look.

"What is there so very unusual about my eyes?" she enquired. The smile
grew a little more faint and thoughtful but did not disappear.

"In the first place, I have never seen eyes of a golden-yellow colour."

"Tigers have yellow eyes," observed Madame d'Aragona.

"My acquaintance with that animal is at second hand--slight, to say the
least."

"You have never shot one?"

"Never, Madame. They do not abound in Rome--nor even, I believe, in
Albano. My father killed one when he was a young man."

"Prince Saracinesca?"

"Sant' Ilario. My grandfather is still alive."

"How splendid! I adore strong races."

"It is very interesting," observed Gouache, poking the stick of a brush
into the eye of his picture. "I have painted three generations of the
family, I who speak to you, and I hope to paint the fourth if Don Orsino
here can be cured of his cynicism and induced to marry Donna--what is
her name?" He turned to the young man.

"She has none--and she is likely to remain nameless," answered Orsino
gloomily.

"We will call her Donna Ignota," suggested Madame d'Aragona.

"And build altars to the unknown love," added Gouache.

Madame d'Aragona smiled faintly, but Orsino persisted in looking grave.

"It seems to be an unpleasant subject, Prince."

"Very unpleasant, Madame," answered Orsino shortly.

Thereupon Madame d'Aragona looked at Gouache and raised her brows a
little as though to ask a question, knowing perfectly well that Orsino
was watching her. The young man could not see the painter's eyes, and
the latter did not betray by any gesture that he was answering the
silent interrogation.

"Then I have eyes like a tiger, you say. You frighten me. How
disagreeable--to look like a wild beast!"

"It is a prejudice," returned Orsino. "One hears people say of a woman
that she is beautiful as a tigress."

"An idea!" exclaimed Gouache, interrupting. "Shall I change the damask
cloak to a tiger's skin? One claw just hanging over the white
shoulder--Omphale, you know--in a modern drawing-room--a small cast of
the Farnese Hercules upon a bracket, there, on the right. Decidedly,
here is an idea. Do you permit, Madame!"

"Anything you like--only do not spoil the likeness," answered Madame
d'Aragona, leaning back in her chair, and looking sleepily at Orsino
from beneath her heavy, half-closed lids.

"You will spoil the whole picture," said Orsino, rather anxiously.

Gouache laughed.

"What harm if I do? I can restore it in five minutes--"

"Five minutes!"

"An hour, if you insist upon accuracy of statement," replied Gouache
with a shade of annoyance.

He had an idea, and like most people whom fate occasionally favours with
that rare commodity he did not like to be disturbed in the realisation
of it. He was already squeezing out quantities of tawny colours upon his
palette.

"I am a passive instrument," said Madame d'Aragona. "He does what he
pleases. These men of genius--what would you have? Yesterday a gown from
Worth--to-day a tiger's skin--indeed, I tremble for to-morrow."

She laughed a little and turned her head away.

"You need not fear," answered Gouache, daubing in his new idea with an
enormous brush. "Fashions change. Woman endures. Beauty is eternal.
There is nothing which may not be made becoming to a beautiful woman."

"My dear Gouache, you are insufferable. You are always telling me that I
am beautiful. Look at my nose."

"Yes. I am looking at it."

"And my mouth."

"I look. I see. I admire. Have you any other personal observations to
make? How many claws has a tiger, Don Orsino? Quick! I am painting the
thing."

"One less than a woman."

Madame d'Aragona looked at the young man a moment, and broke into a
laugh.

"There is a charming speech. I like that better than Gouache's
flattery."

"And yet you admit that the portrait is like you," said Gouache.

"Perhaps I flatter you, too."

"Ah! I had not thought of that."

"You should be more modest."

"I lose myself--"

"Where?"

"In your eyes, Madame. One, two, three, four--are you sure a tiger has
only four claws? Where is the creature's thumb--what do you call it? It
looks awkward."

"The dew-claw?" asked Orsino. "It is higher up, behind the paw. You
would hardly see it in the skin."

"But a cat has five claws," said Madame d'Aragona. "Is not a tiger a
cat? We must have the thing right, you know, if it is to be done at
all."

"Has a cat five claws?" asked Anastase, appealing anxiously to Orsino.

"Of course, but you would only see four on the skin."

"I insist upon knowing," said Madame d'Aragona. "This is dreadful! Has
no one got a tiger? What sort of studio is this--with no tiger!"

"I am not Sarah Bernhardt, nor the emperor of Siam," observed Gouache,
with a laugh.

But Madame d'Aragona was not satisfied.

"I am sure you could procure me one, Prince," she said, turning to
Orsino. "I am sure you could, if you would! I shall cry if I do not have
one, and it will be your fault."

"Would you like the animal alive or dead?" inquired Orsino gravely, and
he rose from his seat.

"Ah, I knew you could procure the thing!" she exclaimed with grateful
enthusiasm. "Alive or dead, Gouache? Quick--decide!"

"As you please, Madame. If you decide to have him alive, I will ask
permission to exchange a few words with my wife and children, while some
one goes for a priest."

"You are sublime, to-day. Dead, then, if you please, Prince. Quite
dead--but do not say that I was afraid--"

"Afraid? With, a Saracinesca and a Gouache to defend your life, Madame?
You are not serious."

Orsino took his hat.

"I shall be back in a quarter of an hour," he said, as he bowed and went
out.

Madame d'Aragona watched his tall young figure till he disappeared.

"He does not lack spirit, your young friend," she observed.

"No member of that family ever did, I think," Gouache answered. "They
are a remarkable race."

"And he is the only son?"

"Oh no! He has three younger brothers."

"Poor fellow! I suppose the fortune is not very large."

"I have no means of knowing," replied Gouache indifferently. "Their
palace is historic. Their equipages are magnificent. That is all that
foreigners see of Roman families."

"But you know them intimately?"

"Intimately--that is saying too much. I have painted their portraits."

Madame d'Aragona wondered why he was so reticent, for she knew that he
had himself married the daughter of a Roman prince, and she concluded
that he must know much of the Romans.

"Do you think he will bring the tiger?" she asked presently.

"He is quite capable of bringing a whole menagerie of tigers for you to
choose from."

"How interesting. I like men who stop at nothing. It was really
unpardonable of you to suggest the idea and then to tell me calmly that
you had no model for it."

In the meantime Orsino had descended the stairs and was hailing a
passing cab. He debated for a moment what he should do. It chanced that
at that time there was actually a collection of wild beasts to be seen
in the Prati di Castello, and Orsino supposed that the owner might be
induced, for a large consideration, to part with one of his tigers. He
even imagined that he might shoot the beast and bring it back in the
cab. But, in the first place, he was not provided with an adequate sum
of money nor did he know exactly how to lay his hand on so large a sum
as might be necessary, at a moment's notice. He was still under age, and
his allowance had not been calculated with a view to his buying
menageries. Moreover he considered that even if his pockets had been
full of bank notes, the idea was ridiculous, and he was rather ashamed
of his youthful impulse. It occurred to him that what was necessary for
the picture was not the carcase of the tiger but the skin, and he
remembered that such a skin lay on the floor in his father's private
room--the spoil of the animal Giovanni Saracinesca had shot in his
youth. It had been well cared for and was a fine specimen.

"Palazzo Saracinesca," he said to the cabman.

Now it chanced, as such things will chance in the inscrutable ways of
fate, that Sant' Ilario was just then in that very room and busy with
his correspondence. Orsino had hoped to carry off what he wanted,
without being questioned, in order to save time, but he now found
himself obliged to explain his errand.

Sant' Ilario looked, up in some surprise as his son entered.

"Well, Orsino? Is anything the matter?" he asked.

"Nothing serious, father. I want to borrow your tiger's skin for
Gouache. Will you lend it to me?"

"Of course. But what in the world does Gouache want of it? Is he
painting you in skins--the primeval youth of the forest?"

"No--not exactly. The fact is, there is a lady there. Gouache talks of
painting her as a modern Omphale, with a tiger's skin and a cast of
Hercules in the background--"

"Hercules wore a lion's skin--not a tiger's. He killed the Nemean lion."

"Did he?" inquired Orsino indifferently. "It is all the same--they do
not know it, and they want a tiger. When I left they were debating
whether they wanted it alive or dead. I thought of buying one at the
Prati di Castello, but it seemed cheaper to borrow the skin of you. May
I take it?"

Sant' Ilario laughed. Orsino rolled up the great hide and carried it to
the door.

"Who is the lady, my boy?"

"I never saw her before--a certain Donna Maria d'Aranjuez d'Aragona. I
fancy she must be a kind of cousin. Do you know anything about her?"

"I never heard of such a person. Is that her own name?"

"No--she seems to be somebody's widow."

"That is definite. What is she like?"

"Passably handsome--yellow eyes, reddish hair, one eye wanders."

"What an awful picture! Do not fall in love with her, Orsino."

"No fear of that--but she is amusing, and she wants the tiger."

"You seem to be in a hurry," observed Sant' Ilario, considerably amused.

"Naturally. They are waiting for me."

"Well, go as fast as you can--never keep a woman waiting. By the way,
bring the skin back. I would rather you bought twenty live tigers at the
Prati than lose that old thing."

Orsino promised and was soon in his cab on the way to Gouache's studio,
having the skin rolled up on his knees, the head hanging out on one side
and the tail on the other, to the infinite interest of the people in the
street. He was just congratulating himself on having wasted so little
time in conversation with his father, when the figure of a tall woman
walking towards him on the pavement, arrested his attention. His cab
must pass close by her, and there was no mistaking his mother at a
hundred yards' distance. She saw him too and made a sign with her
parasol for him to stop.

"Good-morning, Orsino," said the sweet deep voice.

"Good-morning, mother," he answered, as he descended hat in hand, and
kissed the gloved fingers she extended to him.

He could not help thinking, as he looked at her, that she was infinitely
more beautiful even now than Madame d'Aragona. As for Corona, it seemed
to her that there was no man on earth to compare with her eldest son,
except Giovanni himself, and there all comparison ceased. Their eyes met
affectionately and it would have been, hard to say which was the more
proud of the other, the son of his mother, or the mother of her son.
Nevertheless Orsino was in a hurry. Anticipating all questions he told
her in as few words as possible the nature of his errand, the object of
the tiger's skin, and the name of the lady who was sitting to Gouache.

"It is strange," said Corona. "I have never heard your father speak of
her."

"He has never heard of her either. He just told me so."

"I have almost enough curiosity to get into your cab and go with you."

"Do, mother." There was not much enthusiasm in the answer.

Corona looked at him, smiled, and shook her head.

"Foolish boy! Did you think I was in earnest? I should only spoil your
amusement in the studio, and the lady would see that I had come to
inspect her. Two good reasons--but the first is the better, dear. Go--do
not keep them waiting."

"Will you not take my cab? I can get another."

"No. I am in no hurry. Good-bye."

And nodding to him with an affectionate smile, Corona passed on, leaving
Orsino free at last to carry the skin to its destination.

When he entered the studio he found Madame d'Aragona absorbed in the
contemplation of a piece of old tapestry which hung opposite to her,
while Gouache was drawing in a tiny Hercules, high up in the right hand
corner of the picture, as he had proposed. The conversation seemed to
have languished, and Orsino was immediately conscious that the
atmosphere had changed since he had left. He unrolled the skin as he
entered, and Madame d'Aragona looked at it critically. She saw that the
tawny colours would become her in the portrait and her expression grew
more animated.

"It is really very good of you," she said, with a grateful glance.

"I have a disappointment in store for you," answered Orsino. "My father
says that Hercules wore a lion's skin. He is quite right, I remember all
about it."

"Of course," said Gouache. "How could we make such a mistake!"

He dropped the bit of chalk he held and looked at Madame d'Aragona.

"What difference does it make?" asked the latter. "A lion--a tiger! I am
sure they are very much alike."

"After all, it is a tiresome idea," said the painter. "You will be much
better in the damask cloak. Besides, with the lion's skin you should
have the club--imagine a club in your hands! And Hercules should be
spinning at your feet--a man in a black coat and a high collar, with a
distaff! It is an absurd idea."

"You should not call my ideas absurd and tiresome. It is not civil."

"I thought it had been mine," observed Gouache.

"Not at all. I thought of it--it was quite original."

Gouache laughed a little and looked at Orsino as though asking his
opinion.

"Madame is right," said the latter. "She suggested the whole idea--by
having yellow eyes."

"You see, Gouache. I told you so. The Prince takes my view. What will
you do?"

"Whatever you command--"

"But I do not want to be ridiculous--"

"I do not see--"

"And yet I must have the tiger."

"I am ready."

"Doubtless--but you must think of another subject, with a tiger in it."

"Nothing easier. Noble Roman damsel--Colosseum--tiger about to
spring--rose--"

"Just heaven! What an old story! Besides, I have not the type."

"The 'Mysteries of Dionysus,'" suggested Gouache. "Thyrsus, leopard's
skin--"

"A Bacchante! Fie, Monsieur--and then, the leopard, when we only have a
tiger."

"Indian princess interviewed by a man-eater--jungle--new moon--tropical
vegetation--"

"You can think of nothing but subjects for a dark type," said Madame
d'Aragona impatiently.

"The fact is, in countries where the tiger walks abroad, the women are
generally brunettes."

"I hate facts. You who are enthusiastic, can you not help us?" She
turned to Orsino.

"Am I enthusiastic?"

"Yes, I am sure of it. Think of something."

Orsino was not pleased. He would have preferred to be thought cold and
impassive.

"What can I say? The first idea was the best. Get a lion instead of a
tiger--nothing is simpler."

"For my part I prefer the damask cloak and the original picture," said
Gouache with decision. "All this mythology is too complicated--too
Pompeian--how shall I say? Besides there is no distinct allusion. A
Hercules on a bracket--anybody may have that. If you were the Marchessa
di San Giacinto, for instance--oh, then everyone would laugh."

"Why? What is that?"

"She married my cousin," said Orsino. "He is an enormous giant, and they
say that she has tamed him."

"Ah no! That would not do. Something else, please."

Orsino involuntarily thought of a sphynx as he looked at the massive
brow, the yellow, sleepy eyes, and the heavy mouth. He wondered how the
late Aranjuez had lived and what death he had died.

He offered the suggestion.

"It would be appropriate," replied Madame d'Aragona. "The Sphynx in the
Desert. Rome is a desert to me."

"It only depends on you--" Orsino began.

"Oh, of course! To make acquaintances, to show myself a little
everywhere--it is simple enough. But it wearies me--until one is caught
up in the machinery, a toothed wheel going round with the rest, one only
bores oneself, and I may leave so soon. Decidedly it is not worth the
trouble. Is it?"

She turned her eyes to Orsino as though asking his advice. Orsino
laughed.

"How can you ask that question!" he exclaimed. "Only let the trouble be
ours."

"Ah! I said you were enthusiastic." She shook her head, and rose from
her seat. "It is time for me to go. We have done nothing this morning,
and it is all your fault, Prince."

"I am distressed--I will not intrude upon your next sitting."

"Oh--as far as that is concerned--" She did not finish the sentence, but
took up the neglected tiger's skin from the chair on which it lay.

She threw it over her shoulders, bringing the grinning head over her
hair and holding the forepaws in her pointed white fingers. She came
very near to Gouache and looked into his eyes, her closed lips smiling.

"Admirable!" exclaimed Gouache. "It is impossible to tell where the
woman ends and the tiger begins. Let me draw you like that."

"Oh no! Not for anything in the world."

She turned away quickly and dropped the skin from her shoulders.

"You will not stay a little longer? You will not let me try?" Gouache
seemed disappointed.

"Impossible," she answered, putting on her hat and beginning to arrange
her veil before a mirror.

Orsino watched her as she stood, her arms uplifted, in an attitude which
is almost always graceful, even for an otherwise ungraceful woman.
Madame d'Aragona was perhaps a little too short, but she was justly
proportioned and appeared to be rather slight, though the tight-fitting
sleeves of her frock betrayed a remarkably well turned arm. Not seeing
her face, one might not have singled her out of many as a very striking
woman, for she had neither the stateliness of Orsino's mother, nor the
enchanting grace which distinguished Gouache's wife. But no one could
look into her eyes without feeling that she was very far from being an
ordinary woman.

"Quite impossible," she repeated, as she tucked in the ends of her veil
and then turned upon the two men. "The next sitting? Whenever you
like--to-morrow--the day after--name the time."

"When to-morrow is possible, there is no choice," said Gouache, "unless
you will come again to-day."

"To-morrow, then, good-bye." She held out her hand.

"There are sketches on each of my fingers, Madame--principally, of
tigers."

"Good-bye then--consider your hand shaken. Are you going, Prince?"

Orsino had taken his hat and was standing beside her.

"You will allow me to put you into your carriage."

"I shall walk."

"So much the better. Good-bye, Monsieur Gouache."

"Why say, Monsieur?"

"As you like--you are older than I."

"I? Who has told you that legend? It is only a myth. When you are sixty
years old, I shall still be five-and-twenty."

"And I?" enquired Madame d'Aragona, who was still young enough to laugh
at age.

"As old as you were yesterday, not a day older."

"Why not say to-day?"

"Because to-day has a to-morrow--yesterday has none."

"You are delicious, my dear Gouache. Good-bye."

Madame d'Aragona went out with Orsino, and they descended the broad
staircase together. Orsino was not sure whether he might not be showing
too much anxiety to remain in the company of his new acquaintance, and
as he realised how unpleasant it would be to sacrifice the walk with
her, he endeavoured to excuse to himself his derogation from his
self-imposed character of cool superiority and indifference. She was
very amusing, he said to himself, and he had nothing in the world to do.
He never had anything to do, since his education had been completed. Why
should he not walk with Madame d'Aragona and talk to her? It would be
better than hanging about the club or reading a novel at home. The
hounds did not meet on that day, or he would not have been at Gouache's
at all. But they were to meet to-morrow, and he would therefore not see
Madame d'Aragona.

"Gouache is an old friend of yours, I suppose," observed the lady.

"He was a friend of my father's. He is almost a Roman. He married a
distant connection of mine, Donna Faustina Montevarchi."

"Ah yes--I have heard. He is a man of immense genius."

"He is a man I envy with all my heart," said Orsino.

"You envy Gouache? I should not have thought--"

"No? Ah, Madame, to me a man who has a career, a profession, an
interest, is a god."

"I like that," answered Madame d'Aragona. "But it seems to me you have
your choice. You have the world before you. Write your name upon it. You
do not lack enthusiasm. Is it the inspiration that you need?"

"Perhaps," said Orsino glancing meaningly at her as she looked at him.

"That is not new," thought she, "but he is charming, all the same. They
say," she added aloud, "that genius finds inspiration everywhere."

"Alas, I am not a genius. What I ask is an occupation, and permanent
interest. The thing is impossible, but I am not resigned."

"Before thirty everything is possible," said Madame d'Aragona. She knew
that the mere mention of so mature an age would be flattering to such a
boy.

"The objections are insurmountable," replied Orsino.

"What objections? Remember that I do not know Rome, nor the Romans."

"We are petrified in traditions. Spicca said the other day that there
was but one hope for us. The Americans may yet discover Italy, as we
once discovered America."

Madame d'Aragona smiled.

"Who is Spicca?" she enquired, with a lazy glance at her companion's
face.

"Spicca? Surely you have heard of him. He used to be a famous duellist.
He is our great wit. My father likes him very much--he is an odd
character."

"There will be all the more credit in succeeding, if you have to break
through a barrier of tradition and prejudice," said Madame d'Aragona,
reverting rather abruptly to the first subject.

"You do not know what that means." Orsino shook his head incredulously.
"You have never tried it."

"No. How could a woman be placed in such a position?"

"That is just it. You cannot understand me."

"That does not follow. Women often understand men--men they love or
detest--better than men themselves."

"Do you love me, Madame?" asked Orsino with a smile.

"I have just made your acquaintance," laughed Madame d'Aragona. "It is a
little too soon."

"But then, according to you, if you understand me, you detest me."

"Well? If I do?" She was still laughing.

"Then I ought to disappear, I suppose."

"You do not understand women. Anything is better than indifference.
When you see that you are disliked, then refuse to go away. It is the
very moment to remain. Do not submit to dislike. Revenge yourself."

"I will try," said Orsino, considerably amused.

"Upon me?"

"Since you advise it--"

"Have I said that I detest you?"

"More or less."

"It was only by way of illustration to my argument. I was not serious."

"You have not a serious character, I fancy," said Orsino.

"Do you dare to pass judgment on me after an hour's acquaintance?"

"Since you have judged me! You have said five times that I am
enthusiastic."

"That is an exaggeration. Besides, one cannot say a true thing too
often."

"How you run on, Madame!"

"And you--to tell me to my face that I am not serious! It is unheard of.
Is that the way you talk to your compatriots?"

"It would not be true. But they would contradict me, as you do. They
wish to be thought gay."

"Do they? I would like to know them."

"Nothing is easier. Will you allow me the honour of undertaking the
matter?"

They had reached the door of Madame d'Aragona's hotel. She stood still
and looked curiously at Orsino.

"Certainly not," she answered, rather coldly. "It would be asking too
much of you--too much of society, and far too much of me. Thanks.
Good-bye."

"May I come and see you?" asked Orsino.

He knew very well that he had gone too far, and his voice was correctly
contrite.

"I daresay we shall meet somewhere," she answered, entering the hotel.



CHAPTER IV.


The rage of speculation was at its height in Rome. Thousands, perhaps
hundreds of thousands of persons were embarked in enterprises which soon
afterwards ended in total ruin to themselves and in very serious injury
to many of the strongest financial bodies in the country. Yet it is a
fact worth recording that the general principle upon which affairs were
conducted was an honest one. The land was a fact, the buildings put up
were facts, and there was actually a certain amount of capital, of
genuine ready money, in use. The whole matter can be explained in a few
words.

The population of Rome had increased considerably since the Italian
occupation, and house-room was needed for the newcomers. Secondly, the
partial execution of the scheme for beautifying the city had destroyed
great numbers of dwellings in the most thickly populated parts, and more
house-room was needed to compensate the loss of habitations, while
extensive lots of land were suddenly set free and offered for sale upon
easy conditions in all parts of the town.

Those who availed themselves of these opportunities before the general
rush began, realised immense profits, especially when they had some
capital of their own to begin with. But capital was not indispensable. A
man could buy his lot on credit; the banks were ready to advance him
money on notes of hand, in small amounts at high interest, wherewith to
build his house or houses. When the building was finished the bank took
a first mortgage upon the property, the owner let the house, paid the
interest on the mortgage out of the rent and pocketed the difference, as
clear gain. In the majority of eases it was the bank itself which sold
the lot of land to the speculator. It is clear therefore that the only
money which actually changed hands was that advanced in small sums by
the bank itself.

As the speculation increased, the banks could not of course afford to
lock up all the small notes of hand they received from various quarters.
This paper became a circulating medium as far as Vienna, Paris and even
London. The crash came when Vienna, Paris and London lost faith in the
paper, owing, in the first instance, to one or two small failures, and
returned it upon Rome; the banks, unable to obtain cash for it at any
price, and being short of ready money, could then no longer discount the
speculator's further notes of hand; so that the speculator found himself
with half-built houses upon his hands which he could neither let, nor
finish, nor sell, and owing money upon bills which he had expected to
meet by giving the bank a mortgage on the now valueless property.

That is what took place in the majority of cases, and it is not
necessary to go into further details, though of course chance played all
the usual variations upon the theme of ruin.

What distinguishes the period of speculation in Rome from most other
manifestations of the kind in Europe is the prominent part played in it
by the old land-holding families, a number of which were ruined in wild
schemes which no sensible man of business would have touched. This was
more or less the result of recent changes in the laws regulating the
power of persons making a will.

Previous to 1870 the law of primogeniture was as much respected in Rome
as in England, and was carried out with considerably greater strictness.
The heir got everything, the other children got practically nothing but
the smallest pittance. The palace, the gallery of pictures and statues,
the lands, the villages and the castles, descended in unbroken
succession from eldest son to eldest son, indivisible in principle and
undivided in fact.

The new law requires that one half of the total property shall be
equally distributed by the testator amongst all his children. He may
leave the other half to any one he pleases, and as a matter of practice
he of course leaves it to his eldest son.

Another law, however, forbids the alienation of all collections of works
of art either wholly or in part, if they have existed as such for a
certain length of time, and if the public has been admitted daily or on
any fixed days, to visit them. It is not in the power of the Borghese,
or the Colonna, for instance, to sell a picture or a statue out of their
galleries, nor to raise money upon such an object by mortgage or
otherwise.

Yet these works of art figure at a very high valuation, in the total
property of which the testator must divide one half amongst his
children, though in point of fact they yield no income whatever. But it
is of no use to divide them, since none of the heirs could be at liberty
to take them away nor realise their value in any manner.

The consequence is, that the principal heir, after the division has
taken place, finds himself the nominal master of certain enormously
valuable possessions, which in reality yield him nothing or next to
nothing. He also foresees that in the next generation the same state of
things will exist in a far higher degree, and that the position of the
head of the family will go from bad to worse until a crisis of some kind
takes place.

Such a case has recently occurred. A certain Roman prince is bankrupt.
The sale of his gallery would certainly relieve the pressure, and would
possibly free him from debt altogether. But neither he nor his creditors
can lay a finger upon the pictures, nor raise a centime upon them. This
man, therefore, is permanently reduced to penury, and his creditors are
large losers, while he is still _de jure_ and _de facto_ the owner of
property probably sufficient to cover all his obligations. Fortunately,
he chances to be childless, a fact consoling, perhaps, to the
philanthropist, but not especially so to the sufferer himself.

It is clear that the temptation to increase "distributable" property,
if one may coin such, an expression, is very great, and accounts for the
way in which many Roman gentlemen have rushed headlong into speculation,
though possessing none of the qualities necessary for success, and only
one of the requisites, namely, a certain amount of ready money, or free
and convertible property. A few have been fortunate, while the majority
of those who have tried the experiment have been heavy losers. It cannot
be said that any one of them all has shown natural talent for finance.

Let the reader forgive these dry explanations if he can. The facts
explained have a direct bearing upon the story I am telling, but shall
not, as mere facts, be referred to again.

I have already said that Ugo Del Ferice had returned to Rome soon after
the change, had established himself with his wife, Donna Tullia, and was
at the time I am speaking about, deeply engaged in the speculations of
the day. He had once been, tolerably popular in society, having been
looked upon as a harmless creature, useful in his way and very obliging.
But the circumstances which had attended his flight some years earlier
had become known, and most of his old acquaintances turned him the cold
shoulder. He had expected this and was neither disappointed nor
humiliated. He had made new friends and acquaintances during his exile,
and it was to his interest to stand by them. Like many of those who had
played petty and dishonourable parts in the revolutionary times, he had
succeeded in building up a reputation for patriotism upon a very slight
foundation, and had found persons willing to believe him a sufferer who
had escaped martyrdom for the cause, and had deserved the crown of
election to a constituency as a just reward of his devotion. The Romans
cared very little what became of him. The old Blacks confounded Victor
Emmanuel with Garibaldi, Cavour with Persiano, and Silvio Pellico with
Del Ferice in one sweeping condemnation, desiring nothing so much as
never to hear the hated names mentioned in their houses. The Grey
party, being also Roman, disapproved of Ugo on general principles and
particularly because he had been a spy, but the Whites, not being Romans
at all and entertaining an especial detestation for every distinctly
Roman opinion, received him at his own estimation, as society receives
most people who live in good houses, give good dinners and observe the
proprieties in the matter of visiting-cards. Those who knew anything
definite of the man's antecedents were mostly persons who had little
histories of their own, and they told no tales out of school. The great
personages who had once employed him would have been magnanimous enough
to acknowledge him in any case, but were agreeably disappointed when
they discovered that he was not amongst the common herd of pension
hunters, and claimed no substantial rewards save their politeness and a
line in the visiting lists of their wives. And as he grew in wealth and
importance they found that he could be useful still, as bank directors
and members of parliament can be, in a thousand ways. So it came to pass
that the Count and Countess Del Ferice became prominent persons in the
Roman world.

Ugo was a man of undoubted talent. By his own individual efforts, though
with small scruple as to the means he employed, he had raised himself
from obscurity to a very enviable position. He had only once in his life
been carried away by the weakness of a personal enmity, and he had been
made to pay heavily for his caprice. If Donna Tullia had abandoned him
when he was driven out of Rome by the influence of the Saracinesca, he
might have disappeared altogether from the scene. But she was an odd
compound of rashness and foresight, of belief and unbelief, and she had
at that time felt herself bound by an oath she dared not break, besides
being attached to him by a hatred of Giovanni Saracinesca almost as
great as his own. She had followed him and had married him without
hesitation; but she had kept the undivided possession of her fortune
while allowing him a liberal use of her income. In return, she claimed
a certain liberty of action when she chose to avail herself of it. She
would not be bound in the choice of her acquaintances nor criticised in
the measure of like or dislike she bestowed upon them. She was by no
means wholly bad, and if she had a harmless fancy now and then, she
required her husband to treat her as above suspicion. On the whole, the
arrangement worked very well. Del Ferice, on his part, was unswervingly
faithful to her in word and deed, for he exhibited in a high degree that
unfaltering constancy which is bred of a permanent, unalienable,
financial interest. Bad men are often clever, but if their cleverness is
of a superior order they rarely do anything bad. It is true that when
they yield to the pressure of necessity their wickedness surpasses that
of other men in the same degree as their intelligence. Not only honesty,
but all virtue collectively, is the best possible policy, provided that
the politician can handle such a tremendous engine of evil as goodness
is in the hands of a thoroughly bad man.

Those who desired pecuniary accommodation of the bank in which Del
Ferice had an interest, had no better friend than he. His power with the
directors seemed to be as boundless as his desire to assist the
borrower. But he was helpless to prevent the foreclosure of a mortgage,
and had been moved almost to tears in the expression of his sympathy
with the debtor and of his horror at the hard-heartedness shown by his
partners. To prove his disinterested spirit it only need be said that on
many occasions he had actually come forward as a private individual and
had taken over the mortgage himself, distinctly stating that he could
not hold it for more than a year, but expressing a hope that the debtor
might in that time retrieve himself. If this really happened, he earned
the man's eternal gratitude; if not, he foreclosed indeed, but the loser
never forgot that by Del Fence's kindness he had been offered a last
chance at a desperate moment. It could not be said to be Del Ferice's
fault that the second case was the more frequent one, nor that the
result to himself was profit in either event.

In his dealings with his constituency he showed a noble desire for the
public welfare, for he was never known to refuse anything in reason to
the electors who applied to him. It is true that in the case of certain
applications, he consumed so much time in preliminary enquiries and
subsequent formalities that the applicants sometimes died and sometimes
emigrated to the Argentine Republic before the matter could be settled;
but they bore with them to South America--or to the grave--the belief
that the Onorevole Del Ferice was on their side, and the instances of
his prompt, decisive and successful action were many. He represented a
small town in the Neapolitan Province, and the benefits and advantages
he had obtained for it were numberless. The provincial high road had
been made to pass through it; all express trains stopped at its station,
though the passengers who made use of the inestimable privilege did not
average twenty in the month; it possessed a Piazza Vittorio Emmanuela, a
Corso Garibaldi, a Via Cavour, a public garden of at least a quarter of
an acre, planted with no less than twenty-five acacias and adorned by a
fountain representing a desperate-looking character in the act of firing
a finely executed revolver at an imaginary oppressor. Pigs were not
allowed within the limits of the town, and the uniforms of the municipal
brass band were perfectly new. Could civilisation do more? The bank of
which Del Ferice was a director bought the octroi duties of the town at
the periodical auction, and farmed them skilfully, together with those
of many other towns in the same province.

So Del Ferice was a very successful man, and it need scarcely be said
that he was now not only independent of his wife's help but very much
richer than she had ever been. They lived in a highly decorated,
detached modern house in the new part of the city. The gilded gate
before the little plot of garden, bore their intertwined initials,
surmounted by a modest count's coronet. Donna Tullia would have
preferred a coat of arms, or even a crest, but Ugo was sensitive to
ridicule, and he was aware that a count's coronet in Rome means nothing
at all, whereas a coat of arms means vastly more than in most cities.

Within, the dwelling was somewhat unpleasantly gorgeous. Donna Tullia
had always loved red, both for itself and because it made her own
complexion seem less florid by contrast, and accordingly red satin
predominated in the drawing-rooms, red velvet in the dining-room, red
damask in the hall and red carpets on the stairs. Some fine specimens of
gilding were also to be seen, and Del Ferice had been one of the first
to use electric light. Everything was new, expensive and polished to its
extreme capacity for reflection. The servants wore vivid liveries and on
formal occasions the butler appeared in short-clothes and black silk
stockings. Donna Tullia's equipage was visible at a great distance, but
Del Fence's own coachman and groom wore dark green with, black
epaulettes.

On the morning which Orsino and Madame d'Aragona had spent in Gouache's
studio the Countess Del Ferice entered her husband's study in order to
consult him upon a rather delicate matter. He was alone, but busy as
usual. His attention was divided between an important bank operation and
a petition for his help in obtaining a decoration for the mayor of the
town he represented. The claim to this distinction seemed to rest
chiefly on the petitioner's unasked evidence in regard to his own moral
rectitude, yet Del Ferice was really exercising all his ingenuity to
discover some suitable reason for asking the favour. He laid the papers
down with a sigh as Donna Tullia came in.

"Good morning, my angel," he said suavely, as he pointed to a chair at
his side--the one usually occupied at this hour by seekers for financial
support. "Have you rested well?"

He never failed to ask the question.

"Not badly, not badly, thank Heaven!" answered Donna Tullia. "I have a
dreadful cold, of course, and a headache--my head is really splitting."

"Rest--rest is what you need, my dear--"

"Oh, it is nothing. This Durakoff is a great man. If he had not made me
go to Carlsbad--I really do not know. But I have something to say to
you. I want your help, Ugo. Please listen to me."

Ugo's fat white face already expressed anxious attention. To accentuate
the expression of his readiness to listen, he now put all his papers
into a drawer and turned towards his wife.

"I must go to the Jubilee," said Donna Tullia, coming to the point.

"Of course you must go--"

"And I must have my seat among the Roman ladies"

"Of course you must," repeated Del Ferice with a little less alacrity.

"Ah! You see. It is not so easy. You know it is not. Yet I have as good
a right to my seat as any one--better perhaps."

"Hardly that," observed Ugo with a smile. "When you married me, my
angel, you relinquished your claims to a seat at the Vatican functions."

"I did nothing of the kind. I never said so, I am sure."

"Perhaps if you could make that clear to the majorduomo--"

"Absurd, Ugo. You know it is. Besides, I will not beg. You must get me
the seat. You can do anything with your influence."

"You could easily get into one of the diplomatic tribunes," observed
Ugo.

"I will not go there. I mean to assert myself. I am a Roman lady and I
will have my seat, and you must get it for me."

"I will do my best. But I do not quite see where I am to begin. It will
need time and consideration and much tact."

"It seems to me very simple. Go to one of the clerical deputies and say
that you want the ticket for your wife--"

"And then?"

"Give him to understand that you will vote for his next measure. Nothing
could be simpler, I am sure."

Del Ferice smiled blandly at his wife's ideas of parliamentary
diplomacy.

"There are no clerical deputies in the parliament of the nation. If
there were the thing might be possible, and it would be very interesting
to all the clericals to read an account of the transaction in the
Osservatore Romano. In any case, I am not sure that it will be much to
our advantage that the wife of the Onorevole Del Ferice should be seen
seated in the midst of the Black ladies. It will produce an unfavourable
impression."

"If you are going to talk of impressions--" Donna Tullia shrugged her
massive shoulders.

"No, my dear. You mistake me. I am not going to talk of them, because,
as I at once told you, it is quite right that you should go to this
affair. If you go, you must go in the proper way. No doubt there will be
people who will have invitations but will not use them. We can perhaps
procure you the use of such a ticket."

"I do not care what name is on the paper, provided I can sit in the
right place."

"Very well," answered Del Ferice. "I will do my best."

"I expect it of you, Ugo. It is not often that I ask anything of you, is
it? It is the least you can do. The idea of getting a card that is not
to be used is good; of course they will all get them, and some of them
are sure to be ill."

Donna Tullia went away satisfied that what she wanted would be
forthcoming at the right moment. What she had said was true. She rarely
asked anything of her husband. But when she did, she gave him to
understand that she would have it at any price. It was her way of
asserting herself from time to time. On the present occasion she had no
especial interest at stake and any other woman might have been satisfied
with a seat in the diplomatic tribune, which could probably have been
obtained without great difficulty. But she had heard that the seats
there were to be very high and she did not really wish to be placed in
too prominent a position. The light might be unfavourable, and she knew
that she was subject to growing very red in places where it was hot. She
had once been a handsome woman and a very vain one, but even her vanity
could not survive the daily shock of the looking-glass torture. To sit
for four or five hours in a high light, facing fifty thousand people,
was more than she could bear with equanimity.

Del Ferice, being left to himself, returned to the question of the
mayor's decoration which was of vastly greater importance to him than
his wife's position at the approaching function. If he failed to get the
man what he wanted, the fellow would doubtless apply to some one of the
opposite party, would receive the coveted honour and would take the
whole voting population of the town with him at the next general
election, to the total discomfiture of Del Ferice. It was necessary to
find some valid reason for proposing him for the distinction. Ugo could
not decide what to do just then, but he ultimately hit upon a successful
plan. He advised his correspondent to write a pamphlet upon the rapid
improvement of agricultural interests in his district under the existing
ministry, and he even went so far as to enclose with his letter some
notes on the subject. These notes proved to be so voluminous and
complete that when the mayor had copied them he could not find a pretext
for adding a single word or correction. They were printed upon excellent
paper, with ornamental margins, under the title of "Onward,
Parthenope!" Of course every one knows that Parthenope means Naples, the
Neapolitans and the Neapolitan Province, a siren of that name having
come to final grief somewhere between the Chiatamone and Posilippo. The
mayor got his decoration, and Del Ferice was re-elected; but no one has
inquired into the truth of the statements made in the pamphlet upon
agriculture.

It is clear that a man who was capable of taking so much trouble for so
small a matter would not disappoint his wife when she had set her heart
upon such a trifle as a ticket for the Jubilee. Within three days he had
the promise of what he wanted. A certain lonely lady of high position
lay very ill just then, and it need scarcely be explained that her
confidential servant fell upon the invitation as soon as it arrived and
sold it for a round sum to the first applicant, who happened to be Count
Del Ferice's valet. So the matter was arranged, privately and without
scandal.

All Rome was alive with expectation. The date fixed was the first of
January, and as the day approached the curious foreigner mustered in his
thousands and tens of thousands and took the city by storm. The hotels
were thronged. The billiard tables were let as furnished rooms, people
slept in the lifts, on the landings, in the porters' lodges. The thrifty
Romans retreated to roofs and cellars and let their small dwellings.
People reaching the city on the last night slept in the cabs they had
hired to take them to St. Peter's before dawn. Even the supplies of food
ran low and the hungry fed on what they could get, while the delicate of
taste very often did not feed at all. There was of course the usual
scare about a revolutionary demonstration, to which the natives paid
very little attention, but which delighted the foreigners.

Not more than half of those who hoped to witness the ceremony saw
anything of it, though the basilica will hold some eighty thousand
people at a pinch, and the crowd on that occasion was far greater than
at the opening of the Oecumenical Council in 1869.

Madame d'Aragona had also determined to be present, and she expressed
her desire to Gouache. She had spoken the strict truth when she had said
that she knew no one in Rome, and so far as general accuracy is
concerned it was equally true that she had not fixed the length of her
stay. She had not come with any settled purpose beyond a vague idea of
having her portrait painted by the French artist, and unless she took
the trouble to make acquaintances, there was nothing attractive enough
about the capital to keep her. She allowed herself to be driven about
the town, on pretence of seeing churches and galleries, but in reality
she saw very little of either. She was preoccupied with her own thoughts
and subject to fits of abstraction. Most things seemed to her intensely
dull, and the unhappy guide who had been selected to accompany her on
her excursions, wasted his learning upon her on the first morning, and
subsequently exhausted the magnificent catalogue of impossibilities
which he had concocted for the especial benefit of the uncultivated
foreigner, without eliciting so much as a look of interest or an
expression of surprise. He was a young and fascinating guide, wearing a
white satin tie, and on the third day he recited some verses of
Stecchetti and was about to risk a declaration of worship in ornate
prose, when he was suddenly rather badly scared by the lady's yellow
eyes, and ran on nervously with a string of deceased popes and their
dates.

"Get me a card for the Jubilee," she said abruptly.

"An entrance is very easily procured," answered the guide. "In fact I
have one in my pocket, as it happens. I bought it for twenty francs this
morning, thinking that one of my foreigners would perhaps take it of me.
I do not even gain a franc--my word of honour."

Madame d'Aragona glanced at the slip of paper.

"Not that," she answered. "Do you imagine that I will stand? I want a
seat in one of the tribunes."

The guide lost himself in apologies, but explained that he could not
get what she desired.

"What are you for?" she inquired.

She was an indolent woman, but when by any chance she wanted anything,
Donna Tullia herself was not more restless. She drove at once to
Gouache's studio. He was alone and she told him what she needed.

"The Jubilee, Madame? Is it possible that you have been forgotten?"

"Since they have never heard of me! I have not the slightest claim to a
place."

"It is you who say that. But your place is already secured. Fear
nothing. You will be with the Roman ladies."

"I do not understand--"

"It is simple. I was thinking of it yesterday. Young Saracinesca comes
in and begins to talk about you. There is Madame d'Aragona who has no
seat, he says. One must arrange that. So it is arranged."

"By Don Orsino?"

"You would not accept? No. A young man, and you have only met once. But
tell me what you think of him. Do you like him?"

"One does not like people so easily as that," said Madame d'Aragona,
"How have you arranged about the seat?"

"It is very simple. There are to be two days, you know. My wife has her
cards for both, of course. She will only go once. If you will accept the
one for the first day, she will be very happy."

"You are angelic, my dear friend! Then I go as your wife?" She laughed.

"Precisely. You will be Faustina Gouache instead of Madame d'Aragona."

"How delightful! By the bye, do not call me Madame d'Aragona. It is not
my name. I might as well call you Monsieur de Paris, because you are a
Parisian."

"I do not put Anastase Gouache de Paris on my cards," answered Gouache
with a laugh. "What may I call you? Donna Maria?"

"My name is Maria Consuelo d'Aranjuez."

"An ancient Spanish name," said Gouache.

"My husband was an Italian."

"Ah! Of Spanish descent, originally of Aragona. Of course."

"Exactly. Since I am here, shall I sit for you? You might almost finish
to-day."

"Not so soon as that. It is Don Orsino's hour, but as he has not come,
and since you are so kind--by all means."

"Ah! Is he punctual?"

"He is probably running after those abominable dogs in pursuit of the
feeble fox--what they call the noble sport."

Gouache's face expressed considerable disgust."

"Poor fellow!" said Maria Consuelo. "He has nothing else to do."

"He will get used to it. They all do. Besides, it is really the natural
condition of man. Total idleness is his element. If Providence meant man
to work, it should have given him two heads, one for his profession and
one for himself. A man needs one entire and undivided intelligence for
the study of his own individuality."

"What an idea!"

"Do not men of great genius notoriously forget themselves, forget to eat
and drink and dress themselves like Christians? That is because they
have not two heads. Providence expects a man to do two things at
once--an air from an opera and invent the steam-engine at the same
moment. Nature rebels. Then Providence and Nature do not agree. What
becomes of religion? It is all a mystery. Believe me, Madame, art is
easier than, nature, and painting is simpler than theology."

Maria Consuelo listened to Gouache's extraordinary remarks with a smile.

"You are either paradoxical, or irreligious, or both," she said.

"Irreligious? I, who carried a rifle at Mentana? No, Madame, I am a good
Catholic."

"What does that mean?"

"I believe in God, and I love my wife. I leave it to the Church to
define my other articles of belief. I have only one head, as you see."

Gouache smiled, but there was a note of sincerity in the odd statement
which did not escape his hearer.

"You are not of the type which belongs to the end of the century," she
said.

"That type was not invented when I was forming myself."

"Perhaps you belong rather to the coming age--the age of
simplification."

"As distinguished from the age of mystification--religious, political,
scientific and artistic," suggested Gouache. "The people of that day
will guess the Sphynx's riddle."

"Mine? You were comparing me to a sphynx the other day."

"Yours, perhaps, Madame. Who knows? Are you the typical woman of the
ending century?"

"Why not?" asked Maria Consuelo with a sleepy look.



CHAPTER V.


There is something grand in any great assembly of animals belonging to
the same race. The very idea of an immense number of living creatures
conveys an impression not suggested by anything else. A compact herd of
fifty or sixty thousand lions would be an appalling vision, beside which
a like multitude of human beings would sink into insignificance. A drove
of wild cattle is, I think, a finer sight than a regiment of cavalry in
motion, for the cavalry is composite, half man and half horse, whereas
the cattle have the advantage of unity. But we can never see so many
animals of any species driven together into one limited space as to be
equal to a vast throng of men and women, and we conclude naturally
enough that a crowd consisting solely of our own kind is the most
imposing one conceivable.

It was scarcely light on the morning of New Year's Day when the Princess
Sant' Ilario found herself seated in one of the low tribunes on the
north side of the high altar in Saint Peter's. Her husband and her
eldest son had accompanied her, and having placed her in a position from
which they judged she could easily escape at the end of the ceremony,
they remained standing in the narrow, winding passage between improvised
barriers which led from the tribune to the door of the sacristy, and
which had been so arranged as to prevent confusion. Here they waited,
greeting their acquaintances when they could recognise them in the dim
twilight of the church, and watching the ever-increasing crowd that
surged slowly backward and forward outside the barrier. The old prince
was entitled by an hereditary office to a place in the great procession
of the day, and was not now with them.

Orsino felt as though the whole world were assembled about him within
the huge cathedral, as though its heart were beating audibly and its
muffled breathing rising and falling in his hearing. The unceasing sound
that went up from the compact mass of living beings was soft in quality,
but enormous in volume and sustained in tone, a great whispering which,
might have been heard a mile away. One hears in mammoth musical
festivals the extraordinary effect of four or five thousand voices
singing very softly; it is not to be compared to the unceasing whisper
of fifty thousand men.

The young fellow was conscious of a strange, irregular thrill of
enthusiasm which ran through him from time to time and startled his
imagination into life. It was only the instinct of a strong vitality
unconsciously longing to be the central point of the vitalities around
it. But he could not understand that. It seemed to him like a great
opportunity brought "within reach but slipping by untaken, not to return
again. He felt a strange, almost uncontrollable longing to spring upon
one of the tribunes, to raise his voice, to speak to the great
multitude, to fire all those men to break out and carry everything
before them. He laughed audibly at himself. Sant' Ilario looked at his
son with some curiosity.

"What amuses you?" he asked.

"A dream," answered Orsino, still smiling. "Who knows?" he exclaimed
after a pause. "What would happen, if at the right moment the right man
could stir such a crowd as this?"

"Strange things," replied Sant' Ilario gravely. "A crowd is a terrible
weapon."

"Then my dream was not so foolish after all. One might make history
to-day."

Sant' Ilario made a gesture expressive of indifference.

"What is history?" he asked. "A comedy in which the actors have no
written parts, but improvise their speeches and actions as best they
can. That is the reason why history is so dull and so full of mistakes."

"And of surprises," suggested Orsino.

"The surprises in history are always disagreeable, my boy," answered
Sant' Ilario.

Orsino felt the coldness in the answer and felt even more his father's
readiness to damp any expression of enthusiasm. Of late he had
encountered this chilling indifference at almost every turn, whenever he
gave vent to his admiration for any sort of activity.

It was not that Giovanni Saracinesca had any intention of repressing his
son's energetic instincts, and he assuredly had no idea of the effect
his words often produced. He sometimes wondered at the sudden silence
which came over the young man after such conversations, but he did not
understand it and on the whole paid little attention to it. He
remembered that he himself had been different, and had been wont to
argue hotly and not unfrequently to quarrel with his father about
trifles. He himself had been headstrong, passionate, often intractable
in his early youth, and his father had been no better at sixty and was
little improved in that respect even at his present great age. But
Orsino did not argue. He suggested, and if any one disagreed with him he
became silent. He seemed to possess energy in action, and a number of
rather fantastic aspirations, but in conversation he was easily silenced
and in outward manner he would have seemed too yielding if he had not
often seemed too cold.

Giovanni did not see that Orsino was most like his mother in character,
while the contact with a new generation had given him something
unfamiliar to the old, an affectation at first, but one which habit was
amalgamating with the real nature beneath.

No doubt, it was wise and right to discourage ideas which would tend in
any way to revolution. Giovanni had seen revolutions and had been the
loser by them. It was not wise and was certainly not necessary to throw
cold water on the young fellow's harmless aspirations. But Giovanni had
lived for many years in his own way, rich, respected and supremely
happy, and he believed that his way was good enough for Orsino. He had,
in his youth, tried most things for himself, and had found them failures
so far as happiness was concerned. Orsino might make the series of
experiments in his turn if he pleased, but there was no adequate reason
for such an expenditure of energy. The sooner the boy loved some girl
who would make him a good wife, and the sooner he married her, the
sooner he would find that calm, satisfactory existence which had not
finally come to Giovanni until after thirty years of age.

As for the question of fortune, it was true that there were four sons,
but there was Giovanni's mother's fortune, there was Corona's fortune,
and there was the great Saracinesca estate behind both. They were all so
extremely rich that the deluge must be very distant.

Orsino understood none of these things. He only realised that his father
had the faculty and apparently the intention of freezing any originality
he chanced to show, and he inwardly resented the coldness, quietly, if
foolishly, resolving to astonish those who misunderstood him by seizing
the first opportunity of doing something out of the common way. For some
time he stood in silence watching the people who came by and glancing
from time to time at the dense crowd outside the barrier. He was
suddenly aware that his father was observing intently a lady who
advanced along the open, way.

"There is Tullia Del Ferice!" exclaimed Sant' Ilario in surprise.

"I do not know her, except by sight," observed Orsino indifferently.

The countess was very imposing in her black veil and draperies. Her red
face seemed to lose its colour in the dim church and she affected a slow
and stately manner more becoming to her weight than was her natural
restless vivacity. She had got what she desired and she swept proudly
along to take her old place among the ladies of Rome. No one knew whose
card she had delivered up at the entrance to the sacristy, and she
enjoyed the triumph of showing that the wife of the revolutionary, the
banker, the member of parliament, had not lost caste after all.

She looked Giovanni full in the face with her disagreeable blue eyes as
she came up, apparently not meaning to recognise him. Then, just as she
passed him, she deigned to make a very slight inclination of the head,
just enough to compel Sant' Ilario to return the salutation. It was very
well done. Orsino did not know all the details of the past events, but
he knew that his father had once wounded Del Ferice in a duel and he
looked at Del Fence's wife with some curiosity. He had seldom had an
opportunity of being so near to her.

"It was certainly not about her that they fought," he reflected. "It
must have been about some other woman, if there was a woman in the
question at all."

A moment later he was aware that a pair of tawny eyes was fixed on him.
Maria Consuelo was following Donna Tullia at a distance of a dozen
yards. Orsino came forward and his new acquaintance held out her hand.
They had not met since they had first seen each other.

"It was so kind of you," she said.

"What, Madame?"

"To suggest this to Gouache. I should have had no ticket--where shall I
sit?"

Orsino did not understand, for though he had mentioned the subject,
Gouache had not told him what he meant to do. But there was no time to
be lost in conversation. Orsino led her to the nearest opening in the
tribune and pointed to a seat.

"I called," he said quickly. "You did not receive--"

"Come again, I will be at home," she answered in a low voice, as she
passed him.

She sat down in a vacant place beside Donna Tullia, and Orsino noticed
that his mother was just behind them both. Corona had been watching him
unconsciously, as she often did, and was somewhat surprised to see him
conducting a lady whom she did not know. A glance told her that the lady
was a foreigner; as such, if she were present at all, she should have
been in the diplomatic tribune. There was nothing to think of, and
Corona tried to solve the small social problem that presented itself.
Orsino strolled back to his father's side.

"Who is she?" inquired Sant' Ilario with some curiosity.

"The lady who wanted the tiger's skin--Aranjuez--I told you of her."

"The portrait you gave me was not flattering. She is handsome, if not
beautiful."

"Did I say she was not?" asked Orsino with a visible irritation most
unlike him.

"I thought so. You said she had yellow eyes, red hair and a squint."
Sant' Ilario laughed.

"Perhaps I did. But the effect seems to be harmonious."

"Decidedly so. You might have introduced me."

To this Orsino said nothing, but relapsed into a moody silence. He would
have liked nothing better than to bring about the acquaintance, but he
had only met Maria Consuelo once, though that interview had been a long
one, and he remembered her rather short answer to his offer of service
in the way of making acquaintances.

Maria Consuelo on her part was quite unconscious that she was sitting in
front of the Princess Sant' Ilario, but she had seen the lady by her
side bow to Orsino's companion in passing, and she guessed from a
certain resemblance that the dark, middle-aged man might be young
Saracinesca's father. Donna Tullia had seen Corona well enough, but as
they had not spoken for nearly twenty years she decided not to risk a
nod where she could not command an acknowledgment of it. So she
pretended to be quite unconscious of her old enemy's presence.

Donna Tullia, however, had noticed as she turned her head in sitting
down that Orsino was piloting a strange lady to the tribune, and when
the latter sat down beside her, she determined to make her acquaintance,
no matter upon what pretext. The time was approaching at which the
procession was to make its appearance, and Donna. Tullia looked about
for something upon which to open the conversation, glancing from time to
time at her neighbour. It was easy to see that the place and the
surroundings were equally unfamiliar to the newcomer, who looked with
evident interest at the twisted columns of the high altar, at the vast
mosaics in the dome, at the red damask hangings of the nave, at the
Swiss guards, the chamberlains in court dress and at all the
mediæval-looking, motley figures that moved about within the space kept
open for the coming function.

"It is a wonderful sight," said Donna Tullia in Trench, very softly,
and almost as though speaking to herself.

"Wonderful indeed," answered Maria Consuelo, "especially to a stranger."

"Madame is a stranger, then," observed Donna Tullia with an agreeable
smile.

She looked into her neighbour's face and for the first time realised
that she was a striking person.

"Quite," replied the latter, briefly, and as though not wishing to press
the conversation.

"I fancied so," said Donna Tullia, "though on seeing you in these seats,
among us Romans--"

"I received a card through the kindness of a friend."

There was a short pause, during which Donna Tullia concluded that the
friend must have been Orsino. But the next remark threw her off the
scent.

"It was his wife's ticket, I believe," said Maria Consuelo. "She could
not come. I am here on false pretences." She smiled carelessly.

Donna Tullia lost herself in speculation, but failed to solve the
problem.

"You have chosen a most favourable moment for your first visit to Rome,"
she remarked at last.

"Yes. I am always fortunate. I believe I have seen everything worth
seeing ever since I was a little girl."

"She is somebody," thought Donna Tullia. "Probably the wife of a
diplomatist, though. Those people see everything, and talk of nothing
but what they have seen."

"This is historic," she said aloud. "You will have a chance of
contemplating the Romans in their glory. Colonna and Orsini marching
side by side, and old Saracinesca in all his magnificence. He is
eighty-two year old."

"Saracinesca?" repeated Maria Consuelo, turning her tawny eyes upon her
neighbour.

"Yes. The father of Sant' Ilario--grandfather of that young fellow who
showed you to your seat."

"Don Orsino? Yes, I know him slightly."

Corona, sitting immediately behind them heard her son's name. As the two
ladies turned towards each other in conversation she heard distinctly
what they said. Donna Tullia was of course aware of this.

"Do you?" she asked. "His father is a most estimable man--just a little
too estimable, if you understand! As for the boy--"

Donna Tullia moved, her broad shoulders expressively. It was a habit of
which even the irreproachable Del Ferice could not cure her. Corona's
face darkened.

"You can hardly call him a boy," observed Maria Consuelo with a smile.

"Ah well--I might have been his mother," Donna Tullia answered with a
contempt for the affectation of youth which she rarely showed. But
Corona began to understand that the conversation was meant for her ears,
and grew angry by degrees. Donna Tullia had indeed been near to marrying
Giovanni, and in that sense, too, she might have been Orsino's mother.

"I fancied you spoke rather disparagingly," said Maria Consuelo with a
certain degree of interest.

"I? No indeed. On the contrary, Don Orsino is a very fine fellow--but
thrown away, positively thrown away in his present surroundings. Of what
use is all this English education--but you are a stranger, Madame, you
cannot understand our Roman point of view."

"If you could explain it to me, I might, perhaps," suggested the other.

"Ah yes--if I could explain it! But I am far too ignorant myself--no,
ignorant is not the word--too prejudiced, perhaps, to make you see it
quite as it is. Perhaps I am a little too liberal, and the Saracinesca
are certainly far too conservative. They mistake education for progress.
Poor Don Orsino, I am sorry for him."

Donna Tullia found no other escape from the difficulty into which she
had thrown herself.

"I did not know that he was to be pitied," said Maria Consuelo.

"Oh, not he in particular, perhaps," answered the stout countess,
growing more and more vague. "They are all to be pitied, you know. What
is to become of young men brought up in that way? The club, the turf,
the card-table--to drink, to gamble, to bet, it is not an existence!"

"Do you mean that Don Orsino leads that sort of life?" inquired Maria
Consuelo indifferently.

Again Donna Tullia's heavy shoulders moved contemptuously.

"What else is there for him to do?"

"And his father? Did he not do likewise in his youth?"

"His father? Ah, he was different--before he married--full of life,
activity, originality!"

"And since his marriage?"

"He has become estimable, most estimable." The smile with which Donna
Tullia accompanied the statement was intended to be fine, but was only
spiteful. Maria Consuelo, who saw everything with her sleepy glance,
noticed the fact.

Corona was disgusted, and leaned back in her seat, as far as possible,
in order not to hear more. She could not help wondering who the strange
lady might be to whom Donna Tullia was so freely expressing her opinions
concerning the Saracinesca, and she determined to ask Orsino after the
ceremony. But she wished to hear as little more as she could.

"When a married man becomes what you call estimable," said Donna
Tullia's companion, "he either adores his wife or hates her."

"What a charming idea!" laughed the countess. It Was tolerably evident
that the remark was beyond her.

"She is stupid," thought Maria Consuelo. "I fancied so from the first. I
will ask Don Orsino about her. He will say something amusing. It will be
a subject of conversation at all events, in place of that endless tiger
I invented the other day. I wonder whether this woman expects me to
tell her who I am? That will amount to an acquaintance. She is certainly
somebody, or she would not be here. On the other hand, she seems to
dislike the only man I know besides Gouache. That may lead to
complications. Let us talk of Gouache first, and be guided by
circumstances."

"Do you know Monsieur Gouache?" she inquired, abruptly.

"The painter? Yes--I have known him a long time. Is he perhaps painting
your portrait?"

"Exactly. It is really for that purpose that I am in Rome. What a
charming man!"

"Do you think so? Perhaps he is. He painted me some time ago. I was not
very well satisfied. But he has talent."

Donna Tullia had never forgiven the artist for not putting enough soul
into the picture he had painted of her when she was a very young widow.

"He has a great reputation," said Maria Consuelo, "and I think he will
succeed very well with me. Besides, I am grateful to him. He and his
painting have been a pleasant episode in my short stay here."

"Really, I should hardly have thought you could find it worth your while
to come all the way to Rome to be painted by Gouache," observed Donna
Tullia. "But of course, as I say, he has talent."

"This woman is rich," she said to herself. "The wives of diplomatists do
not allow themselves such caprices, as a rule. I wonder who she is?"

"Great talent," assented Maria Consuelo. "And great charm, I think."

"Ah well--of course--I daresay. We Romans cannot help thinking that for
an artist he is a little too much occupied in being a gentleman--and for
a gentleman he is quite too much an artist."

The remark was not original with Donna Tullia, but had been reported to
her as Spicca's, and Spicca had really said something similar about
somebody else.

"I had not got that impression," said Maria Consuelo, quietly.

"She hates him, too," she thought. "She seems to hate everybody. That
either means that she knows everybody, or is not received in society."

"But of course you know him better than I do," she added aloud, after a
little pause.

At that moment a strain of music broke out above the great, soft,
muffled whispering that filled the basilica. Some thirty chosen voices
of the choir of Saint Peter's had begun the hymn "Tu es Petrus," as the
procession began to defile from the south aisle into the nave, close by
the great door, to traverse the whole distance thence to the high altar.
The Pope's own choir, consisting solely of the singers of the Sixtine
Chapel, waited silently behind the lattice under the statue of Saint
Veronica.

The song rang out louder and louder, simple and grand. Those who have
heard Italian singers at their best know that thirty young Roman throats
can emit a volume of sound equal to that which a hundred men of any
other nation could produce. The stillness around them increased, too, as
the procession lengthened. The great, dark crowd stood shoulder to
shoulder, breathless with expectation, each man and woman feeling for a
few short moments that thrill of mysterious anxiety and impatience which
Orsino had felt. No one who was there can ever forget what followed.
More than forty cardinals filed out in front from the Chapel of the
Pietà. Then the hereditary assistants of the Holy See, the heads of the
Colonna and the Orsini houses, entered the nave, side by side for the
first time, I believe, in history. Immediately after them, high above
all the procession and the crowd, appeared the great chair of state, the
huge white feathered fans moving slowly on each side, and upon the
throne, the central figure of that vast display, sat the Pope, Leo the
Thirteenth.

Then, without warning and without hesitation, a shout went up such as
has never been heard before in that dim cathedral, nor will, perhaps, be
heard again.

"_Viva il Papa-Rè!_ Long life to the Pope-King!"

At the same instant, as though at a preconcerted signal--utterly
impossible in such a throng--in the twinkling of an eye, the dark crowd
was as white as snow. In every hand a white handkerchief was raised,
fluttering and waving above every head.

And the shout once taken up, drowned the strong voices of the singers as
long-drawn thunder drowns the pattering of the raindrops and the sighing
of the wind.

The wonderful face, that seemed to be carved out of transparent
alabaster, smiled and slowly turned from side to side as it passed by.
The thin, fragile hand moved unceasingly, blessing the people.

Orsino Saracinesca saw and heard, and his young face turned pale while
his lips set themselves. By his side, a head shorter than he, stood his
father, lost in thought as he gazed at the mighty spectacle of what had
been, and of what might still have been, but for one day of history's
surprises.

Orsino said nothing, but he glanced at Sant' Ilario's face as though to
remind his father of what he had said half an hour earlier; and the
elder man knew that there had been truth in the boy's words. There were
soldiers in the church, and they were not Italian soldiers--some
thousands of them in all, perhaps. They were armed, and there were at
the very least computation thirty thousand strong, grown men in the
crowd. And the crowd was on fire. Had there been a hundred, nay a score,
of desperate, devoted leaders there, who knows what bloody work might
not have been done in the city before the sun went down? Who knows what
new surprises history might have found for her play? The thought must
have crossed many minds at that moment. But no one stirred; the
religious ceremony remained a religious ceremony and nothing more; holy
peace reigned within the walls, and the hour of peril glided away
undisturbed to take its place among memories of good.

"The world is worn out!" thought Orsino. "The days of great deeds are
over. Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die--they are right in
teaching me their philosophy."

A gloomy, sullen melancholy took hold of the boy's young nature, a
passing mood, perhaps, but one which left its mark upon him. For he was
at that age when a very little thing will turn the balance of a
character, when an older man's thoughtless words may direct half a
lifetime in a good or evil channel, being recalled and repeated for a
score of years. Who is it that does not remember that day when an
impatient "I will," or a defiant "I will not," turned the whole current
of his existence in the one direction or the other, towards good or
evil, or towards success or failure? Who, that has fought his way
against odds into the front rank, has forgotten the woman's look that
gave him courage, or the man's sneer that braced nerve and muscle to
strike the first of many hard blows?

The depression which fell upon Orsino was lasting, for that morning at
least. The stupendous pageant went on before him, the choirs sang, the
sweet boys' voices answered back, like an angel's song, out of the lofty
dome, the incense rose in columns through the streaming sunlight as the
high mass proceeded. Again the Pope was raised upon the chair and borne
out into the nave, whence in the solemn silence the thin, clear, aged
voice intoned the benediction three times, slowly rising and falling,
pausing and beginning again. Once more the enormous shout broke out,
louder and deeper than ever, as the procession moved away. Then all was
over.

Orsino saw and heard, but the first impression was gone, and the thrill
did not come back.

"It was a fine sight," he said to his father, as the shout died away.

"A fine sight? Have you no stronger expression than that?"

"No," answered Orsino, "I have not."

The ladies were already coming out of the tribunes, and Orsino saw his
father give his arm to Corona to lead her through the crowd. Naturally
enough, Maria Consuelo and Donna Tullia came out together very soon
after her. Orsino offered to pilot the former through the confusion, and
she accepted gratefully. Donna Tullia walked beside them.

"You do not know me, Don Orsino," said she with a gracious smile.

"I beg your pardon--you are the Countess Del Ferice--I have not been
back from England long, and have not had an opportunity of being
presented."

Whatever might be Orsino's weaknesses, shyness was certainly not one of
them, and as he made the civil answer he calmly looked at Donna Tullia
as though to inquire what in the world she wished to accomplish in
making his acquaintance. He had been so situated during the ceremony as
not to see that the two ladies had fallen into conversation.

"Will you introduce me?" said Maria Consuelo. "We have been talking
together."

She spoke in a low voice, but the words could hardly have escaped Donna
Tullia. Orsino was very much surprised and not by any means pleased, for
he saw that the elder woman had forced the introduction by a rather
vulgar trick. Nevertheless, he could not escape.

"Since you have been good enough to recognise me," he said rather
stiffly to Donna Tullia, "permit me to make you acquainted with Madame
d'Aranjuez d'Aragona."

Both ladies nodded and smiled the smile of the newly introduced. Donna
Tullia at once began to wonder how it was that a person with such a name
should have but a plain "Madame" to put before it. But her curiosity was
not satisfied on this occasion.

"How absurd society is!" she exclaimed. "Madame d'Aranjuez and I have
been talking all the morning, quite like old friends--and now we need an
introduction!"

Maria Consuelo glanced at Orsino as though, expecting him to make some
remark. But he said nothing.

"What should we do without conventions!" she said, for the sake of
saying something.

By this time they were threading the endless passages of the sacristy
building, on their way to the Piazza Santa, Marta. Sant' Ilario and
Corona were not far in front of them. At a turn in the corridor Corona
looked back.

"There is Orsino talking to Tullia Del Ferice!" she exclaimed in great
surprise. "And he has given his arm to that other lady who was next to
her in the tribune."

"What does it matter?" asked Sant' Ilario indifferently. "By the bye,
the other lady is that Madame d'Aranjuez he talks about."

"Is she any relation of your mother's family, Giovanni?"

"Not that I am aware of. She may have married some younger son of whom I
never heard."

"You do not seem to care whom Orsino knows," said Corona rather
reproachfully.

"Orsino is grown up, dear. You must not forget that."

"Yes--I suppose he is," Corona answered with a little sigh. "But surely
you will not encourage him to cultivate the Del Ferice!"

"I fancy it would take a deal of encouragement to drive him to that,"
said Sant' Ilario with a laugh. "He has better taste."

There was some confusion outside. People were waiting for their
carriages, and as most of them knew each other intimately every one was
talking at once. Donna Tullia nodded here and there, but Maria Consuelo
noticed that her salutations were coldly returned. Orsino and his two
companions stood a little aloof from the crowd. Just then the
Saracinesca carriage drove up.

"Who is that magnificent woman?" asked Maria Consuelo, as Corona got in.

"My mother," said Orsino. "My father is getting in now."

"There comes my carriage! Please help me."

A modest hired brougham made its appearance. Orsino hoped that Madame
d'Aranjuez would offer him a seat. But he was mistaken.

"I am afraid mine is miles away," said Donna Tullia. "Good-bye, I shall
be so glad if you will come and see me." She held out her hand.

"May I not take you home?" asked Maria Consuelo. "There is just room--it
will be better than waiting here."

Donna Tullia hesitated a moment, and then accepted, to Orsino's great
annoyance. He helped the two ladies to get in, and shut the door.

"Come soon," said Maria Consuelo, giving him her hand out of the window.

He was inclined to be angry, but the look that accompanied the
invitation did its work satisfactorily.

"He is very young," thought Maria Consuelo, as she drove away.

"She can be very amusing. It is worth while," said Orsino to himself as
he passed in front of the next carriage, and walked out upon the small
square.

He had not gone far, hindered as he was at every step, when some one
touched his arm. It was Spicca, looking more cadaverous and exhausted
than usual.

"Are you going home in a cab?" he asked. "Then let us go together."

They got out of the square, scarcely knowing how they had accomplished
the feat. Spicca seemed nervous as well as tired, and he leaned on
Orsino's arm.

"There was a chance lost this morning," said the latter when they were
under the colonnade. He felt sure of a bitter answer from the keen old
man.

"Why did you not seize it then?" asked Spicca. "Do you expect old men
like me to stand up and yell for a republic, or a restoration, or a
monarchy, or whichever of the other seven plagues of Egypt you desire? I
have not voice enough left to call a cab, much less to howl down a
kingdom."

"I wonder what would have happened, if I, or some one else, had tried."

"You would have spent the night in prison with a few kindred spirits.
After all, that would have been better than making love to old Donna
Tullia and her young friend."

Orsino laughed.

"You have good eyes," he said.

"So have you, Orsino. Use them. You will see something odd if you look
where you were looking this morning. Do you know what sort of a place
this world is?"

"It is a dull place. I have found that out already."

"You are mistaken. It is hell. Do you mind calling that cab?"

Orsino stared a moment at his companion, and then hailed the passing
conveyance.



CHAPTER VI.


Orsino had shown less anxiety to see Madame d'Aranjuez than might
perhaps have been expected. In the ten days which had elapsed between
the sitting at Gouache's studio and the first of January he had only
once made an attempt to find her at home, and that attempt had failed.
He had not even seen her passing in the street, and he had not been
conscious of any uncontrollable desire to catch a glimpse of her at any
price.

But he had not forgotten her existence as he would certainly have
forgotten that of a wholly indifferent person in the same time. On the
contrary, he had thought of her frequently and had indulged in many
speculations concerning her, wondering among other matters why he did
not take more trouble to see her since she occupied his thoughts so
much. He did not know that he was in reality hesitating, for he would
not have acknowledged to himself that he could be in danger of falling
seriously in love. He was too young to admit such a possibility, and the
character which he admired and meant to assume was altogether too cold
and superior to such weaknesses. To do him justice, he was really not of
the sort to fall in love at first sight. Persons capable of a
self-imposed dualism rarely are, for the second nature they build up on
the foundation of their own is never wholly artificial. The disposition
to certain modes of thought and habits of bearing is really present, as
is sufficiently proved by their admiration of both. Very shy persons,
for instance, invariably admire very self-possessed ones, and in trying
to imitate them occasionally exhibit a cold-blooded arrogance which is
amazing. Timothy Titmouse secretly looks up to Don Juan as his ideal,
and after half a lifetime of failure outdoes his model, to the horror of
his friends. Dionysus masks as Hercules, and the fox is sometimes not
unsuccessful in his saint's disguise. Those who have been intimate with
a great actor know that the characters he plays best are not all
assumed; there is a little of each in his own nature. There is a touch
of the real Othello in Salvini--there is perhaps a strain of the
melancholy Scandinavian in English Irving.

To be short, Orsino Saracinesca was too enthusiastic to be wholly cold,
and too thoughtful to be thoroughly enthusiastic. He saw things
differently according to his moods, and being dissatisfied, he tried to
make one mood prevail constantly over the other. In a mean nature the
double view often makes an untruthful individual; in one possessing
honourable instincts it frequently leads to unhappiness. Affectation
then becomes aspiration and the man's failure to impose on others is
forgotten in his misery at failing to impose upon himself.

The few words Orsino had exchanged with Maria Consuelo on the morning of
the great ceremony recalled vividly the pleasant hour he had spent with
her ten days earlier, and he determined to see her as soon as possible.
He was out of conceit with himself and consequently with all those who
knew him, and he looked forward with pleasure to the conversation of an
attractive woman who could have no preconceived opinion of him, and who
could take him at his own estimate. He was curious, too, to find out
something more definite in regard to her. She was mysterious, and the
mystery pleased him. She had admitted that her deceased husband had
spoken of being connected with the Saracinesca, but he could not
discover where the relationship lay. Spicca's very odd remark, too,
seemed to point to her, in some way which Orsino could not understand,
and he remembered her having said that she had heard of Spicca. Her
husband had doubtless been an Italian of Spanish descent, but she had
given no clue to her own nationality, and she did not look Spanish, in
spite of her name, Maria Consuelo. As no one in Rome knew her it was
impossible to get any information whatever. It was all very interesting.

Accordingly, late on the afternoon of the second of January, Orsino
called and was led to the door of a small sitting-room on the second
floor of the hotel. The servant shut the door behind him and Orsino
found himself alone. A lamp with a pretty shade was burning on the table
and beside it an ugly blue glass vase contained a few flowers, common
roses, but fresh and fragrant. Two or three new books in yellow paper
covers lay scattered upon the hideous velvet table cloth, and beside one
of them Orsino noticed a magnificent paper cutter of chiselled silver,
bearing a large monogram done in brilliants and rubies. The thing
contrasted oddly with its surroundings and attracted the light. An easy
chair was drawn up to the table, an abominable object covered with
perfectly new yellow satin. A small red morocco cushion, of the kind
used in travelling, was balanced on the back, and there was a depression
in it, as though some one's head had lately rested there.

Orsino noticed all these details as he stood waiting for Madame
d'Aranjuez to appear, and they were not without interest to him, for
each one told a story, and the stories were contradictory. The room was
not encumbered with those numberless objects which most women scatter
about them within an hour after reaching a hotel. Yet Madame d'Aranjuez
must have been at least a month in Rome. The room smelt neither of
perfume nor of cigarettes, but of the roses, which was better, and a
little of the lamp, which was much worse. The lady's only possessions
seemed to be three books, a travelling cushion and a somewhat too
gorgeous paper cutter; and these few objects were perfectly new. He
glanced at the books; they were of the latest, and only one had been
cut. The cushion might have been bought that morning. Not a breath had
tarnished the polished blade of the silver knife.

A door opened softly and Orsino drew himself up as some one pushed in
the heavy, vivid curtains. But it was not Madame d'Aranjuez. A small
dark woman of middle age, with downcast eyes and exceedingly black hair,
came forward a step.

"The signora will come presently," she said in Italian, in a very low
voice, as though she were almost afraid of hearing herself speak.

She was gone in a moment, as noiselessly as she had come. This was
evidently the silent maid of whom Gouache had spoken. The few words she
had spoken had revealed to Orsino the fact that she was an Italian from
the north, for she had the unmistakable accent of the Piedmontese, whose
own language is comprehensible only by themselves.

Orsino prepared to wait some time, supposing that the message could
hardly have been sent without an object. But another minute had not
elapsed before Maria Consuelo herself appeared. In the soft lamplight
her clear white skin looked very pale and her auburn hair almost red.
She wore one of those nondescript garments which we have elected to
call tea-gowns, and Orsino, who had learned to criticise dress as he had
learned Latin grammar, saw that the tea-gown was good and the lace real.
The colours produced no impression upon him whatever. As a matter of
fact they were dark, being combined in various shades of olive.

Maria Consuelo looked at her visitor and held out her hand, but said
nothing. She did not even smile, and Orsino began to fancy that he had
chosen an unfortunate moment for his visit.

"It was very good of you to let me come," he said, waiting for her to
sit down.

Still she said nothing. She placed the red morocco cushion carefully in
the particular position which would be most comfortable, turned the
shade of the lamp a little, which, of course, produced no change
whatever in the direction of the light, pushed one of the books half
across the table and at last sat down in the easy chair. Orsino sat down
near her, holding his hat upon his knee. He wondered whether she had
heard him speak, or whether she might not be one of those people who are
painfully shy when there is no third person present.

"I think it was very good of you to come," she said at last, when she
was comfortably settled.

"I wish goodness were always so easy," answered Orsino with alacrity.

"Is it your ambition to be good?" asked Maria Consuelo with a smile.

"It should be. But it is not a career."

"Then you do not believe in Saints?"

"Not until they are canonised and made articles of belief--unless you
are one, Madame."

"I have thought of trying it," answered Maria Consuelo, calmly.
"Saintship is a career, even in society, whatever you may say to the
contrary. It has attractions, after all."

"Not equal to those of the other side. Every one admits that. The
majority is evidently in favour of sin, and if we are to believe in
modern institutions, we must believe that majorities are right."

"Then the hero is always wrong, for he is the enthusiastic individual
who is always for facing odds, and if no one disagrees with him he is
very unhappy. Yet there are heroes--"

"Where?" asked Orsino. "The heroes people talk of ride bronze horses on
inaccessible pedestals. When the bell rings for a revolution they are
all knocked down and new ones are set up in their places--also executed
by the best artists--and the old ones are cast into cannon to knock to
pieces the ideas they invented. That is called history."

"You take a cheerful and encouraging view of the world's history, Don
Orsino."

"The world is made for us, and we must accept it. But we may criticise
it. There is nothing to the contrary in the contract."

"In the social contract? Are you going to talk to me about
Jean-Jacques?"

"Have you read him, Madame?"

"'No woman who respects herself--'" began Maria Consuelo, quoting the
famous preface.

"I see that you have," said Orsino, with a laugh. "I have not."

"Nor I."

To Orsino's surprise, Madame d'Aranjuez blushed. He could not have told
why he was pleased, nor why her change of colour seemed so unexpected.

"Speaking of history," he said, after a very slight pause, "why did you
thank me yesterday for having got you a card?"

"Did you not speak to Gouache about it?"

"I said something--I forget what. Did he manage it?"

"Of course. I had his wife's place. She could not go. Do you dislike
being thanked for your good offices? Are you so modest as that?"

"Not in the least, but I hate misunderstandings, though I will get all
the credit I can for what I have not done, like other people. When I saw
that you knew the Del Ferice, I thought that perhaps she had been
exerting herself."

"Why do you hate her so?" asked Maria Consuelo.

"I do not hate her. She does not exist--that is all."

"Why does she not exist, as you call it? She is a very good-natured
woman. Tell me the truth. Everybody hates her--I saw that by the way
they bowed to her while we were waiting--why? There must be a reason. Is
she a--an incorrect person?"

Orsino laughed.

"No. That is the point at which existence is more likely to begin than
to end."

"How cynical you are! I do not like that. Tell me about Madame Del
Ferice."

"Very well. To begin with, she is a relation of mine."

"Seriously?"

"Seriously. Of course that gives me a right to handle the whole
dictionary of abuse against her."

"Of course. Are you going to do that?"

"No. You would call me cynical. I do not like you to call me by bad
names, Madame."

"I had an idea that men liked it," observed Maria Consuelo gravely.

"One does not like to hear disagreeable truths."

"Then it is the truth? Go on. You have forgotten what we were talking
about."

"Not at all Donna Tullia, my second, third or fourth cousin, was married
once upon a time to a certain Mayer."

"And left him. How interesting!"

"No, Madame. He left her--very suddenly, I believe--for another world.
Better or worse? Who can say? Considering his past life, worse, I
suppose; but considering that he was not obliged to take Donna Tullia
with him, decidedly better."

"You certainly hate her. Then she married Del Ferice."

"Then she married Del Ferice--before I was born. She is fabulously old.
Mayer left her very rich, and without conditions. Del Ferice was an
impossible person. My father nearly killed him in a duel once--also
before I was born. I never knew what it was about. Del Ferice was a spy,
in the old days when spies got a living in a Rome--"

"Ah! I see it all now!" exclaimed Maria Consuelo. "Del Ferice is white,
and you are black. Of course you hate each other. You need not tell me
any more."

"How you take that for granted!"

"Is it not perfectly clear? Do not talk to me of like and dislike when
your dreadful parties have anything to do with either! Besides, if I had
any sympathy with either side it would be for the whites. But the whole
thing is absurd, complicated, mediaeval, feudal--anything you like
except sensible. Your intolerance is--intolerable."

"True tolerance should tolerate even intolerance," observed Orsino
smartly.

"That sounds like one of the puzzles of pronunciation like 'in un piatto
poco cupo poco pepe pisto cape,'" laughed Maria Consuelo. "Tolerably
tolerable tolerance tolerates tolerable tolerance intolerably--"

"You speak Italian?" asked Orsino, surprised by her glib enunciation of
the difficult sentence she had quoted. "Why are we talking a foreign
language?"

"I cannot really speak Italian. I have an Italian maid, who speaks
French. But she taught me that puzzle."

"It is odd--your maid is a Piedmontese and you have a good accent."

"Have I? I am very glad. But tell me, is it not absurd that you should
hate these people as you do--you cannot deny it--merely because they are
whites?"

"Everything in life is absurd if you take the opposite point of view.
Lunatics find endless amusement in watching sane people."

"And of course, you are the sane people," observed Maria Consuelo.

"Of course."

"What becomes of me? I suppose I do not exist? You would not be rude
enough to class me with the lunatics."

"Certainly not. You will of course choose to be a black."

"In order to be discontented, as you are?"

"Discontented?"

"Yes. Are you not utterly out of sympathy with your surroundings? Are
you not hampered at every step by a network of traditions which have no
meaning to your intelligence, but which are laid on you like a harness
upon a horse, and in which you are driven your daily little round of
tiresome amusement--or dissipation? Do you not hate the Corso as an
omnibus horse hates it? Do you not really hate the very faces of all
those people who effectually prevent you from using your own
intelligence, your own strength--your own heart? One sees it in your
face. You are too young to be tired of life. No, I am not going to call
you a boy, though I am older than you, Don Orsino. You will find people
enough in your own surroundings to call you a boy--because you are not
yet so utterly tamed and wearied as they are, and for no other reason.
You are a man. I do not know your age, but you do not talk as boys do.
You are a man--then be a man altogether, be independent--use your hands
for something better than throwing mud at other people's houses merely
because they are new!"

Orsino looked at her in astonishment. This was certainly not the sort of
conversation he had anticipated when he had entered the room.

"You are surprised because I speak like this," she said after a short
pause. "You are a Saracinesca and I am--a stranger, here to-day and gone
to-morrow, whom you will probably never see again. It is amusing, is it
not? Why do you not laugh?"

Maria Consuelo smiled and as usual her strong red lips closed as soon
as she had finished speaking, a habit which lent the smile something
unusual, half-mysterious, and self-contained.

"I see nothing to laugh at," answered Orsino. "Did the mythological
personage whose name I have forgotten laugh when the sphynx proposed the
riddle to him?"

"That is the third time within the last few days that I have been
compared to a sphynx by you or Gouache. It lacks originality in the
end."

"I was not thinking of being original. I was too much interested. Your
riddle is the problem of my life."

"The resemblance ceases there. I cannot eat you up if you do not guess
the answer--or if you do not take my advice. I am not prepared to go so
far as that."

"Was it advice? It sounded more like a question."

"I would not ask one when I am sure of getting no answer. Besides, I do
not like being laughed at."

"What has that to do with the matter? Why imagine anything so
impossible?"

"After all--perhaps it is more foolish to say, 'I advise you to do so
and so,' than to ask, 'Why do you not do so and so?' Advice is always
disagreeable and the adviser is always more or less ridiculous. Advice
brings its own punishment."

"Is that not cynical?" asked Orsino.

"No. Why? What is the worst thing you can do to your social enemy?
Prevail upon him to give you his counsel, act upon it--it will of course
turn out badly--then say, "I feared this would happen, but as you
advised me I did not like--" and so on! That is simple and always
effectual. Try it."

"Not for worlds!"

"I did not mean with me," answered Maria Consuelo with a laugh.

"No. I am afraid there are other reasons which will prevent me from
making a career for myself," said Orsino thoughtfully.

Maria Consuelo saw by his face that the subject was a serious one with
him, as she had already guessed that it must be, and one which would
always interest him. She therefore let it drop, keeping it in reserve in
case the conversation flagged.

"I am going to see Madame Del Ferice to-morrow," she observed, changing
the subject.

"Do you think that is necessary?"

"Since I wish it! I have not your reasons for avoiding her."

"I offended you the other day, Madame, did I not? You remember--when I
offered my services in a social way."

"No--you amused me," answered Maria Consuelo coolly, and watching to see
how he would take the rebuke.

But, young as Orsino was, he was a match for her in self-possession.

"I am very glad," he answered without a trace of annoyance. "I feared
you were displeased."

Maria Consuelo smiled again, and her momentary coldness vanished. The
answer delighted her, and did more to interest her in Orsino than fifty
clever sayings could have done. She resolved to push the question a
little further.

"I will be frank," she said.

"It is always best," answered Orsino, beginning to suspect that
something very tortuous was coming. His disbelief in phrases of the
kind, though originally artificial, was becoming profound.

"Yes, I will be quite frank," she repeated. "You do not wish me to know
the Del Ferice and their set, and you do wish me to know the people you
like."

"Evidently."

"Why should I not do as I please?"

She was clearly trying to entrap him into a foolish answer, and he grew
more and more wary.

"It would be very strange if you did not," answered Orsino without
hesitation.

"Why, again?"

"Because you are absolutely free to make your own choice."

"And if my choice does not meet with your approval?" she asked.

"What can I say, Madame? I and my friends will be the losers, not you."

Orsino had kept his temper admirably, and he did not suffer a hasty word
to escape his lips nor a shadow of irritation to appear in his face. Yet
she had pressed him in a way which was little short of rude. She was
silent for a few seconds, during which Orsino watched her face as she
turned it slightly away from him and from the lamp. In reality he was
wondering why she was not more communicative about herself, and
speculating as to whether her silence in that quarter proceeded from the
consciousness of a perfectly assured position in the world, or from the
fact that she had something to conceal; and this idea led him to
congratulate himself upon not having been obliged to act immediately
upon his first proposal by bringing about an acquaintance between Madame
d'Aranjuez and his mother. This uncertainty lent a spice of interest to
the acquaintance. He knew enough of the world already to be sure that
Maria Consuelo was born and bred in that state of life to which it has
pleased Providence to call the social elect. But the peculiar people
sometimes do strange things and afterwards establish themselves in
foreign cities where their doings are not likely to be known for some
time. Not that Orsino cared what this particular stranger's past might
have been. But he knew that his mother would care very much indeed, if
Orsino wished her to know the mysterious lady, and would sift the matter
very thoroughly before asking her to the Palazzo Saracinesca. Donna
Tullia, on the other hand, had committed herself to the acquaintance on
her own responsibility, evidently taking it for granted that if Orsino
knew Madame d'Aranjuez, the latter must be socially irreproachable. It
amused Orsino to imagine the fat countess's rage if she turned out to
have made a mistake.

"I shall be the loser too," said Maria Consuelo, in a different tone,
"if I make a bad choice. But I cannot draw back. I took her to her house
in my carriage. She seemed to take a fancy to me--" she laughed a
little.

Orsino smiled as though to imply that the circumstance did not surprise
him.

"And she said she would come to see me. As a stranger I could not do
less than insist upon making the first visit, and I named the day--or
rather she did. I am going to-morrow."

"To-morrow? Tuesday is her day. You will meet all her friends."

"Do you mean to say that people still have days in Rome?" Maria Consuelo
did not look pleased.

"Some people do--very few. Most people prefer to be at home one evening
in the week."

"What sort of people are Madame Del Ferice's friends?"

"Excellent people."

"Why are you so cautious?"

"Because you are about to be one of them, Madame."

"Am I? No, I will not begin another catechism! You are too clever--I
shall never get a direct answer from you."

"Not in that way," answered Orsino with a frankness that made his
companion smile.

"How then?"

"I think you would know how," he replied gravely, and he fixed his young
black eyes on her with an expression that made her half close her own.

"I should think you would make a good actor," she said softly.

"Provided that I might be allowed to be sincere between the acts."

"That sounds well. A little ambiguous perhaps. Your sincerity might or
might not take the same direction as the part you had been acting."

"That would depend entirely upon yourself, Madame."

This time Maria Consuelo opened her eyes instead of closing them.

"You do not lack--what shall I say? A certain assurance--you do not
waste time!"

She laughed merrily, and Orsino laughed with her.

"We are between the acts now," he said. "The curtain goes up to-morrow,
and you join the enemy."

"Come with me, then."

"In your carriage? I shall be enchanted."

"No. You know I do not mean that. Come with me to the enemy's camp. It
will be very amusing."

Orsino shook his head.

"I would rather die--if possible at your feet, Madame."

"Are you afraid to call upon Madame Del Ferice?"

"More than of death itself."

"How can you say that?"

"The conditions of the life to come are doubtful--there might be a
chance for me. There is no doubt at all as to what would happen if I
went to see Madame Del Ferice."

"Is your father so severe with you?" asked Maria Consuelo with a little
scorn.

"Alas, Madame, I am not sensitive to ridicule," answered Orsino, quite
unmoved. "I grant that there is something wanting in my character."

Maria Consuelo had hoped to find a weak point, and had failed, though
indeed there were many in the young man's armour. She was a little
annoyed, both at her own lack of judgment and because it would have
amused her to see Orsino in an element so unfamiliar to him as that in
which Donna Tullia lived.

"And there is nothing which would induce you to go there?" she asked.

"At present--nothing," Orsino answered coldly.

"At present--but in the future of all possible possibilities?"

"I shall undoubtedly go there. It is only the unforeseen which
invariably happens."

"I think so too."

"Of course. I will illustrate the proverb by bidding you good evening,"
said Orsino, laughing as he rose. "By this time the conviction must have
formed itself in your mind that I was never going. The unforeseen
happens. I go."

Maria Consuelo would have been glad if he had stayed even longer, for he
amused her and interested her, and she did not look forward with
pleasure to the lonely evening she was to spend in the hotel.

"I am generally at home at this hour," she said, giving him her hand.

"Then, if you will allow me? Thanks. Good evening, Madame."

Their eyes met for a moment, and then Orsino left the room. As he lit
his cigarette in the porch of the hotel, he said to himself that he had
not wasted his hour, and he was pleasantly conscious of tha inward and
spiritual satisfaction which every very young man feels when he is aware
of having appeared at his best in the society of a woman alone. Youth
without vanity is only premature old age after all.

"She is certainly more than pretty," he said to himself, affecting to be
critical when he was indeed convinced. "Her mouth is fabulous, but it is
well shaped and the rest is perfect--no, the nose is insignificant, and
one of those yellow eyes wanders a little. These are not perfections.
But what does it matter? The whole is charming, whatever the parts may
be. I wish she would not go to that horrible fat woman's tea to-morrow."

Such were the observations which Orsino thought fit to make to himself,
but which by no means represented all that he felt, for they took no
notice whatever of that extreme satisfaction at having talked well with
Maria Consuelo, which in reality dominated every other sensation just
then. He was well enough accustomed to consideration, though his only
taste of society had been enjoyed during the winter vacations of the
last two years. He was not the greatest match in the Roman matrimonial
market for nothing, and he was perfectly well aware of his advantages in
this respect. He possessed that keen, business-like appreciation of his
value as a marriageable man which seems to characterise the young
generation of to-day, and he was not mistaken in his estimate. It was
made sufficiently clear to him at every turn that he had but to ask in
order to receive. But he had not the slightest intention of marrying at
one and twenty as several of his old school-fellows were doing, and he
was sensible enough to foresee that his position as a desirable
son-in-law would soon cause him more annoyance than amusement.

Madame d'Aranjuez was doubtless aware that she could not marry him if
she wished to do so. She was several years older than he--he admitted
the fact rather reluctantly--she was a widow, and she seemed to have no
particular social position. These were excellent reasons against
matrimony, but they were also equally excellent reasons for being
pleased with himself at having produced a favourable impression on her.

He walked rapidly along the crowded street, glancing carelessly at the
people who passed and at the brilliantly lighted windows of the shops.
He passed the door of the club, where he was already becoming known for
rather reckless play, and he quite forgot that a number of men were
probably spending an hour at the tables before dinner, a fact which
would hardly have escaped his memory if he had not been more than
usually occupied with pleasant thoughts. He did not need the excitement
of baccarat nor the stimulus of brandy and soda, for his brain was
already both excited and stimulated, though he was not at once aware of
it. But it became clear to him when he suddenly found himself standing
before the steps of the Capitol in the gloomy square of the Ara Coeli,
wondering what in the world had brought him so far out of his way.

"What a fool I am!" he exclaimed impatiently, as he turned back and
walked in the direction of his home. "And yet she told me that I would
make a good actor. They say that an actor should never be carried away
by his part."

At dinner that evening he was alternately talkative and very silent.

"Where have you been to-day, Orsino?" asked his father, looking at him
curiously.

"I spent half an hour with Madame d'Aranjuez, and then went for a walk,"
answered Orsino with sudden indifference.

"What is she like?" asked Corona.

"Clever--at least in Rome." There was an odd, nervous sharpness about
the answer.

Old Saracinesca raised his keen eyes without lifting his head and looked
hard at his grandson. He was a little bent in his great old age.

"The boy is in love!" he exclaimed abruptly, and a laugh that was still
deep and ringing followed the words. Orsino recovered his
self-possession and smiled carelessly.

Corona was thoughtful during the remainder of the meal.



CHAPTER VII.


The Princess Sant' Ilario's early life had been deeply stirred by the
great makers of human character, sorrow and happiness. She had suffered
profoundly, she had borne her trials with a rare courage, and her
reward, if one may call it so, had been very great. She had seen the
world and known it well, and the knowledge had not been forgotten in
the peaceful prosperity of later years. Gifted with a beauty not
equalled, perhaps, in those times, endowed with a strong and passionate
nature under a singularly cold and calm outward manner, she had been
saved from many dangers by the rarest of commonplace qualities, common
sense. She had never passed for an intellectual person, she had never
been very brilliant in conversation, she had even been thought
old-fashioned in her prejudices concerning the books she read. But her
judgment had rarely failed her at critical moments. Once only, she
remembered having committed a great mistake, of which the sudden and
unexpected consequences had almost wrecked her life. But in that case
she had suffered her heart to lead her, an innocent girl's good name had
been at stake, and she had rashly taken a responsibility too heavy for
love itself to bear. Those days were long past now; twenty years
separated Corona, the mother of four tall sons, from the Corona who had
risked all to save poor little Faustina Montevarchi.

But even she knew that a state of such perpetual and unclouded happiness
could hardly last a lifetime, and she had forced herself, almost
laughing at the thought, to look forward to the day when Orsino must
cease to be a boy and must face the world of strong loves and hates
through which most men have to pass, and which all men must have known
in order to be men indeed.

The people whose lives are full of the most romantic incidents, are not
generally, I think, people of romantic disposition. Romance, like power,
will come uncalled for, and those who seek it most, are often those who
find it least. And the reason is simple enough. The man of heart is not
perpetually burrowing in his surroundings for affections upon which his
heart may feed, any more than the very strong man is naturally impelled
to lift every weight he sees or to fight with every man he meets. The
persons whom others call romantic are rarely conscious of being so. They
are generally far too much occupied with the one great thought which
make their strongest, bravest and meanest actions seem perfectly
commonplace to themselves. Corona Del Carmine, who had heroically
sacrificed herself in her earliest girlhood to save her father from ruin
and who a few years later had risked a priceless happiness to shield a
foolish girl, had not in her whole life been conscious of a single
romantic instinct. Brave, devoted, but unimaginative by nature, she had
followed her heart's direction in most worldly matters.

She was amazed to find that she was becoming romantic now, in her dreams
for Orsino's future. All sorts of ideas which she would have laughed at
in her own youth flitted through her brain from morning till night. Her
fancy built up a life for her eldest son, which she knew to be far from
the possibility of realisation, but which had for her a new and strange
attraction.

She planned for him the most unimaginable happiness, of a kind which
would perhaps have hardly satisfied his more modern instincts. She saw a
maiden of indescribable beauty, brought up in unapproachable
perfections, guarded by the all but insuperable jealousy of an ideal
home. Orsino was to love this vision, and none other, from the first
meeting to the term of his natural life, and was to win her in the face
or difficulties such as would have made even Giovanni, the incomparable,
look grave. This radiant creature was also to love Orsino, as a matter
of course, with a love vastly more angelic than human, but not hastily
nor thoughtlessly, lest Orsino should get her too easily and not value
her as he ought. Then she saw the two betrothed, side by side on shady
lawns and moonlit terraces, in a perfectly beautiful intimacy such as
they would certainly never enjoy in the existing conditions of their own
society. But that mattered little. The wooing, the winning and the
marrying of the exquisite girl were to make up Orsino's life, and fifty
or sixty years of idyllic happiness were to be the reward of their
mutual devotion. Had she not spent twenty such years herself? Then why
should not all the rest be possible?

The dreams came and went and she was too sensible not to laugh at them.
That was not the youth of Giovanni, her husband, nor of men who even
faintly resembled him in her estimation. Giovanni had wandered far, had
seen much, and had undoubtedly indulged more than one passing affection,
before he had been thirty years of age and had loved Corona. Giovanni
would laugh too, if she told him of her vision of two young and
beautiful married saints. And his laugh would be more sincere than her
own. Nevertheless, her dreams haunted her, as they have haunted many a
loving mother, ever since Althaea plucked from the flame the burning
brand that measured Meleager's life, and smothered the sparks upon it
and hid it away among her treasures.

Such things seem foolish, no doubt, in the measure of fact, in the
glaring light of our day. The thought is none the less noble. The dream
of an untainted love, the vision of unspotted youth and pure maiden, the
glory of unbroken faith kept whole by man and wife in holy wedlock, the
pride of stainless name and stainless race--these things are not less
high because there is a sublimity in the strength of a great sin which
may lie the closer to our sympathy, as the sinning is the nearer to our
weakness.

When old Saracinesca looked up from under his bushy brows and laughed
and said that his grandson was in love, he thought no more of what he
said than if he had remarked that Orsino's beard was growing or that
Giovanni's was turning grey. But Corona's pretty fancies received a
shock from which they never recovered again, and though she did her best
to call them back they lost all their reality from that hour. The plain
fact that at one and twenty years the boy is a man, though a very young
one, was made suddenly clear to her, and she was faced by another fact
still more destructive of her ideals, namely, that a man is not to be
kept from falling in love, when and where he is so inclined, by any
personal influence whatsoever. She knew that well enough, and the
supposition that his first young passion might be for Madame d'Aranjuez
was by no means comforting. Corona immediately felt an interest in that
lady which she had not felt before and which was not altogether
friendly.

It seemed to her necessary in the first place to find out something
definite concerning Maria Consuelo, and this was no easy matter. She
communicated her wish to her husband when they were alone that evening.

"I know nothing about her," answered Giovanni. "And I do not know any
one who does. After all it is of very little importance."

"What if he falls seriously in love with this woman?"

"We will send him round the world. At his age that will cure anything.
When he comes back Madame d'Aranjuez will have retired to the chaos of
the unknown out of which Orsino has evolved her."

"She does not look the kind of woman to disappear at the right moment,"
observed Corona doubtfully.

Giovanni was at that moment supremely comfortable, both in mind and
body. It was late. The old prince had gone to his own quarters, the boys
were in bed, and Orsino was presumably at a party or at the club. Sant'
Ilario was enjoying the delight of spending an hour alone in his wife's
society. They were in Corona's old boudoir, a place full of associations
for them both. He did not want to be mentally disturbed. He said nothing
in answer to his wife's remark. She repeated it in a different form.

"Women like her do not disappear when one does not want them," she said.

"What makes you think so?" inquired Giovanni with a man's irritating
indolence when he does not mean to grasp a disagreeable idea.

"I know it," Corona answered, resting her chin upon her hand and staring
at the fire.

Giovanni surrendered unconditionally.

"You are probably right, dear. You always are about people."

"Well--then you must see the importance of what I say," said Corona
pushing her victory.

"Of course, of course," answered Giovanni, squinting at the flames with
one eye between his outstretched fingers.

"I wish you would wake up!" exclaimed Corona, taking the hand in hers
and drawing it to her. "Orsino is probably making love to Madame
d'Aranjuez at this very moment."

"Then I will imitate him, and make love to you, my dear. I could not be
better occupied, and you know it. You used to say I did it very well."

Corona laughed in her deep, soft voice.

"Orsino is like you. That is what frightens me. He will make love too
well. Be serious, Giovanni. Think of what I am saying."

"Let us dismiss the question then, for the simple reason that there is
absolutely nothing to be done. We cannot turn this good woman out of
Rome, and we cannot lock Orsino up in his room. To tell a boy not to
bestow his affections in a certain quarter is like ramming a charge into
a gun and then expecting that it will not come out by the same way. The
harder you ram it down the more noise it makes--that is all. Encourage
him and he may possibly tire of it. Hinder him and he will become
inconveniently heroic."

"I suppose that is true," said Corona. "Then at least find out who the
woman is," she added, after a pause.

"I will try," Giovanni answered. "I will even go to the length of
spending an hour a day at the club, if that will do any good--and you
know how I detest clubs. But if anything whatever is known of her, it
will be known there."

Giovanni kept his word and expended more energy in attempting to find
out something about Madame d'Aranjuez during the next few days than he
had devoted to anything connected with society for a long time. Nearly
a week elapsed before his efforts met with any success.

He was in the club one afternoon at an early hour, reading the papers,
and not more than three or four other men were present. Among them were
Frangipani and Montevarchi, who was formerly known as Ascanio Bellegra.
There was also a certain young foreigner, a diplomatist, who, like Sant'
Ilario, was reading a paper, most probably in search of an idea for the
next visit on his list.

Giovanni suddenly came upon a description of a dinner and reception
given by Del Ferice and his wife. The paragraph was written in the usual
florid style with a fine generosity in the distribution of titles to
unknown persons.

"The centre of all attraction," said the reporter, "was a most beautiful
Spanish princess, Donna Maria Consuelo d'A----z d'A----a, in whose
mysterious eyes are reflected the divine fires of a thousand triumphs,
and who was gracefully attired in olive green brocade--"

"Oh! Is that it?" said Sant' Ilario aloud, and in the peculiar tone
always used by a man who makes a discovery in a daily paper.

"What is it?" inquired Frangipani and Montevarchi in the same breath.
The young diplomatist looked up with an air of interrogation.

Sant' Ilario read the paragraph aloud. All three listened as though the
fate of empires depended on the facts reported.

"Just like the newspapers!" exclaimed Frangipani. "There probably is no
such person. Is there, Ascanio?"

Montevarchi had always been a weak fellow, and was reported to be at
present very deep in the building speculations of the day. But there was
one point upon which he justly prided himself. He was a superior
authority on genealogy. It was his passion and no one ever disputed his
knowledge or decision. He stroked his fair beard, looked out of the
window, winked his pale blue eyes once or twice and then gave his
verdict.

"There is no such person," he said gravely.

"I beg your pardon, prince," said the young diplomatist, "I have met
her. She exists."

"My dear friend," answered Montevarchi, "I do not doubt the existence of
the woman, as such, and I would certainly not think of disagreeing with
you, even if I had the slightest ground for doing so, which, I hasten to
say, I have not. Nor, of course, if she is a friend of yours, would I
like to say more on the subject. But I have taken some little interest
in genealogy and I have a modest library--about two thousand volumes,
only--consisting solely of works on the subject, all of which I have
read and many of which I have carefully annotated. I need not say that
they are all at your disposal if you should desire to make any
researches."

Montevarchi had much of his murdered father's manner, without the old
man's strength. The young secretary of embassy was rather startled at
the idea of searching through two thousand volumes in pursuit of Madame
d'Aranjuez's identity. Sant' Ilario laughed.

"I only mean that I have met the lady," said the young man. "Of course
you are right. I have no idea who she may really be. I have heard odd
stories about her."

"Oh--have you?" asked Sant' Ilario with renewed interest.

"Yes, very odd." He paused and looked round the room to assure himself
that no one else was present. "There are two distinct stories about her.
The first is this. They say that she is a South American prima donna,
who sang only a few months, at Rio de Janeiro and then at Buenos Ayres.
An Italian who had gone out there and made a fortune married her from
the stage. In coming to Europe, he unfortunately fell overboard and she
inherited all his money. People say that she was the only person who
witnessed the accident. The man's name was Aragno. She twisted it once
and made Aranjuez of it, and she turned it again and discovered that it
spelled Aragona. That is the first story. It sounds well at all events."

"Very," said Sant' Ilario, with a laugh.

"A profoundly interesting page in genealogy, if she happens to marry
somebody," observed Montevarchi, mentally noting all the facts.

"What is the other story?" asked Frangipani.

"The other story is much less concise and detailed. According to this
version, she is the daughter of a certain royal personage and of a
Polish countess. There is always a Polish countess in those stories! She
was never married. The royal personage has had her educated in a convent
and has sent her out into the wide world with a pretty fancy name of his
own invention, plentifully supplied with money and regular documents
referring to her union with the imaginary Aranjuez, and protected by a
sort of body-guard of mutes and duennas who never appear in public. She
is of course to make a great match for herself, and has come to Rome to
do it. That is also a pretty tale."

"More interesting than the other," said Montevarchi. "These side lights
of genealogy, these stray rivulets of royal races, if I may so
poetically call them, possess an absorbing interest for the student. I
will make a note of it."

"Of course, I do not vouch for the truth of a single word in either
story," observed the young man. "Of the two the first is the less
improbable. I have met her and talked to her and she is certainly not
less than five and twenty years old. She may be more. In any case she is
too old to have been just let out of a convent."

"Perhaps she has been loose for some years," observed Sant' Ilario,
speaking of her as though she were a dangerous wild animal.

"We should have heard of her," objected the other. "She has the sort of
personality which is noticed anywhere and which makes itself felt."

"Then you incline to the belief that she dropped the Signor Aragno
quietly overboard in the neighbourhood of the equator?"

"The real story may be quite different from either of those I have told
you."

"And she is a friend of poor old Donna Tullia!" exclaimed Montevarchi
regretfully. "I am sorry for that. For the sake of her history I could
almost have gone to the length of making her acquaintance."

"How the Del Ferice would rave if she could hear you call her poor old
Donna Tullia," observed Frangipani. "I remember how she danced at the
ball when I came of age!"

"That was a long time ago, Filippo," said Montevarchi thoughtfully, "a
very long time ago. We were all young once, Filippo--but Donna Tullia is
really only fit to fill a glass case in a museum of natural history
now."

The remark was not original, and had been in circulation some time. But
the three men laughed a little and Montevarchi was much pleased by their
appreciation. He and Frangipani began to talk together, and Sant' Ilario
took up his paper again. When the young diplomatist laid his own aside
and went out, Giovanni followed him, and they left the club together.

"Have you any reason to believe that there is anything irregular about
this Madame d'Aranjuez?" asked Sant' Ilario.

"No. Stories of that kind are generally inventions. She has not been
presented at Court--but that means nothing here. And there is a doubt
about her nationality--but no one has asked her directly about it."

"May I ask who told you the stories?"

The young man's face immediately lost all expression.

"Really--I have quite forgotten," he said. "People have been talking
about her."

Sant' Ilario justly concluded that his companion's informant was a lady,
and probably one in whom the diplomatist was interested. Discretion is
so rare that it can easily be traced to its causes. Giovanni left the
young man and walked away in the opposite direction, inwardly meditating
a piece of diplomacy quite foreign to his nature. He said to himself
that he would watch the man in the world and that it would be easy to
guess who the lady in question was. It would have been clear to any one
but himself that he was not likely to learn anything worth knowing, by
his present mode of procedure.

"Gouache," he said, entering the artist's studio a quarter of an hour
later, "do you know anything about Madame d'Aranjuez?"

"That is all I know," Gouache answered, pointing to Maria Consuelo's
portrait which stood finished upon an easel before him, set in an old
frame. He had been touching it when Giovanni entered. "That is all I
know, and I do not know that thoroughly. I wish I did. She is a
wonderful subject."

Sant' Ilario gazed at the picture in silence.

"Are her eyes really like these?" he asked at length.

"Much finer."

"And her mouth?"

"Much larger," answered Gouache with a smile.

"She is bad," said Giovanni with conviction, and he thought of the
Signor Aragno.

"Women are never bad," observed Gouache with a thoughtful air. "Some are
less angelic than others. You need only tell them all so to assure
yourself of the fact."

"I daresay. What is this person? French, Spanish--South American?"

"I have not the least idea. She is not French, at all events."

"Excuse me--does your wife know her?"

Gouache glanced quickly at his visitor's face.

"No."

Gouache was a singularly kind man, and he did his best perhaps for
reasons of his own, to convey nothing by the monosyllable beyond the
simple negation of a fact. But the effort was not altogether successful.
There was an almost imperceptible shade of surprise in the tone which
did not escape Giovanni. On the other hand it was perfectly clear to
Gouache that Sant' Ilario's interest in the matter was connected with
Orsino.

"I cannot find any one who knows anything definite," said Giovanni after
a pause.

"Have you tried Spicca?" asked the artist, examining his work
critically.

"No. Why Spicca?"

"He always knows everything," answered Gouache vaguely. "By the way,
Saracinesca, do you not think there might be a little more light just
over the left eye?"

"How should I know?"

"You ought to know. What is the use of having been brought up under the
very noses of original portraits, all painted by the best masters and
doubtless ordered by your ancestors at a very considerable expense--if
you do not know?"

Giovanni laughed.

"My dear old friend," he said good-humouredly, "have you known us nearly
five and twenty years without discovering that it is our peculiar
privilege to be ignorant without reproach?"

Gouache laughed in his turn.

"You do not often make sharp remarks--but when you do!"

Giovanni left the studio very soon, and went in search of Spicca. It was
no easy matter to find the peripatetic cynic on a winter's afternoon,
but Gouache's remark had seemed to mean something, and Sant' Ilario saw
a faint glimmer of hope in the distance. He knew Spicca's habits very
well, and was aware that when the sun was low he would certainly turn
into one of the many houses where he was intimate, and spend an hour
over a cup of tea. The difficulty lay in ascertaining which particular
fireside he would select on that afternoon. Giovanni hastily sketched a
route for himself and asked the porter at each of his friends' houses if
Spicca had entered. Fortune favoured him at last. Spicca was drinking
his tea with the Marchesa di San Giacinto.

Giovanni paused a moment before the gateway of the palace in which San
Giacinto had inhabited a large hired apartment for many years. He did
not see much of his cousin, now, on account of differences in political
opinion, and he had no reason whatever for calling on Flavia, especially
as formal New Year's visits had lately been exchanged. However, as San
Giacinto was now a leading authority on questions of landed property in
the city, it struck him that he could pretend a desire to see Flavia's
husband, and make that an excuse for staying a long time, if necessary,
in order to wait for him.

He found Flavia and Spicca alone together, with a small tea-table
between them. The air was heavy with the smoke of cigarettes, which
clung to the oriental curtains and hung in clouds about the rare palms
and plants. Everything in the San Giacinto house was large, comfortable
and unostentatious. There was not a chair to be seen which might not
have held the giant's frame. San Giacinto was a wonderful judge of what
was good. If he paid twice as much as Montevarchi for a horse, the horse
turned out to be capable of four times the work. If he bought a picture
at a sale, it was discovered to be by some good master and other people
wondered why they had lost courage in the bidding for a trifle of a
hundred francs. Nothing ever turned out badly with him, but no success
had the power to shake his solid prudence. No one knew how rich he was,
but those who had watched him understood that he would never let the
world guess at half his fortune. He was a giant in all ways and he had
shown what he could do when he had dominated Flavia during the first
year of their marriage. She had at first been proud of him, but about
the time when she would have wearied of another man, she discovered that
she feared him in a way she certainly did not fear the devil. Yet lie
had never spoken a harsh, word to her in his life. But there was
something positively appalling to her in his enormous strength, rarely
exhibited and never without good reason, but always quietly present, as
the outline of a vast mountain reflected in a placid lake. Then she
discovered to her great surprise that he really loved her, which she had
not expected, and at the end of three years he became aware that she
loved him, which was still more astonishing. As usual, his investment
had turned out well.

At the time of which I am speaking Flavia was a slight, graceful woman
of forty years or thereabouts, retaining much of the brilliant
prettiness which served her for beauty, and conspicuous always for her
extremely bright eyes. She was of the type of women who live to a great
age.

She had not expected to see Sant' Ilario, and as she gave her hand, she
looked up at him with an air of inquiry. It would have been like him to
say that he had come to see her husband and not herself, for he had no
tact with persons whom he did not especially like. There are such people
in the world.

"Will you give me a cup of tea, Flavia?" he asked, as he sat down, after
shaking hands with Spicca.

"Have you at last heard that your cousin's tea is good?" inquired the
latter, who was surprised by Giovanni's coming.

"I am afraid it is cold," said Flavia, looking into the teapot, as
though she could discover the temperature by inspection.

"It is no matter," answered Giovanni absently.

He was wondering how he could lead the conversation to the discussion of
Madame d'Aranjuez.

"You belong to the swallowers," observed Spicca, lighting a fresh
cigarette. "You swallow something, no matter what, and you are
satisfied."

"It is the simplest way--one is never disappointed."

"It is a pity one cannot swallow people in the same way," said Flavia
with a laugh.

"Most people do," answered Spicca viciously.

"Were you at the Jubilee on the first day?" asked Giovanni, addressing
Flavia.

"Of course I was--and you spoke to me."

"That is true. By the bye, I saw that excellent Donna Tullia there. I
wonder whose ticket she had."

"She had the Princess Befana's," answered Spicca, who knew everything.
"The old lady happened to be dying--she always dies at the beginning of
the season--it used to be for economy, but it has become a habit--and so
Del Ferice bought her card of her servant for his wife."

"Who was the lady who sat with her?" asked Giovanni, delighted with his
own skill.

"You ought to know!" exclaimed Flavia. "We all saw Orsino take her out.
That is the famous, the incomparable Madame d'Aranjuez--the most
beautiful of Spanish princesses according to to-day's paper. I daresay
you have seen the account of the Del Ferice party. She is no more
Spanish than Alexander the Great. Is she, Spicca?"

"No, she is not Spanish," answered the latter.

"Then what in the world is she?" asked Giovanni impatiently.

"How should I know? Of course it is very disagreeable for you." It was
Flavia who spoke.

"Disagreeable? How?"

"Why, about Orsino of course. Everybody says he is devoted to her."

"I wish everybody would mind his and her business," said Giovanni
sharply. "Because a boy makes the acquaintance of a stranger at a
studio--"

"Oh--it was at a studio? I did not know that."

"Yes, at Gouache's--I fancied your sister might have told you that,"
said Giovanni, growing more and more irritable, and yet not daring to
change the subject, lest he should lose some valuable information.
"Because Orsino makes her acquaintance accidentally, every one must say
that he is in love with her."

Flavia laughed.

"My dear Giovanni," she answered. "Let us be frank. I used never to
tell the truth under any circumstances, when I was a girl, but
Giovanni--my Giovanni--did not like that. Do you know what he did? He
used to cut off a hundred francs of my allowance for every fib I
told--laughing at me all the time. At the end of the first quarter I
positively had not a pair of shoes, and all my gloves had been cleaned
twice. He used to keep all the fines in a special pocket-book--if you
knew how hard I tried to steal it! But I could not. Then, of course, I
reformed. There was nothing else to be done--that or rags--fancy! And do
you know? I have grown quite used to being truthful. Besides, it is so
original, that I pose with it."

Flavia paused, laughed a little, and puffed at her cigarette.

"You do not often come to see me, Giovanni," she said, "and since you
are here I am going to tell you the truth about your visit. You are
beside yourself with rage at Orsino's new fancy, and you want to find
out all about this Madame d'Aranjuez. So you came here, because we are
Whites and you saw that she had been at the Del Ferice party, and you
know that we know them--and the rest is sung by the organ, as we say
when high mass is over. Is that the truth, or not?"

"Approximately," said Giovanni, smiling in spite of himself.

"Does Corona cut your allowance when you tell fibs?" asked Flavia. "No?
Then why say that it is only approximately true?"

"I have my reasons. And you can tell me nothing?"

"Nothing. I believe Spicca knows all about her. But he will not tell
what he knows."

Spicca made no answer to this, and Giovanni determined to outstay him,
or rather, to stay until he rose to go and then go with him. It was
tedious work for he was not a man who could talk against time on all
occasions. But he struggled bravely and Spicca at last got up from his
deep chair. They went out together, and stopped as though by common
consent upon the brilliantly lighted landing of the first floor.

"Seriously, Spicca," said Giovanni, "I am afraid Orsino is falling in
love with this pretty stranger. If you can tell me anything about her,
please do so."

Spicca stared at the wall, hesitated a moment, and then looked straight
into his companion's eyes.

"Have you any reason to suppose that I, and I especially, know anything
about this lady?" he asked.

"No--except that you know everything."

"That is a fable." Spicca turned from him and began to descend the
stairs.

Giovanni followed and laid a hand upon his arm.

"You will not do me this service?" he asked earnestly.

Again Spicca stopped and looked at him.

"You and I are very old friends, Giovanni," he said slowly. "I am older
than you, but we have stood by each other very often--in places more
slippery than these marble steps. Do not let us quarrel now, old friend.
When I tell you that my omniscience exists only in the vivid
imaginations of people whose tea I like, believe me, and if you wish to
do me a kindness--for the sake of old times--do not help to spread the
idea that I know everything."

The melancholy Spicca had never been given to talking about friendship
or its mutual obligations. Indeed, Giovanni could not remember having
ever heard him speak as he had just spoken. It was perfectly clear that
he knew something very definite about Maria Consuelo, and he probably
had no intention of deceiving Giovanni in that respect. But Spicca also
knew his man, and he knew that his appeal for Giovanni's silence would
not be vain.

"Very well," said Sant' Ilario.

They exchanged a few indifferent words before parting, and then Giovanni
walked slowly homeward, pondering on the things he had heard that day.



CHAPTER VIII.


While Giovanni was exerting himself to little purpose in attempting to
gain information concerning Maria Consuelo, she had launched herself
upon the society of which the Countess Del Ferice was an important and
influential member. Chance, and probably chance alone, had guided her in
the matter of this acquaintance, for it could certainly not be said that
she had forced herself upon Donna Tullia, nor even shown any uncommon
readiness to meet the latter's advances. The offer of a seat in her
carriage had seemed natural enough, under the circumstances, and Donna
Tullia had been perfectly free to refuse it if she had chosen to do so.

Though possessing but the very slightest grounds for believing herself
to be a born diplomatist, the Countess had always delighted in petty
plotting and scheming. She now saw a possibility of annoying all
Orsino's relations by attracting the object of Orsino's devotion to her
own house. She had no especial reason for supposing that the young man
was really very much in love with Madame d'Aranjuez, but her woman's
instinct, which far surpassed her diplomatic talents in acuteness, told
her that Orsino was certainly not indifferent to the interesting
stranger. She argued, primitively enough, that to annoy Orsino must be
equivalent to annoying his people, and she supposed that she could do
nothing more disagreeable to the young man's wishes than to induce
Madame d'Aranjuez to join that part of society from which all the
Saracinesca were separated by an insuperable barrier.

And Orsino indeed resented the proceeding, as she had expected; but his
family were at first more inclined to look upon Donna Tullia as a good
angel who had carried off the tempter at the right moment to an
unapproachable distance. It was not to be believed that Orsino could do
anything so monstrous as to enter Del Ferice's house or ask a place in
Del Ferice's circle, and it was accordingly a relief to find that Madame
d'Aranjuez had definitely chosen to do so, and had appeared in
olive-green brocade at the Del Ferice's last party. The olive-green
brocade would now assuredly not figure in the gatherings of the
Saracinesca's intimate friends.

Like every one else, Orsino read the daily chronicle of Roman life in
the papers, and until he saw Maria Consuelo's name among the Del
Ferice's guests, he refused to believe that she had taken the
irrevocable step he so much feared. He had still entertained vague
notions of bringing about a meeting between her and his mother, and he
saw at a glance that such a meeting was now quite out of the question.
This was the first severe shock his vanity had ever received and he was
surprised at the depth of his own annoyance. Maria Consuelo might indeed
have been seen once with Donna Tullia, and might have gone once to the
latter's day. That was bad enough, but might be remedied by tact and
decision in her subsequent conduct. But there was no salvation possible
after a person had been advertised in the daily paper as Madame
d'Aranjuez had been. Orsino was very angry. He had been once to see her
since his first visit, and she had said nothing about this invitation,
though Donna Tullia's name had been mentioned. He was offended with her
for not telling him that she was going to the dinner, as though he had
any right to be made acquainted with her intentions. He had no sooner
made the discovery than he determined to visit his anger upon her, and
throwing the paper aside went straight to the hotel where she was
stopping.

Maria Consuelo was at home and he was ushered into the little
sitting-room without delay. To his inexpressible disgust he found Del
Ferice himself installed upon the chair near the table, engaged in
animated conversation with Madame d'Aranjuez. The situation was awkward
in the extreme. Orsino hoped that Del Ferice would go at once, and thus
avoid the necessity of an introduction. But Ugo did nothing of the kind.
He rose, indeed, but did not take his hat from the table, and stood
smiling pleasantly while Orsino shook hands with Maria Consuelo.

"Let me make you acquainted," she said with exasperating calmness, and
she named the two men to each other.

Ugo put out his hand quietly and Orsino was obliged to take it, which he
did coldly enough. Ugo had more than his share of tact, and he never
made a disagreeable impression upon any one if he could help it. Maria
Consuelo seemed to take everything for granted, and Orsino's appearance
did not disconcert her in the slightest degree. Both men sat down and
looked at her as though expecting that she would choose a subject of
conversation for them.

"We were talking of the change in Rome," she said. "Monsieur Del Ferice
takes a great interest in all that is doing, and he was explaining to me
some of the difficulties with which he has to contend."

"Don Orsino knows what they are, as well as I, though we might perhaps
differ as to the way of dealing with them," said Del Ferice.

"Yes," answered Orsino, more coldly than was necessary. "You play the
active part, and we the passive."

"In a certain sense, yes," returned the other, quite unruffled. "You
have exactly defined the situation, and ours is by far the more
disagreeable and thankless part to play. Oh--I am not going to defend
all we have done! I only defend what we mean to do. Change of any sort
is execrable to the man of taste, unless it is brought about by
time--and that is a beautifier which we have not at our disposal. We are
half Vandals and half Americans, and we are in a terrible hurry."

Maria Consuelo laughed, and Orsino's face became a shade less gloomy. He
had expected to find Del Ferice the arrogant, self-satisfied apostle of
the modern, which he was represented to be.

"Could you not have taken a little more time?" asked Orsino.

"I cannot see how. Besides it is our time which takes us with it. So
long as Rome was the capital of an idea there was no need of haste in
doing anything. But when it became the capital of a modern kingdom, it
fell a victim to modern facts--which are not beautiful. The most we can
hope to do is to direct the current, clumsily enough, I daresay. We
cannot stop it. Nothing short of Oriental despotism could. We cannot
prevent people from flocking to the centre, and where there is a
population it must be housed."

"Evidently," said Madame d'Aranjuez.

"It seems to me that, without disturbing the old city, a new one might
have been built beside it," observed Orsino.

"No doubt. And that is practically what we have done. I say 'we,'
because you say 'you.' But I think you will admit that, as far as
personal activity is concerned, the Romans of Rome are taking as active
a share in building ugly houses as any of the Italian Romans. The
destruction of the Villa Ludovisi, for instance, was forced upon the
owner not by the national government but by an insane municipality, and
those who have taken over the building lots are largely Roman princes of
the old stock."

The argument was unanswerable, and Orsino knew it, a fact which did not
improve his temper. It was disagreeable enough to be forced into a
conversation with Del Ferice, and it was still worse to be obliged to
agree with him. Orsino frowned and said nothing, hoping that the subject
would drop. But Del Ferice had only produced an unpleasant impression in
order to remove it and thereby improve the whole situation, which was
one of the most difficult in which he had found himself for some time.

"I repeat," he said, with a pleasant smile, "that it is hopeless to
defend all of what is actually done in our day in Rome. Some of your
friends and many of mine are building houses which even age and ruin
will never beautify. The only defensible part of the affair is the
political change which has brought about the necessity of building at
all, and upon that point I think that we may agree to differ. Do you not
think so, Don Orsino?"

"By all means," answered the young man, conscious that the proposal was
both just and fitting.

"And for the rest, both your friends and mine--for all I know, your own
family and certainly I myself--have enormous interests at stake. We may
at least agree to hope that none of us may be ruined."

"Certainly--though we have had nothing to do with the matter. Neither my
father nor my grandfather have entered into any such speculation."

"It is a pity," said Del Ferice thoughtfully.

"Why a pity?"

"On the one hand my instincts are basely commercial," Del Ferice
answered with a frank laugh. "No matter how great a fortune may be, it
may be doubled and trebled. You must remember that I am a banker in fact
if not exactly in designation, and the opportunity is excellent. But the
greater pity is that such men as you, Don Orsino, who could exercise as
much influence as it might please you to use, leave it to men--very
unlike you, I fancy--to murder the architecture of Rome and prepare the
triumph of the hideous."

Orsino did not answer the remark, although he was not altogether
displeased with the idea it conveyed. Maria Consuelo looked at him.

"Why do you stand aloof and let things go from bad to worse when you
might really do good by joining in the affairs of the day?" she asked.

"I could not join in them, if I would," answered Orsino.

"Why not?"

"Because I have not command of a hundred francs in the world, Madame.
That is the simplest and best of all reasons."

Del Ferice laughed incredulously.

"The eldest son of Casa Saracinesca would not find that a practical
obstacle," he said, taking his hat and rising to go. "Besides, what is
needed in these transactions is not so much ready money as courage,
decision and judgment. There is a rich firm of contractors now doing a
large business, who began with three thousand francs as their whole
capital--what you might lose at cards in an evening without missing it,
though you say that you have no money at your command."

"Is that possible?" asked Orsino with some interest.

"It is a fact. There were three men, a tobacconist, a carpenter and a
mason, and they each had a thousand francs of savings. They took over a
contract last week for a million and a half, on which they will clear
twenty per cent. But they had the qualities--the daring and the prudence
combined. They succeeded."

"And if they had failed, what would have happened?"

"They would have lost their three thousand francs. They had nothing else
to lose, and there was nothing in the least irregular about their
transactions. Good evening, Madame--I have a private meeting of
directors at my house. Good evening, Don Orsino."

He went out, leaving behind him an impression which was not by any means
disagreeable. His appearance was against him, Orsino thought. His fat
white face and dull eyes were not pleasant to look at. But he had shown
tact in a difficult situation, and there was a quiet energy about him, a
settled purpose which could not fail to please a young man who hated his
own idleness.

Orsino found that his mood had changed. He was less angry than he had
meant to be, and he saw extenuating circumstances where he had at first
only seen a wilful mistake. He sat down again.

"Confess that he is not the impossible creature you supposed," said
Maria Consuelo with a laugh.

"No, he is not. I had imagined something very different. Nevertheless, I
wish--one never has the least right to wish what one wishes--" He
stopped in the middle of the sentence.

"That I had not gone to his wife's party, you would say? But my dear Don
Orsino, why should I refuse pleasant things when they come into my
life?"

"Was it so pleasant?"

"Of course it was. A beautiful dinner--half a dozen clever men, all
interested in the affairs of the day, and all anxious to explain them to
me because I was a stranger. A hundred people or so in the evening, who
all seemed to enjoy themselves as much as I did. Why should I refuse all
that? Because my first acquaintance in Rome--who was Gouache--is so
'indifferent,' and because you--my second--are a pronounced clerical?
That is not reasonable."

"I do not pretend to be reasonable," said Orsino. "To be reasonable is
the boast of people who feel nothing."

"Then you are a man of heart?" Maria Consuelo seemed amused.

"I make no pretence to being a man of head, Madame."

"You are not easily caught."

"Nor Del Ferice either."

"Why do you talk of him?"

"The opportunity is good, Madame. As he is just gone, we know that he is
not coming."

"You can be very sarcastic, when you like," said Maria Consuelo. "But I
do not believe that you are as bitter as you make yourself out to be. I
do not even believe that you found Del Ferice so very disagreeable as
you pretend. You were certainly interested in what he said."

"Interest is not always agreeable. The guillotine, for instance,
possesses the most lively interest for the condemned man at an
execution."

"Your illustrations are startling. I once saw an execution, quite by
accident, and I would rather not think of it. But you can hardly compare
Del Ferice to the guillotine."

"He is as noiseless, as keen and as sure," said Orsino smartly.

"There is such a thing as being too clever," answered Maria Consuelo,
without a smile.

"Is Del Ferice a case of that?"

"No. You are. You say cutting things merely because they come into your
head, though I am sure that you do not always mean them. It is a bad
habit."

"Because it makes enemies, Madame?" Orsino was annoyed by the rebuke.

"That is the least good of good reasons."

"Another, then?"

"It will prevent people from loving you," said Maria Consuelo gravely.

"I never heard that--"

"No? It is true, nevertheless."

"In that case I will reform at once," said Orsino, trying to meet her
eyes. But she looked away from him.

"You think that I am preaching to you," she answered. "I have not the
right to do that, and if I had, I would certainly not use it. But I have
seen something of the world. Women rarely love a man who is bitter
against any one but himself. If he says cruel things of other women, the
one to whom he says them believes that he will say much worse of her to
the next he meets; if he abuses the men she knows, she likes it even
less--it is an attack on her judgment, on her taste and perhaps upon a
half-developed sympathy for the man attacked. One should never be witty
at another person's expense, except with one's own sex." She laughed a
little.

"What a terrible conclusion!"

"Is it? It is the true one."

"Then the way to win a woman's love is to praise her acquaintances? That
is original."

"I never said that."

"No? I misunderstood. What is the best way?"

"Oh--it is very simple," laughed Maria Consuelo.

"Tell her you love her, and tell her so again and again--you will
certainly please her in the end."

"Madame--" Orsino stopped, and folded his hands with an air of devout
supplication.

"What?"

"Oh, nothing! I was about to begin. It seemed so simple, as you say."

They both laughed and their eyes met for a moment.

"Del Ferice interests me very much," said Maria Consuelo, abruptly
returning to the original subject of conversation. "He is one of those
men who will be held responsible for much that is now doing. Is it not
true? He has great influence."

"I have always heard so." Orsino was not pleased at being driven to talk
of Del Ferice again.

"Do you think what he said about you so altogether absurd?"

"Absurd, no--impracticable, perhaps. You mean his suggestion that I
should try a little speculation? Frankly, I had no idea that such things
could be begun with so little capital. It seems incredible. I fancy that
Del Ferice was exaggerating. You know how carelessly bankers talk of a
few thousands, more or less. Nothing short of a million has much meaning
for them. Three thousand or thirty thousand--it is much the same in
their estimation."

"I daresay. After all, why should you risk anything? I suppose it is
simpler to play cards, though I should think it less amusing. I was only
thinking how easy it would be for you to find a serious occupation if
you chose."

Orsino was silent for a moment, and seemed to be thinking over the
matter.

"Would you advise me to enter upon such a business without my father's
knowledge?" he asked presently.

"How can I advise you? Besides, your father would let you do as you
please. There is nothing dishonourable in such things. The prejudice
against business is old-fashioned, and if you do not break through it
your children will."

Orsino looked thoughtfully at Maria Consuelo. She sometimes found an
oddly masculine bluntness with which to express her meaning, and which
produced a singular impression on the young man. It made him feel what
he supposed to be a sort of weakness, of which he ought to be ashamed.

"There is nothing dishonourable in the theory," he answered, "and the
practice depends on the individual."

Maria Consuelo laughed.

"You see--you can be a moralist when you please," she said.

There was a wonderful attraction in her yellow eyes just at that moment.

"To please you, Madame, I could do something much worse--or much
better."

He was not quite in earnest, but he was not jesting, and his face was
more serious than his voice. Maria Consuelo's hand was lying on the
table beside the silver paper-cutter. The white, pointed fingers were
very tempting and he would willingly have touched them. He put out his
hand. If she did not draw hers away he would lay his own upon it. If she
did, he would take up the paper-cutter. As it turned out, he had to
content himself with the latter. She did not draw her hand away as
though she understood what he was going to do, but quietly raised it and
turned the shade of the lamp a few inches.

"I would rather not be responsible for your choice," she said quietly.

"And yet you have left me none," he answered with, sudden boldness.

"No? How so?"

He held up the silver knife and smiled.

"I do not understand," she said, affecting a look of surprise.

"I was going to ask your permission to take your hand."

"Indeed? Why? There it is." She held it out frankly.

He took the beautiful fingers in his and looked at them for a moment.
Then he quietly raised them to his lips.

"That was not included in the permission," she said, with a little laugh
and drawing back. "Now you ought to go away at once."

"Why?"

"Because that little ceremony can belong only to the beginning or the
end of a visit."

"I have only just come."

"Ah? How long the time has seemed! I fancied you had been here half an
hour."

"To me it has seemed but a minute," answered Orsino promptly.

"And you will not go?"

There was nothing of the nature of a peremptory dismissal in the look
which accompanied the words.

"No--at the most, I will practise leave-taking."

"I think not," said Maria Consuelo with sudden coldness. "You are a
little too--what shall I say?--too enterprising, prince. You had better
make use of the gift where it will be a recommendation--in business, for
instance."

"You are very severe, Madame," answered Orsino, deeming it wiser to
affect humility, though a dozen sharp answers suggested themselves to
his ready wit.

Maria Consuelo was silent for a few seconds. Her head was resting upon
the little red morocco cushion, which heightened the dazzling whiteness
of her skin and lent a deeper colour to her auburn hair. She was gazing
at the hangings above the door. Orsino watched her in quiet admiration.
She was beautiful as he saw her there at that moment, for the
irregularities of her features were forgotten in the brilliancy of her
colouring and in the grace of the attitude. Her face was serious at
first. Gradually a smile stole over it, beginning, as it seemed, from
the deeply set eyes and concentrating itself at last in the full, red
mouth. Then she spoke, still looking upwards and away from him.

"What would you think if I were not a little severe?" she asked. "I am a
woman living--travelling, I should say--quite alone, a stranger here,
and little less than a stranger to you. What would you think if I were
not a little severe, I say? What conclusion would you come to, if I let
you take my hand as often as you pleased, and say whatever suggested
itself to your imagination--your very active imagination?"

"I should think you the most adorable of women--"

"But it is not my ambition to be thought the most adorable of women by
you, Prince Orsino."

"No--of course not. People never care for what they get without an
effort."

"You are absolutely irrepressible!" exclaimed Maria Consuelo, laughing
in spite of herself.

"And you do not like that! I will be meekness itself--a lamb, if you
please."

"Too playful--it would not suit your style."

"A stone--"

"I detest geology."

"A lap-dog, then. Make your choice, Madame. The menagerie of the
universe is at your disposal. When Adam gave names to the animals, he
could have called a lion a lap-dog--to reassure the Africans. But he
lacked imagination--he called a cat, a cat."

"That had the merit of simplicity, at all events."

"Since you admire his system, you may call me either Cain or Abel,"
suggested Orsino. "Am I humble enough? Can submission go farther?"

"Either would be flattery--for Abel was good and Cain was interesting."

"And I am neither--you give me another opportunity of exhibiting my deep
humility. I thank you sincerely. You are becoming more gracious than I
had hoped."

"You are very like a woman, Don Orsino. You always try to have the last
word."

"I always hope that the last word may be the best. But I accept the
criticism--or the reproach, with my usual gratitude. I only beg you to
observe that to let you have the last word would be for me to end the
conversation, after which I should be obliged to go away. And I do not
wish to go, as I have already said."

"You suggest the means of making you go," answered Maria Consuelo, with
a smile. "I can be silent--if you will not."

"It will be useless. If you do not interrupt me, I shall become
eloquent--"

"How terrible! Pray do not!"

"You see! I have you in my power. You cannot get rid of me."

"I would appeal to your generosity, then."

"That is another matter, Madame," said Orsino, taking his hat.

"I only said that I would--" Maria Consuelo made a gesture to stop him.

But he was wise enough to see that the conversation had reached its
natural end, and his instinct told him that he should not outstay his
welcome. He pretended not to see the motion of her hand, and rose to
take his leave.

"You do not know me," he said. "To point out to me a possible generous
action, is to ensure my performing it without hesitation. When may I be
so fortunate as to see you again, Madame?"

"You need not be so intensely ceremonious. You know that I am always at
home at this hour."

Orsino was very much struck by this answer. There was a shade of
irritation in the tone, which he had certainly not expected, and which
flattered him exceedingly. She turned her face away as she gave him her
hand and moved a book on the table with the other as though she meant to
begin reading almost before he should be out of the room. He had not
felt by any means sure that she really liked his society, and he had not
expected that she would so far forget herself as to show her inclination
by her impatience. He had judged, rightly or wrongly, that she was a
woman who weighed every word and gesture beforehand, and who would be
incapable of such an oversight as an unpremeditated manifestation of
feeling.

Very young men are nowadays apt to imagine complications of character
where they do not exist, often overlooking them altogether where they
play a real part. The passion for analysis discovers what it takes for
new simple elements in humanity's motives, and often ends by feeding on
itself in the effort to decompose what is not composite. The greatest
analysers are perhaps the young and the old, who, being respectively
before and behind the times, are not so intimate with them as those who
are actually making history, political or social, ethical or scandalous,
dramatic or comic.

It is very much the custom among those who write fiction in the English
language to efface their own individuality behind the majestic but
rather meaningless plural, "we," or to let the characters created
express the author's view of mankind. The great French novelists are
more frank, for they say boldly "I," and have the courage of their
opinions. Their merit is the greater, since those opinions seem to be
rarely complimentary to the human race in general, or to their readers
in particular. Without introducing any comparison between the fiction of
the two languages, it may be said that the tendency of the method is
identical in both cases and is the consequence of an extreme preference
for analysis, to the detriment of the romantic and very often of the
dramatic element in the modern novel. The result may or may not be a
volume of modern social history for the instruction of the present and
the future generation. If it is not, it loses one of the chief merits
which it claims; if it is, then we must admit the rather strange
deduction, that the political history of our times has absorbed into
itself all the romance and the tragedy at the disposal of destiny,
leaving next to none at all in the private lives of the actors and
their numerous relations.

Whatever the truth may be, it is certain that this love of minute
dissection is exercising an enormous influence in our time; and as no
one will pretend that a majority of the young persons in society who
analyse the motives of their contemporaries and elders are successful
moral anatomists, we are forced to the conclusion that they are
frequently indebted to their imaginations for the results they obtain
and not seldom for the material upon which they work. A real Chemistry
may some day grow out of the failures of this fanciful Alchemy, but the
present generation will hardly live to discover the philosopher's stone,
though the search for it yield gold, indirectly, by the writing of many
novels. If fiction is to be counted among the arts at all, it is not yet
time to forget the saying of a very great man: "It is the mission of all
art to create and foster agreeable illusions."

Orsino Saracinesca was no further removed from the action of the
analytical bacillus than other men of his age. He believed and desired
his own character to be more complicated than it was, and he had no
sooner made the acquaintance of Maria Consuelo than he began to
attribute to her minutest actions such a tortuous web of motives as
would have annihilated all action if it had really existed in her brain.
The possible simplicity of a strong and much tried character, good or
bad, altogether escaped him, and even an occasional unrestrained word or
gesture failed to convince him that he was on the wrong track. To tell
the truth, he was as yet very inexperienced. His visits to Maria
Consuelo passed in making light conversation. He tried to amuse her, and
succeeded fairly well, while at the same time he indulged in endless and
fruitless speculations as to her former life, her present intentions and
her sentiments with regard to himself. He would have liked to lead her
into talking of herself, but he did not know where to begin. It was not
a part of his system to believe in mysteries concerning people, but
when he reflected upon the matter he was amazed at the impenetrability
of the barrier which cut him off from all knowledge of her life. He soon
heard the tales about her which were carelessly circulated at the club,
and he listened to them without much interest, though he took the
trouble to deny their truth on his own responsibility, which surprised
the men who knew him and gave rise to the story that he was in love with
Madame d'Aranjuez. The most annoying consequence of the rumour was that
every woman to whom he spoke in society overwhelmed him with questions
which he could not answer except in the vaguest terms. In his ignorance
he did his best to evolve a satisfactory history for Maria Consuelo out
of his imagination, but the result was not satisfactory.

He continued his visits to her, resolving before each meeting that he
would risk offending her by putting some question which she must either
answer directly or refuse to answer altogether. But he had not counted
upon his own inherent hatred of rudeness, nor upon the growth of an
attachment which he had not foreseen when he had coldly made up his mind
that it would be worth while to make love to her, as Gouache had
laughingly suggested. Yet he was pleased with what he deemed his own
coldness. He assuredly did not love her, but he knew already that he
would not like to give up the half hours he spent with her. To offend
her seriously would be to forfeit a portion of his daily amusement which
he could not spare.

From time to time he risked a careless, half-jesting declaration such as
many a woman might have taken seriously. But Maria Consuelo turned such
advances with a laugh or by an answer that was admirably tempered with
quiet dignity and friendly rebuke.

"If she is not good," he said to himself at last, "she must be
enormously clever. She must be one or the other."



CHAPTER IX.


Orsino's twenty-first birthday fell in the latter part of January, when
the Roman season was at its height, but as the young man's majority did
not bring him any of those sudden changes in position which make epochs
in the lives of fatherless sons, the event was considered as a family
matter and no great social celebration of it was contemplated. It
chanced, too, that the day of the week was the one appropriated by the
Montevarchi for their weekly dance, with which it would have been a
mistake to interfere. The old Prince Saracinesca, however, insisted that
a score of old friends should be asked to dinner, to drink the health of
his eldest grandson, and this was accordingly done.

Orsino always looked back to that banquet as one of the dullest at which
he ever assisted. The friends were literally old, and their conversation
was not brilliant. Each one on arriving addressed to him a few
congratulatory and moral sentiments, clothed in rounded periods and
twanging of Cicero in his most sermonising mood. Each drank his especial
health at the end of the dinner in a teaspoonful of old "vin santo," and
each made a stiff compliment to Corona on her youthful appearance. The
men were almost all grandees of Spain of the first class and wore their
ribbons by common consent, which lent the assembly an imposing
appearance; but several of them were of a somnolent disposition and
nodded after dinner, which did not contribute to prolong the effect
produced. Orsino thought their stories and anecdotes very long-winded
and pointless, and even the old prince himself seemed oppressed by the
solemnity of the affair, and rarely laughed. Corona, with serene good
humour did her best to make conversation, and a shade of animation
occasionally appeared at her end of the table; but Sant' Ilario was
bored to the verge of extinction and talked of nothing but archaeology
and the trial of the Cenci, wondering inwardly why he chose such
exceedingly dry subjects. As for Orsino, the two old princesses between
whom he was placed paid very little attention to him, and talked across
him about the merits of their respective confessors and directors. He
frivolously asked them whether they ever went to the theatre, to which
they replied very coldly that they went to their boxes when the piece
was not on the Index and when there was no ballet. Orsino understood why
he never saw them at the opera, and relapsed into silence. The butler, a
son of the legendary Pasquale of earlier days, did his best to cheer the
youngest of his masters with a great variety of wines; but Orsino would
not be comforted either by very dry champagne or very mellow claret. But
he vowed a bitter revenge and swore to dance till three in the morning
at the Montevarchi's and finish the night with a rousing baccarat at the
club, which projects he began to put into execution as soon as was
practicable.

In due time the guests departed, solemnly renewing their expressions of
good wishes, and the Saracinesca household was left to itself. The old
prince stood before the fire in the state drawing-room, rubbing his
hands and shaking his head. Giovanni and Corona sat on opposite sides of
the fireplace, looking at each other and somewhat inclined to laugh.
Orsino was intently studying a piece of historical tapestry which had
never interested him before.

The silence lasted some time. Then old Saracinesca raised his head and
gave vent to his feelings, with all his old energy.

"What a museum!" he exclaimed. "I would not have believed that I should
live to dine in my own house with a party of stranded figure-heads, set
up in rows around my table! The paint is all worn off and the brains are
all worn out and there is nothing left but a cracked old block of wood
with a ribbon around its neck. You will be just like them, Giovanni, in
a few years, for you will be just like me--we all turn into the same
shape at seventy, and if we live a dozen years longer it is because
Providence designs to make us an awful example to the young."

"I hope you do not call yourself a figure-head," said Giovanni.

"They are calling me by worse names at this very minute as they drive
home. 'That old Methuselah of a Saracinesca, how has he the face to go
on living?' That is the way they talk. 'People ought to die decently
when other people have had enough of them, instead of sitting up at the
table like death's-heads to grin at their grandchildren and
great-grandchildren!' They talk like that, Giovanni. I have known some
of those old monuments for sixty years and more--since they were babies
and I was of Orsino's age. Do you suppose I do not know how they talk?
You always take me for a good, confiding old fellow, Giovanni. But then,
you never understood human nature."

Giovanni laughed and Corona smiled. Orsino turned round to enjoy the
rare delight of seeing the old gentleman rouse himself in a fit of
temper.

"If you were ever confiding it was because you were too good," said
Giovanni affectionately.

"Yes--good and confiding--that is it! You always did agree with me as to
my own faults. Is it not true, Corona? Can you not take my part against
that graceless husband of yours? He is always abusing me--as though I
were his property, or his guest. Orsino, my boy, go away--we are all
quarrelling here like a pack of wolves, and you ought to respect your
elders. Here is your father calling me by bad names--"

"I said you were too good," observed Giovanni.

"Yes--good and confiding! If you can find anything worse to say, say
it--and may you live to hear that good-for-nothing Orsino call you good
and confiding when you are eighty-two years old. And Corona is laughing
at me. It is insufferable. You used to be a good girl, Corona--but you
are so proud of having four sons that there is no possibility of talking
to you any longer. It is a pity that you have not brought them up
better. Look at Orsino. He is laughing too."

"Certainly not at you, grandfather," the young man hastened to say.

"Then you must be laughing at your father or your mother, or both, since
there is no one else here to laugh at. You are concocting sharp speeches
for your abominable tongue. I know it. I can see it in your eyes. That
is the way you have brought up your children, Giovanni. I congratulate
you. Upon my word, I congratulate you with all my heart! Not that I ever
expected anything better. You addled your own brains with curious
foreign ideas on your travels--the greater fool I for letting you run
about the world when you were young. I ought to have locked you up in
Saracinesca, on bread and water, until you understood the world well
enough to profit by it. I wish I had."

None of the three could help laughing at this extraordinary speech.
Orsino recovered his gravity first, by the help of the historical
tapestry. The old gentleman noticed the fact.

"Come here, Orsino, my boy," he said. "I want to talk to you."

Orsino came forward. The old prince laid a hand on his shoulder and
looked up into his face.

"You are twenty-one years old to-day," he said, "and we are all
quarrelling in honour of the event. You ought to be flattered that we
should take so much trouble to make the evening pass pleasantly for you,
but you probably have not the discrimination to see what your amusement
costs us."

His grey beard shook a little, his rugged features twitched, and then a
broad good-humoured smile lit up the old face.

"We are quarrelsome people," he continued in his most Cheerful and
hearty tone. "When Giovanni and I were young--we were young together,
you know--we quarrelled every day as regularly as we ate and drank. I
believe it was very good for us. We generally made it up before
night--for the sake of beginning again with a clear conscience. Anything
served us--the weather, the soup, the colour of a horse."

"You must have led an extremely lively life," observed Orsino,
considerably amused.

"It was very well for us, Orsino. But it will not do for you. You are
not so much like your father, as he was like me at your age. We fought
with the same weapons, but you two would not, if you fought at all. We
fenced for our own amusement and we kept the buttons on the foils. You
have neither my really angelic temper nor your father's stony
coolness--he is laughing again--no matter, he knows it is true. You have
a diabolical tongue. Do not quarrel with your father for amusement,
Orsino. His calmness will exasperate you as it does me, but you will not
laugh at the right moment as I have done all my life. You will bear
malice and grow sullen and permanently disagreeable. And do not say all
the cutting things you think of, because with your disposition you will
get into serious trouble. If you have really good cause for being angry,
it is better to strike than to speak, and in such cases I strongly
advise you to strike first. Now go and amuse yourself, for you must have
had enough of our company. I do not think of any other advice to give
you on your coming of age."

Thereupon he laughed again and pushed his grandson away, evidently
delighted with the lecture he had given him. Orsino was quick to profit
by the permission and was soon in the Montevarchi ballroom, doing his
best to forget the lugubrious feast in his own honour at which he had
lately assisted.

He was not altogether successful, however. He had looked forward to the
day for many months as one of rejoicing as well as of emancipation, and
he had been grievously disappointed. There was something of ill augury,
he thought, in the appalling dulness of the guests, for they had
congratulated him upon his entry into a life exactly similar to their
own. Indeed, the more precisely similar it proved to be, the more he
would be respected when he reached their advanced age. The future
unfolded to him was not gay. He was to live forty, fifty or even sixty
years in the same round of traditions and hampered by the same net of
prejudices. He might have his romance, as his father had had before him,
but there was nothing beyond that. His father seemed perfectly satisfied
with his own unruffled existence and far from desirous of any change.
The feudalism of it all was still real in fact, though abolished in
theory, and the old prince was as much a great feudal lord as ever,
whose interests were almost tribal in their narrowness, almost sordid in
their detail, and altogether uninteresting to his presumptive heir in
the third generation. What was the peasant of Aquaviva, for instance, to
Orsino? Yet Sant' Ilario and old Saracinesca took a lively interest in
his doings and in the doings of four or five hundred of his kind, whom
they knew by name and spoke of as belongings, much as they would have
spoken of books in the library. To collect rents from peasants and to
ascertain in person whether their houses needed repair was not a career.
Orsino thought enviously of San Giacinto's two sons, leading what seemed
to him a life of comparative activity and excitement in the Italian
army, and having the prospect of distinction by their own merits. He
thought of San Giacinto himself, of his ceaseless energy and of the
great position he was building up. San Giacinto was a Saracinesca as
well as Orsino, bearing the same name and perhaps not less respected
than the rest by the world at large, though he had sullied his hands
with finance. Even Del Ferice's position would have been above
criticism, but for certain passages in his earlier life not immediately
connected with his present occupation. And as if such instances were not
enough there were, to Orsino's certain knowledge, half a dozen men of
his father's rank even now deeply engaged in the speculations of the
day. Montevarchi was one of them, and neither he nor the others made any
secret of their doings.

"Surely," thought Orsino, "I have as good a head as any of them, except,
perhaps, San Giacinto."

And he grew more and more discontented with his lot, and more and more
angry at himself for submitting to be bound hand and foot and sacrificed
upon the altar of feudalism. Everything had disappointed and irritated
him on that day, the weariness of the dinner, the sight of his parents'
placid felicity, the advice his grandfather had given him--good of its
kind, but lamentably insufficient, to say the least of it. He was
rapidly approaching that state of mind in which young men do the most
unexpected things for the mere pleasure of surprising their relations.

He grew tired of the ball, because Madame d'Aranjuez was not there. He
longed to dance with her and he wished that he were at liberty to
frequent the houses la which she was asked. But as yet she saw only the
Whites and had not made the acquaintance of a single Grey family, in
spite of his entreaties. He could not tell whether she had any fixed
reason in making her choice, or whether as yet it had been the result of
chance, but he discovered that he was bored wherever he went because she
was not present. At supper-time on this particular evening, he entered
into a conspiracy with certain choice spirits to leave the party and
adjourn to the club and cards.

The sight of the tables revived him and he drew a long breath as he sat
down with a cigarette in his mouth and a glass at his elbow. It seemed
as though the day were beginning at last.

Orsino was no more a born gambler than he was disposed to be a hard
drinker. He loved excitement in any shape, and being so constituted as
to bear it better than most men, he took it greedily in whatever form it
was offered to him. He neither played nor drank every day, but when he
did either he was inclined to play more than other people and to consume
more strong liquor. Yet his judgment was not remarkable, nor his head
much stronger than the heads of his companions. Great gamblers do not
drink, and great drinkers are not good players, though they are
sometimes amazingly lucky when in their cups.

It is of no use to deny the enormous influence of brandy and games of
chance on the men of the present day, but there is little profit in
describing such scenes as take place nightly in many clubs all over
Europe. Something might be gained, indeed, if we could trace the causes
which have made gambling especially the vice of our generation, for that
discovery might show us some means of influencing the next. But I do not
believe that this is possible. The times have undoubtedly grown more
dull, as civilisation has made them more alike, but there is, I think,
no truth in the common statement that vice is bred of idleness. The
really idle man is a poor creature, incapable of strong sins. It is far
more often the man of superior gifts, with faculties overwrought and
nerves strained above concert pitch by excessive mental exertion, who
turns to vicious excitement for the sake of rest, as a duller man falls
asleep. Men whose lives are spent amidst the vicissitudes, surprises and
disappointments of the money market are assuredly less idle than country
gentlemen; the busy lawyer has less time to spare than the equally
gifted fellow of a college; the skilled mechanic works infinitely
harder, taking the average of the whole year, than the agricultural
labourer; the life of a sailor on an ordinary merchant ship is one of
rest, ease and safety compared with that of the collier. Yet there can
hardly be a doubt as to which individual in each example is the one to
seek relaxation in excitement, innocent or the reverse, instead of in
sleep. The operator in the stock market, the barrister, the mechanic,
the miner, in every case the men whose faculties are the more severely
strained, are those who seek strong emotions in their daily leisure, and
who are the more inclined to extend that leisure at the expense of
bodily rest. It may be objected that the worst vice is found in the
highest grades of society, that is to say, among men who have no settled
occupation. I answer that, in the first place, this is not a known fact,
but a matter of speculation, and that the conclusion is principally
drawn from the circumstance that the evil deeds of such persons, when
they become known, are very severely criticised by those whose criticism
has the most weight, namely by the equals of the sinners in question--as
well as by writers of fiction whose opinions may or may not be worth
considering. For one Zola, historian of the Rougon-Macquart family,
there are a hundred would-be Zolas, censors of a higher class, less
unpleasantly fond of accurate detail, perhaps, but as merciless in
intention. But even if the case against society be proved, which is
possible, I do not think that society can truly be called idle, because
many of those who compose it have no settled occupation. The social day
is a long one. Society would not accept the eight hours' system demanded
by the labour unions. Society not uncommonly works at a high pressure
for twelve, fourteen and even sixteen hours at a stretch. The mental
strain, though, not of the most intellectual order, is incomparably more
severe than that required for success in many lucrative professions or
crafts. The general absence of a distinct aim sharpens the faculties in
the keen pursuit of details, and lends an importance to trifles which
overburdens at every turn the responsibility borne by the nerves. Lazy
people are not favourites in drawing-rooms, and still less at the
dinner-table. Consider also that the average man of the world, and many
women, daily sustain an amount of bodily fatigue equal perhaps to that
borne by many mechanics and craftsmen and much greater than that
required in the liberal professions, and that, too, under far less
favourable conditions. Recapitulate all these points. Add together the
physical effort, the mental activity, the nervous strain. Take the sum
and compare it with that got by a similar process from other conditions
of existence. I think there can be little doubt of the verdict. The
force exerted is wasted, if you please, but it is enormously great, and
more than sufficient to prove that those who daily exert it are by no
means idle. Besides, none of the inevitable outward and visible results
of idleness are apparent in the ordinary society man or woman. On the
contrary, most of them exhibit the peculiar and unmistakable signs of
physical exhaustion, chief of which is cerebral anæmia. They are
overtrained and overworked. In the language of training they are
"stale."

Men like Orsino Saracinesca are not vicious at his age, though they may
become so. Vice begins when the excitement ceases to be a matter of
taste and turns into a necessity. Orsino gambled because it amused him
when no other amusement was obtainable, and he drank while he played
because it made the amusement seem more amusing. He was far too young
and healthy and strong to feel an irresistible longing for anything not
natural.

On the present occasion he cared very little, at first, whether he won
or lost, and as often happens to a man in that mood he won a
considerable sum during the first hour. The sight of the notes before
him strengthened an idea which had crossed his mind more than once of
late, and the stimulants he drank suddenly fixed it into a purpose. It
was true that he did not command any sum of money which could be
dignified by the name of capital, but he generally had enough in his
pocket to play with, and to-night he had rather more than usual. It
struck him that if he could win a few thousands by a run of luck, he
would have more than enough to try his fortune in the building
speculations of which Del Ferice had talked. The scheme took shape and
at once lent a passionate interest to his play.

Orsino had no system and generally left everything to chance, but he
had no sooner determined that he must win than he improvised a method,
and began to play carefully. Of course he lost, and as he saw his heap
of notes diminishing, he filled his glass more and more often. By two
o'clock he had but five hundred francs left, his face was deadly pale,
the lights dazzled him and his hands moved uncertainly. He held the bank
and he knew that if he lost on the card he must borrow money, which he
did not wish to do.

He dealt himself a five of spades, and glanced at the stakes. They were
considerable. A last sensation of caution prevented him from taking
another card. The table turned up a six and he lost.

"Lend me some money, Filippo," he said to the man nearest him, who
immediately counted out a number of notes.

Orsino paid with the money and the bank passed. He emptied his glass and
lit a cigarette. At each succeeding deal he staked a small sum and lost
it, till the bank came to him again. Once more he held a five. The other
men saw that he was losing and put up all they could. Orsino hesitated.
Some one observed justly that he probably held a five again. The lights
swam indistinctly before him and he drew another card. It was a four.
Orsino laughed nervously as he gathered the notes and paid back what he
had borrowed.

He did not remember clearly what happened afterwards. The faces of the
cards grew less distinct and the lights more dazzling. He played blindly
and won almost without interruption until the other men dropped off one
by one, having lost as much as they cared to part with at one sitting.
At four o'clock in the morning Orsino went home in a cab, having about
fifteen thousand francs in his pockets. The men he had played with were
mostly young fellows like himself, having a limited allowance of pocket
money, and Orsino's winnings were very large under the circumstances.

The night air cooled his head and he laughed gaily to himself as he
drove through the deserted streets. His hand was steady enough now, and
the gas lamps did not move disagreeably before his eyes. But he had
reached the stage of excitement in which a fixed idea takes hold of the
brain, and if it had been possible he would undoubtedly have gone as he
was, in evening dress, with his winnings in his pocket, to rouse Del
Ferice, or San Giacinto, or any one else who could put him in the way of
risking his money on a building lot. He reluctantly resigned himself to
the necessity of going to bed, and slept as one sleeps at twenty-one
until nearly eleven o'clock on the following morning.

While he dressed he recalled the circumstances of the previous night and
was surprised to find that his idea was as fixed as ever. He counted the
money. There was five times as much as the Del Ferice's carpenter,
tobacconist and mason had been able to scrape together amongst them. He
had therefore, according to his simple calculation, just five times as
good a chance of succeeding as they. And they had been successful. His
plan fascinated him, and he looked forward to the constant interest and
occupation with a delight which was creditable to his character. He
would be busy and the magic word "business" rang in his ears. It was
speculation, no doubt, but he did not look upon it as a form of
gambling; if he had done so, he would not have cared for it on two
consecutive days. It was something much better in his eyes. It was to do
something, to be some one, to strike out of the everlastingly dull road
which lay before him and which ended in the vanishing point of an
insignificant old age.

He had not the very faintest conception of what that business was with
which he aspired to occupy himself. He was totally ignorant of the
methods of dealing with money, and he no more knew what a draft at three
months meant than he could have explained the construction of the watch
he carried in his pocket. Of the first principles of building he knew,
if possible, even less and he did not know whether land in the city
were worth a franc or a thousand francs by the square foot. But he said
to himself that those things were mere details, and that he could learn
all he needed of them in a fortnight. Courage and judgment, Del Ferice
had said, were the chief requisites for success. Courage he possessed,
and he believed himself cool. He would avail himself of the judgment of
others until he could judge for himself.

He knew very well what his father would think of the whole plan, but he
had no intention of concealing his project. Since yesterday, he was of
age and was therefore his own master to the extent of his own small
resources. His father had not the power to keep him from entering upon
any honourable undertaking, though he might justly refuse to be
responsible for the consequences. At the worst, thought Orsino, those
consequences might be the loss of the money he had in hand. Since he had
nothing else to risk, he had nothing else to lose. That is the light in
which most inexperienced people regard speculation. Orsino therefore
went to his father and unfolded his scheme, without mentioning Del
Ferice.

Sant' Ilario listened rather impatiently and laughed when Orsino had
finished. He did not mean to be unkind, and if he had dreamed of the
effect his manner would produce, he would have been more careful. But he
did not understand his son, as he himself had been understood by his own
father.

"This is all nonsense, my boy," he answered. "It is a mere passing
fancy. What do you know of business or architecture, or of a dozen other
matters which you ought to understand thoroughly before attempting
anything like what you propose?"

Orsino was silent, and looked out of the window, though he was evidently
listening.

"You say you want an occupation. This is not one. Banking is an
occupation, and architecture is a career, but what we call affairs in
Rome are neither one nor the other. If you want to be a banker you must
go into a bank and do clerk's work for years. If you mean to follow
architecture as a profession you must spend four or five years in study
at the very least."

"San Giacinto has not done that," observed Orsino coldly.

"San Giacinto has a very much better head on his shoulders than you, or
I, or almost any other man in Rome. He has known how to make use of
other men's talents, and he had a rather more practical education than I
would have cared to give you. If he were not one of the most honest men
alive he would certainly have turned out one of the greatest
scoundrels."

"I do not see what that has to do with it," said Orsino.

"Not much, I confess. But his early life made him understand men as you
and I cannot understand them, and need not, for that matter."

"Then you object to my trying this?"

"I do nothing of the kind. When I object to the doing of anything I
prevent it, by fair words or by force. I am not inclined for a pitched
battle with you, Orsino, and I might not get the better of you after
all. I will be perfectly neutral. I will have nothing to do with this
business. If I believed in it, I would give you all the capital you
could need, but I shall not diminish your allowance in order to hinder
you from throwing it away. If you want more money for your amusements or
luxuries, say so. I am not fond of counting small expenses, and I have
not brought you up to count them either. Do not gamble at cards any more
than you can help, but if you lose and must borrow, borrow of me. When I
think you are going too far, I will tell you so. But do not count upon
me for any help in this scheme of yours. You will not get it. If you
find yourself in a commercial scrape, find your own way out of it. If
you want better advice than mine, go to San Giacinto. He will give you a
practical man's view of the case."

"You are frank, at all events," said Orsino, turning from the window
and facing his father.

"Most of us are in this house," answered Sant' Ilario. "That will make
it all the harder for you to deal with the scoundrels who call
themselves men of business."

"I mean to try this, father," said the young man. "I will go and see San
Giacinto, as you suggest, and I will ask his opinion. But if he
discourages me I will try my luck all the same. I cannot lead this life
any longer. I want an occupation and I will make one for myself."

"It is not an occupation that you want, Orsino. It is another
excitement. That is all. If you want an occupation, study, learn
something, find out what work means. Or go to Saracinesca and build
houses for the peasants--you will do no harm there, at all events. Go
and drain that land in Lombardy--I can do nothing with it and would sell
it if I could. But that is not what you want. You want an excitement for
the hours of the morning. Very well. You will probably find more of it
than you like. Try it, that is all I have to say."

Like many very just men Giovanni could state a case with alarming
unfairness when thoroughly convinced that he was right. Orsino stood
still for a moment and then walked towards the door without another
word. His father called him back.

"What is it?" asked Orsino coldly.

Sant' Ilario held out his hand with a kindly look in his eyes.

"I do not want you to think that I am angry, my boy. There is to be no
ill feeling between us about this."

"None whatever," said the young man, though without much alacrity, as he
shook hands with his father. "I see you are not angry. You do not
understand me, that is all."

He went out, more disappointed with the result of the interview than he
had expected, though he had not looked forward to receiving any
encouragement. He had known very well what his father's views were but
he had not foreseen that he would be so much irritated by the
expression of them. His determination hardened and he resolved that
nothing should hinder him. But he was both willing and ready to consult
San Giacinto, and went to the latter's house immediately on leaving
Sant' Ilario's study.

As for Giovanni, he was dimly conscious that he had made a mistake,
though he did not care to acknowledge it. He was a good horseman and he
was aware that he would have used a very different method with a restive
colt. But few men are wise enough to see that there is only one
universal principle to follow in the exertion of strength, moral or
physical; and instead of seeking analogies out of actions familiar to
them as a means of accomplishing the unfamiliar, they try to discover
new theories of motion at every turn and are led farther and farther
from the right line by their own desire to reach the end quickly.

"At all events," thought Sant' Ilario, "the boy's new hobby will take
him to places where he is not likely to meet that woman."

And with this discourteous reflection upon Madame d'Aranjuez he consoled
himself. He did not think it necessary to tell Corona of Orsino's
intentions, simply because he did not believe that they would lead to
anything serious, and there was no use in disturbing her unnecessarily
with visions of future annoyance. If Orsino chose to speak of it to her,
he was at liberty to do so.



CHAPTER X.


Orsino went directly to San Giacinto's house, and found him in the room
which he used for working and in which he received the many persons whom
he was often obliged to see on business. The giant was alone and was
seated behind a broad polished table, occupied in writing. Orsino was
struck by the extremely orderly arrangement of everything he saw. Papers
were tied together in bundles of exactly like shape, which lay in two
lines of mathematical precision. The big inkstand was just in the middle
of the rows and a paper-cutter, a pen-rack and an erasing knife lay side
by side in front of it. The walls were lined with low book-cases of a
heavy and severe type, filled principally with documents neatly filed in
volumes and marked on the back in San Giacinto's clear handwriting. The
only object of beauty in the room was a full-length portrait of Flavia
by a great artist, which hung above the fireplace. The rigid symmetry of
everything was made imposing by the size of the objects--the table was
larger than ordinary tables, the easy-chairs were deeper, broader and
lower than common, the inkstand was bigger, even the penholder in San
Giacinto's fingers was longer and thicker than any Orsino had ever seen.
And yet the latter felt that there was no affectation about all this.
The man to whom these things belonged and who used them daily was
himself created on a scale larger than other men.

Though he was older than Sant' Ilario and was, in fact, not far from
sixty years of age San Giacinto might easily have passed for less than
fifty. There was hardly a grey thread in his short, thick, black hair,
and he was still as lean and strong, and almost as active, as he had
been thirty years earlier. The large features were perhaps a little more
bony and the eyes somewhat deeper than they had been, but these changes
lent an air of dignity rather than of age to the face.

He rose to meet Orsino and then made him sit down beside the table. The
young man suddenly felt an unaccountable sense of inferiority and
hesitated as to how he should begin.

"I suppose you want to consult me about something," said San Giacinto
quietly.

"Yes. I want to ask your advice, if you will give it to me--about a
matter of business."

"Willingly. What is it?"

Orsino was silent for a moment and stared at the wall. He was conscious
that the very small sum of which he could dispose must seem even smaller
in the eyes of such a man, but this did not disturb him. He was
oppressed by San Giacinto's personality and prepared himself to speak as
though he had been a student undergoing oral examination. He stated his
case plainly, when he at last spoke. He was of age and he looked forward
with dread to an idle life. All careers were closed to him. He had
fifteen thousand francs in his pocket. Could San Giacinto help him to
occupy himself by investing the sum in a building speculation? Was the
sum sufficient as a beginning? Those were the questions.

San Giacinto did not laugh as Sant' Ilario had done. He listened very
attentively to the end and then deliberately offered Orsino a cigar and
lit one himself, before he delivered his answer.

"You are asking the same question which is put to me very often," he
said at last. "I wish I could give you any encouragement. I cannot."

Orsino's face fell, for the reply was categorical. He drew back a little
in his chair, but said nothing.

"That is my answer," continued San Giacinto thoughtfully, "but when one
says 'no' to another the subject is not necessarily exhausted. On the
contrary, in such a case as this I cannot let you go without giving you
my reasons. I do not care to give my views to the public, but such as
they are, you are welcome to them. The time is past. That is why I
advise you to have nothing to do with any speculation of this kind. That
is the best of all reasons."

"But you yourself are still engaged in this business," objected Orsino.

"Not so deeply as you fancy. I have sold almost everything which I do
not consider a certainty, and am selling what little I still have as
fast as I can. In speculation there are only two important moments--the
moment to buy and the moment to sell. In my opinion, this is the time
to sell, and I do not think that the time for buying will come again
without a crisis."

"But everything is in such a flourishing state--"

"No doubt it is--to-day. But no one can tell what state business will be
in next week, nor even to-morrow."

"There is Del Ferice--"

"No doubt, and a score like him," answered San Giacinto, looking quietly
at Orsino. "Del Ferice is a banker, and I am a speculator, as you wish
to be. His position is different from ours. It is better to leave him
out of the question. Let us look at the matter logically. You wish to
speculate--"

"Excuse me," said Orsino, interrupting him. "I want to try what I can do
in business."

"You wish to risk money, in one way or another. You therefore wish one
or more of three things--money for its own sake, excitement or
occupation. I can hardly suppose that you want money. Eliminate that.
Excitement is not a legitimate aim, and you can get it more safely in
other ways. Therefore you want occupation."

"That is precisely what I said at the beginning," observed Orsino with a
shade of irritation.

"Yes. But I like to reach my conclusions in my own way. You are then a
young man in search of an occupation. Speculation, and what you propose
is nothing else, is no more an occupation than playing at the public
lottery and much less one than playing at baccarat. There at least you
are responsible for your own mistakes and in decent society you are safe
from the machinations of dishonest people. That would matter less if the
chances were in your favour, as they might have been a year ago and as
they were in mine from the beginning. They are against you now, because
it is too late, and they are against me. I would as soon buy a piece of
land on credit at the present moment, as give the whole sum in cash to
the first man I met in the street."

"Yet there is Montevarchi who still buys--"

"Montevarchi is not worth the paper on which he signs his name," said
San Giacinto calmly.

Orsino uttered an exclamation of surprise and incredulity.

"You may tell him so, if you please," answered the giant with perfect
indifference. "If you tell any one what I have said, please to tell him
first, that is all. He will not believe you. But in six months he will
know it, I fancy, as well as I know it now. He might have doubled his
fortune, but he was and is totally ignorant of business. He thought it
enough to invest all he could lay hands on and that the returns would be
sure. He has invested forty millions and owns property which he believes
to be worth sixty, but which will not bring ten in six months, and those
remaining ten millions he owes on all manner of paper, on mortgages on
his original property, in a dozen ways which he has forgotten himself."

"I do not see how that is possible!" exclaimed Orsino.

"I am a plain man, Orsino, and I am your cousin. You may take it for
granted that I am right. Do not forget that I was brought up in a
hand-to-hand struggle for fortune such as you cannot dream of. When I
was your age I was a practical man of business, and I had taught myself,
and it was all on such a small scale that a mistake of a hundred francs
made the difference between profit and loss. I dislike details, but I
have been a man of detail all my life, by force of circumstances.
Successful business implies the comprehension of details. It is tedious
work, and if you mean to try it you must begin at the beginning. You
ought to do so. There is an enormous business before you, with
considerable capabilities in it. If I were in your place, I would take
what fell naturally to my lot."

"What is that?"

"Farming. They call it agriculture in parliament, because they do not
know what farming means. The men who think that Italy can live without
farmers are fools. We are not a manufacturing people any more than we
are a business people. The best dictator for us would be a practical
farmer, a ploughman like Cincinnatus. Nobody who has not tried to raise
wheat on an Italian mountain-side knows the great difficulties or the
great possibilities of our country. Do you know that bad as our farming
is, and absurd as is our system of land taxation, we are food exporters,
to a small extent? The beginning is there. Take my advice, be a farmer.
Manage one of the big estates you have amongst you for five or six
years. You will not do much good to the land in that time, but you will
learn what land really means. Then go into parliament and tell people
facts. That is an occupation and a career as well, which cannot be said
of speculation in building lots, large or small. If you have any ready
money keep it in government bonds until you have a chance of buying
something worth keeping."

Orsino went away disappointed and annoyed. San Giacinto's talk about
farming seemed very dull to him. To bury himself for half a dozen years
in the country in order to learn the rotation of crops and the
principles of land draining did not present itself as an attractive
career. If San Giacinto thought farming the great profession of the
future, why did he not try it himself? Orsino dismissed the idea rather
indignantly, and his determination to try his luck became stronger by
the opposition it met. Moreover he had expected very different language
from San Giacinto, whose sober view jarred on Orsino's enthusiastic
impulse.

But he now found himself in considerable difficulty. He was ignorant
even of the first steps to be taken, and knew no one to whom he could
apply for information. There was Prince Montevarchi indeed, who though
he was San Giacinto's brother-in-law, seemed by the latter's account to
have got into trouble. He did not understand how San Giacinto could
allow his wife's brother to ruin himself without lending him a helping
hand, but San Giacinto was not the kind of man of whom people ask
indiscreet questions, and Orsino had heard that the two men were not on
the best of terms. Possibly good advice had been offered and refused.
Such affairs generally end in a breach of friendship. However that might
be, Orsino would not go to Montevarchi.

He wandered aimlessly about the streets, and the money seemed to burn in
his pocket, though he had carefully deposited it in a place of safety at
home. Again and again Del Ferice's story of the carpenter and his two
companions recurred to his mind. He wondered how they had set about
beginning, and he wished he could ask Del Ferice himself. He could not
go to the man's house, but he might possibly meet him at Maria
Consuelo's. He was surprised to find that he had almost forgotten her in
his anxiety to become a man of business. It was too early to call yet,
and in order to kill the time he went home, got a horse from the stables
and rode out into the country for a couple of hours.

At half-past five o'clock he entered the familiar little sitting-room in
the hotel. Madame d'Aranjuez was alone, cutting a new book with the
jewelled knife which continued to be the only object of the kind visible
in the room. She smiled as Orsino entered, and she laid aside the volume
as he sat down in his accustomed place.

"I thought you were not coming," she said.

"Why?"

"You always come at five. It is half-past to-day." Orsino looked at his
watch.

"Do you notice whether I come or not?" he asked.

Maria Consuelo glanced at his face, and laughed.

"What have you been doing to-day?" she asked. "That is much more
interesting."

"Is it? I am afraid not. I have been listening to those disagreeable
things which are called truths by the people who say them. I have
listened to two lectures delivered by two very intelligent men for my
especial benefit. It seems to me that as soon as I make a good
resolution it becomes the duty of sensible people to demonstrate that I
am a fool."

"You are not in a good humour. Tell me all about it."

"And weary you with my grievances? No. Is Del Ferice coming this
afternoon?"

"How can I tell? He does not come often."

"I thought he came almost every day," said Orsino gloomily.

He was disappointed, but Maria Consuelo did not understand what was the
matter. She leaned forward in her low seat, her chin resting upon one
hand, and her tawny eyes fixed on Orsino's.

"Tell me, my friend--are you unhappy? Can I do anything? Will you tell
me?"

It was not easy to resist the appeal. Though the two had grown intimate
of late, there had hitherto always been something cold and reserved
behind her outwardly friendly manner. To-day she seemed suddenly willing
to be different. Her easy, graceful attitude, her soft voice full of
promised sympathy, above all the look in her strange eyes revealed a
side of her character which Orsino had not suspected and which affected
him in a way he could not have described.

Without hesitation he told her his story, from beginning to end, simply,
without comment and without any of the cutting phrases which came so
readily to his tongue on most occasions. She listened very thoughtfully
to the end.

"Those things are not misfortunes," she said. "But they may be the
beginnings of unhappiness. To be unhappy is worse than any misfortune.
What right has your father to laugh at you? Because he never needed to
do anything for himself, he thinks it absurd that his son should dislike
the lazy life that is prepared for him. It is not reasonable--it is not
kind!"

"Yet he means to be both, I suppose," said Orsino bitterly.

"Oh, of course! People always mean to be the soul of logic and the
paragon of charity! Especially where their own children are concerned."

Maria Consuelo added the last words with more feeling than seemed
justified by her sympathy for Orsino's woes. The moment was perhaps
favourable for asking a leading question about herself, and her answer
might have thrown light on her problematic past. But Orsino was too busy
with his own troubles to think of that, and the opportunity slipped by
and was lost.

"You know now why I want to see Del Ferice," he said. "I cannot go to
his house. My only chance of talking to him lies here."

"And that is what brings you? You are very flattering!"

"Do not be unjust! We all look forward to meeting our friends in
heaven."

"Very pretty. I forgive you. But I am afraid that you will not meet Del
Ferice. I do not think he has left the Chambers yet. There was to be a
debate this afternoon in which he had to speak."

"Does he make speeches?"

"Very good ones. I have heard him."

"I have never been inside the Chambers," observed Orsino.

"You are not very patriotic. You might go there and ask for Del Ferice.
You could see him without going to his house--without compromising your
dignity."

"Why do you laugh?"

"Because it all seems to me so absurd. You know that you are perfectly
free to go and see him when and where you will. There is nothing to
prevent you. He is the one man of all others whose advice you need. He
has an unexceptional position in the world--no doubt he has done strange
things, but so have dozens of people whom you know--his present
reputation is excellent, I say. And yet, because some twenty years ago,
when you were a child, he held one opinion and your father held another,
you are interdicted from crossing his threshold! If you can shake hands
with him here, you can take his hand in his own house. Is not that
true?"

"Theoretically, I daresay, but not in practice. You see it yourself. You
have chosen one side from the first, and all the people on the other
side know it. As a foreigner, you are not bound to either, and you can
know everybody in time, if you please. Society is not so prejudiced as
to object to that. But because you begin with the Del Ferice in a very
uncompromising way, it would take a long time for you to know the
Montevarchi, for instance."

"Who told you that I was a foreigner?" asked Maria Consuelo, rather
abruptly.

"You yourself--"

"That is good authority!" She laughed. "I do not remember--ah! because I
do not speak Italian? You mean that? One may forget one's own language,
or for that matter one may never have learned it."

"Are you Italian, then, Madame?" asked Orsino, surprised that she should
lead the conversation so directly to a point which he had supposed must
be reached by a series of tactful approaches.

"Who knows? I am sure I do not. My father was Italian. Does that
constitute nationality?"

"Yes. But the woman takes the nationality of her husband, I believe,"
said Orsino, anxious to hear more.

"Ah yes--poor Aranjuez!" Maria Consuelo's voice suddenly took that
sleepy tone which Orsino had heard more than once. Her eyelids drooped a
little and she lazily opened and shut her hand, and spread out the
fingers and looked at them.

But Orsino was not satisfied to let the conversation drop at this point,
and after a moment's pause he put a decisive question.

"And was Monsieur d'Aranjuez also Italian?" he asked.

"What does it matter?" she asked in the same indolent tone. "Yes, since
you ask me, he was Italian, poor man."

Orsino was more and more puzzled. That the name did not exist in Italy
he was almost convinced. He thought of the story of the Signor Aragno,
who had fallen overboard in the south seas, and then he was suddenly
aware that he could not believe in anything of the sort. Maria Consuelo
did not betray a shade of emotion, either, at the mention of her
deceased husband. She seemed absorbed in the contemplation of her hands.
Orsino had not been rebuked for his curiosity and would have asked
another question if he had known how to frame it. An awkward silence
followed. Maria Consuelo raised her eyes slowly and looked thoughtfully
into Orsino's face.

"I see," she said at last. "You are curious. I do not know whether you
have any right to be--have you?"

"I wish I had!" exclaimed Orsino thoughtlessly.

Again she looked at him in silence for some moments.

"I have not known you long enough," she said. "And if I had known you
longer, perhaps it would not be different. Are other people curious,
too? Do they talk about me?"

"The people I know do--but they do not know you. They see your name in
the papers, as a beautiful Spanish princess. Yet everybody is aware that
there is no Spanish nobleman of your name. Of course they are curious.
They invent stories about you, which I deny. If I knew more, it would be
easier."

"Why do you take the trouble to deny such things?"

She asked the question with a change of manner. Once more she leaned
forward and her face softened wonderfully as she looked at him.

"Can you not guess?" he asked.

He was conscious of a very unusual emotion, not at all in harmony with
the imaginary character he had chosen for himself, and which he
generally maintained with considerable success. Maria Consuelo was one
person when she leaned back in her chair, laughing or idly listening to
his talk, or repulsing the insignificant declarations of devotion which
were not even meant to be taken altogether in earnest. She was pretty
then, attractive, graceful, feminine, a little artificial, perhaps, and
Orsino felt that he was free to like her or not, as he pleased, but that
he pleased to like her for the present. She was quite another woman
to-day, as she bent forward, her tawny eyes growing darker and more
mysterious every moment, her auburn hair casting wonderful shadows upon
her broad pale forehead, her lips not closed as usual, but slightly
parted, her fragrant breath just stirring the quiet air Orsino breathed.
Her features might be irregular. It did not matter. She was beautiful
for the moment with a kind of beauty Orsino had never seen, and which
produced a sudden and overwhelming effect upon him.

"Do you not know?" he asked again, and his voice trembled unexpectedly.

"Thank you," she said softly and she touched his hand almost
caressingly.

But when he would have taken it, she drew back instantly and was once
more the woman whom he saw every day, careless, indifferent, pretty.

"Why do you change so quickly?" he asked in a low voice, bending towards
her. "Why do you snatch your hand away? Are you afraid of me?"

"Why should I be afraid? Are you dangerous?"

"You are. You may be fatal, for all I know."

"How foolish!" she exclaimed, with a quick glance.

"You are Madame d'Aranjuez, now," he answered. "We had better change the
subject."

"What do you mean?"

"A moment ago you were Consuelo," he said boldly.

"Have I given you any right to say that?"

"A little."

"I am sorry. I will be more careful. I am sure I cannot imagine why you
should think of me at all, unless when you are talking to me, and then I
do not wish to be called by my Christian name. I assure you, you are
never anything in my thoughts but His Excellency Prince Orsino
Saracinesca--with as many titles after that as may belong to you."

"I have none," said Orsino.

Her speech irritated him strongly, and the illusion which had been so
powerful a few moments earlier all but disappeared.

"Then you advise me to go and find Del Ferice at Monte Citorio," he
observed.

"If you like." She laughed. "There is no mistaking your intention when
you mean to change the subject," she added.

"You made it sufficiently clear that the other was disagreeable to you."

"I did not mean to do so."

"Then in heaven's name, what do you mean, Madame?" he asked, suddenly
losing his head in his extreme annoyance.

Maria Consuelo raised her eyebrows in surprise.

"Why are you so angry?" she asked. "Do you know that it is very rude to
speak like that?"

"I cannot help it. What have I done to-day that you should torment me as
you do?"

"I? I torment you? My dear friend, you are quite mad."

"I know I am. You make me so."

"Will you tell me how? What have I done? What have I said? You Romans
are certainly the most extraordinary people. It is impossible to please
you. If one laughs, you become tragic. If one is serious, you grow gay!
I wish I understood you better."

"You will end by making it impossible for me to understand myself," said
Orsino. "You say that I am changeable. Then what are you?"

"Very much the same to-day as yesterday," said Maria Consuelo calmly.
"And I do not suppose that I shall be very different to-morrow."

"At least I will take my chance of finding that you are mistaken," said
Orsino, rising suddenly, and standing before her.

"Are you going?" she asked, as though she were surprised.

"Since I cannot please you."

"Since you will not."

"I do not know how."

"Be yourself--the same that you always are. You are affecting to be some
one else, to-day."

"I fancy it is the other way," answered Orsino, with more truth than he
really owned to himself.

"Then I prefer the affectation to the reality."

"As you will, Madame. Good evening."

He crossed the room to go out. She called him back.

"Don Orsino!"

He turned sharply round.

"Madame?"

Seeing that he did not move, she rose and went to him. He looked down
into her face and saw that it was changed again.

"Are you really angry?" she asked. There was something girlish in the
way she asked the question, and, for a moment, in her whole manner.

Orsino could not help smiling. But he said nothing.

"No, you are not," she continued. "I can see it. Do you know? I am very
glad. It was foolish of me to tease you. You will forgive me? This
once?"

"If you will give me warning the next time." He found that he was
looking into her eyes.

"What is the use of warning?" she asked.

They were very close together, and there was a moment's silence.
Suddenly Orsino forgot everything and bent down, clasping her in his
arms and kissing her again and again. It was brutal, rough, senseless,
but he could not help it.

Maria Consuelo uttered a short, sharp cry, more of surprise, perhaps,
than of horror. To Orsino's amazement and confusion her voice was
immediately answered by another, which was that of the dark and usually
silent maid, whom he had seen once or twice. The woman ran into the
room, terrified by the cry she had heard.

"Madame felt faint in crossing the room, and was falling when I caught
her," said Orsino, with a coolness that did him credit.

And, in fact, Maria Consuelo closed her eyes as he let her sink into the
nearest chair. The maid fell on her knees beside her mistress and began
chafing her hands.

"The poor Signora!" she exclaimed. "She should never be left alone! She
has not been herself since the poor Signore died. You had better leave
us, sir--I will put her to bed when she revives. It often happens--pray
do not be anxious!"

Orsino picked up his hat and left the room.

"Oh--it often happens, does it?" he said to himself as he closed the
door softly behind him and walked down the corridor of the hotel.

He was more amazed at his own boldness than he cared to own. He had not
supposed that scenes of this description produced themselves so very
unexpectedly, and, as it were, without any fixed intention on the part
of the chief actor. He remembered that he had been very angry with
Madame d'Aranjuez, that she had spoken half a dozen words, and that he
had felt an irresistible impulse to kiss her. He had done so, and he
thought with considerable trepidation of their next meeting. She had
screamed, which showed that she was outraged by his boldness. It was
doubtful whether she would receive him again. The best thing to be done,
he thought, was to write her a very humble letter of apology, explaining
his conduct as best he could. This did not accord very well with his
principles, but he had already transgressed them in being so excessively
hasty. Her eyes had certainly been provoking in the extreme, and it had
been impossible to resist the expression on her lips. But at all events,
he should have begun by kissing her hand, which she would certainly not
have withdrawn again--then he might have put his arm round her and drawn
her head to his shoulder. These were preliminaries in the matter of
kissing which it was undoubtedly right to observe, and he had culpably
neglected them. He had been abominably brutal, and he ought to
apologise. Nevertheless, he would not have forfeited the recollection of
that moment for all the other recollections of his life, and he knew it.
As he walked along the street he felt a wild exhilaration such as he had
never known before. He owned gladly to himself that he loved Maria
Consuelo, and resolutely thrust away the idea that his boyish vanity was
pleased by the snatching of a kiss.

Whatever the real nature of his delight might be it was for the time so
sincere that he even forgot to light a cigarette in order to think over
the circumstances.

Walking rapidly up the Corso he came to the Piazza Colonna, and the
glare of the electric light somehow recalled him to himself.

"Great speech of the Honourable Del Ferice!" yelled a newsboy in his
ear. "Ministerial crisis! Horrible murder of a grocer!"

Orsino mechanically turned to the right in the direction of the
Chambers. Del Ferice had probably gone home, since his speech was
already in print. But fate had ordained otherwise. Del Ferice had
corrected his proofs on the spot and had lingered to talk with his
friends before going home. Not that it mattered much, for Orsino could
have found him as well on the following day. His brougham was standing
in front of the great entrance and he himself was shaking hands with a
tall man under the light of the lamps. Orsino went up to him.

"Could you spare me a quarter of an hour?" asked the young man in a
voice constrained by excitement. He felt that he was embarked at last
upon his great enterprise.

Del Ferice looked up in some astonishment. He had reason to dread the
quarrelsome disposition of the Saracinesca as a family, and he wondered
what Orsino wanted.

"Certainly, certainly, Don Orsino," he answered, with a particularly
bland smile. "Shall we drive, or at least sit in my carriage? I am a
little fatigued with my exertions to-day."

The tall man bowed and strolled away, biting the end of an unlit cigar.

"It is a matter of business," said Orsino, before entering the carriage.
"Can you help me to try my luck--in a very small way--in one of the
building enterprises you manage?"

"Of course I can, and will," answered Del Ferice, more and more
astonished. "After you, my dear Don Orsino, after you," he repeated,
pushing the young man into the brougham. "Quiet streets--till I stop
you," he said to the footman, as he himself got in.



CHAPTER XI.

Del Ferice was surprised beyond measure at Orsino's request, and was not
guilty of any profoundly nefarious intention when he so readily acceded
to it. His own character made him choose as a rule to refuse nothing
that was asked of him, though his promises were not always fulfilled
afterwards. To express his own willingness to help those who asked, was
of course not the same as asserting his power to give assistance when
the time should come. In the present case he did not even make up his
mind which of two courses he would ultimately pursue. Orsino came to him
with a small sum of ready money in his hand. Del Ferice had it in his
power to make him lose that sum, and a great deal more besides, thereby
causing the boy endless trouble with his family; or else the banker
could, if he pleased, help him to a very considerable success. His
really superior talent for diplomacy inclined him to choose the latter
plan, but he was far too cautious to make any hasty decision.

The brougham rolled on through quiet and ill-lighted streets, and Del
Ferice leaned back in his corner, not listening at all to Orsino's talk,
though he occasionally uttered a polite though utterly unintelligible
syllable or two which might mean anything agreeable to his companion's
views. The situation was easy enough to understand, and he had grasped
it in a moment. What Orsino might say was of no importance whatever, but
the consequences of any action on Del Ferice's part might be serious and
lasting.

Orsino stated his many reasons for wishing to engage in business, as he
had stated them more than once already during the day and during the
past weeks, and when he had finished he repeated his first question.

"Can you help me to try my luck?" he asked.

Del Ferice awoke from his reverie with characteristic readiness and
realised that he must say something. His voice had never been strong and
he leaned out of his corner of the carriage in order to speak near
Orsino's ear.

"I am delighted with all you say," he began, "and I scarcely need repeat
that my services are altogether at your disposal. The only question is,
how are we to begin? The sum you mention is certainly not large, but
that does not matter. You would have little difficulty in raising as
many hundreds of thousands as you have thousands, if money were
necessary. But in business of this kind the only ready money needed is
for stamp duty and for the wages of workmen, and the banks advance what
is necessary for the latter purpose, in small sums on notes of hand
guaranteed by a general mortgage. When you have paid the stamp duties,
you may go to the club and lose the balance of your capital at baccarat
if you please. The loss in that direction will not affect your credit as
a contractor. All that is very simple. You wish to succeed, however, not
at cards, but at business. That is the difficulty."

Del Ferice paused.

"That is not very clear to me," observed Orsino.

"No--no," answered Del Ferice thoughtfully. "No--I daresay it is not so
very clear. I wish I could make it clearer. Speculation means gambling
only when the speculator is a gambler. Of course there are successful
gamblers in the world, but there are not many of them. I read somewhere
the other day that business was the art of handling other
people's-money. The remark is not particularly true. Business is the art
of creating a value where none has yet existed. That is what you wish to
do. I do not think that a Saracinesca would take pleasure in turning
over money not belonging to him."

"Certainly not!" exclaimed Orsino. "That is usury."

"Not exactly, but it is banking; and banking, it is quite true, is usury
within legal bounds. There is no question of that here. The operation is
simple in the extreme. I sell you a piece of land on the understanding
that you will build upon it, and instead of payment you give me a
mortgage. I lend you money from month to month in small sums at a small
interest, to pay for material and labour. You are only responsible upon
one point. The money is to be used for the purpose stated. When the
building is finished you sell it. If you sell it for cash, you pay off
the mortgage, and receive the difference. If you sell it with the
mortgage, the buyer becomes the mortgager and only pays you the
difference, which remains yours, out and out. That is the whole process
from beginning to end."

"How wonderfully simple!"

"It is almost primitive in its simplicity," answered Del Ferice gravely.
"But in every case two difficulties present themselves, and I am bound
to tell you that they are serious ones."

"What are they?"

"You must know how to buy in the right part of the city and you must
have a competent assistant. The two conditions are indispensable."

"What sort of an assistant?" asked Orsino.

"A practical man. If possible, an architect, who will then have a share
of the profits instead of being paid for his work."

"Is it very hard to find such a person?"

"It is not easy."

"Do you think you could help me?"

"I do not know. I am assuming a great responsibility in doing so. You do
not seem to realise that, Don Orsino."

Del Ferice laughed a little in his quiet way, but Orsino was silent. It
was the first time that the banker had reminded him of the vast
difference in their social and political positions.

"I do not think it would be very wise of me to help you into such a
business as this," said Del Ferice cautiously. "I speak quite selfishly
and for my own sake. Success is never certain, and it would be a great
injury to me if you failed."

He was beginning to make up his mind.

"Why?" asked Orsino. His own instincts of generosity were aroused. He
would certainly not do Del Ferice an injury if he could help it, nor
allow him to incur the risk of one.

"If you fail," answered the other, "all Rome will say that I have
intentionally brought about your failure. You know how people talk.
Thousands will become millions and I shall be accused of having plotted
the destruction of your family, because your father once wounded me in a
duel, nearly five and twenty years ago."

"How absurd!"

"No, no. It is not absurd. I am afraid I have the reputation of being
vindictive. Well, well--it is in bad taste to talk of oneself. I am good
at hating, perhaps, but I have always felt that I preferred peace to
war, and now I am growing old. I am not what I once was, Don Orsino, and
I do not like quarrelling. But I would not allow people to say
impertinent things about me, and if you failed and lost money, I should
be abused by your friends, and perhaps censured by my own. Do you see?
Yes, I am selfish. I admit it. You must forgive that weakness in me. I
like peace."

"It is very natural," said Orsino, "and I have no right to put you in
danger of the slightest inconvenience. But, after all, why need I appear
before the public?"

Del Ferice smiled in the dark.

"True," he answered. "You could establish an anonymous firm, so to say,
and the documents would be a secret between you and me and the notary.
Of course there are many ways of managing such an affair quietly."

He did not add that the secret could only be kept so long as Orsino was
successful. It seemed a pity to damp so much good enthusiasm.

"We will do that, then, if you will show me how. My ambition is not to
see my name on a door-plate, but to be really occupied."

"I understand, I understand," said Del Ferice thoughtfully. "I must ask
you to give me until to-morrow to consider the matter. It needs a little
thought."

"Where can I find you, to hear your decision?"

Del Ferice was silent for a moment.

"I think I once met you late in the afternoon at Madame d'Aranjuez's. We
might manage to meet there to-morrow and come away together. Shall we
name an hour? Would it suit you?"

"Perfectly," answered Orsino with alacrity.

The idea of meeting Maria Consuelo alone was very disturbing in his
present state of mind. He felt that he had lost his balance in his
relations with her, and that in order to regain it he must see her in
the presence of a third person, if only for a quarter of an hour. It
would be easier, then, to resume the former intercourse and to say
whatever he should determine upon saying. If she were offended, she
would at least not show it in any marked way before Del Ferice. Orsino's
existence, he thought, was becoming complicated for the first time, and
though he enjoyed the vague sensation of impending difficulty, he wanted
as many opportunities as possible of reviewing the situation and of
meditating upon each new move.

He got out of Del Ferice's carriage at no great distance from his own
home, and after a few words of very sincere thanks walked slowly away.
He found it very hard to arrange his thoughts in any consecutive order,
though he tried several methods of self-analysis, and repeated to
himself that he had experienced a great happiness and was probably on
the threshold of a great success. These two reflections did not help him
much. The happiness had been of the explosive kind, and the success in
the business matter was more than problematic, as well as certainly
distant in the future.

He was very restless and craved the immediate excitement of further
emotions, so that he would certainly have gone to the club that night,
had not the fear of losing his small and precious capital deterred him.
He thought of all that was coming and he determined to be careful, even
sordid if necessary, rather than lose his chance of making the great
attempt. Besides, he would cut a poor figure on the morrow if he were
obliged to admit to Del Ferice that he had lost his fifteen thousand
francs and was momentarily penniless. He accordingly shut himself up in
his own room at an early hour, and smoked in solitude until he was
sleepy, reviewing the various events of the day, or trying to do so,
though his mind reverted constantly to the one chief event of all, to
the unaccountable outburst of passion by which he had perhaps offended
Maria Consuelo beyond forgiveness. With all his affectation of
cynicism he had not learned that sin is easy only because it meets with
such very general encouragement. Even if he had been aware of that
undeniable fact, the knowledge might not have helped him very
materially.

The hours passed very slowly during the next day, and even when the
appointed time had come, Orsino allowed another quarter of an hour to go
by before he entered the hotel and ascended to the little sitting-room
in which Maria Consuelo received. He meant to be sure that Del Ferice
was there before entering, but he was too proud to watch for the
latter's coming, or to inquire of the porter whether Maria Consuelo were
alone or not. It seemed simpler in every way to appear a little late.

But Del Ferice was a busy man and not always punctual, so that to
Orsino's considerable confusion, he found Maria Consuelo alone, in spite
of his precaution. He was so much surprised as to become awkward, for
the first time in his life, and he felt the blood rising in his face,
dark as he was.

"Will you forgive me?" he asked, almost timidly, as he held out his
hand.

Maria Consuelo's tawny eyes looked curiously at him. Then she smiled
suddenly.

"My dear child," she said, "you should not do such things! It is very
foolish, you know."

The answer was so unexpected and so exceedingly humiliating, as Orsino
thought at first, that he grew pale and drew back a little. But Maria
Consuelo took no notice of his behaviour, and settled herself in her
accustomed chair.

"Did you find Del Ferice last night?" she asked, changing the subject
without the least hesitation.

"Yes," answered Orsino.

Almost before the word was spoken there was a knock at the door and Del
Ferice appeared. Orsino's face cleared, as though something pleasant had
happened, and Maria Consuelo observed the fact. She concluded, naturally
enough, that the two men had agreed to meet in her sitting-room, and
she resented the punctuality which she supposed they had displayed in
coming almost together, especially after what had happened on the
preceding day. She noted the cordiality with which they greeted each
other and she felt sure that she was right. On the other hand she could
not afford to show the least coldness to Del Ferice, lest he should
suppose that she was annoyed at being disturbed in her conversation with
Orsino. The situation was irritating to her, but she made the best of it
and began to talk to Del Ferice about the speech he had made on the
previous evening. He had spoken well, and she found it easy to be just
and flattering at the same time.

"It must be an immense satisfaction to speak as you do," said Orsino,
wishing to say something at least agreeable.

Del Ferice acknowledged the compliment by a deprecatory gesture.

"To speak as some of my colleagues can--yes--it must be a great
satisfaction. But Madame d'Aranjuez exaggerates. And, besides, I only
make speeches when I am called upon to do so. Speeches are wasted in
nine cases out of ten, too. They are, if I may say so, the music at the
political ball. Sometimes the guests will dance, and sometimes they will
not, but the musicians must try and suit the taste of the great invited.
The dancing itself is the thing."

"Deeds not words," suggested Maria Consuelo, glancing at Orsino, who
chanced to be looking at her.

"That is a good motto enough," he said gloomily.

"Deeds may need explanation, _post facto_," remarked Del Ferice,
unconsciously making such a direct allusion to recent events that Orsino
looked sharply at him, and Maria Consuelo smiled.

"That is true," she said.

"And when you need any one to help you, it is necessary to explain your
purpose beforehand," observed Del Ferice. "That is what happens so often
in politics, and in other affairs of life as well. If a man takes money
from me without my consent, he steals, but if I agree to his taking it,
the transaction becomes a gift or a loan. A despotic government steals,
a constitutional one borrows or receives free offerings. The fact that
the despot pays interest on a part of what he steals raises him to the
position of the magnanimous brigand who leaves his victims just enough
money to carry them to the nearest town. Possibly it is after all a
quibble of definitions, and the difference may not be so great as it
seems at first sight. But then, all morality is but the shadow cast on
one side or the other of a definition."

"Surely that is not your political creed!" said Maria Consuelo.

"Certainly not, Madame, certainly not," answered Del Ferice in gentle
protest. "It is not a creed at all, but only a very poor explanation of
the way in which most experienced people look upon the events of their
day. The idea in which we believe is very different from the results it
has brought about, and very much higher, and very much better. But the
results are not all bad either. Unfortunately the bad ones are on the
surface, and the good ones, which are enduring, must be sought in places
where the honest sunshine has not yet dispelled the early shadows."

Maria Consuelo smiled faintly, and the slight cast in her eyes was more
than usually apparent, as though her attention were wandering. Orsino
said nothing, and wondered why Del Ferice continued to talk. The latter,
indeed, was allowing himself to run on because neither of his hearers
seemed inclined to make a remark which might serve to turn the
conversation, and he began to suspect that something had occurred before
his coming which had disturbed their equanimity.

He presently began to talk of people instead of ideas, for he had no
intention of being thought a bore by Madame d'Aranjuez, and the man who
is foolish enough to talk of anything but his neighbours, when he has
more than one hearer, is in danger of being numbered with the
tormentors.

Half an hour passed quickly enough after the common chord had been
struck, and Del Ferice and Orsino exchanged glances of intelligence,
meaning to go away together as had been agreed. Del Ferice rose first,
and Orsino took up his hat. To his surprise and consternation Maria
Consuelo made a quick and imperative sign to him to remain. Del Ferice's
dull blue eyes saw most things that happened within the range of their
vision, and neither the gesture nor the look that accompanied it escaped
him.

Orsino's position was extremely awkward. He had put Del Ferice to some
inconvenience on the understanding that they were to go away together
and did not wish to offend him by not keeping his engagement. On the
other hand it was next to impossible to disobey Maria Consuelo, and to
explain his difficulty to Del Ferice was wholly out of the question. He
almost wished that the latter might have seen and understood the signal.
But Del Ferice made no sign and took Maria Consuelo's offered hand, in
the act of leavetaking. Orsino grew desperate and stood beside the two,
holding his hat. Del Ferice turned to shake hands with him also.

"But perhaps you are going too," he said, with a distinct interrogation.

Orsino glanced at Maria Consuelo as though imploring her permission to
take his leave, but her face was impenetrable, calm and indifferent.

Del Ferice understood perfectly what was taking place, but he found a
moment while Orsino hesitated. If the latter had known how completely he
was in Del Ferice's power throughout the little scene, he would have
then and there thrown over his financial schemes in favour of Maria
Consuelo. But Del Ferice's quiet, friendly manner did not suggest
despotism, and he did not suffer Orsino's embarrassment to last more
than five seconds.

"I have a little proposition to make," said the fat count, turning
again to Maria Consuelo. "My wife and I are alone this evening. Will you
not come and dine with us, Madame? And you, Don Orsino, will you not
come too? We shall just make a party of four, if you will both come."

"I shall be enchanted!" exclaimed Maria Consuelo without hesitation.

"I shall be delighted!" answered Orsino with an alacrity which surprised
himself.

"At eight then," said Del Ferice, shaking hands with him again, and in a
moment he was gone.

Orsino was too much confused, and too much delighted at having escaped
so easily from his difficulty to realise the importance of the step he
was taking in going to Del Fence's house, or to ask himself why the
latter had so opportunely extended the invitation. He sat down in his
place with a sigh of relief.

"You have compromised yourself for ever," said Maria Consuelo with a
scornful laugh. "You, the blackest of the Black, are to be numbered
henceforth with the acquaintances of Count Del Ferice and Donna Tullia."

"What difference does it make? Besides, I could not have done
otherwise."

"You might have refused the dinner."

"I could not possibly have done that. To accept was the only way out of
a great difficulty."

"What difficulty?" asked Maria Consuelo relentlessly.

Orsino was silent, wondering how he could explain, as explain he must,
without offending her.

"You should not do such things," she said suddenly. "I will not always
forgive you."

A gleam of light which, indeed, promised little forgiveness, flashed in
her eyes.

"What things?" asked Orsino.

"Do not pretend that you think me so simple," she said, in a tone of
irritation. "You and Del Ferice come here almost at the same moment.
When he goes, you show the utmost anxiety to go too. Of course you have
agreed to meet here. It is evident. You might have chosen the steps of
the hotel for your place of meeting instead of my sitting-room."

The colour rose slowly in her cheeks. She was handsome when she was
angry.

"If I had imagined that you could be displeased--"

"Is it so surprising? Have you forgotten what happened yesterday? You
should be on your knees, asking my forgiveness for that--and instead,
you make a convenience of your visit to-day in order to meet a man of
business. You have very strange ideas of what is due to a woman."

"Del Fence suggested it," said Orsino, "and I accepted the suggestion."

"What is Del Ferice to me, that I should be made the victim of his
suggestions, as you call them? Besides, he does not know anything of
your folly of yesterday, and he has no right to suspect it."

"I cannot tell you how sorry I am."

"And yet you ought to tell me, if you expect that I will forget all
this. You cannot? Then be so good as to do the only other sensible thing
in your power, and leave me as soon as possible."

"Forgive me, this once!" Orsino entreated in great distress, but not
finding any words to express his sense of humiliation.

"You are not eloquent," she said scornfully. "You had better go. Do not
come to the dinner this evening, either. I would rather not see you. You
can easily make an excuse."

Orsino recovered himself suddenly.

"I will not go away now, and I will not give up the dinner to-night," he
said quietly.

"I cannot make you do either--but I can leave you," said Maria Consuelo,
with a movement as though she were about to rise from her chair.

"You will not do that," Orsino answered.

She raised her eyebrows in real or affected surprise at his persistence.

"You seem very sure of yourself," she said. "Do not be so sure of me."

"I am sure that I love you. Nothing else matters." He leaned forward and
took her hand, so quickly that she had not time to prevent him. She
tried to draw it away, but he held it fast.

"Let me go!" she cried. "I will call, if you do not!"

"Call all Rome if you will, to see me ask your forgiveness. Consuelo--do
not be so hard and cruel--if you only knew how I love you, you would be
sorry for me, you would see how I hate myself, how I despise myself for
all this--"

"You might show a little more feeling," she said, making a final effort
to disengage her hand, and then relinquishing the struggle.

Orsino wondered whether he were really in love with her or not. Somehow,
the words he sought did not rise to his lips, and he was conscious that
his speech was not of the same temperature, so to say, as his actions.
There was something in Maria Consuelo's manner which disturbed him
disagreeably, like a cold draught blowing unexpectedly through a warm
room. Still he held her hand and endeavoured to rise to the occasion.

"Consuelo!" he cried in a beseeching tone. "Do not send me away--see how
I am suffering--it is so easy for you to say that you forgive!"

She looked at him a moment, and her eyelids drooped suddenly.

"Will you let me go, if I forgive you?" she asked in a low voice.

"Yes."

"I forgive you then. Well? Do you still hold my hand?"

"Yes."

He leaned forward and tried to draw her toward him, looking into her
eyes. She yielded a little, and their faces came a little nearer to
each other, and still a little nearer. All at once a deep blush rose in
her cheeks, she turned her head away and drew back quickly.

"Not for all the world!" she exclaimed, in a tone that was new to
Orsino's ear.

He tried to take her hand again, but she would not give it.

"No, no! Go--you are not to be trusted!" she cried, avoiding him.

"Why are you so unkind?" he asked, almost passionately.

"I have been kind enough for this day," she answered. "Pray go--do not
stay any longer--I may regret it."

"My staying?"

"No--my kindness. And do not come again for the present. I would rather
see you at Del Ferice's than here."

Orsino was quite unable to understand her behaviour, and an older and
more experienced man might have been almost as much puzzled as he. A
long silence followed, during which he sat quite still and she looked
steadily at the cover of a book which lay on the table.

"Please go," she said at last, in a voice which was not unkind.

Orsino rose from his seat and prepared to obey her, reluctantly enough
and feeling that he was out of tune with himself and with everything.

"Will you not even tell me why you send me away?" he asked.

"Because I wish to be alone," she answered. "Good-bye."

She did not look up as he left the room, and when he was gone she did
not move from her place, but sat as she had sat before, staring at the
yellow cover of the novel on the table.

Orsino went home in a very unsettled frame of mind, and was surprised to
find that the lighted streets looked less bright and cheerful than on
the previous evening, and his own immediate prospects far less
pleasing. He was angry with himself for having been so foolish as to
make his visit to Maria Consuelo a mere appointment with Del Ferice, and
he was surprised beyond measure to find himself suddenly engaged in a
social acquaintance with the latter, when he had only meant to enter
into relations of business with him. Yet it did not occur to him that
Del Ferice had in any way entrapped him into accepting the invitation.
Del Ferice had saved him from a very awkward situation. Why? Because Del
Ferice had seen the gesture Maria Consuelo had made, and had understood
it, and wished to give Orsino another opportunity of discussing his
project. But if Del Ferice had seen the quick sign, he had probably
interpreted it in a way compromising to Madame d'Aranjuez. This was
serious, though it was assuredly not Orsino's fault if she compromised
herself. She might have let him go without question, and since an
explanation of some sort was necessary she might have waited until the
next day to demand it of him. He resented what she had done, and yet
within the last quarter of an hour, he had been making a declaration of
love to her. He was further conscious that the said declaration had been
wholly lacking in spirit, in passion and even in eloquence. He probably
did not love her after all, and with an attempt at his favourite
indifference he tried to laugh at himself.

But the effort was not successful, and he felt something approaching to
pain as he realised that there was nothing to laugh at. He remembered
her eyes and her face and the tones of her voice, and he imagined that
if he could turn back now and see her again, he could say in one breath
such things as would move a statue to kisses. The very phrases rose to
his lips and he repeated them to himself as he walked along.

Most unaccountable of all had been Maria Consuelo's own behaviour. Her
chief preoccupation seemed to have been to get rid of him as soon as
possible. She had been very seriously offended with him to-day, much
more deeply, indeed, than yesterday, though, the cause appeared to his
inexperience to be a far less adequate one. It was evident, he thought,
that she had not really pardoned his want of tact, but had yielded to
the necessity of giving a reluctant forgiveness, merely because she did
not wish to break off her acquaintance with him. On the other hand, she
had allowed him to say again and again that he loved her, and she had
not forbidden him to call her by her name.

He had always heard that it was hard to understand women, and he began
to believe it. There was one hypothesis which he had not considered. It
was faintly possible that she loved him already, though he was slow to
believe that, his vanity lying in another direction. But even if she
did, matters were not clearer. The supposition could not account for her
sending him away so abruptly and with such evident intention. If she
loved him, she would naturally, he supposed, wish him to stay as long as
possible. She had only wished to keep him long enough to tell him how
angry she was. He resented that again, for he was in the humour to
resent most things.

It was all extremely complicated, and Orsino began to think that he
might find the complication less interesting than he had expected a few
hours earlier. He had little time for reflection either, since he was to
meet both Maria Consuelo and Del Ferice at dinner. He felt as though the
coming evening were in a measure to decide his future existence, and it
was indeed destined to exercise a great influence upon his life, as any
person not disturbed by the anxieties which beset him might easily have
foreseen.

Before leaving the house he made an excuse to his mother, saying that he
had unexpectedly been asked to dine with friends, and at the appointed
hour he rang at Del Ferice's door.



CHAPTER XII.


Orsino looked about him with some curiosity as he entered Del Fence's
abode. He had never expected to find himself the guest of Donna Tullia
and her husband and when he took the robust countess's hand he was
inclined to wish that the whole affair might turn out to be a dream. In
vain he repeated to himself that he was no longer a boy, but a grown
man, of age in the eyes of the law to be responsible for his own
actions, and old enough in fact to take what steps he pleased for the
accomplishment of his own ends. He found no solace in the reflection,
and he could not rid himself of the idea that he had got himself into a
very boyish scrape. It would indeed have been very easy to refuse Del
Ferice's invitation and to write him a note within the hour explaining
vaguely that circumstances beyond his control obliged him to ask another
interview for the discussion of business matters. But it was too late
now. He was exchanging indifferent remarks with Donna Tullia, while Del
Ferice looked on benignantly, and all three waited for Madame
d'Aranjuez.

Five minutes had not elapsed before she came, and her appearance
momentarily dispelled Orsino's annoyance at his own rashness. He had
never before seen her dressed for the evening, and he had not realised
how much to her advantage the change from the ordinary costume, or the
inevitable "tea-garment," to a dinner gown would be. She was assuredly
not over-dressed, for she wore black without colours and her only
ornament was a single string of beautiful pearls which Donna Tullia
believed to be false, but which Orsino accepted as real. Possibly he
knew even more about pearls than the countess, for his mother had many
and wore them often, whereas Donna Tullia preferred diamonds and rubies.
But his eyes did not linger on the necklace, for Maria Consuelo's whole
presence affected him strangely. There was something light-giving and
even dazzling about her which he had not expected, and he understood for
the first time that the language of the newspaper paragraphs was not so
grossly flattering as he had supposed. In spite of the great artistic
defects of feature, which could not long escape an observer of ordinary
taste, it was clear that Maria Consuelo must always be a striking and
central figure in any social assembly, great or small. There had been
moments in Orsino's acquaintance with her, when he had thought her
really beautiful; as she now appeared, one of those moments seemed to
have become permanent. He thought of what he had dared on the preceding
day, his vanity was pleased and his equanimity restored. With a sense of
pride which was very far from being delicate and was by no means well
founded, he watched her as she walked in to dinner before him, leaning
on Del Ferice's arm.

"Beautiful--eh? I see you think so," whispered Donna Tullia in his ear.

The countess treated him at once as an old acquaintance, which put him
at his ease, while it annoyed his conscience.

"Very beautiful," he answered, with a grave nod.

"And so mysterious," whispered the countess again, just as they reached
the door of the dining-room. "She is very fascinating--take care!"

She tapped his arm familiarly with her fan and laughed, as he left her
at her seat.

"What are you two laughing at?" asked Del Ferice, smiling pleasantly as
he surveyed the six oysters he found upon his plate, and considered
which should be left until the last as the crowning tit-bit. He was fond
of good eating, and especially fond of oysters as an introduction to the
feast.

"What we were laughing at? How indiscreet you are, Ugo! You always want
to find out all my little secrets. Consuelo, my dear, do you like
oysters, or do you not? That is the question. You do, I know--a little
lemon and a very little red pepper--I love red, even to adoring
cayenne!"

Orsino glanced at Madame d'Aranjuez, for he was surprised to hear Donna
Tullia call her by her first name. He had not known that the two women
had reached the first halting place of intimacy.

Maria Consuelo smiled rather vaguely as she took the advice in the shape
of lemon juice and pepper. Del Ferice could not interrupt his enjoyment
of the oysters by words, and Orsino waited for an opportunity of saying
something witty.

"I have lately formed the highest opinion of the ancient Romans," said
Donna Tullia, addressing him. "Do you know why?"

Orsino professed his ignorance.

"Ugo tells me that in a recent excavation twenty cartloads of oyster
shells were discovered behind one house. Think of that! Twenty cartloads
to a single house! What a family must have lived there--indeed the
Romans were a great people!"

Orsino thought that Donna Tullia herself might pass for a heroine in
future ages, provided that the shells of her victims were deposited
together in a safe place. He laughed politely and hoped that the
conversation might not turn upon archaeology, which was not his strong
point.

"I wonder how long it will be before modern Rome is excavated and the
foreigner of the future pays a franc to visit the ruins of the modern
house of parliament," suggested Maria Consuelo, who had said nothing as
yet.

"At the present rate of progress, I should think about two years would
be enough," answered Donna Tullia. "But Ugo says we are a great nation.
Ask him."

"Ah, my angel, you do not understand those things," said Del Ferice.
"How shall I explain? There is no development without decay of the
useless parts. The snake casts its old skin before it appears with a new
one. And there can be no business without an occasional crisis.
Unbroken fair weather ends in a dead calm. Why do you take such a gloomy
view, Madame?"

"One should never talk of things--only people are amusing," said Donna
Tullia, before Madame d'Aranjuez could answer. "Whom have you seen
to-day, Consuelo? And you, Don Orsino? And you, Ugo? Are we to talk for
ever of oysters, and business and snakes? Come, tell me, all of you,
what everybody has told you. There must be something new. Of course that
poor Carantoni is going to be married again, and the Princess Befana is
dying, as usual, and the same dear old people have run away with each
other, and all that. Of course. I wish things were not always just going
to happen. One would like to hear what is said on the day after the
events which never come off. It would be a novelty."

Donna Tullia loved talk and noise, and gossip above all things, and she
was not quite at her ease. The news that Orsino was to come to dinner
had taken her breath away. Ugo had advised her to be natural, and she
was doing her best to follow his advice.

"As for me," he said, "I have been tormented all day, and have spent but
one pleasant half hour. I was so fortunate as to find Madame d'Aranjuez
at home, but that was enough to indemnify me for many sacrifices."

"I cannot do better than say the same," observed Orsino, though with far
less truth. "I believe I have read through a new novel, but I do not
remember the title and I have forgotten the story."

"How satisfactory!" exclaimed Maria Consuelo, with a little scorn.

"It is the only way to read novels," answered Orsino, "for it leaves
them always new to you, and the same one may be made to last several
weeks."

"I have heard it said that one should fear the man of one book,"
observed Maria Consuelo, looking at him.

"For my part, I am more inclined to fear the woman of many."

"Do you read much, my dear Consuelo?" asked Donna Tullia, laughing.

"Perpetually."

"And is Don Orsino afraid of you?"

"Mortally," answered Orsino. "Madame d'Aranjuez knows everything."

"Is she blue, then?" asked Donna Tullia.

"What shall I say, Madame?" inquired Orsino, turning to Maria Consuelo.
"Is it a compliment to compare you to the sky of Italy?"

"For blueness?"

"No--for brightness and serenity."

"Thanks. That is pretty. I accept."

"And have you nothing for me?" asked Donna Tullia, with an engaging
smile.

The other two looked at Orsino, wondering what he would say in answer to
such a point-blank demand for flattery.

"Juno is still Minerva's ally," he said, falling back upon mythology,
though it struck him that Del Ferice would make a poor Jupiter, with his
fat white face and dull eyes.

"Very good!" laughed Donna Tullia. "A little classic, but I pressed you
hard. You are not easily caught. Talking of clever men," she added with
another meaning glance at Orsino, "I met your friend to-day, Consuelo."

"My friend? Who is he?"

"Spicca, of course. Whom did you think I meant? We always laugh at her,"
she said, turning to Orsino, "because she hates him so. She does not
know him, and has never spoken to him. It is his cadaverous face that
frightens her. One can understand that--we of old Rome, have been used
to him since the deluge. But a stranger is horrified at the first sight
of him. Consuelo positively dreads to meet him in the street. She says
that he makes her dream of all sorts of horrors."

"It is quite true," said Maria Consuelo, with a slight movement of her
beautiful shoulders. "There are people one would rather not see, merely
because they are not good to look at. He is one of them and if I see him
coming I turn away."

"I know, I told him so to-day," continued Donna Tullia cheerfully. "We
are old friends, but we do not often meet nowadays. Just fancy! It was
in that little antiquary's shop in the Monte Brianzo--the first on the
left as you go, he has good things--and I saw a bit of embroidery in the
window that took my fancy, so I stopped the carriage and went in. Who
should be there but Spicca, hat and all, looking like old Father Time.
He was bargaining for something--a wretched old bit of
brass--bargaining, my dear! For a few sous! One may be poor, but one has
no right to be mean--I thought he would have got the miserable
antiquary's skin."

"Antiquaries can generally take care of themselves," observed Orsino
incredulously.

"Oh, I daresay--but it looks so badly, you know. That is all I mean.
When he saw me he stopped wrangling and we talked a little, while I had
the embroidery wrapped up. I will show it to you after dinner. It is
sixteenth century, Ugo says--a piece of a chasuble--exquisite flowers on
claret-coloured satin, a perfect gem, so rare now that everything is
imitated. However, that is not the point. It was Spicca. I was
forgetting my story. He said the usual things, you know--that he had
heard that I was very gay this year, but that it seemed to agree with
me, and so on. And I asked him why he never came to see me, and as an
inducement I told him of our great beauty here--that is you, Consuelo,
so please look delighted instead of frowning--and I told him that she
ought to hear him talk, because his face had frightened her so that she
ran away when she saw him coming towards her in the street. You see, if
one flatters his cleverness he does not mind being called ugly--or at
least I thought not, until to-day. But to my consternation he seemed
angry, and he asked me almost savagely if it were true that the
Countess d'Aranjuez--that is what he called you, my dear--really tried
to avoid him in the street. Then I laughed and said I was only joking,
and he began to bargain again for the little brass frame and I went
away. When I last heard his voice he was insisting upon seventy-five
centimes, and the antiquary was jeering at him and asking a franc and a
half. I wonder which got the better of the fight in the end. I will ask
him the next time I see him."

Del Ferice supported his wife with a laugh at her story, but it was not
very genuine. He had unpleasant recollections of Spicca in earlier days,
and his name recalled events which Ugo would willingly have forgotten.
Orsino smiled politely, but resented the way in which Donna Tullia spoke
of his father's old friend. As for Maria Consuelo, she was a little
pale, and looked tired. But the countess was irrepressible, for she
feared lest Orsino should go away and think her dull.

"Of course we all really like Spicca," she said. "Every one does."

"I do, for my part," said Orsino gravely. "I have a great respect for
him, for his own sake, and he is one of my father's oldest friends."

Maria Consuelo looked at him very suddenly, as though she were surprised
by what he said. She did not remember to have heard him mention the
melancholy old duellist. She seemed about to say something, but changed
her mind.

"Yes," said Ugo, turning the subject, "he is one of the old tribe that
is dying out. What types there were in those days, and how those who are
alive have changed! Do you remember, Tullia? But of course you cannot,
my angel, it was far before your time."

One of Ugo's favourite methods of pleasing his wife was to assert that
she was too young to remember people who had indeed played a part as
lately as after the death of her first husband. It always soothed her.

"I remember them all," he continued. "Old Montevarchi, and Frangipani,
and poor Casalverde--and a score of others."

He had been on the point of mentioning old Astrardente, too, but checked
himself.

"Then there were the young ones, who are in middle age now," he went on,
"such as Valdarno and the Montevarchi whom you know, as different from
their former selves as you can well imagine. Society was different too."

Del Ferice spoke thoughtfully and slowly, as though wishing that some
one would interrupt him or take up the subject, for he felt that his
wife's long story about Spicca and the antiquary had not been a success,
and his instinct told him that Spicca had better not be mentioned again,
since he was a friend of Orsino's and since his name seemed to exert a
depressing influence on Maria Consuelo. Orsino came to the rescue and
began to talk of current social topics in a way which showed that he was
not so profoundly prejudiced by traditional ideas as Del Ferice had
expected. The momentary chill wore off quickly enough, and when the
dinner ended Donna Tullia was sure that it had been a success. They all
returned to the drawing-room and then Del Ferice, without any remark,
led Orsino away to smoke with him in a distant apartment.

"We can smoke again, when we go back," he said. "My wife does not mind
and Madame d'Aranjuez likes it. But it is an excuse to be alone together
for a little while, and besides, my doctor makes me lie down for a
quarter of an hour after dinner. You will excuse me?"

Del Ferice extended himself upon a leathern lounge, and Orsino sat down
in a deep easy-chair.

"I was so sorry not to be able to come away with you to-day," said
Orsino. "The truth is, Madame d'Aranjuez wanted some information and I
was just going to explain that I would stay a little longer, when you
asked us both to dinner. You must have thought me very forgetful."

"Not at all, not at all," answered Del Ferice. "Indeed, I quite supposed
that you were coming with me, when it struck me that this would be a
much more pleasant place for talking. I cannot imagine why I had not
thought of it before--but I have so many details to think of."

Not much could be said for the veracity of either of the statements
which the two men were pleased to make to each other, but Orsino had the
small advantage of being nearer to the letter, if not to the spirit of
the truth. Each, however, was satisfied with the other's tact.

"And so, Don Orsino," continued Del Ferice after a short pause, "you
wish to try a little operation in business. Yes. Very good. You have, as
we said yesterday, a sum of money ample for a beginning. You have the
necessary courage and intelligence. You need a practical assistant,
however, and it is indispensable that the point selected for the first
venture should be one promising speedy profit. Is that it?"

"Precisely."

"Very good, very good. I think I can offer you both the land and the
partner, and almost guarantee your success, if you will be guided by
me."

"I have come to you for advice," said Orsino. "I will follow it
gratefully. As for the success of the undertaking, I will assume the
responsibility."

"Yes. That is better. After all, everything is uncertain in such
matters, and you would not like to feel that you were under an
obligation to me. On the other hand, as I told you, I am selfish and
cautious. I would rather not appear in the transaction."

If any doubt as to Del Ferice's honesty of purpose crossed Orsino's mind
at that moment, it was fully compensated by the fact that he himself
distinctly preferred not to be openly associated with the banker.

"I quite agree with you," he said.

"Very well. Now for business. Do you know that it is sometimes more
profitable to take over a half-finished building, than to begin a new
one? Often, I assure you, for the returns are quicker and you get a
great deal at half price. Now, the man whom I recommend to you is a
practical architect, and was employed by a certain baker to build a
tenement building in one of the new quarters. The baker dies, the house
is unfinished, the heirs wish to sell it as it is--there are at least a
dozen of them--and meanwhile the work is stopped. My advice is this. Buy
this house, go into partnership with the unemployed architect, agreeing
to give him a share of the profits, finish the building and sell it as
soon as it is habitable. In six months you will get a handsome return."

"That sounds very tempting," answered Orsino, "but it would need more
capital than I have."

"Not at all, not at all. It is a mere question of taking over a mortgage
and paying stamp duty."

"And how about the difference in ready money, which ought to go to the
present owners?"

"I see that you are already beginning to understand the principles of
business," said Del Ferice, with an encouraging smile. "But in this case
the owners are glad to get rid of the house on any terms by which they
lose nothing, for they are in mortal fear of being ruined by it, as they
probably will be if they hold on to it."

"Then why should I not lose, if I take it?"

"That is just the difference. The heirs are a number of incapable
persons of the lower class, who do not understand these matters. If they
attempted to go on they would soon find themselves entangled in the
greatest difficulties. They would sink where you will almost certainly
swim."

Orsino was silent for a moment. There was something despicable, to his
thinking, in profiting by the loss of a wretched baker's heirs.

"It seems to me," he said presently, "that if I succeed in this, I ought
to give a share of the profits to the present owners."

Not a muscle of Del Ferice's face moved, but his dull eyes looked
curiously at Orsino's young face.

"That sort of thing is not commonly done in business," he said quietly,
after a short pause. "As a rule, men who busy themselves with affairs do
so in the hope of growing rich, but I can quite understand that where
business is a mere pastime, as it is to be in your case, a man of
generous instincts may devote the proceeds to charity."

"It looks more like justice than charity to me," observed Orsino.

"Call it what you will, but succeed first and consider the uses of your
success afterwards. That is not my affair. The baker's heirs are not
especially deserving people, I believe. In fact they are said to have
hastened his death in the hope of inheriting his wealth and are
disappointed to find that they have got nothing. If you wish to be
philanthropic you might wait until you have cleared a large sum and then
give it to a school or a hospital."

"That is true," said Orsino. "In the meantime it is important to begin."

"We can begin to-morrow, if you please. You will find me at the bank at
mid-day. I will send for the architect and the notary and we can manage
everything in forty-eight hours. Before the week is out you can be at
work."

"So soon as that?"

"Certainly. Sooner, by hurrying matters a little."

"As soon as possible then. And I will go to the bank at twelve o'clock
to-morrow. A thousand thanks for all your good offices, my dear count."

"It is a pleasure, I assure you."

Orsino was so much pleased with Del Ferice's quick and business-like way
of arranging matters that he began to look upon him as a model to
imitate, so far as executive ability was concerned. It was odd enough
that any one of his name should feel anything like admiration for Ugo,
but friendship and hatred are only the opposite points at which the
social pendulum pauses before it swings backward, and they who live long
may see many oscillations.

The two men went back to the drawing-room where Donna Tullia and Maria
Consuelo were discussing the complicated views of the almighty
dressmaker. Orsino knew that there was little chance of his speaking a
word alone with Madame d'Aranjuez and resigned himself to the effort of
helping the general conversation. Fortunately the time to be got over in
this way was not long, as all four had engagements in the evening. Maria
Consuelo rose at half-past ten, but Orsino determined to wait five
minutes longer, or at least to make a show of meaning to do so. But
Donna Tullia put out her hand as though she expected him to take his
leave at the same time. She was going to a ball and wanted at least an
hour in which to screw her magnificence up to the dancing pitch.

The consequence was that Orsino found himself helping Maria Consuelo
into the modest hired conveyance which awaited her at the gate. He hoped
that she would offer him a seat for a short distance, but he was
disappointed.

"May I come to-morrow?" he asked, as he closed the door of the carriage.
The night was not cold and the window was down.

"Please tell the coachman to take me to the Via Nazionale," she said
quickly.

"What number?"

"Never mind--he knows--I have forgotten. Good-night."

She tried to draw up the window, but Orsino held his hand on it.

"May I come to-morrow?" he asked again.

"No."

"Are you angry with me still?"

"No."

"Then why--"

"Let me shut the window. Take your hand away."

Her voice was very imperative in the dark. Orsino relinquished his hold
on the frame, and the pane ran up suddenly into its place with a
rattling noise. There was obviously nothing more to be said.

"Via Nazionale. The Signora says you know the house," he called to the
driver.

The man looked surprised, shrugged his shoulders after the manner of
livery stable coachmen and drove slowly off in the direction indicated.
Orsino stood looking after the carriage and a few seconds later he saw
that the man drew rein and bent down to the front window as though
asking for orders. Orsino thought he heard Maria Consuelo's voice,
answering the question, but he could not distinguish what she said, and
the brougham drove on at once without taking a new direction.

He was curious to know whither she was going, and the idea of following
her suggested itself but he instantly dismissed it, partly because it
seemed unworthy and partly, perhaps, because he was on foot, and no cab
was passing within hail.

Orsino was very much puzzled. During the dinner she had behaved with her
usual cordiality but as soon as they were alone she spoke and acted as
she had done in the afternoon. Orsino turned away and walked across the
deserted square. He was greatly disturbed, for he felt a sense of
humiliation and disappointment quite new to him. Young as he was, he had
been accustomed already to a degree of consideration very different from
that which Maria Consuelo thought fit to bestow, and it was certainly
the first time in his life that a door--even the door of a carriage--had
been shut in his face without ceremony. What would have been an
unpardonable insult, coming from a man, was at least an indignity when
it came from a woman. As Orsino walked along, his wrath rose, and he
wondered why he had not been angry at once.

"Very well," he said to himself. "She says she does not want me. I will
take her at her word and I will not go to see her any more. We shall see
what happens. She will find out that I am not a child, as she was good
enough to call me to-day, and that I am not in the habit of having
windows put up in my face. I have much more serious business on hand
than making love to Madame d'Aranjuez."

The more he reflected upon the situation, the more angry he grew, and
when he reached the door of the club he was in a humour to quarrel with
everything and everybody. Fortunately, at that early hour, the place was
in the sole possession of half a dozen old gentlemen whose conversation
diverted his thoughts though it was the very reverse of edifying.
Between the stories they told and the considerable number of cigarettes
he smoked while listening to them he was almost restored to his normal
frame of mind by midnight, when four or five of his usual companions
straggled in and proposed baccarat. After his recent successes he could
not well refuse to play, so he sat down rather reluctantly with the
rest. Oddly enough he did not lose, though he won but little.

"Lucky at play, unlucky in love," laughed one of the men carelessly.

"What do you mean?" asked Orsino, turning sharply upon the speaker.

"Mean? Nothing," answered the latter in great surprise. "What is the
matter with you, Orsino? Cannot one quote a common proverb?"

"Oh--if you meant nothing, let us go on," Orsino answered gloomily.

As he took up the cards again, he heard a sigh behind him and turning
round saw that Spicca was standing at his shoulder. He was shocked by
the melancholy count's face, though he was used to meeting him almost
every day. The haggard and cadaverous features, the sunken and careworn
eyes, contrasted almost horribly with the freshness and gaiety of
Orsino's companions, and the brilliant light in the room threw the
man's deadly pallor into strong relief.

"Will you play, Count?" asked Orsino, making room for him.

"Thanks--no. I never play nowadays," answered Spicca quietly.

He turned and left the room. With all his apparent weakness his step was
not unsteady, though it was slower than in the old days.

"He sighed in that way because we did not quarrel," said the man whose
quoted proverb had annoyed Orsino.

"I am ready and anxious to quarrel with everybody to-night," answered
Orsino. "Let us play baccarat--that is much better."

Spicca left the club alone and walked slowly homewards to his small
lodging in the Via della Croce. A few dying embers smouldered in the
little fireplace which warmed his sitting-room. He stirred them slowly,
took a stick of wood from the wicker basket, hesitated a moment, and
then put it back again instead of burning it. The night was not cold and
wood was very dear. He sat down under the light of the old lamp which
stood upon the mantelpiece, and drew a long breath. But presently,
putting his hand into the pocket of his overcoat in search of his
cigarette case, he drew out something else which he had almost
forgotten, a small something wrapped in coarse paper. He undid it and
looked at the little frame of chiselled brass which Donna Tullia had
found him buying in the afternoon, turning it over and over, absently,
as though thinking of something else.

Then he fumbled in his pockets again and found a photograph which he had
also bought in the course of the day--the photograph of Gouache's latest
portrait, obtained in a contraband fashion and with some difficulty from
the photographer.

Without hesitation Spicca took a pocket-knife and began to cut the head
out, with that extraordinary neatness and precision which characterised
him when he used any sharp instrument. The head just fitted the frame.
He fastened it in with drops of sealing-wax and carefully burned the
rest of the picture in the embers.

The face of Maria Consuelo smiled at him in the lamplight, as he turned
it in different ways so as to find the best aspect of it. Then he hung
it on a nail above the mantelpiece just under a pair of crossed foils.

"That man Gouache is a very clever fellow," he said aloud. "Between
them, he and nature have made a good likeness."

He sat down again and it was a long time before he made up his mind to
take away the lamp and go to bed.



CHAPTER XIII.


Del Ferice kept his word and arranged matters for Orsino with a speed
and skill which excited the latter's admiration. The affair was not
indeed very complicated though it involved a deed of sale, the transfer
of a mortgage and a deed of partnership between Orsino Saracinesca and
Andrea Contini, architect, under the style "Andrea Contini and Company,"
besides a contract between this firm of the one party and the bank in
which Del Ferice was a director, of the other, the partners agreeing to
continue the building of the half-finished house, and the bank binding
itself to advance small sums up to a certain amount for current expenses
of material and workmen's wages. Orsino signed everything required of
him after reading the documents, and Andrea Contini followed his
example.

The architect was a tall man with bright brown eyes, a dark and somewhat
ragged beard, close cropped hair, a prominent, bony forehead and large,
coarsely shaped, thin ears oddly set upon his head. He habitually wore a
dark overcoat, of which the collar was generally turned up on one side
and not on the other. Judging from the appearance of his strong shoes he
had always been walking a long distance over bad roads, and when it had
rained within the week his trousers were generally bespattered with mud
to a considerable height above the heel. He habitually carried an
extinguished cigar between his teeth of which he chewed the thin black
end uneasily. Orsino fancied that he might be about eight and twenty
years old, and was not altogether displeased with his appearance. He was
not at all like the majority of his kind, who, in Rome at least, usually
affect a scrupulous dandyism of attire and an uncommon refinement of
manner. Whatever Contini's faults might prove to be, Orsino did not
believe that they would turn out to be those of idleness or vanity. How
far he was right in his judgment will appear before long, but he
conceived his partner to be gifted, frank, enthusiastic and careless of
outward forms.

As for the architect himself, he surveyed Orsino with a sort of
sympathetic curiosity which the latter would have thought unpleasantly
familiar if he had understood it. Contini had never spoken before with
any more exalted personage than Del Ferice, and he studied the young
aristocrat as though he were a being from another world. He hesitated
some time as to the proper mode of addressing him and at last decided to
call him "Signor Principe." Orsino seemed quite satisfied with this, and
the architect was inwardly pleased when the young man said "Signor
Contini" instead of Contini alone. It was quite clear that Del Ferice
had already acquainted him with all the details of the situation, for he
seemed to understand all the documents at a glance, picking out and
examining the important clauses with unfailing acuteness, and pointing
with his finger to the place where Orsino was to sign his name.

At the end of the interview Orsino shook hands with Del Ferice and
thanked him warmly for his kindness, after which, he and his partner
went out together. They stood side by side upon the pavement for a few
seconds, each wondering what the other was going to say.

"Perhaps we had better go and look at the house, Signor Principe,"
observed Contini, in the midst of an ineffectual effort to light the
stump of his cigar.

"I think so, too," answered Orsino, realising that since he had acquired
the property it would be as well to know how it looked. "You see I have
trusted my adviser entirely in the matter, and I am ashamed to say I do
not know where the house is."

Andrea Contini looked at him curiously.

"This is the first time that you have had anything to do with business
of this kind, Signor Principe," he observed. "You have fallen into good
hands."

"Yours?" inquired Orsino, a little stiffly.

"No. I mean that Count Del Ferice is a good adviser in this matter."

"I hope so."

"I am sure of it," said Contini with conviction. "It would be a great
surprise to me if we failed to make a handsome profit by this contract."

"There is luck and ill-luck in everything," answered Orsino, signalling
to a passing cab.

The two men exchanged few words as they drove up to the new quarter in
the direction indicated to the driver by Contini. The cab entered a sort
of broad lane, the sketch of a future street, rough with the unrolled
metalling of broken stones, the space set apart for the pavement being
an uneven path of trodden brown earth. Here and there tall detached
houses rose out of the wilderness, mostly covered by scaffoldings and
swarming with workmen, but hideous where so far finished as to be
visible in all the isolation of their six-storied nakedness. A strong
smell of lime, wet earth and damp masonry was blown into Orsino's
nostrils by the scirocco wind. Contini stopped the cab before an
unpromising and deserted erection of poles, boards and tattered
matting.

"This is our house," he said, getting out and immediately making another
attempt to light his cigar.

"May I offer you a cigarette?" asked Orsino, holding out his case.

Contini touched his hat, bowed a little awkwardly and took one of the
cigarettes, which he immediately transferred to his coat pocket.

"If you will allow me I will smoke it by and by," he said. "I have not
finished my cigar."

Orsino stood on the slippery ground beside the stones and contemplated
his purchase. All at once his heart sank and he felt a profound disgust
for everything within the range of his vision. He was suddenly aware of
his own total and hopeless ignorance of everything connected with
building, theoretical or practical. The sight of the stiff, angular
scaffoldings, draped with torn straw mattings that flapped fantastically
in the south-east wind, the apparent absence of anything like a real
house behind them, the blades of grass sprouting abundantly about the
foot of each pole and covering the heaps of brown pozzolana earth
prepared for making mortar, even the detail of a broken wooden hod
before the boarded entrance--all these things contributed at once to
increase his dismay and to fill him with a bitter sense of inevitable
failure. He found nothing to say, as he stood with his hands in his
pockets staring at the general desolation, but he understood for the
first time why women cry for disappointment. And moreover, this
desolation was his own peculiar property, by deed of purchase, and he
could not get rid of it.

Meanwhile Andrea Contini stood beside him, examining the scaffoldings
with his bright brown eyes, in no way disconcerted by the prospect.

"Shall we go in?" he asked at last.

"Do unfinished houses always look like this?" inquired Orsino, in a
hopeless tone, without noticing his companion's proposition.

"Not always," answered Contini cheerfully. "It depends upon the amount
of work that has been done, and upon other things. Sometimes the
foundations sink and the buildings collapse."

"Are you sure nothing of the kind has happened here?" asked Orsino with
increasing anxiety.

"I have been several times to look at it since the baker died and I have
not noticed any cracks yet," answered the architect, whose coolness
seemed almost exasperating.

"I suppose you understand these things, Signor Contini?"

Contini laughed, and felt in his pockets for a crumpled paper box of
wax-lights.

"It is my profession," he answered. "And then, I built this house from
the foundations. If you will come in, Signor Principe, I will show you
how solidly the work is done."

He took a key from his pocket and thrust it into a hole in the boarding,
which latter proved to be a rough door and opened noisily upon rusty
hinges. Orsino followed him in silence. To the young man's inexperienced
eye the interior of the building was even more depressing than the
outside. It smelt like a vault, and a dim grey light entered the square
apertures from the curtained scaffoldings without, just sufficient to
help one to find a way through the heaps of rubbish that covered the
unpaved floors. Contini explained rapidly and concisely the arrangement
of the rooms, calling one cave familiarly a dining-room and another a
"conjugal bedroom," as he expressed it, and expatiating upon the
facilities of communication which he himself had carefully planned.
Orsino listened in silence and followed his guide patiently from place
to place, in and out of dark passages and up flights of stairs as yet
unguarded by any rail, until they emerged upon a sort of flat terrace
intersected by low walls, which was indeed another floor and above which
another story and a garret were yet to be built to complete the house.
Orsino looked gloomily about him, lighted a cigarette and sat down upon
a bit of masonry.

"To me, it looks very like failure," he remarked. "But I suppose there
is something in it."

"It will not look like failure next month," said Contini carelessly.
"Another story is soon built, and then the attic, and then, if you like,
a Gothic roof and a turret at one corner. That always attracts buyers
first and respectable lodgers afterwards."

"Let us have a turret, by all means," answered Orsino, as though his
tailor had proposed to put an extra button on the cuff of his coat. "But
how in the world are you going to begin? Everything looks to me as
though it were falling to pieces."

"Leave all that to me, Signor Principe. We will begin to-morrow. I have
a good overseer and there are plenty of workmen to be had. We have
material for a week at least, and paid for, excepting a few cartloads of
lime. Come again in ten days and you will see something worth looking
at."

"In ten days? And what am I to do in the meantime?" asked Orsino, who
fancied that he had found an occupation.

Andrea Contini looked at him in some surprise, not understanding in the
least what he meant.

"I mean, am I to have nothing to do with the work?" asked Orsino.

"Oh--as far as that goes, you will come every day, Signor Principe, if
it amuses you, though as you are not a practical architect, your
assistance is not needed until questions of taste have to be considered,
such as the Gothic roof for instance. But there are the accounts to be
kept, of course, and there is the business with the bank from week to
week, office work of various kinds. That becomes naturally your
department, as the practical superintendence of the building is mine,
but you will of course leave it to the steward of the Signor Principe di
Sant' Ilario, who is a man of affairs."

"I will do nothing of the kind!" exclaimed Orsino. "I will do it myself.
I will learn how it is done. I want occupation."

"What an extraordinary wish!" Andrea Contini opened his eyes in real
astonishment.

"Is it? You work. Why should not I?"

"I must, and you need not, Signor Principe," observed the architect.
"But if you insist, then you had better get a clerk to explain the
details to you at first."

"Do you not understand them? Can you not teach me?" asked Orsino,
displeased with the idea of employing a third person.

"Oh yes--I have been a clerk myself. I should be too much honoured
but--the fact is, my spare time--"

He hesitated and seemed reluctant to explain.

"What do you do with your spare time?" asked Orsino, suspecting some
love affair.

"The fact is--I play a second violin at one of the theatres--and I give
lessons on the mandolin, and sometimes I do copying work for my uncle
who is a clerk in the Treasury. You see, he is old, and his eyes are not
as good as they were."

Orsino began to think that his partner was a very odd person. He could
not help smiling at the enumeration of his architect's secondary
occupations.

"You are very fond of music, then?" he asked.

"Eh--yes--as one can be, without talent--a little by necessity. To be an
architect one must have houses to build. You see the baker died
unexpectedly. One must live somehow."

"And could you not--how shall I say? Would you not be willing to give me
lessons in book-keeping instead of teaching some one else to play the
mandolin?"

"You would not care to learn the mandolin yourself, Signor Principe? It
is a very pretty instrument, especially for country parties, as well as
for serenading."

Orsino laughed. He did not see himself in the character of a
mandolinist.

"I have not the slightest ear for music," he answered. "I would much
rather learn something about business."

"It is less amusing," said Andrea Contini regretfully.

"But I am at your service. I will come to the office when work is over
and we will do the accounts together. You will learn in that way very
quickly."

"Thank you. I suppose we must have an office. It is necessary, is it
not?"

"Indispensable--a room, a garret--anything. A habitation, a legal
domicile, so to say."

"Where do you live, Signor Contini? Would not your lodging do?"

"I am afraid not, Signor Principe. At least not for the present. I am
not very well lodged and the stairs are badly lighted."

"Why not here, then?" asked Orsino, suddenly growing desperately
practical, for he felt unaccountably reluctant to hire an office in the
city.

"We should pay no rent," said Contini. "It is an idea. But the walls are
dry downstairs, and we only need a pavement, and plastering, and doors
and windows, and papering and some furniture to make one of the rooms
quite habitable. It is an idea, undoubtedly. Besides, it would give the
house an air of being inhabited, which is valuable."

"How long will all that take? A month or two?"

"About a week. It will be a little fresh, but if you are not rheumatic,
Signor Principe, we can try it."

"I am not rheumatic," laughed Orsino, who was pleased with the idea of
having his office on the spot, and apparently in the midst of a
wilderness. "And I suppose you really do understand architecture, Signor
Contini, though you do play the fiddle."

In this exceedingly sketchy way was the firm of Andrea Contini and
Company established and lodged, being at the time in a very shadowy
state, theoretically and practically, though it was destined to play a
more prominent part in affairs than either of the young partners
anticipated. Orsino discovered before long that his partner was a man of
skill and energy, and his spirits rose by degrees as the work began to
advance. Contini was restless, untiring and gifted, such a character as
Orsino had not yet met in his limited experience of the world. The man
seemed to understand his business to the smallest details and could show
the workmen how to mix mortar in the right proportions, or how to
strengthen a scaffolding at the weak point much better than the overseer
or the master builder. At the books he seemed to be infallible, and he
possessed, moreover, such a power of stating things clearly and neatly
that Orsino actually learnt from him in a few weeks what he would have
needed six months to learn anywhere else. As soon as the first dread of
failure wore off, Orsino discovered that he was happier than he had ever
been in the course of his life before. What he did was not, indeed, of
much use in the progress of the office work and rather hindered than
helped Contini, who was obliged to do everything slowly and sometimes
twice over in order to make his pupil understand; but Orsino had a clear
and practical mind, and did not forget what he had learned once. An odd
sort of friendship sprang up between the two men, who under ordinary
circumstances would never have met, or known each other by sight. The
one had expected to find in his partner an overbearing, ignorant
patrician; the other had supposed that his companion would turn out a
vulgar, sordid, half-educated builder. Both were equally surprised when
each discovered the truth about the other.

Though Orsino was reticent by nature, he took no especial pains to
conceal his goings and comings, but as his occupation took him out of
the ordinary beat followed by his idle friends, it was a long time
before any of them discovered that he was engaged in practical business.
In his own home he was not questioned, and he said nothing. The
Saracinesca were considered eccentric, but no one interfered with them
nor ventured to offer them suggestions. If they chose to allow their
heir absolute liberty of action, merely because he had passed his
twenty-first birthday, it was their own concern, and his ruin would be
upon their own heads. No one cared to risk a savage retort from the aged
prince, or a cutting answer from Sant' Ilario for the questionable
satisfaction of telling either that Orsino was going to the bad. The
only person who really knew what Orsino was about, and who could have
claimed the right to speak to his family of his doings was San Giacinto,
and he held his peace, having plenty of important affairs of his own to
occupy him and being blessed with an especial gift for leaving other
people to themselves.

Sant' Ilario never spied upon his son, as many of his contemporaries
would have done in his place. He preferred to trust him to his own
devices so long as these led to no great mischief. He saw that Orsino
was less restless than formerly, that he was less at the club, and that
he was stirring earlier in the morning than had been his wont, and he
was well satisfied.

It was not to be expected, however, that Orsino should take Maria
Consuelo literally at her word, and cease from visiting her all at once.
If not really in love with her, he was at least so much interested in
her that he sorely missed the daily half hour or more which he had been
used to spend in her society.

Three several times he went to her hotel at the accustomed hour, and
each time he was told by the porter that she was at home; but on each
occasion, also, when he sent up his card, the hotel servant returned
with a message from the maid to the effect that Madame d'Aranjuez was
tired and did not receive. Orsino's pride rebelled equally against
making a further attempt and against writing a letter requesting an
explanation. Once only, when he was walking alone she passed him in a
carriage, and she acknowledged his bow quietly and naturally, as though
nothing had happened. He fancied she was paler than usual, and that
there were shadows under her eyes which he had not formerly noticed.
Possibly, he thought, she was really not in good health, and the excuses
made through her maid were not wholly invented. He was conscious that
his heart beat a little faster as he watched the back of the brougham
disappearing in the distance, but he did not feel an irresistible
longing to make another and more serious attempt to see her. He tried to
analyse his own sensations, and it seemed to him that he rather dreaded
a meeting than desired it, and that he felt a certain humiliation for
which he could not account. In the midst of his analysis, his cigarette
went out and he sighed. He was startled by such an expression of
feeling, and tried to remember whether he had ever sighed before in his
life, but if he had, he could not recall the circumstances. He tried to
console himself with the absurd supposition that he was sleepy and that
the long-drawn breath had been only a suppressed yawn. Then he walked
on, gazing before him into the purple haze that filled the deep street
just as the sun was setting, and a vague sadness and longing touched him
which had no place in his catalogue of permissible emotions and which
were as far removed from the cold cynicism which he admired in others
and affected in himself as they were beyond the sphere of his analysis.

There is an age, not always to be fixed exactly, at which the really
masculine nature craves the society of womankind, in one shape or
another, as a necessity of existence, and by the society of womankind no
one means merely the daily and hourly social intercourse which consists
in exchanging the same set of remarks half a dozen times a day with as
many beings of gentle sex who, to the careless eye of ordinary man,
differ from each other in dress rather than in face or thought. There
are eminently manly men, that is to say men fearless, strong, honourable
and active, to whom the common five o'clock tea presents as much
distraction and offers as much womanly sympathy as they need; who choose
their intimate friends among men, rather than among women, and who die
at an advanced age without ever having been more than comfortably in
love--and of such is the Kingdom of Heaven. The masculine man may be as
brave, as strong and as scrupulously just in all his dealings, but on
the other hand he may be weak, cowardly and a cheat, and he is apt to
inherit the portion of sinners, whatever his moral characteristics may
be, good or bad.

Orsino was certainly not unmanly, but he was also eminently masculine
and he began to suffer from the loss of Maria Consuelo's conversation in
a way that surprised himself. His acquaintance with her, to give it a
mild name, had been the first of the kind which he had enjoyed, and it
contrasted too strongly with the crude experiences of his untried youth
not to be highly valued by him and deeply regretted. He might pretend to
laugh at it, and repeat to himself that his Egeria had been but a very
superficial person, fervent in the reading of the daily novel and
possibly not even worldly wise; he did not miss her any the less for
that. A little sympathy and much patience in listening will go far to
make a woman of small gifts indispensable even to a man of superior
talent, especially when he thinks himself misunderstood in his ordinary
surroundings. The sympathy passes for intelligence and the patience for
assent and encouragement--a touch of the hand, and there is friendship,
a tear, a sigh, and devotion stands upon the stage, bearing in her arms
an infant love who learns to walk his part at the first suspicion of a
kiss.

Orsino did not imagine that he had exhausted the world's capabilities of
happiness. The age of Byronism, as it used to be called, is over.
Possibly tragedies are more real and frequent in our day than when the
century was young; at all events those which take place seem to draw a
new element of horror from those undefinable, mechanical, prosaic,
psuedo-scientific conditions which make our lives so different from
those of our fathers. Everything is terribly sudden nowadays, and
alarmingly quick. Lovers make love across Europe by telegraph, and
poetic justice arrives in less than forty-eight hours by the Oriental
Express. Divorce is our weapon of precision, and every pack of cards at
the gaming table can distil a poison more destructive than that of the
Borgia. The unities of time and place are preserved by wire and rail in
a way which would have delighted the hearts of the old French tragics.
Perhaps men seek dramatic situations in their own lives less readily
since they have found out means of making the concluding act more swift,
sudden and inevitable. At all events we all like tragedy less and comedy
more than our fathers did, which, I think, shows that we are sadder and
possibly wiser men than they.

However this may be, Orsino was no more inclined to fancy himself
unhappy than any of his familiar companions, though he was quite willing
to believe that he understood most of life's problems, and especially
the heart of woman. He continued to go into the world, for it was new to
him and if he did not find exactly the sort of sympathy he secretly
craved, he found at least a great deal of consideration, some flattery
and a certain amount of amusement. But when he was not actually being
amused, or really engaged in the work which he had undertaken with so
much enthusiasm, he felt lonely and missed Maria Consuelo more than
ever. By this time she had taken a position in society from which there
could be no drawing back, and he gave up for ever the hope of seeing her
in his own circle. She seemed to avoid even the grey houses where they
might have met on neutral ground, and Orsino saw that his only chance of
finding her in the world lay in going frequently and openly to Del
Ferice's house. He had called on Donna Tullia after the dinner, of
course, but he was not prepared to do more, and Del Ferice did not seem
to expect it.

Three or four weeks after he had entered into partnership with Andrea
Contini, Orsino found himself alone with his mother in the evening.
Corona was seated near the fire in her favourite boudoir, with a book in
her hand, and Orsino stood warming himself on one side of the
chimney-piece, staring into the flames and occasionally glancing at his
mother's calm, dark face. He was debating whether he should stay at home
or not.

Corona became conscious that he looked at her from time to time and
dropped her novel upon her knee.

"Are you going out, Orsino?" she asked.

"I hardly know," he answered. "There is nothing particular to do, and it
is too late for the theatre."

"Then stay with me. Let us talk." She looked at him affectionately and
pointed to a low chair near her.

He drew it up until he could see her face as she spoke, and then sat
down.

"What shall we talk about, mother?" he asked, with a smile.

"About yourself, if you like, my dear. That is, if you have anything
that you know I would like to hear. I am not curious, am I, Orsino? I
never ask you questions about yourself."

"No, indeed. You never tease me with questions--nor does my father
either, for that matter. Would you really like to know what I am doing?"

"If you will tell me."

"I am building a house," said Orsino, looking at her to see the effect
of the announcement.

"A house?" repeated Corona in surprise. "Where? Does your father know
about it?"

"He said he did not care what I did." Orsino spoke rather bitterly.

"That does not sound like him, my dear. Tell me all about it. Have you
quarrelled with him, or had words together?"

Orsino told his story quickly, concisely and with a frankness he would
perhaps not have shown to any one else in the world, for he did not even
conceal his connection with Del Ferice. Corona listened intently, and
her deep eyes told him plainly enough that she was interested. On his
part he found an unexpected pleasure in telling her the tale, and he
wondered why it had never struck him that his mother might sympathise
with his plans and aspirations. When he had finished, he waited for her
first word almost as anxiously as he would have waited for an expression
of opinion from Maria Consuelo.

Corona did not speak at once. She looked into his eyes, smiled, patted
his lean brown hand lovingly and smiled again before she spoke.

"I like it," she said at last. "I like you to be independent and
determined. You might perhaps have chosen a better man than Del Ferice
for your adviser. He did something once--well, never mind! It was long
ago and it did us no harm."

"What did he do, mother? I know my father wounded him in a duel before
you were married--"

"It was not that. I would rather not tell you about it--it can do no
good, and after all, it has nothing to do with the present affair. He
would not be so foolish as to do you an injury now. I know him very
well. He is far too clever for that."

"He is certainly clever," said Orsino. He knew that it would be quite
useless to question his mother further after what she had said. "I am
glad that you do not think I have made a mistake in going into this
business."

"No. I do not think you have made a mistake, and I do not believe that
your father will think so either when he knows all about it."

"He need not have been so icily discouraging," observed Orsino.

"He is a man, my dear, and I am a woman. That is the difference. Was San
Giacinto more encouraging than he? No. They think alike, and San
Giacinto has an immense experience besides. And yet they are both wrong.
You may succeed, or you may fail--I hope you will succeed--but I do not
care much for the result. It is the principle I like, the idea, the
independence of the thing. As I grow old, I think more than I used to do
when I was young."

"How can you talk of growing old!" exclaimed Orsino indignantly.

"I think more," said Corona again, not heeding him. "One of my thoughts
is that our old restricted life was a mistake for us, and that to keep
it up would be a sin for you. The world used to stand still in those
days, and we stood at the head of it, or thought we did. But it is
moving now and you must move with it or you will not only have to give
up your place, but you will be left behind altogether."

"I had no idea that you were so modern, dearest mother," laughed Orsino.
He felt suddenly very happy and in the best of humours with himself.

"Modern--no, I do not think that either your father or I could ever be
that. If you had lived our lives you would see how impossible it is. The
most I can hope to do is to understand you and your brothers as you grow
up to be men. But I hate interference and I hate curiosity--the one
breeds opposition and the other dishonesty--and if the other boys turn
out to be as reticent as you, Orsino, I shall not always know when they
want me. You do not realise how much you have been away from me since
you were a boy, nor how silent you have grown when you are at home."

"Am I, mother? I never meant to be."

"I know it, dear, and I do not want you to be always confiding in me. It
is not a good thing for a young man. You are strong and the more you
rely upon yourself, the stronger you will grow. But when you want
sympathy, if you ever do, remember that I have my whole heart full of it
for you. For that, at least, come to me. No one can give you what I can
give you, dear son."

Orsino was touched and pressed her hand, kissing it more than once. He
did not know whether in her last words she had meant any allusion to
Maria Consuelo, or whether, indeed, she had been aware of his intimacy
with the latter. But he did not ask the question of her nor of himself.
For the moment he felt that a want in his nature had been satisfied, and
he wondered again why he had never thought of confiding in his mother.

They talked of his plans until it was late, and from that time they were
more often together than before, each growing daily more proud of the
other, though perhaps Orsino had better reasons for his pride than
Corona could have found, for the love of mother for son is more
comprehensive and not less blind than the passion of woman for man.



CHAPTER XIV.


The short Roman season was advancing rapidly to its premature fall,
which is on Ash Wednesday, after which it struggles to hold up its head
against the overwhelming odds of a severely observed Lent, to revive
only spasmodically after Easter and to die a natural death on the first
warm day. In that year, too, the fatal day fell on the fifteenth of
February, and progressive spirits talked of the possibility of fixing
the movable Feasts and Fasts of the Church in a more convenient part of
the calendar. Easter might be made to fall in June, for instance, and
society need not be informed of its inevitable and impending return to
dust and ashes until it had enjoyed a good three months, or even four,
of what an eminent American defines as "brass, sass, lies and sin."

Rome was very gay that year, to compensate for the shortness of its
playtime. Everything was successful, and every one was rich. People
talked of millions less soberly than they had talked of thousands a few
years earlier, and with less respect than they mentioned hundreds twelve
months later. Like the vanity-struck frog, the franc blew itself up to
the bursting point, in the hope of being taken for the louis, and
momentarily succeeded, even beyond its own expectations. No one walked,
though horse-flesh was enormously dear and a good coachman's wages
amounted to just twice the salary of a government clerk. Men who, six
months earlier, had climbed ladders with loads of brick or mortar, were
now transformed into flourishing sub-contractors, and drove about in
smart pony-carts, looking the picture of Italian prosperity, rejoicing
in the most flashy of ties and smoking the blackest and longest of long
black cigars. During twenty hours out of the twenty-four the gates of
the city roared with traffic. From all parts of the country labourers
poured in, bundle in hand and tools on shoulder to join in the enormous
work and earn their share of the pay that was distributed so liberally.
A certain man who believed in himself stood up and said that Rome was
becoming one of the greatest of cities, and he smacked his lips and said
that he had done it, and that the Triple Alliance was a goose which
would lay many golden eggs. The believing bulls roared everything away
before them, opposition, objections, financial experience, and the
vanquished bears hibernated in secret places, sucking their paws and
wondering what, in the name of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, would happen
next. Distinguished men wrote pamphlets in the most distinguished
language to prove that wealth was a baby capable of being hatched
artificially and brought up by hand. Every unmarried swain who could
find a bride, married her forthwith; those who could not followed the
advice of an illustrious poet and, being over-anxious to take wives,
took those of others. Everybody was decorated. It positively rained
decorations and hailed grand crosses and enough commanders' ribbons were
reeled out to have hanged half the population. The periodical attempt to
revive the defunct carnival in the Corso was made, and the yet unburied
corpse of ancient gaiety was taken out and painted, and gorgeously
arrayed, and propped up in its seat to be a posthumous terror to its
enemies, like the dead Cid. Society danced frantically and did all those
things which it ought not to have done--and added a few more,
unconsciously imitating Pico della Mirandola.

Even those comparatively few families who, like the Saracinesca, had
scornfully declined to dabble in the whirlpool of affairs, did not by
any means refuse to dance to the music of success which filled the city
with, such enchanting strains. The Princess Befana rose from her
deathbed with more than usual vivacity and went to the length of opening
her palace on two evenings in two successive weeks, to the intense
delight of her gay and youthful heirs, who earnestly hoped that the
excitement might kill her at last, and kill her beyond resurrection this
time. But they were disappointed. She still dies periodically in winter
and blooms out again in spring with the poppies, affording a perpetual
and edifying illustration of the changes of the year, or, as some say,
of the doctrine of immortality. On one of those memorable occasions she
walked through a quadrille with the aged Prince Saracinesca, whereupon
Sant' Ilario slipped his arm round Corona's waist and waltzed with her
down the whole length of the ballroom and back again amidst the applause
of his contemporaries and their children. If Orsino had had a wife he
would have followed their example. As it was, he looked rather gloomily
in the direction of a silent and high-born damsel with whom he was
condemned to dance the cotillon at a later hour.

So all went gaily on until Ash Wednesday extinguished the social flame,
suddenly and beyond relighting. And still Orsino did not meet Maria
Consuelo, and still he hesitated to make another attempt to find her at
home. He began to wonder whether he should ever see her again, and as
the days went by he almost wished that Donna Tullia would send him a
card for her lenten evenings, at which Maria Consuelo regularly assisted
as he learned from the papers. After that first invitation to dinner, he
had expected that Del Ferice's wife would make an attempt to draw him
into her circle; and, indeed, she would probably have done so had she
followed her own instinct instead of submitting to the higher policy
dictated by her husband. Orsino waited in vain, not knowing whether to
be annoyed at the lack of consideration bestowed upon him, or to admire
the tact which assumed that he would never wish to enter the Del Ferice
circle.

It is presumably clear that Orsino was not in love with Madame
d'Aranjuez, and he himself appreciated the fact with a sense of
disappointment. He was amazed at his own coldness and at the
indifference with which he had submitted to what amounted to a most
abrupt dismissal. He even went so far as to believe that Maria Consuelo
had repulsed him designedly in the hope of kindling a more sincere
passion. In that case she had been egregiously mistaken, he thought. He
felt a curiosity to see her again before she left Rome, but it was
nothing more than that. A new and absorbing interest had taken
possession of him which at first left little room in his nature for
anything else. His days were spent in the laborious study of figures and
plans, broken only by occasional short but amusing conversations with
Andrea Contini. His evenings were generally passed among a set of people
who did not know Maria Consuelo except by sight and who had long ceased
to ask him questions about her. Of late, too, he had missed his daily
visits to her less and less, until he hardly regretted them at all, nor
so much as thought of the possibility of renewing them. He laughed at
the idea that his mother should have taken the place of a woman whom he
had begun to love, and yet he was conscious that it was so, though he
asked himself how long such a condition of things could last. Corona was
far too wise to discuss his affairs with his father. He was too like
herself for her to misunderstand him, and if she regarded the whole
matter as perfectly harmless and as a legitimate subject for general
conversation, she yet understood perfectly that having been once
rebuffed by Sant' Ilario, Orsino must wish to be fully successful in his
attempt before mentioning it again to the latter. And she felt so
strongly in sympathy with her son that his work gradually acquired an
intense interest for her, and she would have sacrificed much rather
than see it fail. She did not on that account blame Giovanni for his
discouraging view when Orsino had consulted him. Giovanni was the
passion of her life and was not fallible in his impulses, though his
judgment might sometimes be at fault in technical matters for which he
cared nothing. But her love for her son was as great and sincere in its
own way, and her pride in him was such as to make his success a
condition of her future happiness.

One of the greatest novelists of this age begins one of his greatest
novels with the remark that "all happy families resemble each other, but
that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own especial way."
Generalities are dangerous in proportion as they are witty or striking,
or both, and it may be asked whether the great Tolstoi has not fallen a
victim to his own extraordinary power of striking and witty
generalisations. Does the greatest of all his generalisations, the wide
disclaimer of his early opinions expressed in the postscript
subsequently attached by him to his _Kreutzer Sonata_, include also the
words I have quoted, and which were set up, so to say, as the theme of
his _Anna Karjenina_? One may almost hope so. I am no critic, but those
words somehow seem to me to mean that only unhappiness can be
interesting. It is not pleasant to think of the consequences to which
the acceptance of such a statement might lead.

There are no statistics to tell us whether the majority of living men
and women are to be considered as happy or unhappy. But it does seem
true that whereas a single circumstance can cause very great and lasting
unhappiness, felicity is always dependent upon more than one condition
and often upon so many as to make the explanation of it a highly
difficult and complicated matter.

Corona had assuredly little reason to complain of her lot during the
past twenty years, but unruffled and perfect as it had seemed to her she
began to see that there were sources of sorrow and satisfaction before
her which had not yet poured their bitter or sweet streams into the
stately river of her mature life. The new interest which Orsino had
created for her became more and more absorbing, and she watched it and
tended it, and longed to see it grow to greater proportions. The
situation was strange in one way at least. Orsino was working and his
mother was helping him to work in the hope of a financial success which
neither of them wanted or cared for. Possibly the certainty that failure
could entail no serious consequences made the game a more amusing if a
less exciting one to play.

"If I lose," said Orsino to her, "I can only lose the few thousands I
invested. If I win, I will give you a string of pearls as a keepsake."

"If you lose, dear boy," answered Corona, "it must be because you had
not enough to begin with. I will give you as much as you need, and we
will try again."

They laughed happily together. Whatever chanced, things must turn out
well. Orsino worked very hard, and Corona was very rich in her own right
and could afford to help to any extent she thought necessary. She could,
indeed, have taken the part of the bank and advanced him all the money
he needed, but it seemed useless to interfere with the existing
arrangements.

In Lent the house had reached an important point in its existence.
Andrea Contini had completed the Gothic roof and the turret which
appeared to him in the first vision of his dream, but to which the
defunct baker had made objections on the score of expense. The masons
were almost all gone and another set of workmen were busy with finer
tools moulding cornices and laying on the snow-white stucco. Within, the
joiners and carpenters kept up a ceaseless hammering.

One day Andrea Contini walked into the office after a tour of
inspection, with a whole cigar, unlighted and intact, between his teeth.
Orsino was well aware from this circumstance that something unusually
fortunate had happened or was about to happen, and he rose from his
books, as soon as he recognised the fair-weather signal.

"We can sell the house whenever we like," said the architect, his bright
brown eyes sparkling with satisfaction.

"Already!" exclaimed Orsino who, though equally delighted at the
prospect of such speedy success, regretted in his heart the damp walls
and the constant stir of work which he had learned to like so well.

"Already--yes. One needs luck like ours! The count has sent a man up in
a cab to say that an acquaintance of his will come and look at the
building to-day between twelve and one with a view to buying. The sooner
we look out for some fresh undertaking, the better. What do you say, Don
Orsino?"

"It is all your doing, Contini. Without you I should still be standing
outside and watching the mattings flapping in the wind, as I did on that
never-to-be-forgotten first day."

"I conceive that a house cannot be built without an architect," answered
Contini, laughing, "and it has always been plain to me that there can be
no architects without houses to build. But as for any especial credit to
me, I refute the charge indignantly. I except the matter of the turret,
which is evidently what has attracted the buyer. I always thought it
would. You would never have thought of a turret, would you, Don Orsino?"

"Certainly not, nor of many other things," answered Orsino, laughing.
"But I am sorry to leave the place. I have grown into liking it."

"What can one do? It is the way of the world--'lieto ricordo d'un amor
che fù,'" sang Contini in the thin but expressive falsetto which seems
to be the natural inheritance of men who play upon stringed instruments.
He broke off in the middle of a bar and laughed, out of sheer delight at
his own good fortune.

In due time the purchaser came, saw and actually bought. He was a
problematic personage with a disquieting nose, who spoke few words but
examined everything with an air of superior comprehension. He looked
keenly at Orsino but seemed to have no idea who he was and put all his
questions to Contini.

After agreeing to the purchase he inquired whether Andrea Contini and
Company had any other houses of the same description building and if so
where they were situated, adding that he liked the firm's way of doing
things. He stipulated for one or two slight improvements, made an
appointment for a meeting with the notaries on the following day and
went off with a rather unceremonious nod to the partners. The name he
left was that of a well-known capitalist from the south, and Contini was
inclined to think he had seen him before, but was not certain.

Within a week the business was concluded, the buyer took over the
mortgage as Orsino and Contini had done and paid the difference in cash
into the bank, which deducted the amounts due on notes of hand before
handing the remainder to the two young men. The buyer also kept back a
small part of the purchase money to be paid on taking possession, when
the house was to be entirely finished. Andrea Contini and Company had
realised a considerable sum of money.

"The question is, what to do next," said Orsino thoughtfully.

"We had better look about us for something promising," said his partner.
"A corner lot in this same quarter. Corner houses are more interesting
to build and people like them to live in because they can see two or
three ways at once. Besides, a corner is always a good place for a
turret. Let us take a walk--smoking and strolling, we shall find
something."

"A year ago, no doubt," answered Orsino, who was becoming worldly wise.
"A year ago that would have been well enough. But listen to me. That
house opposite to ours has been finished some time, yet nobody has
bought it. What is the reason?"

"It faces north and not south, as ours does, and it has not a Gothic
roof."

"My dear Contini, I do not mean to say that the Gothic roof has not
helped us very much, but it cannot have helped us alone. How about those
two houses together at the end of the next block. Balconies, travertine
columns, superior doors and windows, spaces for hydraulic lifts and all
the rest of it. Yet no one buys. Dry, too, and almost ready to live in,
and all the joinery of pitch pine. There is a reason for their ill
luck."

"What do you think it is?" asked Contini, opening his eyes.

"The land on which they are built was not in the hands of Del Ferice's
bank, and the money that built them was not advanced by Del Ferice's
bank, and Del Ferice's bank has no interest in selling the houses
themselves. Therefore they are not sold."

"But surely there are other banks in Rome, and private individuals--"

"No, I do not believe that there are," said Orsino with conviction. "My
cousin of San Giacinto thinks that the selling days are over, and I
fancy he is right, except about Del Ferice, who is cleverer than any of
us. We had better not deceive ourselves, Contini. Del Ferice sold our
house for us, and unless we keep with him we shall not sell another so
easily. His bank has a lot of half-finished houses on its hands secured
by mortgages which are worthless until the houses are habitable. Del
Ferice wants us to finish those houses for him, in order to recover
their value. If we do it, we shall make a profit. If we attempt anything
on our own account we shall fail. Am I right or not?"

"What can I say? At all events you are on the safe side. But why has not
the count given all this work to some old established firm of his
acquaintance?"

"Because he cannot trust any one as he can trust us, and he knows it."

"Of course I owe the count a great deal for his kindness in introducing
me to you. He knew all about me before the baker died, and afterwards I
waited for him outside the Chambers one evening and asked him if he
could find anything for me to do, but he did not give me much
encouragement. I saw you speak to him and get into his carriage--was it
not you?"

"Yes--it was I," answered Orsino, remembering the tall man in an
overcoat who had disappeared in the dusk on the evening when he himself
had first sought Del Ferice. "Yes, and you see we are both under a sort
of obligation to him which is another reason for taking his advice."

"Obligations are humiliating!" exclaimed Contini impatiently. "We have
succeeded in increasing our capital--your capital, Don Orsino--let us
strike out for ourselves."

"I think my reasons are good," said Orsino quietly. "And as for
obligations, let us remember that we are men of business."

It appears from this that the low-born Andrea Contini and the high and
mighty Don Orsino Saracinesca were not very far from exchanging places
so far as prejudice was concerned. Contini noticed the fact and smiled.

"After all," he said, "if you can accept the situation, I ought to
accept it, too."

"It is a matter of business," said Orsino, returning to his argument.
"There is no such thing as obligation where money is borrowed on good
security and a large interest is regularly paid."

It was clear that Orsino was developing commercial instincts. His
grandfather would have died of rage on the spot if he could have
listened to the young fellow's cool utterances. But Contini was not
pleased and would not abandon his position so easily.

"It is very well for you, Don Orsino," he said, vainly attempting to
light his cigar. "You do not need the money as I do. You take it from
Del Ferice because it amuses you to do so, not because you are obliged
to accept it. That is the difference. The count knows It too, and knows
that he is not conferring a favour but receiving one. You do him an
honour in borrowing his money. He lays me under an obligation in lending
it."

"We must get money somewhere," answered Orsino with indifference. "If
not from Del Ferice, then from some other bank. And as for obligations,
as you call them, he is not the bank himself, and the bank does not lend
its money in order to amuse me or to humiliate you, my friend. But if
you insist, I shall say that the convenience is not on one side only. If
Del Ferice supports us it is because we serve his interests. If he has
done us a good turn, it is a reason why we should do him one, and build
his houses rather than those of other people. You talk about my
conferring a favour upon him. Where will he find another Andrea Contini
and Company to make worthless property valuable for him? In that sense
you and I are earning his gratitude, by the simple process of being
scrupulously honest. I do not feel in the least humiliated, I assure
you."

"I cannot help it," replied Contini, biting his cigar savagely. "I have
a heart, and it beats with good blood. Do you know that there is blood
of Cola di Rienzo in my veins?"

"No. You never told me," answered Orsino, one of whose forefathers had
been concerned in the murder of the tribune, a fact to which he thought
it best not to refer at the present moment.

"And the blood of Cola di Rienzo burns under the shame of an
obligation!" cried Contini, with a heat hardly warranted by the
circumstances. "It is humiliating, it is base, to submit to be the tool
of a Del Ferice--we all know who and what Del Ferice was, and how he
came by his title of count, and how he got his fortune--a spy, an
intriguer! In a good cause? Perhaps. I was not born then, nor you
either, Signor Principe, and we do not know what the world was like,
when it was quite another world. That is not a reason for serving a
spy!"

"Calm yourself, my friend. We are not in Del Ferice's service."

"Better to die than that! Better to kill him at once and go to the
galleys for a few years! Better to play the fiddle, or pick rags, or beg
in the streets than that, Signor Principe. One must respect oneself. You
see it yourself. One must be a man, and feel as a man. One must feel
those things here, Signor Principe, here in the heart!"

Contini struck his breast with his clenched fist and bit the end of his
cigar quite through in his anger. Then he suddenly seized his hat and
rushed out of the room.

Orsino was less surprised at the outburst than might have been expected,
and did not attach any great weight to his partner's dramatic rage. But
he lit a cigarette and carefully thought over the situation, trying to
find out whether there were really any ground for Contini's first
remarks. He was perfectly well aware that as Orsino Saracinesca he would
cut his own throat with enthusiasm rather than borrow a louis of Ugo Del
Ferice. But as Andrea Contini and Company he was another person, and so
Del Ferice was not Count Del Ferice, nor the Onorevole Del Ferice, but
simply a director in a bank with which he had business. If the interests
of Andrea Contini and Company were identical with those of the bank,
there was no reason whatever for interrupting relations both amicable
and profitable, merely because one member of the firm claimed to be
descended from Cola di Bienzo, a defunct personage in whom Orsino felt
no interest whatever. Andrea Contini, considering his social relations,
might be on terms of friendship with his hatter, for instance, or might
have personal reasons for disliking him. In neither case could the
buying of a hat from that individual be looked upon as an obligation
conferred or received by either party. This was quite clear, and Orsino
was satisfied.

"Business is business," he said to himself, "and people who introduce
personal considerations into a financial transaction will get the worst
of the bargain."

Andrea Contini was apparently of the same opinion, for when he entered
the room again at the end of an hour his excitement had quite
disappeared.

"If we take another contract from the count," he said, "is there any
reason why we should not take a larger one, if it is to be had? We could
manage three or four buildings now that you have become such a good
bookkeeper."

"I am quite of your opinion," Orsino answered, deciding at once to make
no reference to what had gone before.

"The only question is, whether we have capital enough for a margin."

"Leave that to me."

Orsino determined to consult his mother, in whose judgment he felt a
confidence which he could not explain but which was not misplaced. The
fact was simple enough. Corona understood him thoroughly, though her
comprehension of his business was more than limited, and she did nothing
in reality but encourage his own sober opinion when it happened to be at
variance with some enthusiastic inclination which momentarily deluded
him. That quiet pushing of a man's own better reason against his half
considered but often headstrong impulses, is after all one of the best
and most loving services which a wise woman can render to a man whom she
loves, be he husband, son or brother. Many women have no other secret,
and indeed there are few more valuable ones, if well used and well kept.
But let not graceless man discover that it is used upon him. He will
resent being led by his own reason far more than being made the
senseless slave of a foolish woman's wildest caprice. To select the best
of himself for his own use is to trample upon his free will. To send him
barefoot to Jericho in search of a dried flower is to appeal to his
heart. Man is a reasoning animal.

Corona, as was to be expected, was triumphant in Orsino's first success,
and spent as much time in talking over the past and the future with him
as she could command during his own hours of liberty. He needed no
urging to continue in the same course, but he enjoyed her happiness and
delighted in her encouragement.

"Contini wishes to take a large contract," he said to her, after the
interview last described. "I agree with him, in a way. We could
certainly manage a larger business."

"No doubt," Corona answered thoughtfully, for she saw that there was
some objection to the scheme in his own mind.

"I have learned a great deal," he continued, "and we have much more,
capital than we had. Besides, I suppose you would lend me a few
thousands if we needed them, would you not, mother?"

"Certainly, my dear. You shall not be hampered by want of money."

"And then, it is possible that we might make something like a fortune in
a short time. It would be a great satisfaction. But then, too--" He
stopped.

"What then?" asked Corona, smiling.

"Things may turn out differently. Though I have been successful this
time, I am much more inclined to believe that San Giacinto was right
than I was before I began. All this movement does not rest on a solid
basis."

A financier of thirty years' standing could not have made the statement
more impressively, and Orsino was conscious that he was assuming an
elderly tone. He laughed the next moment.

"That is a stock phrase, mother," he continued. "But it means something.
Everything is not what it should be. If the demand were as great as
people say it is, there would not be half a dozen houses--better houses
than ours--unsold in our street. That is why I am afraid of a big
contract. I might lose all my money and some of yours."

"It would not be of much consequence if you did," answered Corona. "But
of course you will be guided by your own judgment, which, is much
better than mine. One must risk something, of course, but there is no
use in going into danger."

"Nevertheless, I should enjoy a big venture immensely."

"There is no reason why you should not try one, when the moment comes,
my dear. I suppose that a few months will decide whether there is to be
a crisis or not. In the meantime you might take something moderate,
neither so small as the last, nor so large as you would like. You will
get more experience, risk less and be better prepared for a crash if it
comes, or to take advantage of anything favourable if business grows
safer."

Orsino was silent for a moment.

"You are very wise, mother," he said. "I will take your advice."

Corona had indeed acted as wisely as she could. The only flaw in her
reasoning was her assertion that a few months would decide the fate of
Roman affairs. If it were possible to predict a crisis even within a few
months, speculation would be a less precarious business than it is.

Orsino and his mother might have talked longer and perhaps to better
purpose, but they were interrupted by the entrance of a servant, bearing
a note. Corona instinctively put out her hand to receive it.

"For Don Orsino," said the man, stopping before him.

Orsino took the letter, looked at it and turned it over.

"I think it is from Madame d'Aranjuez," he remarked, without emotion.
"May I read it?"

"There is no answer, Eccellenza," said the servant, whose curiosity was
satisfied.

"Read it, of course," said Corona, looking at him.

She was surprised that Madame d'Aranjuez should write to him, but she
was still more astonished to see the indifference with which he opened
the missive. She had imagined that he was more or less in love with
Maria Consuelo.

"I fancy it is the other way," she thought. "The woman wants to marry
him. I might have suspected it."

Orsino read the note, and tossed it into the fire without volunteering
any information.

"I will take your advice, mother," he said, continuing the former
conversation, as though nothing had happened.

But the subject seemed to be exhausted, and before long Orsino made an
excuse to his mother and went out.



CHAPTER XV.


There was nothing in the note burnt by Orsino which he might not have
shown to his mother, since he had already told her the name of the
writer. It contained the simple statement that Maria Consuelo was about
to leave Rome, and expressed the hope that she might see Orsino before
her departure as she had a small request to make of him, in the nature
of a commission. She hoped he would forgive her for putting him to so
much inconvenience.

Though he betrayed no emotion in reading the few lines, he was in
reality annoyed by them, and he wished that he might be prevented from
obeying the summons. Maria Consuelo had virtually dropped the
acquaintance, and had refused repeatedly and in a marked way to receive
him. And now, at the last moment, when she needed something of him, she
chose to recall him by a direct invitation. There was nothing to be done
but to yield, and it was characteristic of Orsino that, having submitted
to necessity, he did not put off the inevitable moment, but went to her
at once.

The days were longer now than they had been during the time when he had
visited her every day, and the lamp was not yet on the table when Orsino
entered the small sitting-room. Maria Consuelo was standing by the
window, looking out into the street, and her right hand rested against
the pane while her fingers tapped it softly but impatiently. She turned
quickly as he entered, but the light was behind her and he could hardly
see her face. She came towards him and held out her hand.

"It is very kind of you to have come so soon," she said, as she took her
old accustomed place by the table.

Nothing was changed, excepting that the two or three new books at her
elbow were not the same ones which had been there two months earlier. In
one of them was thrust the silver paper-cutter with the jewelled handle,
which Orsino had never missed. He wondered whether there were any reason
for the unvarying sameness of these details.

"Of course I came," he said. "And as there was time to-day, I came at
once."

He spoke rather coldly, still resenting her former behaviour and
expecting that she would immediately say what she wanted of him. He
would promise to execute the commission, whatever it might be, and after
ten minutes of conversation he would take his leave. There was a short
pause, during which he looked at her. She did not seem well. Her face
was pale and her eyes were deep with shadows. Even her auburn hair had
lost something of its gloss. Yet she did not look older than before, a
fact which proved her to be even younger than Orsino had imagined.
Saving the look of fatigue and suffering in her face, Maria Consuelo had
changed less than Orsino during the winter, and she realised the fact at
a glance. A determined purpose, hard work, the constant exertion of
energy and will, and possibly, too, the giving up to a great extent of
gambling and strong drinks, had told in Orsino's face and manner as a
course of training tells upon a lazy athlete. The bold black eyes had a
more quiet glance, the well-marked features had acquired strength and
repose, the lean jaw was firmer and seemed more square. Even
physically, Orsino had improved, though the change was undefinable.
Young as he was, something of the power of mature manhood was already
coming over his youth.

"You must have thought me very--rude," said Maria Consuelo, breaking the
silence and speaking with a slight hesitation which Orsino had never
noticed before.

"It is not for me to complain, Madame," he answered. "You had every
right--"

He stopped short, for he was reluctant to admit that she had been
justified in her behaviour towards him.

"Thanks," she said, with an attempt to laugh. "It is pleasant to find
magnanimous people now and then. I do not want you to think that I was
capricious. That is all."

"I certainly do not think that. You were most consistent. I called three
times and always got the same answer."

He fancied that he heard her sigh, but she tried to laugh again.

"I am not imaginative," she answered. "I daresay you found that out long
go. You have much more imagination than I."

"It is possible, Madame--but you have not cared to develop it."

"What do you mean?"

"What does it matter? Do you remember what you said when I bade you
good-night at the window of your carriage after Del Ferice's dinner? You
said that you were not angry with me. I was foolish enough to imagine
that you were in earnest. I came again and again, but you would not see
me. You did not encourage my illusion."

"Because I would not receive you? How do you know what happened to me?
How can you judge of my life? By your own? There is a vast difference."

"Yes, indeed!" exclaimed Orsino almost impatiently. "I know what you are
going to say. It will be flattering to me of course. The unattached
young man is dangerous to the reputation. The foreign lady is travelling
alone. There is the foundation of a vaudeville in that!"

"If you must be unjust, at least do not be brutal," said Maria Consuelo
in a low voice, and she turned her face away from him.

"I am evidently placed in the world to offend you, Madame. Will you
believe that I am sorry for it, though I only dimly comprehend my fault?
What did I say? That you were wise in breaking off my visits, because
you are alone here, and because I am young, unmarried and unfortunately
a little conspicuous in my native city. Is it brutal to suggest that a
young and beautiful woman has a right not to be compromised? Can we not
talk freely for half an hour, as we used to talk, and then say good-bye
and part good friends until you come to Rome again?"

"I wish we could!" There was an accent of sincerity in the tone which
pleased Orsino.

"Then begin by forgiving me all my sins, and put them down to ignorance,
want of tact, the inexperience of youth or a naturally weak
understanding. But do not call me brutal on such slight provocation."

"We shall never agree for a long time," answered Maria Consuelo
thoughtfully.

"Why not?"

"Because, as I told you, there is too great a difference between our
lives. Do not answer me as you did before, for I am right. I began by
admitting that I was rude. If that is not enough I will say more--I will
even ask you to forgive me--can I do more?"

She spoke so earnestly that Orsino was surprised and almost touched. Her
manner now was even less comprehensible than her repeated refusals to
see him had been.

"You have done far too much already," he said gravely. "It is mine to
ask your forgiveness for much that I have done and said. I only wish
that I understood you better."

"I am glad you do not," replied Maria Consuelo, with a sigh which this
time was not to be mistaken. "There is a sadness which it is better not
to understand," she added softly.

"Unless one can help to drive it away." He, too, spoke gently, his voice
being attracted to the pitch and tone of hers.

"You cannot do that--and if you could, you would not."

"Who can tell?"

The charm which he had formerly felt so keenly in her presence but which
he had of late so completely forgotten, was beginning to return and he
submitted to it with a sense of satisfaction which he had not
anticipated. Though the twilight was coming on, his eyes had become
accustomed to the dimness in the room and he saw every change in her
pale, expressive face. She leaned back in her chair with eyes half
closed.

"I like to think that you would, if you knew how," she said presently.

"Do you not know that I would?"

She glanced quickly at him, and then, instead of answering, rose from
her seat and called to her maid through one of the doors, telling her to
bring the lamp. She sat down again, but being conscious that they were
liable to interruption, neither of the two spoke. Maria Consuelo's
fingers played with the silver knife, drawing it out of the book in
which it lay and pushing it back again. At last she took it up and
looked closely at the jewelled monogram on the handle.

The maid entered, set the shaded lamp upon the table and glanced sharply
at Orsino. He could not help noticing the look. In a moment she was
gone, and the door closed behind her. Maria Consuelo looked over her
shoulder to see that it had not been left ajar.

"She is a very extraordinary person, that elderly maid of mine," she
said.

"So I should imagine from her face."

"Yes. She looked at you as she passed and I saw that you noticed it. She
is my protector. I never have travelled without her and she watches over
me--as a cat watches a mouse."

The little laugh that accompanied the words was not one of satisfaction,
and the shade of annoyance did not escape Orsino.

"I suppose she is one of those people to whose ways one submits because
one cannot live without them," he observed.

"Yes. That is it. That is exactly it," repeated Maria Consuelo. "And she
is very strongly attached to me," she added after an instant's
hesitation. "I do not think she will ever leave me. In fact we are
attached to each other."

She laughed again as though amused by her own way of stating the
relation, and drew the paper-cutter through her hand two or three times.
Orsino's eyes were oddly fascinated by the flash of the jewels.

"I would like to know the history of that knife," he said, almost
thoughtlessly.

Maria Consuelo started and looked at him, paler even than before. The
question seemed to be a very unexpected one.

"Why?" she asked quickly.

"I always see it on the table or in your hand," answered Orsino. "It is
associated with you--I think of it when I think of you. I always fancy
that it has a story."

"You are right. It was given to me by a person who loved me."

"I see--I was indiscreet."

"No--you do not see, my friend. If you did you--you would understand
many things, and perhaps it is better that you should not know them."

"Your sadness? Should I understand that, too?"

"No. Not that."

A slight colour rose in her face, and she stretched out her hand to
arrange the shade of the lamp, with a gesture long familiar to him.

"We shall end by misunderstanding each other," she continued in a harder
tone. "Perhaps it will be my fault. I wish you knew much more about me
than you do, but without the necessity of telling you the story. But
that is impossible. This paper-cutter--for instance, could tell the tale
better than I, for it made people see things which I did not see."

"After it was yours?"

"Yes. After it was mine."

"It pleases you to be very mysterious," said Orsino with a smile.

"Oh no! It does not please me at all," she answered, turning her face
away again. "And least of all with you--my friend."

"Why least with me?"

"Because you are the first to misunderstand. You cannot help it. I do
not blame you."

"If you would let me be your friend, as you call me, it would be better
for us both."

He spoke as he had assuredly not meant to speak when he had entered the
room, and with a feeling that surprised himself far more than his
hearer. Maria Consuelo turned sharply upon him.

"Have you acted like a friend towards me?" she asked.

"I have tried to," he answered, with more presence of mind than truth.

Her tawny eyes suddenly lightened.

"That is not true. Be truthful! How have you acted, how have you spoken
with me? Are you ashamed to answer?"

Orsino raised his head rather haughtily, and met her glance, wondering
whether any man had ever been forced into such a strange position
before. But though her eyes were bright, their look was neither cold nor
defiant.

"You know the answer," he said. "I spoke and acted as though I loved
you, Madame, but since you dismissed me so very summarily, I do not see
why you wish me to say so."

"And you, Don Orsino, have you ever been loved--loved in earnest--by any
woman?"

"That is a very strange question, Madame."

"I am discreet. You may answer it safely."

"I have no doubt of that."

"But you will not? No--that is your right. But it would be kind of
you--I should be grateful if you would tell me--has any woman ever loved
you dearly?"

Orsino laughed, almost in spite of himself. He had little false pride.

"It is humiliating, Madame. But since you ask the question and require a
categorical answer, I will make my confession. I have never been loved.
But you will observe, as an extenuating circumstance, that I am young. I
do not give up all hope."

"No--you need not," said Maria Consuelo in a low voice, and again she
moved the shade of the lamp.

Though Orsino was by no means fatuous, he must have been blind if he had
not seen by this time that Madame d'Aranjuez was doing her best to make
him speak as he had formerly spoken to her, and to force him into a
declaration of love. He saw it, indeed, and wondered; but although he
felt her charm upon him, from time to time, he resolved that nothing
should induce him to relax even so far as he had done already more than
once during the interview. She had placed him in a foolish position once
before, and he would not expose himself to being made ridiculous again,
in her eyes or his. He could not discover what intention she had in
trying to lead him back to her, but he attributed it to her vanity. She
regretted, perhaps, having rebuked him so soon, or perhaps she had
imagined that he would have made further and more determined efforts to
see her. Possibly, too, she really wished to ask a service of him, and
wished to assure herself that she could depend upon him by previously
extracting an avowal of his devotion. It was clear that one of the two
had mistaken the other's character or mood, though it was impossible to
say which was the one deceived.

The silence which followed lasted some time, and threatened to become
awkward. Maria Consuelo could not or would not speak and Orsino did not
know what to say. He thought of inquiring what the commission might be
with which, according to her note, she had wished to entrust him. But an
instant's reflection told him that the question would be tactless. If
she had invented the idea as an excuse for seeing him, to mention it
would be to force her hand, as card-players say, and he had no intention
of doing that. Even if she really had something to ask of him, he had no
right to change the subject so suddenly. He bethought him of a better
question.

"You wrote me that you were going away," he said quietly. "But you will
come back next winter, will you not, Madame?"

"I do not know," she answered, vaguely. Then she started a little, as
though understanding his words. "What am I saying!" she exclaimed. "Of
course I shall come back."

"Have you been drinking from the Trevi fountain by moonlight, like those
mad English?" he asked, with a smile.

"It is not necessary. I know that I shall come back--if I am alive."

"How you say that! You are as strong as I--"

"Stronger, perhaps. But then--who knows! The weak ones sometimes last
the longest."

Orsino thought she was growing very sentimental, though as he looked at
her he was struck again by the look of suffering in her eyes. Whatever
weakness she felt was visible there, there was nothing in the full, firm
little hand, in the strong and easy pose of the head, in the softly
coloured ear half hidden by her hair, that could suggest a coming danger
to her splendid health.

"Let us take it for granted that you will come back to us," said Orsino
cheerfully.

"Very well, we will take it for granted. What then?"

The question was so sudden and direct that Orsino fancied there ought to
be an evident answer to it.

"What then?" he repeated, after a moment's hesitation. "I suppose you
will live in these same rooms again, and with your permission, a certain
Orsino Saracinesca will visit you from time to time, and be rude, and be
sent away into exile for his sins. And Madame d'Aranjuez will go a great
deal to Madame Del Ferice's and to other ultra-White houses, which will
prevent the said Orsino from meeting her in society. She will also be
more beautiful than ever, and the daily papers will describe a certain
number of gowns which she will bring with her from Paris, or Vienna, or
London, or whatever great capital is the chosen official residence of
her great dressmaker. And the world will not otherwise change very
materially in the course of eight months."

Orsino laughed lightly, not at his own speech, which he had constructed
rather clumsily under the spur of necessity, but in the hope that she
would laugh, too, and begin to talk more carelessly. But Maria Consuelo
was evidently not inclined for anything but the most serious view of the
world, past, present and future.

"Yes," she answered gravely. "I daresay you are right. One comes, one
shows one's clothes, and one goes away again--and that is all. It would
be very much the same if one did not come. It is a great mistake to
think oneself necessary to any one. Only things are necessary--food,
money and something to talk about."

"You might add friends to the list," said Orsino, who was afraid of
being called brutal again if he did not make some mild remonstrance to
such a sweeping assertion.

"Friends are included under the head of 'something to talk about,'"
answered Maria Consuelo.

"That is an encouraging view."

"Like all views one gets by experience."

"You grow more and more bitter."

"Does the world grow sweeter as one grows older?"

"Neither you nor I have lived long enough to know," answered Orsino.

"Facts make life long--not years."

"So long as they leave no sign of age, what does it matter?"

"I do not care for that sort of flattery."

"Because it is not flattery at all. You know the truth too well. I am
not ingenious enough to flatter you, Madame. Perfection is not flattered
when it is called perfect."

"It is at all events impossible to exaggerate better than you can,"
answered Maria Consuelo, laughing at last at the overwhelming
compliment. "Where did you learn that?"

"At your feet, Madame. The contemplation of great masterpieces enlarges
the intelligence and deepens the power of expression."

"And I am a masterpiece--of what? Of art? Of caprice? Of consistency?"

"Of nature," answered Orsino promptly.

Again Maria Consuelo laughed a little, at the mere quickness of the
answer. Orsino was delighted with himself, for he fancied he was leading
her rapidly away from the dangerous ground upon which she had been
trying to force him. But her next words showed him that he had not yet
succeeded.

"Who will make me laugh during all these months!" she exclaimed with a
little sadness.

Orsino thought she was strangely obstinate, and wondered what she would
say next.

"Dear me, Madame," he said, "if you are so kind as to laugh at my poor
wit, you will not have to seek far to find some one to amuse you
better!"

He knew how to put on an expression of perfect simplicity when he
pleased, and Maria Consuelo looked at him, trying to be sure whether he
were in earnest or not. But his face baffled her.

"You are too modest," she said.

"Do you think it is a defect? Shall I cultivate a little more assurance
of manner?" he asked, very innocently.

"Not to-day. Your first attempt might lead you into extremes."

"There is not the slightest fear of that, Madame," he answered with some
emphasis.

She coloured a little and her closed lips smiled in a way he had often
noticed before. He congratulated himself upon these signs of approaching
ill-temper, which promised an escape from his difficulty. To take leave
of her suddenly was to abandon the field, and that he would not do. She
had determined to force him into a confession of devotion, and he was
equally determined not to satisfy her. He had tried to lead her off her
track with frivolous talk and had failed. He would try and irritate her
instead, but without incurring the charge of rudeness. Why she was
making such an attack upon him, was beyond his understanding, but he
resented it, and made up his mind neither to fly nor yield. If he had
been a hundredth part as cynical as he liked to fancy himself, he would
have acted very differently. But he was young enough to have been
wounded by his former dismissal, though he hardly knew it, and to seek
almost instinctively to revenge his wrongs. He did not find it easy. He
would not have believed that such a woman as Maria Consuelo could so far
forget her pride as to go begging for a declaration of love.

"I suppose you will take Gouache's portrait away with you," he observed,
changing the subject with a directness which he fancied would increase
her annoyance.

"What makes you think so?" she asked, rather drily.

"I thought it a natural question."

"I cannot imagine what I should do with it. I shall leave it with him."

"You will let him send it to the Salon in Paris, of course?"

"If he likes. You seem interested in the fate of the picture."

"A little. I wondered why you did not have it here, as it has been
finished so long."

"Instead of that hideous mirror, you mean? There would be less variety.
I should always see myself in the same dress."

"No--on the opposite wall. You might compare truth with fiction in that
way."

"To the advantage of Gouache's fiction, you would say. You were more
complimentary a little while ago."

"You imagine more rudeness than even I am capable of inventing."

"That is saying much. Why did you change the subject just now?"

"Because I saw that you were annoyed at something. Besides, we were
talking about myself, if I remember rightly."

"Have you never heard that a man should always talk to a woman about
himself or herself?"

"No. I never heard that. Shall we talk of you, then, Madame?"

"Do you care to talk of me?" asked Maria Consuelo.

Another direct attack, Orsino thought.

"I would rather hear you talk of yourself," he answered without the
least hesitation.

"If I were to tell you my thoughts about myself at the present moment,
they would surprise you very much."

"Agreeably or disagreeably?"

"I do not know. Are you vain?"

"As a peacock!" replied Orsino quickly.

"Ah--then what I am thinking would not interest you."

"Why not?"

"Because if it is not flattering it would wound you, and if it is
flattering it would disappoint you--by falling short of your ideal of
yourself."

"Yet I confess that I would like to know what you think of me, though I
would much rather hear what you think of yourself."

"On one condition, I will tell you."

"What is that?"

"That you will give me your word to give me your own opinion of me
afterwards."

"The adjectives are ready, Madame, I give you my word."

"You give it so easily! How can I believe you?"

"It is so easy to give in such a case, when one has nothing disagreeable
to say."

"Then you think me agreeable?"

"Eminently!"

"And charming?"

"Perfectly!"

"And beautiful?"

"How can you doubt it?"

"And in all other respects exactly like all the women in society to whom
you repeat the same commonplaces every day of your life?"

The feint had been dexterous and the thrust was sudden, straight and
unexpected.

"Madame!" exclaimed Orsino in the deprecatory tone of a man taken by
surprise.

"You see--you have nothing to say!" She laughed a little bitterly.

"You take too much for granted," he said, recovering himself. "You
suppose that because I agree with you upon one point after another, I
agree with you in the conclusion. You do not even wait to hear my
answer, and you tell me that I am checkmated when I have a dozen moves
from which to choose. Besides, you have directly infringed the
conditions. You have fired before the signal and an arbitration would go
against you. You have done fifty things contrary to agreement, and you
accuse me of being dumb in my own defence. There is not much justice in
that. You promise to tell me a certain secret on condition that I will
tell you another. Then, without saying a word on your own part you
stone me with quick questions and cry victory because I protest. You
begin before I have had so much as--"

"For heaven's sake stop!" cried Maria Consuelo, interrupting a speech
which threatened to go on for twenty minutes. "You talk of chess,
duelling and stoning to death, in one sentence--I am utterly confused!
You upset all my ideas!"

"Considering how you have disturbed mine, it is a fair revenge. And
since we both admit that we have disturbed that balance upon which alone
depends all possibility of conversation, I think that I can do nothing
more graceful--pardon me, nothing less ungraceful--than wish you a
pleasant journey, which I do with all my heart, Madame."

Thereupon Orsino rose and took his hat.

"Sit down. Do not go yet," said Maria Consuelo, growing a shade paler,
and speaking with an evident effort.

"Ah--true!" exclaimed Orsino. "We were forgetting the little commission
you spoke of in your note. I am entirely at your service."

Maria Consuelo looked at him quickly and her lips trembled.

"Never mind that," she said unsteadily. "I will not trouble you. But I
do not want you to go away as--as you were going. I feel as though we
had been quarrelling. Perhaps we have. But let us say we are good
friends--if we only say it."

Orsino was touched and disturbed. Her face was very white and her hand
trembled visibly as she held it out. He took it in his own without
hesitation.

"If you care for my friendship, you shall have no better friend in the
world than I," he said, simply and naturally.

"Thank you--good-bye. I shall leave to-morrow."

The words were almost broken, as though she were losing control of her
voice. As he closed the door behind him, the sound of a wild and
passionate sob came to him through the panel. He stood still, listening
and hesitating. The truth which would have long been clear to an older
or a vainer man, flashed upon him suddenly. She loved him very much, and
he no longer cared for her. That was the reason why she had behaved so
strangely, throwing her pride and dignity to the winds in her desperate
attempt to get from him a single kind and affectionate word--from him,
who had poured into her ear so many words of love but two months
earlier, and from whom to draw a bare admission of friendship to-day she
had almost shed tears.

To go back into the room would be madness; since he did not love her, it
would almost be an insult. He bent his head and walked slowly down the
corridor. He had not gone far, when he was confronted by a small dark
figure that stopped the way. He recognised Maria Consuelo's elderly
maid.

"I beg your pardon, Signore Principe," said the little black-eyed woman.
"You will allow me to say a few words? I thank you, Eccellenza. It is
about my Signora, in there, of whom I have charge."

"Of whom, you have charge?" repeated Orsino, not understanding her.

"Yes--precisely. Of course, I am only her maid. You understand that. But
I have charge of her though she does not know it. The poor Signora has
had terrible trouble during the last few years, and at times--you
understand? She is a little--yes--here." She tapped her forehead. "She
is better now. But in my position I sometimes think it wiser to warn
some friend of hers--in strict confidence. It sometimes saves some
little unnecessary complication, and I was ordered to do so by the
doctors we last consulted in Paris. You will forgive me, Eccellenza, I
am sure."

Orsino stared at the woman for some seconds in blank astonishment. She
smiled in a placid, self-confident way.

"You mean that Madame d'Aranjuez is--mentally deranged, and that you are
her keeper? It is a little hard to believe, I confess."

"Would you like to see my certificates, Signor Principe? Or the written
directions of the doctors? I am sure you are discreet."

"I have no right to see anything of the kind," answered Orsino coldly.
"Of course, if you are acting under instructions it is no concern of
mine."

He would have gone forward, but she suddenly produced a small bit of
note-paper, neatly folded, and offered it to him.

"I thought you might like to know where we are until we return," she
said, continuing to speak in a very low voice. "It is the address."

Orsino made an impatient gesture. He was on the point of refusing the
information which he had not taken the trouble to ask of Maria Consuelo
herself. But he changed his mind and felt in his pocket for something to
give the woman. It seemed the easiest and simplest way of getting rid of
her. The only note he had, chanced to be one of greater value than
necessary.

"A thousand thanks, Eccellenza!" whispered the maid, overcome by what
she took for an intentional piece of generosity.

Orsino left the hotel as quickly as he could.

"For improbable situations, commend me to the nineteenth century and the
society in which we live!" he said to himself as he emerged into the
street.



CHAPTER XVI.


It was long before Orsino saw Maria Consuelo again, but the
circumstances of his last meeting with her constantly recurred to his
mind during the following months. It is one of the chief characteristics
of Rome that it seems to be one of the most central cities in Europe
during the winter, whereas in the summer months it appears to be
immensely remote from the rest of the civilised world. From having been
the prey of the inexpressible foreigner in his shooting season, it
suddenly becomes, and remains during about five months, the happy
hunting ground of the silent flea, the buzzing fly and the insinuating
mosquito. The streets are, indeed, still full of people, and long lines
of carriages may be seen towards sunset in the Villa Borghesa and in the
narrow Corso. Rome and the Romans are not easily parted as London and
London society, for instance. May comes--the queen of the months in the
south. June follows. Southern blood rejoices in the first strong
sunshine. July trudges in at the gates, sweating under the cloudless
sky, heavy, slow of foot, oppressed by the breath of the coming
dog-star. Still the nights are cool. Still, towards sunset, the
refreshing breeze sweeps up from the sea and fills the streets. Then
behind closely fastened blinds, the glass windows are opened and the
weary hand drops the fan at last. Then men and women array themselves in
the garments of civilisation and sally forth, in carriages, on foot, and
in trams, according to the degrees of social importance which provide
that in old countries the middle term shall be made to suffer for the
priceless treasure of a respectability which is a little higher than the
tram and financially not quite equal to the cab. Then, at that magic
touch of the west wind the house-fly retires to his own peculiar
Inferno, wherever that may be, the mosquito and the gnat pause in their
work of darkness and blood to concert fresh and more bloodthirsty deeds,
and even the joyous and wicked flea tires of the war dance and lays down
his weary head to snatch a hard-earned nap. July drags on, and terrible
August treads the burning streets bleaching the very dust up on the
pavement, scourging the broad campagna with fiery lashes of heat. Then
the white-hot sky reddens in the evening when it cools, as the white
iron does when it is taken from the forge. Then at last, all those who
can escape from the condemned city flee for their lives to the hills,
while those who must face the torment of the sun and the poison of the
air turn pale in their sufferings, feebly curse their fate and then grow
listless, weak and irresponsible as over-driven galley slaves,
indifferent to everything, work, rest, blows, food, sleep and the hope
of release. The sky darkens suddenly. There is a sort of horror in the
stifling air. People do not talk much, and if they do are apt to quarrel
and sometimes to kill one another without warning. The plash of the
fountains has a dull sound like the pouring out of molten lead. The
horses' hoofs strike visible sparks out of the grey stones in broad
daylight. Many houses are shut, and one fancies that there must be a
dead man in each whom no one will bury. A few great drops of rain make
ink-stains on the pavement at noon, and there is an exasperating,
half-sulphurous smell abroad. Late in the afternoon they fall again. An
evil wind comes in hot blasts from all quarters at once--then a low roar
like an earthquake and presently a crash that jars upon the overwrought
nerves--great and plashing drops again, a sharp short flash--then crash
upon crash, deluge upon deluge, and the worst is over. Summer has
received its first mortal wound. But its death is more fatal than its
life. The noontide heat is fierce and drinks up the moisture of the rain
and the fetid dust with it. The fever-wraith rises in the damp, cool
night, far out in the campagna, and steals up to the walls of the city,
and over them and under them and into the houses. If there are any yet
left in Rome who can by any possibility take themselves out of it, they
are not long in going. Till that moment, there has been only suffering
to be borne; now, there is danger of something worse. Now, indeed, the
city becomes a desert inhabited by white-faced ghosts. Now, if it be a
year of cholera, the dead carts rattle through the streets all night on
their way to the gate of Saint Lawrence, and the workmen count their
numbers when they meet at dawn. But the bad days are not many, if only
there be rain enough, for a little is worse than none. The nights
lengthen and the September gales sweep away the poison-mists with kindly
strength. Body and soul revive, as the ripe grapes appear in their
vine-covered baskets at the street corners. Rich October is coming, the
month in which the small citizens of Rome take their wives and the
children to the near towns, to Marino, to Froscati, to Albano and
Aricia, to eat late fruits and drink new must, with songs and laughter,
and small miseries and great delights such as are remembered a whole
year. The first clear breeze out of the north shakes down the dying
leaves and brightens the blue air. The brown campagna turns green again,
and the heart of the poor lame cab-horse is lifted up. The huge porter
of the palace lays aside his linen coat and his pipe, and opens wide the
great gates; for the masters are coming back, from their castles and
country places, from the sea and from the mountains, from north and
south, from the magic shore of Sorrento, and from distant French bathing
places, some with brides or husbands, some with rosy Roman babies making
their first trumphal entrance into Rome--and some, again, returning
companionless to the home they had left in companionship. The great and
complicated machinery of social life is set in order and repaired for
the winter; the lost or damaged pieces in the engine are carefully
replaced with new ones which will do as well or better, the joints and
bearings are lubricated, the whistle of the first invitation is heard,
there is some puffing and a little creaking at first, and then the big
wheels begin to go slowly round, solemnly and regularly as ever, while
all the little wheels run as fast as they can and set fire to their
axles in the attempt to keep up the speed, and are finally jammed and
caught up and smashed, as little wheels are sure to be when they try to
act like big ones. But unless something happens to one of the very
biggest the machine does not stop until the end of the season, when it
is taken to pieces again for repairs.

That is the brief history of a Roman year, of which the main points are
very much like those of its predecessor and successor. The framework is
the same, but the decorations change, slowly, surely and not, perhaps,
advantageously, as the younger generation crowds into the place of the
older--as young acquaintances take the place of old friends, as faces
strange to us hide faces we have loved.

Orsino Saracinesca, in his new character as a contractor and a man of
business, knew that he must either spend the greater part of the summer
in town, or leave his affairs in the hands of Andrea Contini. The latter
course was repugnant to him, partly because he still felt a beginner's
interest in his first success, and partly because he had a shrewd
suspicion that Contini, if left to himself in the hot weather, might be
tempted to devote more time to music than to architecture. The business,
too, was now on a much larger scale than before, though Orsino had taken
his mother's advice in not at once going so far as he might have gone.
It needed all his own restless energy, all Contini's practical talents,
and perhaps more of Del Ferice's influence than either of them
suspected, to keep it going on the road to success.

In July Orsino's people made ready to go up to Saracinesca. The old
prince, to every one's surprise, declared his intention of going to
England, and roughly refused to be accompanied by any one of the family.
He wanted to find out some old friends, he said, and desired the
satisfaction of spending a couple of months in peace, which was quite
impossible at home, owing to Giovanni's outrageous temper and Orsino's
craze for business. He thereupon embraced them all affectionately,
indulged in a hearty laugh and departed in a special carriage with his
own servants.

Giovanni objected to Orsino's staying in Rome during the great heat.
Though Orsino had not as yet entered into any explanation with his
father, but the latter understood well enough that the business had
turned out better than had been expected and began to feel an interest
in its further success, for his son's sake. He saw the boy developing
into a man by a process which he would naturally have supposed to be the
worst possible one, judging from his own point of view. But he could not
find fault with the result. There was no disputing the mental
superiority of the Orsino of July over the Orsino of the preceding
January. Whatever the sensation which Giovanni experienced as he
contemplated the growing change, it was not one of anxiety nor of
disappointment. But he had a Roman's well-founded prejudice against
spending August and September in town. His objections gave rise to some
discussion, in which Corona joined.

Orsino enlarged upon the necessity of attending in person to the
execution of his contracts. Giovanni suggested that he should find some
trustworthy person to take his place. Corona was in favour of a
compromise. It would be easy, she said, for Orsino to spend two or three
days of every week in Rome and the remainder in the country with his
father and mother. They were all three quite right according to their
own views, and they all three knew it. Moreover they were all three very
obstinate people. The consequence was that Orsino, who was in
possession, so to say, since the other two were trying to make him
change his mind, got the best of the argument, and won his first pitched
battle. Not that there was any apparent hostility, or that any of the
three spoke hotly or loudly. They were none of them like old
Saracinesca, whose feats of argumentation were vehement, eccentric and
fiery as his own nature. They talked with apparent calm through a long
summer's afternoon, and the vanquished retired with a fairly good grace,
leaving Orsino master of the field. But on that occasion Giovanni
Saracinesca first formed the opinion that his son was a match for him,
and that it would be wise in future to ascertain the chances of success
before incurring the risk of a humiliating defeat.

Giovanni and his wife went out together and talked over the matter as
their carriage swept round the great avenues of Villa Borghesa.

"There is no question of the fact that Orsino is growing up--is grown up
already," said Sant' Ilario, glancing at Corona's calm, dark face.

She smiled with a certain pride, as she heard the words.

"Yes," she answered, "he is a man. It is a mistake to treat him as a boy
any longer."

"Do you think it is this sudden interest in business that has changed
him so?"

"Of course--what else?"

"Madame d'Aranjuez, for instance," Giovanni suggested.

"I do not believe she ever had the least influence over him. The
flirtation seems to have died a natural death. I confess, I hoped it
might end in that way, and I am glad if it has. And I am very glad that
Orsino is succeeding so well. Do you know, dear? I am glad, because you
did not believe it possible that he should."

"No, I did not. And now that I begin to understand it, he does not like
to talk to me about his affairs. I suppose that is only natural. Tell
me--has he really made money? Or have you been giving him money to lose,
in order that he may buy experience."

"He has succeeded alone," said Corona proudly. "I would give him
whatever he needed, but he needs nothing. He is immensely clever and
immensely energetic. How could he fail?"

"You seem to admire our firstborn, my dear," observed Giovanni with a
smile.

"To tell the truth, I do. I have no doubt that he does all sorts of
things which he ought not to do, and of which I know nothing. You did
the same at his age, and I shall be quite satisfied if he turns out like
you. I would not like to have a lady-like son with white hands and
delicate sensibilities, and hypocritical affectations of exaggerated
morality. I think I should be capable of trying to make such a boy bad,
if it only made him manly--though I daresay that would be very wrong."

"No doubt," said Giovanni. "But we shall not be placed in any such
position by Orsino, my dear. You remember that little affair last year,
in England? It was very nearly a scandal. But then--the English are
easily led into temptation and very easily scandalised afterwards.
Orsino will not err in the direction of hypocritical morality. But that
is not the question. I wish to know, from you since he does not confide
in me, how far he is really succeeding."

Corona gave her husband a remarkably clear statement of Orsino's
affairs, without exaggeration so far as the facts were concerned, but
not without highly favourable comment. She did not attempt to conceal
her triumph, now that success had been in a measure attained, and she
did not hesitate to tell Giovanni that he ought to have encouraged and
supported the boy from the first.

Giovanni listened with very great interest, and bore her affectionate
reproaches with equanimity. He felt in his heart that he had done right,
and he somehow still believed that things were not in reality all that
they seemed to be. There was something in Orsino's immediate success
against odds apparently heavy, which disturbed his judgment. He had not,
it was true, any personal experience of the building speculations in the
city, nor of financial transactions in general, as at present
understood, and he had recently heard of cases in which individuals had
succeeded beyond their own wildest expectations. There was, perhaps, no
reason why Orsino should not do as well as other people, or even better,
in spite of his extreme youth. Andrea Contini was probably a man of
superior talent, well able to have directed the whole affair alone, if
other circumstances had been favourable to him, and there was on the
whole nothing to prove that the two young men had received more than
their fair share of assistance or accommodation from the bank. But
Giovanni knew well enough that Del Ferice was the most influential
personage in the bank in question, and the mere suggestion of his name
lent to the whole affair a suspicious quality which disturbed Orsino's
father. In spite of all reasonable reflexions there was an air of
unnatural good fortune in the case which he did not like, and he had
enough experience of Del Ferice's tortuous character to distrust his
intentions. He would have preferred to see his son lose money through
Ugo rather than that Orsino should owe the latter the smallest thanks.
The fact that he had not spoken with the man for over twenty years did
not increase the confidence he felt in him. In that time Del Ferice had
developed into a very important personage, having much greater power to
do harm than he had possessed in former days, and it was not to be
supposed that he had forgotten old wounds or given up all hope of
avenging them. Del Ferice was not very subject to that sort of
forgetfulness.

When Corona had finished speaking, Giovanni was silent for a few
moments.

"Is it not splendid?" Corona asked enthusiastically. "Why do you not say
anything? One would think that you were not pleased."

"On the contrary, as far as Orsino is concerned, I am delighted. But I
do not trust Del Ferice."

"Del Ferice is far too clever a man to ruin Orsino," answered Corona.

"Exactly. That is the trouble. That is what makes me feel that though
Orsino has worked hard and shown extraordinary intelligence--and
deserves credit for that--yet he would not have succeeded in the same
way if he had dealt with any other bank. Del Ferice has helped him.
Possibly Orsino knows that, as well as we do, but he certainly does not
know what part Del Ferice played in our lives, Corona. If he did, he
would not accept his help."

In her turn Corona was silent and a look of disappointment came into her
face. She remembered a certain afternoon in the mountains when she had
entreated Giovanni to let Del Ferice escape, and Giovanni had yielded
reluctantly and had given the fugitive a guide to take him to the
frontier. She wondered whether the generous impulse of that day was to
bear evil fruit at last.

"Orsino knows nothing about it at all," she said at last. "We kept the
secret of Del Ferice's escape very carefully--for there were good
reasons to be careful in those days. Orsino only knows that you once
fought a duel with the man and wounded him."

"I think it is time that he knew more."

"Of what use can it be to tell him those old stories?" asked Corona.
"And after all, I do not believe that Del Ferice has done so much. If
you could have followed Orsino's work, day by day and week by week, as I
have, you would see how much is really due to his energy. Any other
banker would have done as much as he. Besides, it is in Del Ferice's own
interest--"

"That is the trouble," interrupted Giovanni. "It is bad enough that he
should help Orsino. It is much worse that he should help him in order to
make use of him. If, as you say, any other bank would do as much, then
let him go to another bank. If he owes Del Ferice money at the present
moment, we will pay it for him."

"You forget that he has bought the buildings he is now finishing, from
Del Ferice, on a mortgage."

Giovanni laughed a little.

"How you have learned to talk about mortgages and deeds and all sorts of
business!" he exclaimed. "But what you say is not an objection. We can
pay off these mortgages, I suppose, and take the risk ourselves."

"Of course we could do that," Corona answered, thoughtfully. "But I
really think you exaggerate the whole affair. For the time being, Del
Ferice is not a man, but a banker. His personal character and former
doings do not enter into the matter."

"I think they do," said Giovanni, still unconvinced.

"At all events, do not make trouble now, dear," said Corona in earnest
tones. "Let the present contract be executed and finished, and then
speak to Orsino before he makes another. Whatever Del Ferice may have
done, you can see for yourself that Orsino is developing in a way we had
not expected, and is becoming a serious, energetic man. Do not step in
now, and check the growth of what is good. You will regret it as much as
I shall. When he has finished these buildings he will have enough
experience to make a new departure."

"I hate the idea of receiving a favour from Del Ferice, or of laying him
under an obligation. I think I will go to him myself."

"To Del Ferice?" Corona started and looked round at Giovanni as she sat.
She had a sudden vision of new trouble.

"Yes. Why not? I will go to him and tell him that I would rather wind up
my son's business with him, as our former relations were not of a nature
to make transactions of mutual profit either fitting or even permissible
between any of our family and Ugo Del Ferice."

"For Heaven's sake, Giovanni, do not do that."

"And why not?" He was surprised at her evident distress.

"For my sake, then--do not quarrel with Del Ferice--it was different
then, in the old days. I could not bear it now--" she stopped, and her
lower lip trembled a little.

"Do you love me better than you did then, Corona?"

"So much better--I cannot tell you."

She touched his hand with hers and her dark eyes were a little veiled as
they met his. Both were silent for a moment.

"I have no intention of quarrelling with Del Ferice, dear," said
Giovanni, gently.

His face had grown a shade paler as she spoke. The power of her hand and
voice to move him, had not diminished in all the years of peaceful
happiness that had passed so quickly.

"I do not mean any such thing," he said again. "But I mean this. I will
not have it said that Del Ferice has made a fortune for Orsino, nor
that Orsino has helped Del Ferice's interests. I see no way but to
interfere myself. I can do it without the suspicion of a quarrel."

"It will be a great mistake, Giovanni. Wait till there is a new
contract."

"I will think of it, before doing anything definite."

Corona well knew that she should get no greater concession than this.
The point of honour had been touched in Giovanni's sensibilities and his
character was stubborn and determined where his old prejudices were
concerned. She loved him very dearly, and this very obstinacy of his
pleased her. But she fancied that trouble of some sort was imminent. She
understood her son's nature, too, and dreaded lest he should be forced
into opposing his father.

It struck her that she might herself act as intermediary. She could
certainly obtain concessions from Orsino which Giovanni could not hope
to extract by force or stratagem. But the wisdom of her own proposal in
the matter seemed unassailable. The business now in hand should be
allowed to run its natural course before anything was done to break off
the relations between Orsino and Del Ferice.

In the evening she found an opportunity of speaking with Orsino in
private. She repeated to him the details of her conversation with
Giovanni during the drive in the afternoon.

"My dear mother," answered Orsino, "I do not trust Del Ferice any more
than you and my father trust him. You talk of things which he did years
ago, but you do not tell me what those things were. So far as I
understand, it all happened before you were married. My father and he
quarrelled about something, and I suppose there was a lady concerned in
the matter. Unless you were the lady in question, and unless what he did
was in the nature of an insult to you, I cannot see how the matter
concerns me. They fought and it ended there, as affairs of honour do. If
it touched you, then tell me so, and I will break with Del Ferice
to-morrow morning."

Corona was silent, for Orsino's speech was very plain, and if she
answered it all, the answer must be the truth. There could be no escape
from that. And the truth would be very hard to tell. At that time she
had been still the wife of old Astrardente, and Del Ferice's offence had
been that he had purposely concealed himself in the conservatory of the
Frangipan's palace in order to overhear what Giovanni Saracinesca was
about to say to another man's wife. The fact that on that memorable
night she had bravely resisted a very great temptation did not affect
the difficulty of the present case in any way. She asked herself rather
whether Del Ferice's eavesdropping would appear to Orsino to be in the
nature of an insult to her, to use his own words, and she had no doubt
but that it would seem so. At the same time she would find hard to
explain to her son why Del Ferice suspected that there was to be
anything said to her worth overhearing, seeing that she bore at that
time the name of another man then still living. How could Orsino
understand all that had gone before? Even now, though she knew that she
had acted well, she humbly believed that she might have done much
better. How would her son judge her? She was silent, waiting for him to
speak again.

"That would be the only conceivable reason for my breaking with Del
Ferice," said Orsino. "We only have business relations, and I do not go
to his house. I went once. I saw no reason for telling you so at the
time, and I have not been there again. It was at the beginning of the
whole affair. Outside of the bank, we are the merest acquaintances. But
I repeat what I said. If he ever did anything which makes it
dishonourable for me to accept even ordinary business services from him,
let me know it. I have some right to hear the truth."

Corona hesitated, and laid the case again before her own conscience, and
tried to imagine herself in her son's position. It was hard to reach a
conclusion. There was no doubt but that when she had learned the truth,
long after the event, she had felt that she had been insulted and justly
avenged. If she said nothing now, Orsino would suspect something and
would assuredly go to his father, from whom he would get a view of the
case not conspicuous for its moderation. And Giovanni would undoubtedly
tell his son the details of what had followed, how Del Ferice had
attempted to hinder the marriage when it was at last possible, and all
the rest of the story. At the same time, she felt that so far as her
personal sensibilities were concerned, she had not the least objection
to the continuance of a mere business relation between Orsino and Del
Ferice. She was more forgiving than Giovanni.

"I will tell you this much, my dear boy," she said, at last. "That old
quarrel did concern me and no one else. Your father feels more strongly
about it than I do, because he fought for me and not for himself. You
trust me, Orsino. You know that I would rather see you dead than doing
anything dishonourable. Very well. Do not ask any more questions, and do
not go to your father about it. Del Ferice has only advanced you money,
in a business way, on good security and at a high interest. So far as I
can judge of the point of honour involved, what happened long ago need
not prevent your doing what you are doing now. Possibly, when you have
finished the present contract, you may think it wiser to apply to some
other bank, or to work on your own account with my money."

Corona believed that she had found the best way out of the difficulty,
and Orsino seemed satisfied, for he nodded thoughtfully and said
nothing. The day had been filled with argument and discussion about his
determination to stay in town, and he was weary of the perpetual
question and answer. He knew his mother well, and was willing to take
her advice for the present. She, on her part, told Giovanni what she had
done, and he consented to consider the matter a little longer before
interfering. He disliked even the idea of a business relation extremely,
but he feared that there was more behind the appearances of commercial
fairness than either he or Orsino himself could understand. The better
Orsino succeeded, the less his father was pleased, and his suspicions
were not unfounded. He knew from San Giacinto that success was becoming
uncommon, and he knew that all Orsino's industry and energy could not
have sufficed to counterbalance his inexperience. Andrea Contini, too,
had been recommended by Del Ferice, and was presumably Del Ferice's man.

On the following day Giovanni and Corona with the three younger boys
went up to Saracinesca leaving Orsino alone in the great palace, to his
own considerable satisfaction. He was well pleased with himself and
especially at having carried his point. At his age, and with his
constitution, the heat was a matter of supreme indifference to him, and
he looked forward with delight to a summer of uninterrupted work in the
not uncongenial society of Andrea Contini. As for the work itself, it
was beginning to have a sort of fascination for him as he understood it
better. The love of building, the passion for stone and brick and
mortar, is inherent in some natures, and is capable of growing into a
mania little short of actual insanity. Orsino began to ask himself
seriously whether it were too late to study architecture as a profession
and in the meanwhile he learned more of it in practice from Contini than
he could have acquired in twice the time at any polytechnic school in
Europe.

He liked Contini himself more and more as the days went by. Hitherto he
had been much inclined to judge his own countrymen from his own class.
He was beginning to see that he had understood little or nothing of the
real Italian nature when uninfluenced by foreign blood. The study
interested and pleased him. Only one unpleasant memory occasionally
disturbed his peace of mind. When he thought of his last meeting with
Maria Consuelo he hated himself for the part he had played, though he
was quite unable to account logically, upon his assumed principles, for
the severity of his self-condemnation.



CHAPTER XVII.


Orsino necessarily led a monotonous life, though, his occupation was an
absorbing one. Very early in the morning he was with Contini where the
building was going on. He then passed the hot hours of the day in the
office, which, as before, had been established in one of the unfinished
houses. Towards evening, he went down into the city to his home,
refreshed himself after his long day's work, and then walked or drove
until half past eight, when he went to dinner in the garden of a great
restaurant in the Corso. Here he met a few acquaintances who, like
himself, had reasons for staying in town after their families had left.
He always sat at the same small table, at which there was barely room
for two persons, for he preferred to be alone, and he rarely asked a
passing friend to sit down with him.

On a certain hot evening in the beginning of August he had just taken
his seat, and was trying to make up his mind whether he were hungry
enough to eat anything or whether it would not be less trouble to drink
a glass of iced coffee and go away, when he was aware of a lank shadow
cast across the white cloth by the glaring electric light. He looked up
and saw Spicca standing there, apparently uncertain where to sit down
for the place was fuller than usual. He liked the melancholy old man and
spoke to him, offering to share his table.

Spicca hesitated a moment and then accepted the invitation. He deposited
his hat upon a chair beside him and leaned back, evidently exhausted
either in mind or body, if not in both.

"I am very much obliged to you, my dear Orsino," he said. "There is an
abominable crowd here, which means an unusual number of people to
avoid--just as many as I know, in fact, excepting yourself."

"I am glad you do not wish to avoid me, too," observed Orsino, by way of
saying something.

"You are a less evil--so I choose you in preference to the greater,"
Spicca answered. But there was a not unkindly look in his sunken eyes as
he spoke.

He tipped the great flask of Chianti that hung in its swinging plated
cradle in the middle of the table, and filled two glasses.

"Since all that is good has been abolished, let us drink to the least of
evils," he said, "in other words, to each other."

"To the absence of friends," answered Orsino, touching the wine with his
lips.

Spicca emptied his glass slowly and then looked at him.

"I like that toast," he said. "To the absence of friends. I daresay you
have heard of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Do they still teach
the dear old tale in these modern schools? No. But you have heard
it--very well. You will remember that if they had not allowed the
serpent to scrape acquaintance with them, on pretence of a friendly
interest in their intellectual development, Adam and Eve would still be
inventing names for the angelic little wild beasts who were too
well-behaved to eat them. They would still be in paradise. Moreover
Orsino Saracinesca and John Nepomucene Spicca would not be in daily
danger of poisoning in this vile cookshop. Summary ejection from Eden
was the first consequence of friendship, and its results are similar to
this day. What nauseous mess are we to swallow to-night? Have you looked
at the card?"

Orsino laughed a little. He foresaw that Spicca would not be dull
company on this particular evening. Something unusually disagreeable had
probably happened to him during the day. After long and melancholy
hesitation he ordered something which he believed he could eat, and
Orsino followed his example.

"Are all your people out of town?" Spicca asked, after a pause.

"Yes. I am alone."

"And what in the world is the attraction here? Why do you stay? I do not
wish to be indiscreet, and I was never afflicted with curiosity. But
cases of mental alienation grow more common every day, and as an old
friend of your father's I cannot overlook symptoms of madness in you. A
really sane person avoids Rome in August."

"It strikes me that I might say the same to you," answered Orsino. "I am
kept here by business. You have not even that excuse."

"How do you know?" asked Spicca, sharply. "Business has two main
elements--credit and debit. The one means the absence of the other. I
leave it to your lively intelligence to decide which of the two means
Rome in August, and which means Trouville or St. Moritz."

"I had not thought of it in that light."

"No? I daresay not. I constantly think of it."

"There are other places, nearer than St. Moritz," suggested Orsino. "Why
not go to Sorrento?"

"There was such a place once--but my friends have found it out.
Nevertheless, I might go there. It is better to suffer friendship in the
spirit than fever in the body. But I have a reason for staying here just
at present--a very good one."

"Without indiscretion--?"

"No, certainly not without considerable indiscretion. Take some more
wine. When intoxication is bliss it is folly to be sober, as the proverb
says. I cannot get tipsy, but you may, and that will be almost as
amusing. The main object of drinking wine is that one person should make
confidences for the other to laugh at--the one enjoys it quite as much
as the other."

"I would rather be the other," said Orsino with a laugh.

"In all cases in life it is better to be the other person," observed
Spicca, thoughtfully, though the remark lacked precision.

"You mean the patient and not the agent, I suppose?"

"No. I mean the spectator. The spectator is a well fed, indifferent
personage who laughs at the play and goes home to supper--perdition upon
him and his kind! He is the abomination of desolation in a front stall,
looking on while better men cut one another's throats. He is a fat man
with a pink complexion and small eyes, and when he has watched other
people's troubles long enough, he retires to his comfortable vault in
the family chapel in the Campo Varano, which is decorated with coloured
tiles, embellished with a modern altar piece and adorned with a bust of
himself by a good sculptor. Even in death, he is still the spectator,
grinning through the window of his sanctuary at the rows of nameless
graves outside. He is happy and self-satisfied still--even in marble. It
is worth living to be such a man."

"It is not an exciting life," remarked Orsino.

"No. That is the beauty of it. Look at me. I have never succeeded in
imitating that well-to-do, thoroughly worthy villain. I began too late.
Take warning, Orsino. You are young. Grow fat and look on--then you will
die happy. All the philosophy of life is there. Farinaceous food, money
and a wife. That is the recipe. Since you have money you can purchase
the gruel and the affections. Waste no time in making the investment."

"I never heard you advocate marriage before. You seem to have changed
your mind, of late."

"Not in the least. I distinguish between being married and taking a
wife, that is all."

"Rather a fine distinction."

"The only difference between a prisoner and his gaoler is that they are
on opposite sides of the same wall. Take some more wine. We will drink
to the man on the outside."

"May you never be inside," said Orsino.

Spicca emptied his glass and looked at him, as he set it down again.

"May you never know what it is to have been inside," he said.

"You speak as though you had some experience."

"Yes, I have--through an acquaintance of mine."

"That is the most agreeable way of gaining experience."

"Yes," answered Spicca with a ghastly smile. "Perhaps I may tell you the
story some day. You may profit by it. It ended rather dramatically--so
far as it can be said to have ended at all. But we will not speak of it
just now. Here is another dish of poison--do you call that thing a fish,
Checco? Ah--yes. I perceive that you are right. The fact is apparent at
a great distance. Take it away. We are all mortal, Checco, but we do not
like to be reminded of it so very forcibly. Give me a tomato and some
vinegar."

"And the birds, Signore? Do you not want them any more?"

"The birds--yes, I had forgotten. And another flask of wine, Checco."

"It is not empty yet, Signore," observed the waiter lifting the
rush-covered bottle and shaking it a little.

Spicca silently poured out two glasses and handed him the empty flask.
He seemed to be very thirsty. Presently he got his birds. They proved
eatable, for quails are to be had all through the summer in Italy, and
he began to eat in silence. Orsino watched him with some curiosity
wondering whether the quantity of wine he drank would not ultimately
produce some effect. As yet, however, none was visible; his cadaverous
face was as pale and quiet as ever, and his sunken eyes had their usual
expression.

"And how does your business go on, Orsino?" he asked, after a long
silence.

Orsino answered him willingly enough and gave him some account of his
doings. He grew somewhat enthusiastic as he compared his present busy
life with his former idleness.

"I like the way you did it, in spite of everybody's advice," said
Spicca, kindly. "A man who can jump through the paper ring of Roman
prejudice without stumbling must be nimble and have good legs. So
nobody gave you a word of encouragement?"

"Only one person, at first. I think you know her--Madame d'Aranjuez. I
used to see her often just at that time."

"Madame d'Aranjuez?" Spicca looked up sharply, pausing with his glass in
his hand.

"You know her?"

"Very well indeed," answered the old man, before he drank. "Tell me,
Orsino," he continued, when he had finished the draught, "are you in
love with that lady?"

Orsino was surprised by the directness of the question, but he did not
show it.

"Not in the least," he answered, coolly.

"Then why did you act as though you were?" asked Spicca looking him
through and through.

"Do you mean to say that you were watching me all winter?" inquired
Orsino, bending his black eyebrows rather angrily.

"Circumstances made it inevitable that I should know of your visits.
There was a time when you saw her every day."

"I do not know what the circumstances, as you call them, were," answered
Orsino. "But I do not like to be watched--even by my father's old
friends."

"Keep your temper, Orsino," said Spicca quietly. "Quarrelling is always
ridiculous unless somebody is killed, and then it is inconvenient. If
you understood the nature of my acquaintance with Maria Consuelo--with
Madame d'Aranjuez, you would see that while not meaning to spy upon you
in the least, I could not be ignorant of your movements."

"Your acquaintance must be a very close one," observed Orsino, far from
pacified.

"So close that it has justified me in doing very odd things on her
account. You will not accuse me of taking a needless and officious
interest in the affairs of others, I think. My own are quite enough for
me. It chances that they are intimately connected with the doings of
Madame d'Aranjuez, and have been so for a number of years. The fact that
I do not desire the connexion to be known does not make it easier for me
to act, when I am obliged to act at all. I did not ask an idle question
when I asked you if you loved her."

"I confess that I do not at all understand the situation," said Orsino.

"No. It is not easy to understand, unless I give you the key to it. And
yet you know more already than any one in Rome. I shall be obliged if
you will not repeat what you know."

"You may trust me," answered Orsino, who saw from Spicca's manner that
the matter was very serious.

"Thank you. I see that you are cured of the idea that I have been
frivolously spying upon you for my own amusement."

Orsino was silent. He thought of what had happened after he had taken
leave of Maria Consuelo. The mysterious maid who called herself Maria
Consuelo's nurse, or keeper, had perhaps spoken the truth. It was
possible that Spicca was one of the guardians responsible to an unknown
person for the insane lady's safety, and that he was consequently daily
informed by the maid of the coming and going of visitors, and of other
minor events. On the other hand it seemed odd that Maria Consuelo should
be at liberty to go whithersoever she pleased. She could not reasonably
be supposed to have a guardian in every city of Europe. The more he
thought of this improbability the less he understood the truth.

"I suppose I cannot hope that you will tell me more," he said.

"I do not see why I should," answered Spicca, drinking again. "I asked
you an indiscreet question and I have given you an explanation which you
are kind enough to accept. Let us say no more about it. It is better to
avoid unpleasant subjects."

"I should not call Madame d'Aranjuez an unpleasant subject," observed
Orsino.

"Then why did you suddenly cease to visit her?" asked Spicca.

"For the best of all reasons. Because she repeatedly refused to receive
me." He was less inclined to take offence now than five minutes earlier.
"I see that your information was not complete."

"No. I was not aware of that. She must have had a good reason for not
seeing you."

"Possibly."

"But you cannot guess what the reason was?"

"Yes--and no. It depends upon her character, which I do not pretend to
understand."

"I understand it well enough. I can guess at the fact. You made love to
her, and one fine day, when she saw that you were losing your head, she
quietly told her servant to say that she was not at home when you
called. Is that it?"

"Possibly. You say you know her well--then you know whether she would
act in that way or not."

"I ought to know. I think she would. She is not like other women--she
has not the same blood."

"Who is she?" asked Orsino, with a sudden hope that he might learn the
truth.

"A woman--rather better than the rest--a widow, too, the widow of a man
who never was her husband--thank God!"

Spicca slowly refilled and emptied his goblet for the tenth time.

"The rest is a secret," he added, when he had finished drinking.

The dark, sunken eyes gazed into Orsino's with an expression so strange
and full of a sort of inexplicable horror, as to make the young man
think that the deep potations were beginning to produce an effect upon
the strong old head. Spicca sat quite still for several minutes after he
had spoken, and then leaned back in his cane chair with a deep sigh.
Orsino sighed too, in a sort of unconscious sympathy, for even allowing
for Spicca's natural melancholy the secret was evidently an unpleasant
one. Orsino tried to turn the conversation, not, however, without a hope
of bringing it back unawares to the question which interested him.

"And so you really mean to stay here all summer," he remarked, lighting
a cigarette and looking at the people seated at a table behind Spicca.

Spicca did not answer at first, and when he did his reply had nothing to
do with Orsino's interrogatory observation.

"We never get rid of the things we have done in our lives," he said,
dreamily. "When a man sows seed in a ploughed field some of the grains
are picked out by birds, and some never sprout. We are much more
perfectly organised than the earth. The actions we sow in our souls all
take root, inevitably and fatally--and they all grow to maturity sooner
or later."

Orsino stared at him for a moment.

"You are in a philosophising mood this evening," he said.

"We are only logic's pawns," continued Spicca without heeding the
remark. "Or, if you like it better, we are the Devil's chess pieces in
his match against God. We are made to move each in our own way. The one
by short irregular steps in every direction, the other in long straight
lines between starting point and goal--the one stands still, like the
king-piece, and never moves unless he is driven to it, the other jumps
unevenly like the knight. It makes no difference. We take a certain
number of other pieces, and then we are taken ourselves--always by the
adversary--and tossed aside out of the game. But then, it is easy to
carry out the simile, because the game itself was founded on the facts
of life, by the people who invented it."

"No doubt," said Orsino, who was not very much interested.

"Yes. You have only to give the pieces the names of men and women you
know, and to call the pawns society--you will see how very like real
life chess can be. The king and queen on each side are a married couple.
Of course, the object of each queen is to get the other king, and all
her friends help her--knights, bishops, rooks and her set of society
pawns. Very like real life, is it not? Wait till you are married."

Spicca smiled grimly and took more wine.

"There at least you have no personal experience," objected Orsino.

But Spicca only smiled again, and vouchsafed no answer.

"Is Madame d'Aranjuez coming back next winter?" asked the young man.

"Madame d'Aranjuez will probably come back, since she is free to consult
her own tastes," answered Spicca gravely.

"I hope she may be out of danger by that time," said Orsino quietly. He
had resolved upon a bolder attack than he had hitherto made.

"What danger is she in now?" asked Spicca quietly.

"Surely, you must know."

"I do not understand you. Please speak plainly if you are in earnest."

"Before she went away I called once more. When I was coming away her
maid met me in the corridor of the hotel and told me that Madame
d'Aranjuez was not quite sane, and that she, the maid, was in reality
her keeper, or nurse--or whatever you please to call her."

Spicca laughed harshly. No one could remember to have heard him laugh
many times.

"Oh--she said that, did she?" He seemed very much amused. "Yes," he
added presently, "I think Madame d'Aranjuez will be quite out of danger
before Christmas."

Orsino was more puzzled than ever. He was almost sure that Spicca did
not look upon the maid's assertion as serious, and in that case, if his
interest in Maria Consuelo was friendly, it was incredible that he
should seem amused at what was at least a very dangerous piece of spite
on the part of a trusted servant.

"Then is there no truth in that woman's statement?" asked Orsino.

"Madame d'Aranjuez seemed perfectly sane when I last saw her," answered
Spicca indifferently.

"Then what possible interest had the maid in inventing the lie?"

"Ah--what interest? That is quite another matter, as you say. It may not
have been her own interest."

"You think that Madame d'Aranjuez had instructed her?"

"Not necessarily. Some one else may have suggested the idea, subject to
the lady's own consent."

"And she would have consented? I do not believe that."

"My dear Orsino, the world is full of such apparently improbable things
that it is always rash to disbelieve anything on the first hearing. It
is really much less trouble to accept all that one is told without
question."

"Of course, if you tell me positively that she wishes to be thought
mad--"

"I never say anything positively, especially about a woman--and least of
all about the lady in question, who is undoubtedly eccentric."

Instead of being annoyed, Orsino felt his curiosity growing, and made a
rash vow to find out the truth at any price. It was inconceivable, he
thought, that Spicca should still have perfect control of his faculties,
considering the extent of his potations. The second flask was growing
light, and Orsino himself had not taken more than two or three glasses.
Now a Chianti flask never holds less than two quarts. Moreover Spicca
was generally a very moderate man. He would assuredly not resist the
confusing effects of the wine much longer and he would probably become
confidential.

But Orsino had mistaken his man. Spicca's nerves, overwrought by some
unknown disturbance in his affairs, were in that state in which far
stronger stimulants than Tuscan wine have little or no effect upon the
brain. Orsino looked at him and wondered, as many had wondered already,
what sort of life the man had led, outside and beyond the social
existence which every one could see. Few men had been dreaded like the
famous duellist, who had played with the best swordsmen in Europe as a
cat plays with a mouse. And yet he had been respected, as well as
feared. There had been that sort of fatality in his quarrels which had
saved him from the imputation of having sought them. He had never been a
gambler, as reputed duellists often are. He had never refused to stand
second for another man out of personal dislike or prejudice. No one had
ever asked his help in vain, high or low, rich or poor, in a reasonably
good cause. His acts of kindness came to light accidentally after many
years. Yet most people fancied that he hated mankind, with that sort of
generous detestation which never stoops to take a mean advantage. In his
duels he had always shown the utmost consideration for his adversary and
the utmost indifference to his own interest when conditions had to be
made. Above all, he had never killed a man by accident. That is a crime
which society does not forgive. But he had not failed, either, when he
had meant to kill. His speech was often bitter, but never spiteful, and,
having nothing to fear, he was a very truthful man. He was also
reticent, however, and no one could boast of knowing the story which
every one agreed in saying had so deeply influenced his life. He had
often been absent from Rome for long periods, and had been heard of as
residing in more than one European capital. He had always been supposed
to be rich, but during the last three years it had become clear to his
friends that he was poor. That is all, roughly speaking, which was known
of John Nepomucene, Count Spicca, by the society in which he had spent
more than half his life.

Orsino, watching the pale and melancholy face, compared himself with his
companion, and wondered whether any imaginable series of events could
turn him into such a man at the same age. Yet he admired Spicca, besides
respecting him. Boy-like, he envied the great duellist his reputation,
his unerring skill, his unfaltering nerve; he even envied him the fear
he inspired in those whom he did not like. He thought less highly of his
sayings now, perhaps, than when he had first been old enough to
understand them. The youthful affectation of cynicism had agreed well
with the old man's genuine bitterness, but the pride of growing manhood
was inclined to put away childish things and had not yet suffered so as
to understand real suffering. Six months had wrought a change in Orsino,
and so far the change was for the better. He had been fortunate in
finding success at the first attempt, and his passing passion for Maria
Consuelo had left little trace beyond a certain wondering regret that it
had not been greater, and beyond the recollection of her sad face at
their parting and of the sobs he had overheard. Though he could only
give those tears one meaning, he realised less and less as the months
passed that they had been shed for him.

That Maria Consuelo should often be in his thoughts was no proof that he
still loved her in the smallest degree. There had been enough odd
circumstances about their acquaintance to rouse any ordinary man's
interest, and just at present Spicca's strange hints and half
confidences had excited an almost unbearable curiosity in his hearer.
But Spicca did not seem inclined to satisfy it any further.

One or two points, at least, were made clear. Maria Consuelo was not
insane, as the maid had pretended. Her marriage with the deceased
Aranjuez had been a marriage only in name, if it had even amounted to
that. Finally, it was evident that she stood in some very near relation
to Spicca and that neither she nor he wished the fact to be known. To
all appearance they had carefully avoided meeting during the preceding
winter, and no one in society was aware that they were even acquainted.
Orsino recalled more than one occasion when each had been mentioned in
the presence of the other. He had a good memory and he remembered that
a scarcely perceptible change had taken place in the manner or
conversation of the one who heard the other's name. It even seemed to
him that at such moments Maria Consuelo had shown an infinitesimal
resentment, whereas Spicca had faintly exhibited something more like
impatience. If this were true, it argued that Spicca was more friendly
to Maria Consuelo than she was to him. Yet on this particular evening
Spicca had spoken somewhat bitterly of her--but then, Spicca was always
bitter. His last remark was to the effect that she was eccentric. After
a long silence, during which Orsino hoped that his friend would say
something more, he took up the point.

"I wish I knew what you meant by eccentric," he said. "I had the
advantage of seeing Madame d'Aranjuez frequently, and I did not notice
any eccentricity about her."

"Ah--perhaps you are not observant. Or perhaps, as you say, we do not
mean the same thing."

"That is why I would like to hear your definition," observed Orsino.

"The world is mad on the subject of definitions," answered Spicca. "It
is more blessed to define than to be defined. It is a pleasant thing to
say to one's enemy, 'Sir, you are a scoundrel.' But when your enemy says
the same thing to you, you kill him without hesitation or regret--which
proves, I suppose, that you are not pleased with his definition of you.
You see definition, after all, is a matter of taste. So, as our tastes
might not agree, I would rather not define anything this evening. I
believe I have finished that flask. Let us take our coffee. We can
define that beforehand, for we know by daily experience how diabolically
bad it is."

Orsino saw that Spicca meant to lead the conversation away in another
direction.

"May I ask you one serious question?" he inquired, leaning forward.

"With a little ingenuity you may even ask me a dozen, all equally
serious, my dear Orsino. But I cannot promise to answer all or any
particular one. I am not omniscient, you know."

"My question is this. I have no sort of right to ask it. I know that.
Are you nearly related to Madame d'Aranjuez?"

Spicca looked curiously at him.

"Would the information be of any use to you?" he asked. "Should I be
doing you a service in telling you that we are, or are not related?"

"Frankly, no," answered Orsino, meeting the steady glance without
wavering.

"Then I do not see any reason whatever for telling you the truth,"
returned Spicca quietly. "But I will give you a piece of general
information. If harm comes to that lady through any man whomsoever, I
will certainly kill him, even if I have to be carried upon the ground."

There was no mistaking the tone in which the threat was uttered. Spicca
meant what he said, though not one syllable was spoken louder than
another. In his mouth the words had a terrific force, and told Orsino
more of the man's true nature than he had learnt in years. Orsino was
not easily impressed, and was certainly not timid, morally or
physically; moreover he was in the prime of youth and not less skilful
than other men in the use of weapons. But he felt at that moment that he
would infinitely rather attack a regiment of artillery single-handed
than be called upon to measure swords with the cadaverous old invalid
who sat on the other side of the table.

"It is not in my power to do any harm to Madame d'Aranjuez," he answered
proudly enough, "and you ought to know that if it were, it could not
possibly be in my intention. Therefore your threat is not intended for
me."

"Very good, Orsino. Your father would have answered like that, and you
mean what you say. If I were young I think that you and I should be
friends. Fortunately for you there is a matter of forty years'
difference between our ages, so that you escape the infliction of such
a nuisance as my friendship. You must find it bad enough to have to put
up with my company."

"Do not talk like that," answered Orsino. "The world is not all
vinegar."

"Well, well--you will find out what the world is in time. And perhaps
you will find out many other things which you want to know. I must be
going, for I have letters to write. Checco! My bill."

Five minutes later they parted.



CHAPTER XVIII.


Although Orsino's character was developing quickly in the new
circumstances which he had created for himself, he was not of an age to
be continually on his guard against passing impressions; still less
could it be expected that he should be hardened against them by
experience, as many men are by nature. His conversation with Spicca, and
Spicca's own behaviour while it lasted, produced a decided effect upon
the current of his thoughts, and he was surprised to find himself
thinking more often and more seriously of Maria Consuelo than during the
months which had succeeded her departure from Rome. Spicca's words had
acted indirectly upon his mind. Much that the old man had said was
calculated to rouse Orsino's curiosity, but Orsino was not naturally
curious and though he felt that it would be very interesting to know
Maria Consuelo's story, the chief result of the Count's half
confidential utterances was to recall the lady herself very vividly to
his recollection.

At first his memory merely brought back the endless details of his
acquaintance with her, which had formed the central feature of the first
season he had spent without interruption in Rome and in society. He was
surprised at the extreme precision of the pictures evoked, and took
pleasure in calling them up when he was alone and unoccupied. The events
themselves had not, perhaps, been all agreeable, yet there was not one
which it did not give him some pleasant sensation to remember. There was
a little sadness in some of them, and more than once the sadness was
mingled with something of humiliation. Yet even this last was bearable.
Though he did not realise it, he was quite unable to think of Maria
Consuelo without feeling some passing touch of happiness at the thought,
for happiness can live with sadness when it is the greater of the two.
He had no desire to analyse these sensations. Indeed the idea did not
enter his mind that they were worth analysing. His intelligence was
better employed with his work, and his reflexions concerning Maria
Consuelo chiefly occupied his hours of rest.

The days passed quickly at first and then, as September came they seemed
longer, instead of shorter. He was beginning to wish that the winter
would come, that he might again see the woman of whom he was continually
thinking. More than once he thought of writing to her, for he had the
address which the maid had given him--an address in Paris which said
nothing, a mere number with the name of a street. He wondered whether
she would answer him, and when he had reached the self-satisfying
conviction that she would, he at last wrote a letter, such as any person
might write to another. He told her of the weather, of the dulness of
Rome, of his hope that she would return early in the season, and of his
own daily occupations. It was a simply expressed, natural and not at all
emotional epistle, not at all like that of a man in the least degree in
love with his correspondent, but Orsino felt an odd sensation of
pleasure in writing it and was surprised by a little thrill of happiness
as he posted it with his own hand.

He did not forget the letter when he had sent it, either, as one forgets
the uninteresting letters one is obliged to write out of civility. He
hoped for an answer. Even if she were in Paris, Maria Consuelo might
not, and probably would not, reply by return of post. And it was not
probable that she would be in town at the beginning of September. Orsino
calculated the time necessary to forward the letter from Paris to the
most distant part of frequented Europe, allowed her three days for
answering and three days more for her letter to reach him. The interval
elapsed, but nothing came. Then he was irritated, and at last he became
anxious. Either something had happened to Maria Consuelo, or he had
somehow unconsciously offended her by what he had written. He had no
copy of the letter and could not recall a single phrase which could have
displeased her, but he feared lest something might have crept into it
which she might misinterpret. But this idea was too absurd to be tenable
for long, and the conviction grew upon him that she must be ill or in
some great trouble. He was amazed at his own anxiety.

Three weeks had gone by since he had written, and yet no word of reply
had reached him. Then he sought out Spicca and asked him boldly whether
anything had happened to Maria Consuelo, explaining that he had written
to her and had got no answer. Spicca looked at him curiously for a
moment.

"Nothing has happened to her, as far as I am aware," he said, almost
immediately. "I saw her this morning."

"This morning?" Orsino was surprised almost out of words.

"Yes. She is here, looking for an apartment in which to spend the
winter."

"Where is she?"

Spicca named the hotel, adding that Orsino would probably find her at
home during the hot hours of the afternoon.

"Has she been here long?" asked the young man.

"Three days."

"I will go and see her at once. I may be useful to her in finding an
apartment."

"That would be very kind of you," observed Spicca, glancing at him
rather thoughtfully.

On the following afternoon, Orsino presented himself at the hotel and
asked for Madame d'Aranjuez. She received him in a room not very
different from the one of which she had had made her sitting-room during
the winter. As always, one or two new books and the mysterious silver
paper cutter were the only objects of her own which were visible. Orsino
hardly noticed the fact, however, for she was already in the room when
he entered, and his eyes met hers at once.

He fancied that she looked less strong than formerly, but the heat was
great and might easily account for her pallor. Her eyes were deeper, and
their tawny colour seemed darker. Her hand was cold.

She smiled faintly as she met Orsino, but said nothing and sat down at a
distance from the windows.

"I only heard last night that you were in Rome," he said.

"And you came at once to see me. Thanks. How did you find it out?"

"Spicca told me. I had asked him for news of you."

"Why him?" inquired Maria Consuelo with some curiosity.

"Because I fancied he might know," answered Orsino passing lightly over
the question. He did not wish even Maria Consuelo to guess that Spicca
had spoken of her to him. "The reason why I was anxious about you was
that I had written you a letter. I wrote some weeks ago to your address
in Paris and got no answer."

"You wrote?" Maria Consuelo seemed surprised. "I have not been in Paris.
Who gave you the address? What was it?"

Orsino named the street and the number.

"I once lived there a short time, two years ago. Who gave you the
address? Not Count Spicca?"

"No."

Orsino hesitated to say more. He did not like to admit that he had
received the address from Maria Consuelo's maid, and it might seem
incredible that the woman should have given the information unasked. At
the same time the fact that the address was to all intents and purposes
a false one tallied with the maid's spontaneous statement in regard to
her mistress's mental alienation.

"Why will you not tell me?" asked Maria Consuelo.

"The answer involves a question which does not concern me. The address
was evidently intended to deceive me. The person who gave it attempted
to deceive me about a far graver matter, too. Let us say no more about
it. Of course you never got the letter?"

"Of course not."

A short silence followed which Orsino felt to be rather awkward. Maria
Consuelo looked at him suddenly.

"Did my maid tell you?" she asked.

"Yes--since you ask me. She met me in the corridor after my last visit
and thrust the address upon me."

"I thought so," said Maria Consuelo.

"You have suspected her before?"

"What was the other deception?"

"That is a more serious matter. The woman is your trusted servant. At
least you must have trusted her when you took her--"

"That does not follow. What did she try to make you believe?"

"It is hard to tell you. For all I know, she may have been
instructed--you may have instructed her yourself. One stumbles upon odd
things in life, sometimes."

"You called yourself my friend once, Don Orsino."

"If you will let me, I will call myself so still."

"Then, in the name of friendship, tell me what the woman said!" Maria
Consuelo spoke with sudden energy, touching his arm quickly with an
unconscious gesture.

"Will you believe me?"

"Are you accustomed to being doubted, that you ask?"

"No. But this thing is very strange."

"Do not keep me waiting--it hurts me!"

"The woman stopped me as I was going away. I had never spoken to her.
She knew my name. She told me that you were--how shall I say?--mentally
deranged."

Maria Consuelo started and turned very pale.

"She told you that I was mad?" Her voice sank to a whisper.

"That is what she said."

Orsino watched her narrowly. She evidently believed him. Then she sank
back in her chair with a stifled cry of horror, covering her eyes with
her hands.

"And you might have believed it!" she exclaimed. "You might really have
believed it--you!"

The cry came from her heart and would have shown Orsino what weight she
still attached to his opinion had he not himself been too suddenly and
deeply interested in the principal question to pay attention to details.

"She made the statement very clearly," he said. "What could have been
her object in the lie?"

"What object? Ah--if I knew that--"

Maria Consuelo rose and paced the room, her head bent and her hands
nervously clasping and unclasping. Orsino stood by the empty fireplace,
watching her.

"You will send the woman away of course?" he said, in a questioning
tone.

But she shook her head and her anxiety seemed to increase.

"Is it possible that you will submit to such a thing from a servant?" he
asked in astonishment.

"I have submitted to much," she answered in a low voice.

"The inevitable, of course. But to keep a maid whom you can turn away at
any moment--"

"Yes--but can I?" She stopped and looked at him. "Oh, if I only
could--if you knew how I hate the woman--"

"But then--"

"Yes?"

"Do you mean to tell me that you are in some way in her power, so that
you are bound to keep her always?"

Maria Consuelo hesitated a moment.

"Are you in her power?" asked Orsino a second time. He did not like the
idea and his black brows bent themselves rather angrily.

"No--not directly. She is imposed upon me."

"By circumstances?"

"No, again. By a person who has the power to impose much upon me--but
this! Oh this is almost too much! To be called mad!"

"Then do not submit to it."

Orsino spoke decisively, with a kind of authority which surprised
himself. He was amazed and righteously angry at the situation so
suddenly revealed to him, undefined as it was. He saw that he was
touching a great trouble and his natural energy bid him lay violent
hands on it and root it out if possible.

For some minutes Maria Consuelo did not speak, but continued to pace the
room, evidently in great anxiety. Then she stopped before him.

"It is easy for you to say, 'do not submit,' when you do not
understand," she said. "If you knew what my life is, you would look at
this in another way. I must submit--I cannot do otherwise."

"If you would tell me something more, I might help you," answered
Orsino.

"You?" She paused. "I believe you would, if you could," she added,
thoughtfully.

"You know that I would. Perhaps I can, as it is, in ignorance, if you
will direct me."

A sudden light gleamed in Maria Consuelo's eyes and then died away as
quickly as it had come.

"After all, what could you do?" she asked with a change of tone, as
though she were somehow disappointed. "What could you do that others
would not do as well, if they could, and with a better right?"

"Unless you will tell me, how can I know?"

"Yes--if I could tell you."

She went and sat down in her former seat and Orsino took a chair beside
her. He had expected to renew the acquaintance in a very different way,
and that he should spend half an hour with Maria Consuelo in talking
about apartments, about the heat and about the places she had visited.
Instead, circumstances had made the conversation an intimate one full of
an absorbing interest to both. Orsino found that he had forgotten much
which pleased him strangely now that it was again brought before him. He
had forgotten most of all, it seemed, that an unexplained sympathy
attracted him to her, and her to him. He wondered at the strength of it,
and found it hard to understand that last meeting with her in the
spring.

"Is there any way of helping you, without knowing your secret?" he asked
in a low voice.

"No. But I thank you for the wish."

"Are you sure there is no way? Quite sure?"

"Quite sure."

"May I say something that strikes me?"

"Say anything you choose."

"There is a plot against you. You seem to know it. Have you never
thought of plotting on your side?"

"I have no one to help me."

"You have me, if you will take my help. And you have Spicca. You might
do better, but you might do worse. Between us we might accomplish
something."

Maria Consuelo had started at Spicca's name. She seemed very nervous
that day.

"Do you know what you are saying?" she asked after a moment's thought.

"Nothing that should offend you, at least."

"No. But you are proposing that I should ally myself with the man of all
others whom I have reason to hate."

"You hate Spicca?" Orsino was passing from one surprise to another.

"Whether I hate him or not, is another matter. I ought to."

"At all events he does not hate you."

"I know he does not. That makes it no easier for me. I could not accept
his help."

"All this is so mysterious that I do not know what to say," said Orsino,
thoughtfully. "The fact remains, and it is bad enough. You need help
urgently. You are in the power of a servant who tells your friends that
you are insane and thrusts false addresses upon them, for purposes which
I cannot explain."

"Nor I either, though I may guess."

"It is worse and worse. You cannot even be sure of the motives of this
woman, though you know the person or persons by whom she is forced upon
you. You cannot get rid of her yourself and you will not let any one
else help you."

"Not Count Spicca."

"And yet I am sure that he would do much for you. Can you not even tell
me why you hate him, or ought to hate him?"

Maria Consuelo hesitated and looked into Orsino's eyes for a moment.

"Can I trust you?" she asked.

"Implicitly."

"He killed my husband."

Orsino uttered a low exclamation of horror. In the deep silence which
followed he heard Maria Consuelo draw her breath once or twice sharply
through her closed teeth, as though she were in great pain.

"I do not wish it known," she said presently, in a changed voice. "I do
not know why I told you."

"You can trust me."

"I must--since I have spoken."

In the surprise caused by the startling confidence, Orsino suddenly felt
that his capacity for sympathy had grown to great dimensions. If he had
been a woman, the tears would have stood in his eyes. Being what he was,
he felt them in his heart. It was clear that she had loved the dead man
very dearly. In the light of this evident fact, it was hard to explain
her conduct towards Orsino during the winter and especially at their
last meeting.

For a long time neither spoke again. Orsino, indeed, had nothing to say
at first, for nothing he could say could reasonably be supposed to be of
any use. He had learned the existence of something like a tragedy in
Maria Consuelo's life, and he seemed to be learning the first lesson of
friendship, which teaches sympathy. It was not an occasion for making
insignificant phrases expressing his regret at her loss, and the
language he needed in order to say what he meant was unfamiliar to his
lips. He was silent, therefore, but his young face was grave and
thoughtful, and his eyes sought hers from time to time as though trying
to discover and forestall her wishes. At last she glanced at him
quickly, then looked down, and at last spoke to him.

"You will not make me regret having told you this--will you?" she asked.

"No. I promise you that."

So far as Orsino could understand the words meant very little. He was
not very communicative, as a rule, and would certainly not tell what he
had heard, so that the promise was easily given and easy to keep. If he
did not break it, he did not see that she could have any further cause
for regretting her confidence in him. Nevertheless, by way of reassuring
her, he thought it best to repeat what he had said in different words.

"You may be quite sure that whatever you choose to tell me is in safe
keeping," he said. "And you may be sure, too, that if it is in my power
to do you a service of any kind, you will find me ready, and more than
ready, to help you."

"Thank you," she answered, looking earnestly at him.

"Whether the matter be small or great," he added, meeting her eyes.

Perhaps she expected to find more curiosity on his part, and fancied
that he would ask some further question. He did not understand the
meaning of her look.

"I believe you," she said at last. "I am too much in need of a friend to
doubt you."

"You have found one."

"I do not know. I am not sure. There are other things--" she stopped
suddenly and looked away.

"What other things?"

But Maria Consuelo did not answer. Orsino knew that she was thinking of
all that had once passed between them. He wondered whether, if he led
the way, she would press him as she had done at their last meeting. If
she did, he wondered what he should say. He had been very cold then, far
colder than he was now. He now felt drawn to her, as in the first days
of their acquaintance. He felt always that he was on the point of
understanding her, and yet that he was waiting, for something which
should help him to pass that point.

"What other things?" he asked, repeating his question. "Do you mean that
there are reasons which may prevent me from being a good friend of
yours?"

"I am afraid there are. I do not know."

"I think you are mistaken, Madame. Will you name some of those
reasons--or even one?"

Maria Consuelo did not answer at once. She glanced at him, looked down,
and then her eyes met his again.

"Do you think that you are the kind of man a woman chooses for her
friend?" she asked at length, with a faint smile.

"I have not thought of the matter--"

"But you should--before offering your friendship."

"Why? If I feel a sincere sympathy for your trouble, if I am--" he
hesitated, weighing his words--"if I am personally attached to you, why
can I not help you? I am honest, and in earnest. May I say as much as
that of myself?"

"I believe you are."

"Then I cannot see that I am not the sort of man whom a woman might take
for a friend when a better is not at hand."

"And do you believe in friendship, Don Orsino?" asked Maria Consuelo
quietly.

"I have heard it said that it is not wise to disbelieve anything
nowadays," answered Orsino.

"True--and the word 'friend' has such a pretty sound!" She laughed, for
the first time since he had entered the room.

"Then it is you who are the unbeliever, Madame. Is not that a sign that
you need no friend at all, and that your questions are not seriously
meant?"

"Perhaps. Who knows?"

"Do you know, yourself?"

"No." Again she laughed a little, and then grew suddenly grave.

"I never knew a woman who needed a friend more urgently than you do,"
said Orsino. "I do not in the least understand your position. The little
you have told me makes it clear enough that there have been and still
are unusual circumstances in your life. One thing I see. That woman whom
you call your maid is forced upon you against your will, to watch you,
and is privileged to tell lies about you which may do you a great
injury. I do not ask why you are obliged to suffer her presence, but I
see that you must, and I guess that you hate it. Would it be an act of
friendship to free you from her or not?"

"At present it would not be an act of friendship," answered Maria
Consuelo, thoughtfully.

"That is very strange. Do you mean to say that you submit voluntarily--"

"The woman is a condition imposed upon me. I cannot tell you more."

"And no friend, no friendly help can change the condition, I suppose."

"I did not say that. But such help is beyond your power, Don Orsino,"
she added turning towards him rather suddenly. "Let us not talk of this
any more. Believe me, nothing can be done. You have sometimes acted
strangely with me, but I really think you would help me if you could.
Let that be the state of our acquaintance. You are willing, and I
believe that you are. Nothing more. Let that be our compact. But you can
perhaps help me in another way--a smaller way. I want a habitation of
some kind for the winter, for I am tired of camping out in hotels. You
who know your own city so well can name some person who will undertake
the matter."

"I know the very man," said Orsino promptly.

"Will you write out the address for me?"

"It is not necessary. I mean myself."

"I could not let you take so much trouble," protested Maria Consuelo.

But she accepted, nevertheless, after a little hesitation. For some time
they discussed the relative advantages of the various habitable quarters
of the city, both glad, perhaps, to find an almost indifferent subject
of conversation, and both relatively happy merely in being together. The
talk made one of those restful interludes which are so necessary, and
often so hard to produce, between two people whose thoughts run upon a
strong common interest, and who find it difficult to exchange half a
dozen words without being led back to the absorbing topic.

What had been said had produced a decided effect upon Orsino. He had
come expecting to take up the acquaintance on a new footing, but ten
minutes had not elapsed before he had found himself as much interested
as ever in Maria Consuelo's personality, and far more interested in her
life than he had ever been before. While talking with more or less
indifference about the chances of securing a suitable apartment for the
winter, Orsino listened with an odd sensation of pleasure to every tone
of his companion's voice and watched every changing expression of the
striking face. He wondered whether he were not perhaps destined to love
her sincerely as he had already loved her in a boyish, capricious
fashion which would no longer be natural to him now. But for the present
he was sure that he did not love her, and that he desired nothing but
her sympathy for himself, and to feel sympathy for her. Those were the
words he used, and he did not explain them to his own intelligence in
any very definite way. He was conscious, indeed, that they meant more
than formerly, but the same was true of almost everything that came into
his life, and he did not therefore attach any especial importance to the
fact. He was altogether much more in earnest than when he had first met
Maria Consuelo; he was capable of deeper feeling, of stronger
determination and of more decided action in all matters, and though he
did not say so to himself he was none the less aware of the change.

"Shall we make an appointment for to-morrow?" he asked, after they had
been talking some time.

"Yes--but there is one thing I wanted to ask you--"

"What is that?" inquired Orsino, seeing that she hesitated.

The faint colour rose in her cheeks, but she looked straight into his
eyes, with a kind of fearless expression, as though she were facing a
danger.

"Tell me," she said, "in Rome, where everything is known and every one
talks so much, will it not be thought strange that you and I should be
driving about together, looking for a house for me? Tell me the truth."

"What can people say?" asked Orsino.

"Many things. Will they say them?"

"If they do, I can make them stop talking."

"That means that they will talk, does it not? Would you like that?"

There was a sudden change in her face, with a look of doubt and anxious
perplexity. Orsino saw it and felt that she was putting him upon his
honour, and that whatever the doubt might be it had nothing to do with
her trust in him. Six months earlier he would not have hesitated to
demonstrate that her fears were empty--but he felt that six months
earlier she might not have yielded to his reasoning. It was instinctive,
but his instinct was not mistaken.

"I think you are right," he said slowly. "We should not do it. I will
send my architect with you."

There was enough regret in the tone to show that he was making a
considerable sacrifice. A little delicacy means more when it comes from
a strong man, than when it is the natural expression of an over-refined
and somewhat effeminate character. And Orsino was rapidly developing a
strength of which other people were conscious. Maria Consuelo was
pleased, though she, too, was perhaps sorry to give up the projected
plan.

"After all," she said, thoughtlessly, "you can come and see me here,
if--"

She stopped and blushed again, more deeply this time; but she turned her
face away and in the half light the change of colour was hardly
noticeable.

"You were going to say 'if you care to see me,'" said Orsino. "I am glad
you did not say it. It would not have been kind."

"Yes--I was going to say that," she answered quietly. "But I will not."

"Thank you."

"Why do you thank me?"

"For not hurting me."

"Do you think that I would hurt you willingly, in any way?"

"I would rather not think so. You did once."

The words slipped from his lips almost before he had time to realise
what they meant. He was thinking of the night when she had drawn up the
carriage window, leaving him standing on the pavement, and of her
repeated refusals to see him afterwards. It seemed long ago, and the
hurt had not really been so sharp as he now fancied that it must have
been, judging from what he now felt. She looked at him quickly as though
wondering what he would say next.

"I never meant to be unkind," she said. "I have often asked myself
whether you could say as much."

It was Orsino's turn to change colour. He was young enough for that,
and the blood rose slowly in his dark cheeks. He thought again of their
last meeting, and of what he had heard as he shut the door after him on
that day. Perhaps he would have spoken, but Maria Consuelo was sorry for
what she had said, and a little ashamed of her weakness, as indeed she
had some cause to be, and she immediately turned back to a former point
of the conversation, not too far removed from what had last been said.

"You see," said she, "I was right to ask you whether people would talk.
And I am grateful to you for telling me the truth. It is a first proof
of friendship--of something better than our old relations. Will you send
me your architect to-morrow, since you are so kind as to offer his
help?"

After arranging for the hour of meeting Orsino rose to take his leave.

"May I come to-morrow?" he asked. "People will not talk about that," he
added with a smile.

"You can ask for me. I may be out. If I am at home, I shall be glad to
see you."

She spoke coldly, and Orsino saw that she was looking over his shoulder.
He turned instinctively and saw that the door was open and Spicca was
standing just outside, looking in and apparently waiting for a word from
Maria Consuelo before entering.



CHAPTER XIX.


As Orsino had no reason whatever for avoiding Spicca he naturally waited
a moment instead of leaving the room immediately. He looked at the old
man with a new interest as the latter came forward. He had never seen
and probably would never see again a man taking the hand of a woman
whose husband he had destroyed. He stood a little back and Spicca
passed him as he met Maria Consuelo. Orsino watched the faces of both.

Madame d'Aranjuez put out her hand mechanically and with evident
reluctance, and Orsino guessed that but for his own presence she would
not have given it. The expression in her face changed rapidly from that
which had been there when they had been alone, hardening very quickly
until it reminded Orsino of a certain mask of the Medusa which had once
made an impression upon his imagination. Her eyes were fixed and the
pupils grew small while the singular golden yellow colour of the iris
flashed disagreeably. She did not bend her head as she silently gave her
hand.

Spicca, too, seemed momentarily changed. He was as pale and thin as
ever, but his face softened oddly; certain lines which contributed to
his usually bitter and sceptical expression disappeared, while others
became visible which changed his look completely. He bowed with more
deference than he affected with other women, and Orsino fancied that he
would have held Maria Consuelo's hand a moment longer, if she had not
withdrawn it as soon as it had touched his.

If Orsino had not already known that Spicca often saw her, he would have
been amazed at the count's visit, considering what she had said of the
man. As it was, he wondered what power Spicca had over her to oblige her
to receive him, and he wondered in vain. The conclusion which forced
itself before him was that Spicca was the person who imposed the serving
woman upon Maria Consuelo. But her behaviour towards him, on the other
hand, was not that of a person obliged by circumstances to submit to the
caprices and dictation of another. Judging by the appearance of the two,
it seemed more probable that the power was on the other side, and might
be used mercilessly on occasion.

"I hope I am not disturbing your plans," said Spicca, in a tone which
was almost humble, and very unlike his usual voice. "Were you going out
together?"

He shook hands with Orsino, avoiding his glance, as the young man
thought.

"No," answered Maria Consuelo briefly. "I was not going out."

"I am just going away," said Orsino by way of explanation, and he made
as though he would take his leave.

"Do not go yet," said Maria Consuelo. Her look made the words
imperative.

Spicca glanced from one to the other with a sort of submissive protest,
and then all three sat down. Orsino wondered what part he was expected
to play in the trio, and wished himself away in spite of the interest he
felt in the situation.

Maria Consuelo began to talk in a careless tone which reminded him of
his first meeting with her in Gouache's studio. She told Spicca that
Orsino had promised her his architect as a guide in her search for a
lodging.

"What sort of person is he?" inquired Spicca, evidently for the sake of
making conversation.

"Contini is a man of business," Orsino answered. "An odd fellow, full of
talent, and a musical genius. One would not expect very much of him at
first, but he will do all that Madame d'Aranjuez needs."

"Otherwise you would not have recommended him, I suppose," said Spicca.

"Certainly not," replied Orsino, looking at him.

"You must know, Madame," said Spicca, "that Don Orsino is an excellent
judge of men."

He emphasised the last word in a way that seemed unnecessary. Maria
Consuelo had recovered all her equanimity and laughed carelessly.

"How you say that!" she exclaimed. "Is it a warning?"

"Against what?" asked Orsino.

"Probably against you," she said. "Count Spicca likes to throw out vague
hints--but I will do him the credit to say that they generally mean
something." She added the last words rather scornfully.

An expression of pain passed over the old man's face. But he said
nothing, though it was not like him to pass by a challenge of the kind.
Without in the least understanding the reason of the sensation, Orsino
felt sorry for him.

"Among men, Count Spicca's opinion is worth having," he said quietly.

Maria Consuelo looked at him in some surprise. The phrase sounded like a
rebuke, and her eyes betrayed her annoyance.

"How delightful it is to hear one man defend another!" she laughed.

"I fancy Count Spicca does not stand much in need of defence," replied
Orsino, without changing his tone.

"He himself is the best judge of that."

Spicca raised his weary eyes to hers and looked at her for a moment,
before he answered.

"Yes," he said. "I think I am the best judge. But I am not accustomed to
being defended, least of all against you, Madame. The sensation is a new
one."

Orsino felt himself out of place. He was more warmly attached to Spicca
than he knew, and though he was at that time not far removed from loving
Maria Consuelo, her tone in speaking to the old man, which said far more
than her words, jarred upon him, and he could not help taking his
friend's part. On the other hand the ugly truth that Spicca had caused
the death of Aranjuez more than justified Maria Consuelo in her hatred.
Behind all, there was evidently some good reason why Spicca came to see
her, and there was some bond between the two which made it impossible
for her to refuse his visits. It was clear too, that though she hated
him he felt some kind of strong affection for her. In her presence he
was very unlike his daily self.

Again Orsino moved and looked at her, as though asking her permission to
go away. But she refused it with an imperative gesture and a look of
annoyance. She evidently did not wish to be left alone with the old
man. Without paying any further attention to the latter she began to
talk to Orsino. She took no trouble to conceal what she felt and the
impression grew upon Orsino that Spicca would have gone away after a
quarter of an hour, if he had not either possessed a sort of right to
stay or if he had not had some important object in view in remaining.

"I suppose there is nothing to do in Rome at this time of year," she
said.

Orsino told her that there was absolutely nothing to do. Not a theatre
was open, not a friend was in town. Rome was a wilderness. Rome was an
amphitheatre on a day when there was no performance, when the lions were
asleep, the gladiators drinking, and the martyrs unoccupied. He tried to
say something amusing and found it hard.

Spicca was very patient, but evidently determined to outstay Orsino.
From time to time he made a remark, to which Maria Consuelo paid very
little attention if she took any notice of it at all. Orsino could not
make up his mind whether to stay or to go. The latter course would
evidently displease Maria Consuelo, whereas by remaining he was clearly
annoying Spicca and was perhaps causing him pain. It was a nice
question, and while trying to make conversation he weighed the arguments
in his mind. Strange to say he decided in favour of Spicca. The decision
was to some extent an index of the state of his feelings towards Madame
d'Aranjuez. If he had been quite in love with her, he would have stayed.
If he had wished to make her love him, he would have stayed also. As it
was, his friendship for the old count went before other considerations.
At the same time he hoped to manage matters so as not to incur Maria
Consuelo's displeasure. He found it harder than he had expected. After
he had made up his mind, he continued to talk during three or four
minutes and then made his excuse.

"I must be going," he said quietly. "I have a number of things to do
before night, and I must see Contini in order to give him time to make
a list of apartments for you to see to-morrow."

He took his hat and rose. He was not prepared for Maria Consuelo's
answer.

"I asked you to stay," she said, coldly and very distinctly.

Spicca did not allow his expression to change. Orsino stared at her.

"I am very sorry, Madame, but there are many reasons which oblige me to
disobey you."

Maria Consuelo bit her lip and her eyes gleamed angrily. She glanced at
Spicca as though hoping that he would go away with Orsino. But he did
not move. It was more and more clear that he had a right to stay if he
pleased. Orsino was already bowing before her. Instead of giving her
hand she rose quickly and led him towards the door. He opened it and
they stood together on the threshold.

"Is this the way you help me?" she asked, almost fiercely, though in a
whisper.

"Why do you receive him at all?" he inquired, instead of answering.

"Because I cannot refuse."

"But you might send him away?"

She hesitated, and looked into his eyes.

"Shall I?"

"If you wish to be alone--and if you can. It is no affair of mine."

She turned swiftly, leaving Orsino standing in the door and went to
Spicca's side. He had risen when she rose and was standing at the other
side of the room, watching.

"I have a bad headache," she said coldly. "You will forgive me if I ask
you to go with Don Orsino."

"A lady's invitation to leave her house, Madame, is the only one which a
man cannot refuse," said Spicca gravely.

He bowed and followed Orsino out of the room, closing the door behind
him. The scene had produced a very disagreeable impression upon Orsino.
Had he not known the worst part of the secret and consequently
understood what good cause Maria Consuelo had for not wishing to be
alone with Spicca, he would have been utterly revolted and for ever
repelled by her brutality. No other word could express adequately her
conduct towards the count. Even knowing what he did, he wished that she
had controlled her temper better and he was more than ever sorry for
Spicca. It did not even cross his mind that the latter might have
intentionally provoked Aranjuez and killed him purposely. He felt
somehow that Spicca was in a measure the injured party and must have
been in that position from the beginning, whatever the strange story
might be. As the two descended the steps together Orsino glanced at his
companion's pale, drawn features and was sure that the man was to be
pitied. It was almost a womanly instinct, far too delicate for such a
hardy nature, and dependent perhaps upon that sudden opening of his
sympathies which resulted from meeting Maria Consuelo. I think that, on
the whole, in such cases, though the woman's character may be formed by
intimacy with man's, with apparent results, the impression upon the man
is momentarily deeper, as the woman's gentler instincts are in a way
reflected in his heart.

Spicca recovered himself quickly, however. He took out his case and
offered Orsino a cigarette.

"So you have renewed your acquaintance," he said quietly.

"Yes--under rather odd circumstances," answered Orsino. "I feel as
though I owed you an apology, Count, and yet I do not see what there is
to apologise for. I tried to go away more than once."

"You cannot possibly make excuses to me for Madame d'Aranjuez's
peculiarities, my friend. Besides, I admit that she has a right to treat
me as she pleases. That does not prevent me from going to see her every
day."

"You must have strong reasons for bearing such treatment."

"I have," answered Spicca thoughtfully and sadly. "Very strong reasons.
I will tell you one of those which brought me to-day. I wished to see
you two together."

Orsino stopped in his walk, after the manner of Italians, and he looked
at Spicca. He was hot tempered when provoked, and he might have resented
the speech if it had come from any other man. But he spoke quietly.

"Why do you wish to see us together?" he asked.

"Because I am foolish enough to think sometimes that you suit one
another, and might love one another."

Probably nothing which Spicca could have said could have surprised
Orsino more than such a plain statement. He grew suspicious at once, but
Spicca's look was that of a man in earnest.

"I do not think I understand you," answered Orsino. "But I think you are
touching a subject which is better left alone."

"I think not," returned Spicca unmoved.

"Then let us agree to differ," said Orsino a little more warmly.

"We cannot do that. I am in a position to make you agree with me, and I
will. I am responsible for that lady's happiness. I am responsible
before God and man."

Something in the words made a deep impression upon Orsino. He had never
heard Spicca use anything approaching to solemn language before. He knew
at least one part of the meaning which showed Spicca's remorse for
having killed Aranjuez, and he knew that the old man meant what he said,
and meant it from his heart.

"Do you understand me now?" asked Spicca, slowly inhaling the smoke of
his cigarette.

"Not altogether. If you desire the happiness of Madame d'Aranjuez why do
you wish us to fall in love with each other? It strikes me that--" he
stopped.

"Because I wish you would marry her."

"Marry her!" Orsino had not thought of that, and his words expressed a
surprise which was not calculated to please Spicca.

The old man's weary eyes suddenly grew keen and fierce and Orsino could
hardly meet their look. Spicca's nervous fingers seized the young man's
tough arm and closed upon it with surprising force.

"I would advise you to think of that possibility before making any more
visits," he said, his weak voice suddenly clearing. "We were talking
together a few weeks ago. Do you remember what I said I would do to any
man by whom harm comes to her? Yes, you remember well enough. I know
what you answered, and I daresay you meant it. But I was in earnest,
too."

"I think you are threatening me, Count Spicca," said Orsino, flushing
slowly but meeting the other's look with unflinching coolness.

"No. I am not. And I will not let you quarrel with me, either, Orsino. I
have a right to say this to you where she is concerned--a right you do
not dream of. You cannot quarrel about that."

Orsino did not answer at once. He saw that Spicca was very much in
earnest, and was surprised that his manner now should be less calm and
collected than on the occasion of their previous conversation, when the
count had taken enough wine to turn the heads of most men. He did not
doubt in the least the statement Spicca made. It agreed exactly with
what Maria Consuelo herself had said of him. And the statement certainly
changed the face of the situation. Orsino admitted to himself that he
had never before thought of marrying Madame d'Aranjuez. He had not even
taken into consideration the consequences of loving her and of being
loved by her in return. The moment he thought of a possible marriage as
the result of such a mutual attachment, he realised the enormous
difficulties which stood in the way of such a union, and his first
impulse was to give up visiting her altogether. What Spicca said was at
once reasonable and unreasonable. Maria Consuelo's husband was dead, and
she doubtless expected to marry again. Orsino had no right to stand in
the way of others who might present themselves as suitors. But it was
beyond belief that Spicca should expect Orsino to marry her himself,
knowing Rome and the Romans as he did.

The two had been standing still in the shade. Orsino began to walk
forward again before he spoke. Something in his own reflexions shocked
him. He did not like to think that an impassable social barrier existed
between Maria Consuelo and himself. Yet, in his total ignorance of her
origin and previous life the stories which had been circulated about her
recalled themselves with unpleasant distinctness. Nothing that Spicca
had said when they had dined together had made the matter any clearer,
though the assurance that the deceased Aranjuez had come to his end by
Spicca's instrumentality sufficiently contradicted the worst, if also
the least credible, point in the tales which had been repeated by the
gossips early in the previous winter. All the rest belonged entirely to
the category of the unknown. Yet Spicca spoke seriously of a possible
marriage and had gone to the length of wishing that it might be brought
about. At last Orsino spoke.

"You say that you have a right to say what you have said," he began. "In
that case I think I have a right to ask a question which you ought to
answer. You talk of my marrying Madame d'Aranjuez. You ought to tell me
whether that is possible."

"Possible?" cried Spicca almost angrily. "What do you mean?"

"I mean this. You know us all, as you know me. You know the enormous
prejudices in which we are brought up. You know perfectly well that
although I am ready to laugh at some of them, there are others at which
I do not laugh. Yet you refused to tell me who Madame d'Aranjuez was,
when I asked you, the other day. I do not even know her father's name,
much less her mother's--"

"No," answered Spicca. "That is quite true, and I see no necessity for
telling you either. But, as you say, you have some right to ask. I will
tell you this much. There is nothing in the circumstances of her birth
which could hinder her marriage into any honourable family. Does that
satisfy you?"

Orsino saw that whether he were satisfied or not he was to get no
further information for the present. He might believe Spicca's statement
or not, as he pleased, but he knew that whatever the peculiarities of
the melancholy old duellist's character might be, he never took the
trouble to invent a falsehood and was as ready as ever to support his
words. On this occasion no one could have doubted him, for there was an
unusual ring of sincere feeling in what he said. Orsino could not help
wondering what the tie between him and Madame d'Aranjuez could be, for
it evidently had the power to make Spicca submit without complaint to
something worse than ordinary unkindness and to make him defend on all
occasions the name and character of the woman who treated him so
harshly. It must be a very close bond, Orsino thought. Spicca acted very
much like a man who loves very sincerely and quite hopelessly. There was
something very sad in the idea that he perhaps loved Maria Consuelo, at
his age, broken down as he was, and old before his time. The contrast
between them was so great that it must have been grotesque if it had not
been pathetic.

Little more passed between the two men on that day, before they
separated. To Spicca, Orsino seemed indifferent, and the older man's
reticence after his sudden outburst did not tend to prolong the meeting.

Orsino went in search of Contini and explained what was needed of him.
He was to make a brief list of desirable apartments to let and was to
accompany Madame d'Aranjuez on the following morning in order to see
them.

Contini was delighted and set out about the work at once. Perhaps he
secretly hoped that the lady might be induced to take a part of one of
the new houses, but the idea had nothing to do with his satisfaction. He
was to spend several hours in the sole society of a lady, of a genuine
lady who was, moreover, young and beautiful. He read the little morning
paper too assiduously not to have noticed the name and pondered over the
descriptions of Madame d'Aranjuez on the many occasions when she had
been mentioned by the reporters during the previous year. He was too
young and too thoroughly Italian not to appreciate the good fortune
which now fell into his way, and he promised himself a morning of
uninterrupted enjoyment. He wondered whether the lady could be induced,
by excessive fatigue and thirst to accept a water ice at Nazzari's, and
he planned his list of apartments in such a way as to bring her to the
neighbourhood of the Piazza di Spogna at an hour when the proposition,
might seem most agreeable and natural.

Orsino stayed in the office during the hot September morning, busying
himself with the endless details of which he was now master, and
thinking from time to time of Maria Consuelo. He intended to go and see
her in the afternoon, and he, like Contini, planned what he should do
and say. But his plans were all unsatisfactory, and once he found
himself staring at the blank wall opposite his table in a state of idle
abstraction long unfamiliar to him.

Soon after twelve o'clock, Contini came back, hot and radiant. Maria
Consuelo had refused the water ice, but the charm of her manner had
repaid the architect for the disappointment. Orsino asked whether she
had decided upon any dwelling.

"She has taken the apartment in the Palazzo Barberini," answered
Contini. "I suppose she will bring her family in the autumn."

"Her family? She has none. She is alone."

"Alone in that place! How rich she must be!" Contini found the remains
of a cigar somewhere and lighted it thoughtfully.

"I do not know whether she is rich or not," said Orsino. "I never
thought about it."

He began to work at his books again, while Contini sat down and fanned
himself with a bundle of papers.

"She admires you very much, Don Orsino," said the latter, after a pause.
Orsino looked up sharply.

"What do you mean by that?" he asked.

"I mean that she talked of nothing but you, and in the most flattering
way."

In the oddly close intimacy which had grown up between the two men it
did not seem strange that Orsino should smile at speeches which he would
not have liked if they had come from any one but the poor architect.

"What did she say?" he asked with idle curiosity.

"She said it was wonderful to think what you had done. That of all the
Roman princes you were the only one who had energy and character enough
to throw over the old prejudices and take an occupation. That it was all
the more creditable because you had done it from moral reasons and not
out of necessity or love of money. And she said a great many other
things of the same kind."

"Oh!" ejaculated Orsino, looking at the wall opposite.

"It is a pity she is a widow," observed Contini.

"Why?"

"She would make such a beautiful princess."

"You must be mad, Contini!" exclaimed Orsino, half-pleased and
half-irritated. "Do not talk of such follies."

"All well! Forgive me," answered the architect a little humbly. "I am
not you, you know, and my head is not yours--nor my name--nor my heart
either."

Contini sighed, puffed at his cigar and took up some papers. He was
already a little in love with Maria Consuelo, and the idea that any man
might marry her if he pleased, but would not, was incomprehensible to
him.

The day wore on. Orsino finished his work as thoroughly as though he
had been a paid clerk, put everything in order and went away. Late in
the afternoon he went to see Maria Consuelo. He knew that she would
usually be already out at that hour, and he fancied that he was leaving
something to chance in the matter of finding her, though an
unacknowledged instinct told him that she would stay at home after the
fatigue of the morning.

"We shall not be interrupted by Count Spicca to-day," she said, as he
sat down beside her.

In spite of what he knew, the hard tone of her voice roused again in
Orsino that feeling of pity for the old man which he had felt on the
previous day.

"Does it not seem to you," he asked, "that if you receive him at all,
you might at least conceal something of your hatred for him?"

"Why should I? Have you forgotten what I told you yesterday?"

"It would be hard to forget that, though you told me no details. But it
is not easy to imagine how you can see him at all if he killed your
husband deliberately in a duel."

"It is impossible to put the case more plainly!" exclaimed Maria
Consuelo.

"Do I offend you?"

"No. Not exactly."

"Forgive me, if I do. If Spicca, as I suppose, was the unwilling cause
of your great loss, he is much to be pitied. I am not sure that he does
not deserve almost as much pity as you do."

"How can you say that--even if the rest were true?"

"Think of what he must suffer. He is devotedly attached to you."

"I know he is. You have told me that before, and I have given you the
same answer. I want neither his attachment nor his devotion."

"Then refuse to see him."

"I cannot."

"We come back to the same point again," said Orsino.

"We always shall, if you talk about this. There is no other issue.
Things are what they are and I cannot change them."

"Do you know," said Orsino, "that all this mystery is a very serious
hindrance to friendship?"

Maria Consuelo was silent for a moment.

"Is it?" she asked presently. "Have you always thought so?"

The question was a hard one to answer.

"You have always seemed mysterious to me," answered Orsino. "Perhaps
that is a great attraction. But instead of learning the truth about you,
I am finding out that there are more and more secrets in your life which
I must not know."

"Why should you know them?"

"Because--" Orsino checked himself, almost with a start.

He was annoyed at the words which had been so near his lips, for he had
been on the point of saying "because I love you"--and he was intimately
convinced that he did not love her. He could not in the least understand
why the phrase was so ready to be spoken. Could it be, he asked himself,
that Maria Consuelo was trying to make him say the words, and that her
will, with her question, acted directly on his mind? He scouted the
thought as soon as it presented itself, not only for its absurdity, but
because it shocked some inner sensibility.

"What were you going to say?" asked Madame d'Aranjuez almost carelessly.

"Something that is best not said," he answered.

"Then I am glad you did not say it."

She spoke quietly and unaffectedly. It needed little divination on her
part to guess what the words might have been. Even if she wished them
spoken, she would not have them spoken too lightly, for she had heard
his love speeches before, when they had meant very little.

Orsino suddenly turned the subject, as though he felt unsure of himself.
He asked her about the result of her search, in the morning. She
answered that she had determined to take the apartment in the Palazzo
Barberini.

"I believe it is a very large place," observed Orsino, indifferently.

"Yes," she answered in the same tone. "I mean to receive this winter.
But it will be a tiresome affair to furnish such a wilderness."

"I suppose you mean to establish yourself in Rome for several years."
His face expressed a satisfaction of which he was hardly conscious
himself. Maria Consuelo noticed it.

"You seem pleased," she said.

"How could I possibly not be?" he asked.

Then he was silent. All his own words seemed to him to mean too much or
too little. He wished she would choose some subject of conversation and
talk that he might listen. But she also was unusually silent.

He cut his visit short, very suddenly, and left her, saying that he
hoped to find her at home as a general rule at that hour, quite
forgetting that she would naturally be always out at the cool time
towards evening.

He walked slowly homewards in the dusk, and did not remember to go to
his solitary dinner until nearly nine o'clock. He was not pleased with
himself, but he was involuntarily pleased by something he felt and would
not have been insensible to if he had been given the choice. His old
interest in Maria Consuelo was reviving, and yet was turning into
something very different from what it had been.

He now boldly denied to himself that he was in love and forced himself
to speculate concerning the possibilities of friendship. In his young
system, it was absurd to suppose that a man could fall in love a second
time with the same woman. He scoffed at himself, at the idea and at his
own folly, having all the time a consciousness amounting to certainty,
of something very real and serious, by no means to be laughed at,
overlooked nor despised.



CHAPTER XX.


It was to be foreseen that Orsino and Maria Consuelo would see each
other more often and more intimately now than ever before. Apart from
the strong mutual attraction which drew them nearer and nearer together,
there were many new circumstances which rendered Orsino's help almost
indispensable to his friend. The details of her installation in the
apartment she had chosen were many, there was much to be thought of and
there were enormous numbers of things to be bought, almost each needing
judgment and discrimination in the choice. Had the two needed reasonable
excuses for meeting very often they had them ready to their hand. But
neither of them were under any illusion, and neither cared to affect
that peculiar form of self-forgiveness which finds good reasons always
for doing what is always pleasant. Orsino, indeed, never pressed his
services and was careful not to be seen too often in public with Maria
Consuelo by the few acquaintances who were in town. Nor did Madame
d'Aranjuez actually ask his help at every turn, any more than she made
any difficulty about accepting it. There was a tacit understanding
between them which did away with all necessity for inventing excuses on
the one hand, or for the affectation of fearing to inconvenience Orsino
on the other. During some time, however, the subjects which both knew to
be dangerous were avoided, with an unspoken mutual consent for which
Maria Consuelo was more grateful than for all the trouble Orsino was
giving himself on her account. She fancied, perhaps, that he had at last
accepted the situation, and his society gave her too much happiness to
allow of her asking whether his discretion would or could last long.

It was an anomalous relation which bound them together, as is often the
case at some period during the development of a passion, and most often
when the absence of obstacles makes the growth of affection slow and
regular. It was a period during which a new kind of intimacy began to
exist, as far removed from the half-serious, half-jesting intercourse of
earlier days as it was from the ultimate happiness to which all those
who love look forward with equal trust, although few ever come near it
and fewer still can ever reach it quite. It was outwardly a sort of
frank comradeship which took a vast deal for granted on both sides for
the mere sake of escaping analysis, a condition in which each understood
all that the other said, while neither quite knew what was in the
other's heart, a state in which both were pleased to dwell for a time,
as though preferring to prolong a sure if imperfect happiness rather
than risk one moment of it for the hope of winning a life-long joy. It
was a time during which mere friendship reached an artificially perfect
beauty, like a summer fruit grown under glass in winter, which in
thoroughly unnatural conditions attains a development almost impossible
even where unhelped nature is most kind. Both knew, perhaps, that it
could not last, but neither wished it checked, and neither liked to
think of the moment when it must either begin to wither by degrees, or
be suddenly absorbed into a greater and more dangerous growth.

At that time they were able to talk fluently upon the nature of the
human heart and the durability of great affections. They propounded the
problems of the world and discussed them between the selection of a
carpet and the purchase of a table. They were ready at any moment to
turn from the deepest conversation to the consideration of the merest
detail, conscious that they could instantly take up the thread of their
talk. They could separate the major proposition from the minor, and the
deduction from both, by a lively argument concerning the durability of a
stuff or the fitness of a piece of furniture, and they came back each
time with renewed and refreshed interest to the consideration of matters
little less grave than the resurrection of the dead and the life of the
world to come. That their conclusions were not always logical nor even
very sensible has little to do with the matter. On the contrary, the
discovery of a flaw in their own reasoning was itself a reason for
opening the question again at their next meeting.

At first their conversation was of general things, including the
desirability of glory for its own sake, the immortality of the soul and
the principles of architecture. Orsino was often amazed to find himself
talking, and, as he fancied, talking well, upon subjects of which he had
hitherto supposed with some justice that he knew nothing. By and by they
fell upon literature and dissected the modern novel with the keen zest
of young people who seek to learn the future secrets of their own lives
from vivid descriptions of the lives of others. Their knowledge of the
modern novel was not so limited as their acquaintance with many other
things less amusing, if more profitable, and they worked the vein with
lively energy and mutual satisfaction.

Then, as always, came the important move. They began to talk of love.
The interest ceased to be objective or in any way vicarious and was
transferred directly to themselves.

These steps are not, I think, to be ever thought of as stages in the
development of character in man or woman. They are phases in the
intercourse of man and woman. Clever people know them well and know how
to produce them at will. The end may or may not be love, but an end of
some sort is inevitable. According to the persons concerned, according
to circumstances, according to the amount of available time, the
progression from general subjects to the discussion of love, with
self-application of the conclusions, more or less sincere, may occupy an
hour, a month or a year. Love is the one subject which ultimately
attracts those not too old to talk about it, and those who consider that
they have reached such an age are few.

In the case of Orsino and Maria Consuelo, neither of the two was making
any effort to lead up to a certain definite result, for both felt a real
dread of reaching that point which is ever afterwards remembered as the
last moment of hardly sustained friendship and the first of something
stronger and too often less happy. Orsino was inexperienced, but Maria
Consuelo was quite conscious of the tendency in a fixed direction.
Whether she had made up her mind, or not, she tried as skilfully as she
could to retard the movement, for she was very happy in the present and
probably feared the first stirring of her own ardently passionate
nature.

As for Orsino, indeed, his inexperience was relative. He was anxious to
believe that he was only her friend, and pretended to his own conscience
that he could not explain the frequency with which the words "I love
you" presented themselves. The desire to speak them was neither a
permanent impulse of which he was always conscious nor a sudden strong
emotion like a temptation, giving warning of itself by a few heart-beats
before it reached its strength. The words came to his lips so naturally
and unexpectedly that he often wondered how he saved himself from
pronouncing them. It was impossible for him to foresee when they would
crave utterance. At last he began to fancy that they rang in his mind
without a reason and without a wish on his part to speak them, as a
perfectly indifferent tune will ring in the ear for days so that one
cannot get rid of it.

Maria Consuelo had not intended to spend September and October
altogether in Rome. She had supposed that it would be enough to choose
her apartment and give orders to some person about the furnishing of it
to her taste, and that after that she might go to the seaside until the
heat should be over, coming up to the city from time to time as occasion
required. But she seemed to have changed her mind. She did not even
suggest the possibility of going away.

She generally saw Orsino in the afternoon. He found no difficulty in
making time to see her, whenever he could be useful, but his own
business naturally occupied all the earlier part of the day. As a rule,
therefore, he called between half-past four and five, and so soon as it
was cool enough they went together to the Palazzo Barberini to see what
progress the upholsterers were making and to consider matters of taste.
The great half-furnished rooms with the big windows overlooking the
little garden before the palace were pleasant to sit in and wander in
during the hot September afternoons. The pair were not often quite
alone, even for a quarter of an hour, the place being full of workmen
who came and went, passed and repassed, as their occupations required,
often asking for orders and probably needing more supervision than Maria
Consuelo bestowed upon them.

On a certain evening late in September the two were together in the
large drawing-room. Maria Consuelo was tired and was leaning back in a
deep seat, her hands folded upon her knee, watching Orsino as he slowly
paced the carpet, crossing and recrossing in his short walk, his face
constantly turned towards her. It was excessively hot. The air was
sultry with thunder, and though it was past five o'clock the windows
were still closely shut to keep out the heat. A clear, soft light filled
the room, not reflected from a burning pavement, but from grass and
plashing water.

They had been talking of a chimneypiece which Maria Consuelo wished to
have placed in the hall. The style of what she wanted suggested the
sixteenth century, Henry Second of France, Diana of Poitiers and the
durability of the affections. The transition from fireplaces to true
love had been accomplished with comparative ease, the result of daily
practice and experience. It is worth noting, for the benefit of the
young, that furniture is an excellent subject for conversation for that
very reason, nothing being simpler than to go in three minutes from a
table to an epoch, from an epoch to an historical person and from that
person to his or her love story. A young man would do well to associate
the life of some famous lover or celebrated and unhappy beauty with
each style of woodwork and upholstery. It is always convenient. But if
he has not the necessary preliminary knowledge he may resort to a
stratagem.

"What a comfortable chair!" says he, as he deposits his hat on the floor
and sits down.

"Do you like comfortable chairs?"

"Of course. Fancy what life was in the days of stiff wooden seats, when
you had to carry a cushion about with you. You know that sort of
thing--twelfth century, Francesca da Rimini and all that."

"Poor Francesca!"

If she does not say "Poor Francesca!" as she probably will, you can say
it yourself, very feelingly and in a different tone, after a short
pause. The one kiss which cost two lives makes the story particularly
useful. And then the ice is broken. If Paolo and Francesca had not been
murdered, would they have loved each other for ever? As nobody knows
what they would have done, you can assert that they would have been
faithful or not, according to your taste, humour or personal intentions.
Then you can talk about the husband, whose very hasty conduct
contributed so materially to the shortness of the story. If you wish to
be thought jealous, you say he was quite right; if you desire to seem
generous, you say with equal conviction that he was quite wrong. And so
forth. Get to generalities as soon as possible in order to apply them to
your own case.

Orsino and Maria Consuelo were the guileless victims of furniture,
neither of them being acquainted with the method just set forth for the
instruction of the innocent. They fell into their own trap and wondered
how they had got from mantelpieces to hearts in such an incredibly short
time.

"It is quite possible to love twice," Orsino was saying.

"That depends upon what you mean by love," answered Maria Consuelo,
watching him with half-closed eyes.

Orsino laughed.

"What I mean by love? I suppose I mean very much what other people mean
by it--or a little more," he added, and the slight change in his voice
pleased her.

"Do you think that any two understand the same thing when they speak of
love?" she asked.

"We two might," he answered, resuming his indifferent tone. "After all,
we have talked so much together during the last month that we ought to
understand each other."

"Yes," said Maria Consuelo. "And I think we do," she added thoughtfully.

"Then why should we think differently about the same thing? But I am not
going to try and define love. It is not easily defined, and I am not
clever enough." He laughed again. "There are many illnesses which I
cannot define--but I know that one may have them twice."

"There are others which one can only have once--dangerous ones, too."

"I know it. But that has nothing to do with the argument."

"I think it has--if this is an argument at all."

"No. Love is not enough like an illness--it is quite the contrary. It is
a recovery from an unnatural state--that of not loving. One may fall
into that state and recover from it more than once."

"What a sophism!"

"Why do you say that? Do you think that not to love is the normal
condition of mankind?"

Maria Consuelo was silent, still watching him.

"You have nothing to say," he continued, stopping and standing before
her. "There is nothing to be said. A man or woman who does not love is
in an abnormal state. When he or she falls in love it is a recovery. One
may recover so long as the heart has enough vitality. Admit it--for you
must. It proves that any properly constituted person may love twice, at
least."

"There is an idea of faithlessness in it, nevertheless," said Maria
Consuelo, thoughtfully. "Or if it is not faithless, it is fickle. It is
not the same to oneself to love twice. One respects oneself less."

"I cannot believe that."

"We all ought to believe it. Take a case as an instance. A woman loves a
man with all her heart, to the point of sacrificing very much for him.
He loves her in the same way. In spite of the strongest opposition, they
agree to be married. On the very day of the marriage he is taken from
her--for ever--loving her as he has always loved her, and as he would
always have loved her had he lived. What would such a woman feel, if she
found herself forgetting such a love as that after two or three years,
for another man? Do you think she would respect herself more or less? Do
you think she would have the right to call herself a faithful woman?"

Orsino was silent for a moment, seeing that she meant herself by the
example. She, indeed, had only told him that her husband had been
killed, but Spicca had once said of her that she had been married to a
man who had never been her husband.

"A memory is one thing--real life is quite another," said Orsino at
last, resuming his walk.

"And to be faithful cannot possibly mean to be faithless," answered
Maria Consuelo in a low voice.

She rose and went to one of the windows. She must have wished to hide
her face, for the outer blinds and the glass casement were both shut and
she could see nothing but the green light that struck the painted wood.
Orsino went to her side.

"Shall I open the window?" he asked in a constrained voice.

"No--not yet. I thought I could see out."

Still she stood where she was, her face almost touching the pane, one
small white hand resting upon the glass, the fingers moving restlessly.

"You meant yourself, just now," said Orsino softly.

She neither spoke nor moved, but her face grew pale. Then he fancied
that there was a hardly perceptible movement of her head, the merest
shade of an inclination. He leaned a little towards her, resting against
the marble sill of the window.

"And you meant something more--" he began to say. Then he stopped short.

His heart was beating hard and the hot blood throbbed in his temples,
his lips closed tightly and his breathing was audible.

Maria Consuelo turned her head, glanced at him quickly and instantly
looked back at the smooth glass before her and at the green light on the
shutters without. He was scarcely conscious that she had moved. In love,
as in a storm at sea, matters grow very grave in a few moments.

"You meant that you might still--" Again he stopped. The words would not
come.

He fancied that she would not speak. She could not, any more than she
could have left his side at that moment. The air was very sultry even in
the cool, closed room. The green light on the shutters darkened
suddenly. Then a far distant peal of thunder rolled its echoes slowly
over the city. Still neither moved from the window.

"If you could--" Orsino's voice was low and soft, but there was
something strangely overwrought in the nervous quality of it. It was not
hesitation any longer that made him stop.

"Could you love me?" he asked. He thought he spoke aloud. When he had
spoken, he knew that he had whispered the words.

His face was colourless. He heard a short, sharp breath, drawn like a
gasp. The small white hand fell from the window and gripped his own with
sudden, violent strength. Neither spoke. Another peal of thunder, nearer
and louder, shook the air. Then Orsino heard the quick-drawn breath
again, and the white hand went nervously to the fastening of the window.
Orsino opened the casement and thrust back the blinds. There was a vivid
flash, more thunder, and a gust of stifling wind. Maria Consuelo leaned
far out, looking up, and a few great drops of rain, began to fall.

The storm burst and the cold rain poured down furiously, wetting the two
white faces at the window. Maria Consuelo drew back a little, and Orsino
leaned against the open casement, watching her. It was as though the
single pressure of their hands had crushed out the power of speech for a
time.

For weeks they had talked daily together during many hours. They could
not foresee that at the great moment there would be nothing left for
them to say. The rain fell in torrents and the gusty wind rose and
buffeted the face of the great palace with roaring strength, to sink
very suddenly an instant later in the steadily rushing noise of the
water, springing up again without warning, rising and falling, falling
and rising, like a great sobbing breath. The wind and the rain seemed to
be speaking for the two who listened to it.

Orsino watched Maria Consuelo's face, not scrutinising it, nor realising
very much whether it were beautiful or not, nor trying to read the
thoughts that were half expressed in it--not thinking at all, indeed,
but only loving it wholly and in every part for the sake of the woman
herself, as he had never dreamed of loving any one or anything.

At last Maria Consuelo turned very slowly and looked into his eyes. The
passionate sadness faded out of the features, the faint colour rose
again, the full lips relaxed, the smile that came was full of a
happiness that seemed almost divine.

"I cannot help it," she said.

"Can I?"

"Truly?"

Her hand was lying on the marble ledge. Orsino laid his own upon it, and
both trembled a little. She understood more than any word could have
told her.

"For how long?" she asked.

"For all our lives now, and for all our life hereafter."

He raised her hand to his lips, bending his head, and then he drew her
from the window, and they walked slowly up and down the great room.

"It is very strange," she said presently, in a low voice.

"That I should love you?"

"Yes. Where were we an hour ago? What is become of that old time--that
was an hour ago?"

"I have forgotten, dear--that was in the other life."

"The other life! Yes--how unhappy I was--there, by that window, a
hundred years ago!"

She laughed softly, and Orsino smiled as he looked down at her.

"Are you happy now?"

"Do not ask me--how could I tell you?"

"Say it to yourself, love--I shall see it in your dear face."

"Am I not saying it?"

Then they were silent again, walking side by side, their arms locked and
pressing one another.

It began to dawn upon Orsino that a great change had come into his life,
and he thought of the consequences of what he was doing. He had not said
that he was happy, but in the first moment he had felt it more than she.
The future, however, would not be like the present, and could not be a
perpetual continuation of it. Orsino was not at all of a romantic
disposition, and the practical side of things was always sure to present
itself to his mind very early in any affair. It was a part of his nature
and by no means hindered him from feeling deeply and loving sincerely.
But it shortened his moments of happiness.

"Do you know what this means to you and me?" he asked, after a time.

Maria Consuelo started very slightly and looked up at him.

"Let us think of to-morrow--to-morrow," she said. Her voice trembled a
little.

"Is it so hard to think of?" asked Orsino, fearing lest he had
displeased her.

"Very hard," she answered, in a low voice.

"Not for me. Why should it be? If anything can make to-day more
complete, it is to think that to-morrow will be more perfect, and the
next day still more, and so on, each day better than the one before it."

Maria Consuelo shook her head.

"Do not speak of it," she said.

"Will you not love me to-morrow?" Orsino asked. The light in his face
told how little earnestly he asked the question, but she turned upon him
quickly.

"Do you doubt yourself, that you should doubt me?" There was a ring of
terror in the words that startled him as he heard them.

"Beloved--no--how can you think I meant it?"

"Then do not say it." She shivered a little, and bent down her head.

"No--I will not. But--dear--do you know where we are?"

"Where we are?" she repeated, not understanding.

"Yes--where we are. This was to have been your home this year."

"Was to have been?" A frightened look came into her face.

"It will not be, now. Your home is not in this house."

Again she shook her head, turning her face away.

"It must be," she said.

Orsino was surprised beyond expression by the answer.

"Either you do not know what you are saying, or you do not mean it,
dear," he said. "Or else you will not understand me."

"I understand you too well."

Orsino made her stop and took both her hands, looking down into her
eyes.

"You will marry me," he said.

"I cannot marry you," she answered.

Her face grew even paler than it had been when they had stood at the
window, and so full of pain and sadness that it hurt Orsino to look at
it. But the words she spoke, in her clear, distinct tones, struck him
like a blow unawares. He knew that she loved him, for her love was in
every look and gesture, without attempt at concealment. He believed her
to be a good woman. He was certain that her husband was dead. He could
not understand, and he grew suddenly angry. An older man would have done
worse, or a man less in earnest.

"You must have a reason to give me--and a good one," he said gravely.

"I have."

She turned slowly away and began to walk alone. He followed her.

"You must tell it," he said.

"Tell it? Yes, I will tell it to you. It is a solemn promise before God,
given to a man who died in my arms--to my husband. Would you have me
break such a vow?"

"Yes." Orsino drew a long breath. The objection seemed insignificant
enough compared with the pain it had cost him before it had been
explained.

"Such promises are not binding," he continued, after a moment's pause.
"Such a promise is made hastily, rashly, without a thought of the
consequences. You have no right to keep it."

"No right? Orsino, what are you saying! Is not an oath an oath, however
it is taken? Is not a vow made ten times more sacred when the one for
whom it was taken is gone? Is there any difference between my promise
and that made before the altar by a woman who gives up the world? Should
I be any better, if I broke mine, than the nun who broke hers?"

"You cannot be in earnest?" exclaimed Orsino in a low voice.

Maria Consuelo did not answer. She went towards the window and looked at
the splashing rain. Orsino stood where he was, watching her. Suddenly
she came back and stood before him.

"We must undo this," she said.

"What do you mean?" He understood well enough.

"You know. We must not love each other. We must undo to-day and forget
it."

"If you can talk so lightly of forgetting, you have little to remember,"
answered Orsino almost roughly.

"You have no right to say that."

"I have the right of a man who loves you."

"The right to be unjust?"

"I am not unjust." His tone softened again. "I know what it means, to
say that I love you--it is my life, this love. I have known it a long
time. It has been on my lips to say it for weeks, and since it has been
said, it cannot be unsaid. A moment ago you told me not to doubt you. I
do not. And now you say that we must not love each other, as though we
had a choice to make--and why? Because you once made a rash promise--"

"Hush!" interrupted Maria Consuelo. "You must not--"

"I must and will. You made a promise, as though you had a right at such
a moment to dispose of all your life--I do not speak of mine--as though
you could know what the world held for you, and could renounce it all
beforehand. I tell you you had no right to make such an oath, and a vow
taken without the right to take it is no vow at all--"

"It is--it is! I cannot break it!"

"If you love me you will. But you say we are to forget. Forget! It is so
easy to say. How shall we do it?"

"I will go away--"

"If you have the heart to go away, then go. But I will follow you. The
world is very small, they say--it will not be hard for me to find you,
wherever you are."

"If I beg you--if I ask it as the only kindness, the only act of
friendship, the only proof of your love--you will not come--you will not
do that--"

"I will, if it costs your soul and mine."

"Orsino! You do not mean it--you see how unhappy I am, how I am trying
to do right, how hard it is!"

"I see that you are trying to ruin both our lives. I will not let you.
Besides, you do not mean it."

Maria Consuelo looked into his eyes and her own grew deep and dark. Then
as though she felt herself yielding, she turned away and sat down in a
chair that stood apart from the rest. Orsino followed her, and tried to
take her hand, bending down to meet her downcast glance.

"You do not mean it, Consuelo," he said earnestly. "You do not mean one
hundredth part of what you say."

She drew her fingers from his, and turned her head sideways against the
back of the chair so that she could not see him. He still bent over her,
whispering into her ear.

"You cannot go," he said. "You will not try to forget--for neither you
nor I can--nor ought, cost what it might. You will not destroy what is
so much to us--you would not, if you could. Look at me, love--do not
turn away. Let me see it all in your eyes, all the truth of it and of
every word I say."

Still she turned her face from him. But she breathed quickly with parted
lips and the colour rose slowly in her pale cheeks.

"It must be sweet to be loved as I love you, dear," he said, bending
still lower and closer to her. "It must be some happiness to know that
you are so loved. Is there so much joy in your life that you can despise
this? There is none in mine, without you, nor ever can be unless we are
always together--always, dear, always, always."

She moved a little, and the drooping lids lifted almost imperceptibly.

"Do not tempt me, dear one," she said in a faint voice. "Let me go--let
me go."

Orsino's dark face was close to hers now, and she could see his bright
eyes. Once she tried to look away, and could not. Again she tried,
lifting her head from the cushioned chair. But his arm went round her
neck and her cheek rested upon his shoulder.

"Go, love," he said softly, pressing her more closely. "Go--let us not
love each other. It is so easy not to love."

She looked up into his eyes again with a sudden shiver, and they both
grew very pale. For ten seconds neither spoke nor moved. Then their lips
met.



CHAPTER XXI.


When Orsino was alone that night, he asked himself more than one
question which he did not find it easy to answer. He could define,
indeed, the relation in which he now stood to Maria Consuelo, for though
she had ultimately refused to speak the words of a promise, he no longer
doubted that she meant to be his wife and that her scruples were
overcome for ever. This was, undeniably, the most important point in the
whole affair, so far as his own satisfaction was concerned, but there
were others of the gravest import to be considered and elucidated before
he could even weigh the probabilities of future happiness.

He had not lost his head on the present occasion, as he had formerly
done when his passion had been anything but sincere. He was perfectly
conscious that Maria Consuelo was now the principal person concerned in
his life and that the moment would inevitably have come, sooner or
later, in which he must have told her so as he had done on this day. He
had not yielded to a sudden impulse, but to a steady and growing
pressure from which there had been no means of escape, and which he had
not sought to elude. He was not in one of those moods of half-senseless,
exuberant spirits, such as had come upon him more than once during the
winter after he had been an hour in her society and had said or done
something more than usually rash. On the contrary, he was inclined to
look the whole situation soberly in the face, and to doubt whether the
love which dominated him might not prove a source of unhappiness to
Maria Consuelo as well as to himself. At the same time he knew that it
would be useless to fight against that domination, for he knew that he
was now absolutely sincere.

But the difficulties to be met and overcome were many and great. He
might have betrothed himself to almost any woman in society, widow or
spinster, without anticipating one hundredth part of the opposition
which he must now certainly encounter. He was not even angry beforehand
with the prejudice which would animate his father and mother, for he
admitted that it was hardly a prejudice at all, and certainly not one
peculiar to them, or to their class. It would be hard to find a family,
anywhere, of any respectability, no matter how modest, that would accept
without question such a choice as he had made. Maria Consuelo was one of
those persons about whom the world is ready to speak in disparagement,
knowing that it will not be easy to find defenders for them. The world
indeed, loves its own and treats them with consideration, especially in
the matter of passing follies, and after it had been plain to society
that Orsino had fallen under Maria Consuelo's charm, he had heard no
more disagreeable remarks about her origin nor the circumstances of her
widowhood. But he remembered what had been said before that, when he
himself had listened indifferently enough, and he guessed that
ill-natured people called her an adventuress or little better. If
anything could have increased the suffering which this intuitive
knowledge caused him, it was the fact that he possessed no proof of her
right to rank with the best, except his own implicit faith in her, and
the few words Spicca had chosen to let fall. Spicca was still thought so
dangerous that people hesitated to contradict him openly, but his mere
assertion, Orsino thought, though it might be accepted in appearance,
was not of enough weight to carry inward conviction with it in the
minds of people who had no interest in being convinced. It was only too
plain that, unless Maria Consuelo, or Spicca, or both, were willing to
tell the strange story in its integrity, there were not proof enough to
convince the most willing person of her right to the social position she
occupied after that had once been called into question. To Orsino's mind
the very fact that it had been questioned at all demonstrated
sufficiently a carelessness on her own part which could only proceed
from the certainty of possessing that right beyond dispute. It would
doubtless have been possible for her to provide herself from the first
with something in the nature of a guarantee for her identity. She could
surely have had the means, through some friend of her own elsewhere, of
making the acquaintance of some one in society, who would have vouched
for her and silenced the carelessly spiteful talk concerning her which
had gone the rounds when she first appeared. But she had seemed to be
quite indifferent. She had refused Orsino's pressing offer to bring her
into relations with his mother, whose influence would have been enough
to straighten a reputation far more doubtful than Maria Consuelo's, and
she had almost wilfully thrown herself into a sort of intimacy with the
Countess Del Ferice.

But Orsino, as he thought of these matters, saw how futile such
arguments must seem to his own people, and how absurdly inadequate they
were to better his own state of mind, since he needed no conviction
himself but sought the means of convincing others. One point alone gave
him some hope. Under the existing laws the inevitable legal marriage
would require the production of documents which would clear the whole
story at once. On the other hand, that fact could make Orsino's position
no easier with his father and mother until the papers were actually
produced. People cannot easily be married secretly in Rome, where the
law requires the publication of banns by posting them upon the doors of
the Capitol, and the name of Orsino Saracinesca would not be easily
overlooked. Orsino was aware of course that he was not in need of his
parents' consent for his marriage, but he had not been brought up in a
way to look upon their acquiescence as unnecessary. He was deeply
attached to them both, but especially to his mother who had been his
staunch friend in his efforts to do something for himself, and to whom
he naturally looked for sympathy if not for actual help. However certain
he might be of the ultimate result of his marriage, the idea of being
married in direct opposition to her wishes was so repugnant to him as to
be almost an insurmountable barrier. He might, indeed, and probably
would, conceal his engagement for some time, but solely with the
intention of so preparing the evidence in favour of it as to make it
immediately acceptable to his father and mother when announced.

It seemed possible that, if he could bring Maria Consuelo to see the
matter as he saw it, she might at once throw aside her reticence and
furnish him with the information he so greatly needed. But it would be a
delicate matter to bring her to that point of view, unconscious as she
must be of her equivocal position. He could not go to her and tell her
that in order to announce their engagement he must be able to tell the
world who and what she really was. The most he could do would be to tell
her exactly what papers were necessary for her marriage and to prevail
upon her to procure them as soon as possible, or to hand them to him at
once if they were already in her possession. But in order to require
even this much of her, it was necessary to push matters farther than
they had yet gone. He had certainly pledged himself to her, and he
firmly believed that she considered herself bound to him. But beyond
that, nothing definite had passed.

They had been interrupted by the entrance of workmen asking for orders,
and he had thought that Maria Consuelo had seemed anxious to detain the
men as long as possible. That such a scene could not be immediately
renewed where it had been broken off was clear enough, but Orsino
fancied that she had not wished even to attempt a renewal of it. He had
taken her home in the dusk, and she had refused to let him enter the
hotel with her. She said that she wished to be alone, and he had been
fain to be satisfied with the pressure of her hand and the look in her
eyes, which both said much while not saying half of what he longed to
hear and know.

He would see her, of course, at the usual hour on the following day, and
he determined to speak plainly and strongly. She could not ask him to
prolong such a state of uncertainty. Considering how gradual the steps
had been which had led up to what had taken place on that rainy
afternoon it was not conceivable, he thought, that she would still ask
for time to make up her mind. She would at least consent to some
preliminary agreement upon a line of conduct for both to follow.

But impossible as the other case seemed, Orsino did not neglect it. His
mind was developing with his character and was acquiring the habit of
foreseeing difficulties in order to forestall them. If Maria Consuelo
returned suddenly to her original point of view maintaining that the
promise given to her dying husband was still binding, Orsino determined
that he would go to Spicca in a last resort. Whatever the bond which
united them, it was clear that Spicca possessed some kind of power over
Maria Consuelo, and that he was so far acquainted with all the
circumstances of her previous life as to be eminently capable of giving
Orsino advice for the future.

He went to his office on the following morning with little inclination
for work. It would be more just, perhaps, to say that he felt the desire
to pursue his usual occupation while conscious that his mind was too
much disturbed by the events of the previous afternoon to concentrate
itself upon the details of accounts and plans. He found himself
committing all sorts of errors of oversight quite unusual with him.
Figures seemed to have lost their value and plans their meaning. With
the utmost determination he held himself to his task, not willing to
believe that his judgment and nerve could be so disturbed as to render
him unfit for any serious business. But the result was contemptible as
compared with the effort.

Andrea Contini, too, was inclined to take a gloomy view of things,
contrary to his usual habit. A report was spreading to the effect that a
certain big contractor was on the verge of bankruptcy, a man who had
hitherto been considered beyond the danger of heavy loss. There had been
more than one small failure of late, but no one had paid much attention
to such accidents which were generally attributed to personal causes
rather than to an approaching turn in the tide of speculation. But
Contini chose to believe that a crisis was not far off. He possessed in
a high degree that sort of caution which is valuable rather in an
assistant than in a chief. Orsino was little inclined to share his
architect's despondency for the present.

"You need a change of air," he said, pushing a heap of papers away from
him and lighting a cigarette. "You ought to go down to Porto d'Anzio for
a few days. You have been too long in the heat."

"No longer than you, Don Orsino," answered Contini, from his own table.

"You are depressed and gloomy. You have worked harder than I. You should
really go out of town for a day or two."

"I do not feel the need of it."

Contini bent over his table again and a short silence followed. Orsino's
mind instantly reverted to Maria Consuelo. He felt a violent desire to
leave the office and go to her at once. There was no reason why he
should not visit her in the morning if he pleased. At the worst, she
might refuse to receive him. He was thinking how she would look, and
wondering whether she would smile or meet him with earnest half
regretful eyes, when Contini's voice broke into his meditations again.

"You think I am despondent because I have been working too long in the
heat," said the young man, rising and beginning to pace the floor before
Orsino. "No. I am not that kind of man. I am never tired. I can go on
for ever. But affairs in Rome will not go on for ever. I tell you that,
Don Orsino. There is trouble in the air. I wish we had sold everything
and could wait. It would be much better."

"All this is very vague, Contini."

"It is very clear to me. Matters are going from bad to worse. There is
no doubt that Ronco has failed."

"Well, and if he has? We are not Ronco. He was involved in all sorts of
other speculations. If he had stuck to land and building he would be as
sound as ever."

"For another month, perhaps. Do you know why he is ruined?"

"By his own fault, as people always are. He was rash."

"No rasher than we are. I believe that the game is played out. Ronco is
bankrupt because the bank with which he deals cannot discount any more
bills this week."

"And why not?"

"Because the foreign banks will not take any more of all this paper that
is flying about. Those small failures in the summer have produced their
effect. Some of the paper was in Paris and some in Vienna. It turned out
worthless, and the foreigners have taken fright. It is all a fraud, at
best--or something very like it."

"What do you mean?"

"Tell me the truth, Don Orsino--have you seen a centime of all these
millions which every one is dealing with? Do you believe they really
exist? No. It is all paper, paper, and more paper. There is no cash in
the business."

"But there is land and there are houses, which represent the millions
substantially."

"Substantially! Yes--as long as the inflation lasts. After that they
will represent nothing."

"You are talking nonsense, Contini. Prices may fall, and some people
will lose, but you cannot destroy real estate permanently."

"Its value may be destroyed for ten or twenty years, which is
practically the same thing when people have no other property. Take this
block we are building. It represents a large sum. Say that in the next
six months there are half a dozen failures like Ronco's and that a panic
sets in. We could then neither sell the houses nor let them. What would
they represent to us? Nothing. Failure--like the failure of everybody
else. Do you know where the millions really are? You ought to know
better than most people. They are in Casa Saracinesca and in a few other
great houses which have not dabbled in all this business, and perhaps
they are in the pockets of a few clever men who have got out of it all
in time. They are certainly not in the firm of Andrea Contini and
Company, which will assuredly be bankrupt before the winter is out."

Contini bit his cigar savagely, thrust his hands into his pockets and
looked out of the window, turning his back on Orsino. The latter watched
his companion in surprise, not understanding why his dismal forebodings
should find such sudden and strong expression.

"I think you exaggerate very much," said Orsino. "There is always risk
in such business as this. But it strikes me that the risk was greater
when we had less capital."

"Capital!" exclaimed the architect contemptuously and without turning
round. "Can we draw a cheque--a plain unadorned cheque and not a
draft--for a hundred thousand francs to-day? Or shall we be able to draw
it to-morrow? Capital! We have a lot of brick and mortar in our
possession, put together more or less symmetrically according to our
taste, and practically unpaid for. If we manage to sell it in time we
shall get the difference between what is paid and what we owe. That is
our capital. It is problematical, to say the least of it. If we realise
less than we owe we are bankrupt."

He came back suddenly to Orsino's table as he ceased speaking and his
face showed that he was really disturbed. Orsino looked at him steadily
for a few seconds.

"It is not only Ronco's failure that frightens you, Contini. There must
be something else."

"More of the same kind. There is enough to frighten any one."

"No, there is something else. You have been talking with somebody."

"With Del Ferice's confidential clerk. Yes--it is quite true. I was with
him last night."

"And what did he say? What you have been telling me, I suppose."

"Something much more disagreeable--something you would rather not hear."

"I wish to hear it."

"You should, as a matter of fact."

"Go on."

"We are completely in Del Ferice's hands."

"We are in the hands of his bank."

"What is the difference? To all intents and purposes he is our bank. The
proof is that but for him we should have failed already."

Orsino looked up sharply.

"Be clear, Contini. Tell me what you mean."

"I mean this. For a month past the bank could not have discounted a
hundred francs' worth of our paper. Del Ferice has taken it all and
advanced the money out of his private account."

"Are you sure of what you are telling me?" Orsino asked the question in
a low voice, and his brow contracted.

"One can hardly have better authority than the clerk's own statement."

"And he distinctly told you this, did he?"

"Most distinctly."

"He must have had an object in betraying such a confidence," said
Orsino. "It is not likely that such a man would carelessly tell you or
me a secret which is evidently meant to be kept."

He spoke quietly enough, but the tone of his voice was changed and
betrayed how greatly he was moved by the news. Contini began to walk up
and down again, but did not make any answer to the remark.

"How much do we owe the bank?" Orsino asked suddenly.

"Roughly, about six hundred thousand."

"How much of that paper do you think Del Ferice has taken up himself?"

"About a quarter, I fancy, from what the clerk told me."

A long silence followed, during which Orsino tried to review the
situation in all its various aspects. It was clear that Del Ferice did
not wish Andrea Contini and Company to fail and was putting himself to
serious inconvenience in order to avert the catastrophe. Whether he
wished, in so doing, to keep Orsino in his power, or whether he merely
desired to escape the charge of having ruined his old enemy's son out of
spite, it was hard to decide. Orsino passed over that question quickly
enough. So far as any sense of humiliation was concerned he knew very
well that his mother would be ready and able to pay off all his
liabilities at the shortest notice. What Orsino felt most deeply was
profound disappointment and utter disgust at his own folly. It seemed to
him that he had been played with and flattered into the belief that he
was a serious man of business, while all along he had been pushed and
helped by unseen hands. There was nothing to prove that Del Ferice had
not thus deceived him from the first; and, indeed, when he thought of
his small beginnings early in the year and realised the dimensions which
the business had now assumed, he could not help believing that Del
Ferice had been at the bottom of all his apparent success and that his
own earnest and ceaseless efforts had really had but little to do with
the development of his affairs. His vanity suffered terribly under the
first shock.

He was bitterly disappointed. During the preceding months he had begun
to feel himself independent and able to stand alone, and he had looked
forward in the near future to telling his father that he had made a
fortune for himself without any man's help. He had remembered every word
of cold discouragement to which he had been forced to listen at the very
beginning, and he had felt sure of having a success to set against each
one of those words. He knew that he had not been idle and he had fancied
that every hour of work had produced its permanent result, and left him
with something more to show. He had seen his mother's pride in him
growing day by day in his apparent success, and he had been confident of
proving to her that she was not half proud enough. All that was gone in
a moment. He saw, or fancied that he saw, nothing but a series of
failures which had been bolstered up and inflated into seeming triumphs
by a man whom his father despised and hated and whom, as a man, he
himself did not respect. The disillusionment was complete.

At first it seemed to him that there was nothing to be done but to go
directly to Saracinesca and tell the truth to his father and mother.
Financially, when the wealth of the family was taken into consideration
there was nothing very alarming in the situation. He would borrow of his
father enough to clear him with Del Ferice and would sell the unfinished
buildings for what they would bring. He might even induce his father to
help him in finishing the work. There would be no trouble about the
business question. As for Contini, he should not lose by the transaction
and permanent occupation could doubtless be found for him on one of the
estates if he chose to accept it.

He thought of the interview and his vanity dreaded it. Another plan
suggested itself to him. On the whole, it seemed easier to bear his
dependence on Del Ferice than to confess himself beaten. There was
nothing dishonourable, nothing which could be called so at least, in
accepting financial accommodation from a man whose business it was to
lend money on security. If Del Ferice chose to advance sums which his
bank would not advance, he did it for good reasons of his own and
certainly not in the intention of losing by it in the end. In case of
failure Del Ferice would take the buildings for the debt and would
certainly in that case get them for much less than they were worth.
Orsino would be no worse off than when he had begun, he would frankly
confess that though he had lost nothing he had not made a fortune, and
the matter would be at an end. That would be very much easier to bear
than the humiliation of confessing at the present moment that he was in
Del Ferice's power and would be bankrupt but for Del Ferice's personal
help. And again he repeated to himself that Del Ferice was not a man to
throw money away without hope of recovery with interest. It was
inconceivable, too, that Ugo should have pushed him so far merely to
flatter a young man's vanity. He meant to make use of him, or to make
money out of his failure. In either case Orsino would be his dupe and
would not be under any obligation to him. Compared with the necessity of
acknowledging the present state of his affairs to his father, the
prospect of being made a tool of by Del Ferice was bearable, not to say
attractive.

"What had we better do, Contini?" he asked at length.

"There is nothing to be done but to go on, I suppose, until we are
ruined," replied the architect. "Even if we had the money, we should
gain nothing by taking off all our bills as they fall due, instead of
renewing them."

"But if the bank will not discount any more--"

"Del Ferice will, in the bank's name. When he is ready for the failure,
we shall fail and he will profit by our loss."

"Do you think that is what he means to do?"

Contini looked at Orsino in surprise.

"Of course. What did you expect? You do not suppose that he means to
make us a present of that paper, or to hold it indefinitely until we can
make a good sale."

"And he will ultimately get possession of all the paper himself."

"Naturally. As the old bills fall due we shall renew them with him,
practically, and not with the bank. He knows what he is about. He
probably has some scheme for selling the whole block to the government,
or to some institution, and is sure of his profit beforehand. Our
failure will give him a profit of twenty-five or thirty per cent."

Orsino was strangely reassured by his partner's gloomy view. To him
every word proved that he was free from any personal obligation to Del
Ferice and might accept the latter's assistance without the least
compunction. He did not like to remember that a man of Ugo's subtle
intelligence might have something more important in view than a profit
of a few hundred thousand francs, if indeed the sum should amount to
that. Orsino's brow cleared and his expression changed.

"You seem to like the idea," observed Contini rather irritably.

"I would rather be ruined by Del Ferice than helped by him."

"Ruin means so little to you, Don Orsino. It means the inheritance of an
enormous fortune, a princess for a wife and the choice of two or three
palaces to live in."

"That is one way of putting it," answered Orsino, almost laughing. "As
for yourself, my friend, I do not see that your prospects are so very
bad. Do you suppose that I shall abandon you after having led you into
this scrape, and after having learned to like you and understand your
talent? You are very much mistaken. We have tried this together and
failed, but as you rightly say I shall not be in the least ruined by the
failure. Do you know what will happen? My father will tell me that
since I have gained some experience I should go and manage one of the
estates and improve the buildings. Then you and I will go together."

Contini smiled suddenly and his bright eyes sparkled. He was profoundly
attached to Orsino, and thought perhaps as much of the loss of his
companionship as of the destruction of his material hopes in the event
of a liquidation.

"If that could be, I should not care what became of the business," he
said simply.

"How long do you think we shall last?" asked Orsino after a short pause.

"If business grows worse, as I think it will, we shall last until the
first bill that falls due after the doors and windows are put in."

"That is precise, at least."

"It will probably take us into January, or perhaps February."

"But suppose that Del Ferice himself gets into trouble between now and
then. If he cannot discount any more, what will happen?"

"We shall fail a little sooner. But you need not be afraid of that. Del
Ferice knows what he is about better than we do, better than his
confidential clerk, much better than most men of business in Rome. If he
fails, he will fail intentionally and at the right moment."

"And do you not think that there is even a remote possibility of an
improvement in business, so that nobody will fail at all?"

"No," answered Contini thoughtfully. "I do not think so. It is a paper
system and it will go to pieces."

"Why have you not said the same thing before? You must have had this
opinion a long time."

"I did not believe that Ronco could fail. An accident opens the eyes."

Orsino had almost decided to let matters go on but he found some
difficulty in actually making up his mind. In spite of Contini's
assurances he could not get rid of the idea that he was under an
obligation to Del Ferice. Once, at least, he thought of going directly
to Ugo and asking for a clear explanation of the whole affair. But Ugo
was not in town, as he knew, and the impossibility of going at once made
it improbable that Orsino would go at all. It would not have been a very
wise move, for Del Ferice could easily deny the story, seeing that the
paper was all in the bank's name, and he would probably have visited the
indiscretion upon the unfortunate clerk.

In the long silence which followed, Orsino relapsed into his former
despondency. After all, whether he confessed his failure or not, he had
undeniably failed and been played upon from the first, and he admitted
it to himself without attempting to spare his vanity, and his
self-contempt was great and painful. The fact that he had grown from a
boy to a man during his experience did not make it easier to bear such
wounds, which are felt more keenly by the strong than by the weak when
they are real.

As the day wore on the longing to see Maria Consuelo grew upon him until
he felt that he had never before wished to be with her as he wished it
now. He had no intention of telling her his trouble but he needed the
assurance of an ever ready sympathy which he so often saw in her eyes,
and which was always there for him when he asked it. When there is love
there is reliance, whether expressed or not, and where there is
reliance, be it ever so slender, there is comfort for many ills of body,
mind and soul.



CHAPTER XXII.


Orsino felt suddenly relieved when he had left his office in the
afternoon. Contini's gloomy mood was contagious, and so long as Orsino
was with him it was impossible not to share the architect's view of
affairs. Alone, however, things did not seem so bad. As a matter of
fact it was almost impossible for the young man to give up all his
illusions concerning his own success in one moment, and to believe
himself the dupe of his own blind vanity instead of regarding himself as
the winner in the fight for independence of thought and action. He could
not deny the facts Contini alleged. He had to admit that he was
apparently in Del Ferice's power, unless he appealed to his own people
for assistance. He was driven to acknowledge that he had made a great
mistake. But he could not altogether distrust himself and he fancied
that after all, with a fair share of luck, he might prove a match for
Ugo on the financier's own ground. He had learned to have confidence in
his own powers and judgment, and as he walked away from the office every
moment strengthened his determination to struggle on with such resources
as he might be able to command, so long as there should be a possibility
of action of any sort. He felt, too, that more depended upon his success
than the mere satisfaction of his vanity. If he failed, he might lose
Maria Consuelo as well as his self-respect: He had that sensation,
familiar enough to many young men when extremely in love, that in order
to be loved in return one must succeed, and that a single failure
endangers the stability of a passion which, if it be honest, has nothing
to do with failure or success. At Orsino's age, and with his temper, it
is hard to believe that pity is more closely akin to love than
admiration.

Gradually the conviction reasserted itself that he could fight his way
through unaided, and his spirits rose as he approached the more crowded
quarters of the city on his way to the hotel where Maria Consuelo was
stopping. Not even the yells of the newsboys affected him, as they
announced the failure of the great contractor Ronco and offered, in a
second edition, a complete account of the bankruptcy. It struck him
indeed that before long the same brazen voices might be screaming out
the news that Andrea Contini and Company had come to grief. But the
idea lent a sense of danger to the situation which Orsino did not find
unpleasant. The greater the difficulty the greater the merit in
overcoming it, and the greater therefore the admiration he should get
from the woman he loved. His position was certainly an odd one, and many
men would not have felt the excitement which he experienced. The
financial side of the question was strangely indifferent to him, who
knew himself backed by the great fortune of his family, and believed
that his ultimate loss could only be the small sum with which he had
begun his operations. But the moral risk seemed enormous and grew in
importance as he thought of it.

He found Maria Consuelo looking pale and weary. She evidently had no
intention of going out that day, for she wore a morning gown and was
established upon a lounge with books and flowers beside her as though
she did not mean to move. She was not reading, however. Orsino was
startled by the sadness in her face.

She looked fixedly into his eyes as she gave him her hand, and he sat
down beside her.

"I am glad you are come," she said at last, in a low voice. "I have been
hoping all day that you would come early."

"I would have come this morning if I had dared," answered Orsino.

She looked at him again, and smiled faintly.

"I have a great deal to say to you," she began. Then she hesitated as
though uncertain where to begin.

"And I--" Orsino tried to take her hand, but she withdrew it.

"Yes, but do not say it. At least, not now."

"Why not, dear one? May I not tell you how I love you? What is it, love?
You are so sad to-day. Has anything happened?"

His voice grew soft and tender as he spoke, bending to her ear. She
pushed him gently back.

"You know what has happened," she answered. "It is no wonder that I am
sad."

"I do not understand you, dear. Tell me what it is."

"I told you too much yesterday--"

"Too much?"

"Far too much."

"Are you going to unsay it?"

"How can I?"

She turned her face away and her fingers played nervously with her
laces.

"No--indeed, neither of us can unsay such words," said Orsino. "But I do
not understand you yet, darling. You must tell me what you mean to-day."

"You know it all. It is because you will not understand--"

Orsino's face changed and his voice took another tone when he spoke.

"Are you playing with me, Consuelo?" he asked gravely.

She started slightly and grew paler than before.

"You are not kind," she said. "I am suffering very much. Do not make it
harder."

"I am suffering, too. You mean me to understand that you regret what
happened yesterday and that you wish to take back your words, that
whether you love me or not, you mean to act and appear as though you did
not, and that I am to behave as though nothing had happened. Do you
think that would be easy? And do you think I do not suffer at the mere
idea of it?"

"Since it must be--"

"There is no must," answered Orsino with energy. "You would ruin your
life and mine for the mere shadow of a memory which you choose to take
for a binding promise. I will not let you do it."

"You will not?" She looked at him quickly with an expression of
resistance.

"No--I will not," he repeated. "We have too much at stake. You shall not
lose all for both of us."

"You are wrong, dear one," she said, with sudden softness. "If you love
me, you should believe me and trust me. I can give you nothing but
unhappiness--"

"You have given me the only happiness I ever knew--and you ask me to
believe that you could make me unhappy in any way except by not loving
me! Consuelo--my darling--are you out of your senses?"

"No. I am too much in them. I wish I were not. If I were mad I should--"

"What?"

"Never mind. I will not even say it. No--do not try to take my hand, for
I will not give it to you. Listen, Orsino--be reasonable, listen to
me--"

"I will try and listen."

But Maria Consuelo did not speak at once. Possibly she was trying to
collect her thoughts.

"What have you to say, dearest?" asked Orsino at length. "I will try to
understand."

"You must understand. I will make it all clear to you and then you will
see it as I do."

"And then--what?"

"And then we must part," she said in a low voice.

Orsino said nothing, but shook his head incredulously.

"Yes," repeated Maria Consuelo, "we must not see each other any more
after this. It has been all my fault. I shall leave Rome and not come
back again. It will be best for you and I will make it best for me."

"You talk very easily of parting."

"Do I? Every word is a wound. Do I look as though I were indifferent?"

Orsino glanced at her pale face and tearful eyes.

"No, dear," he said softly.

"Then do not call me heartless. I have more heart than you think--and it
is breaking. And do not say that I do not love you. I love you better
than you know--better than you will be loved again when you are
older--and happier, perhaps. Yes, I know what you want to say. Well,
dear--you love me, too. Yes, I know it. Let there be no unkind words and
no doubts between us to-day. I think it is our last day together."

"For God's sake, Consuelo--"

"We shall see. Now let me speak--if I can. There are three reasons why
you and I should not marry. I have thought of them through all last
night and all to-day, and I know them. The first is my solemn vow to the
dying man who loved me so well and who asked nothing but that--whose
wife I never was, but whose name I bear. Think me mad,
superstitious--what you will--I cannot break that promise. It was almost
an oath not to love, and if it was I have broken it. But the rest I can
keep, and will. The next reason is that I am older than you. I might
forget that, I have forgotten it more than once, but the time will come
soon when you will remember it."

Orsino made an angry gesture and would have spoken, but she checked him.

"Pass that over, since we are both young. The third reason is harder to
tell and no power on earth can explain it away. I am no match for you in
birth, Orsino--"

The young man interrupted her now, and fiercely.

"Do you dare to think that I care what your birth may be?" he asked.

"There are those who do care, even if you do not, dear one," she
answered quietly.

"And what is their caring to you or me?"

"It is not so small a matter as you think. I am not talking of a mere
difference in rank. It is worse than that. I do not really know who I
am. Do you understand? I do not know who my mother was nor whether she
is alive or dead, and before I was married I did not bear my father's
name."

"But you know your father--you know his name at least?"

"Yes."

"Who is he?" Orsino could hardly pronounce the words of the question.

"Count Spicca."

Maria Consuelo spoke quietly, but her fingers trembled nervously and
she watched Orsino's face in evident distress and anxiety. As for
Orsino, he was almost dumb with amazement.

"Spicca! Spicca your father!" he repeated indistinctly.

In all his many speculations as to the tie which existed between Maria
Consuelo and the old duellist, he had never thought of this one.

"Then you never suspected it?" asked Maria Consuelo.

"How should I? And your own father killed your husband--good Heavens!
What a story!"

"You know now. You see for yourself how impossible it is that I should
marry you."

In his excitement Orsino had risen and was pacing the room. He scarcely
heard her last words, and did not say anything in reply. Maria Consuelo
lay quite still upon the lounge, her hands clasped tightly together and
straining upon each other.

"You see it all now," she said again. This time his attention was
arrested and he stopped before her.

"Yes. I see what you mean. But I do not see it as you see it. I do not
see that any of these things you have told me need hinder our marriage."

Maria Consuelo did not move, but her expression changed. The light stole
slowly into her face and lingered there, not driving away the sadness
but illuminating it.

"And would you have the courage, in spite of your family and of society,
to marry me, a woman practically nameless, older than yourself--"

"I not only would, but I will," answered Orsino.

"You cannot--but I thank you, dear," said Maria Consuelo.

He was standing close beside her. She took his hand and tenderly touched
it with her lips. He started and drew it back, for no woman had ever
kissed his hand.

"You must not do that!" he exclaimed, instinctively.

"And why not, if I please?" she asked, raising her eyebrows with a
little affectionate laugh.

"I am not good enough to kiss your hand, darling--still less to let you
kiss mine. Never mind--we were talking--where were we?"

"You were saying--" But he interrupted her.

"What does it matter, when I love you so, and you love me?" he asked
passionately.

He knelt beside her as she lay on the lounge and took her hands, holding
them and drawing her towards him. She resisted and turned her face away.

"No--no! It matters too much--let me go, it only makes it worse!"

"Makes what worse?"

"Parting--"

"We will not part. I will not let you go!"

But still she struggled with her hands and he, fearing to hurt them in
his grasp, let them slip away with a lingering touch.

"Get up," she said. "Sit here, beside me--a little further--there. We
can talk better so."

"I cannot talk at all--"

"Without holding my hands?"

"Why should I not?"

"Because I ask you. Please, dear--"

She drew back on the lounge, raised herself a little and turned her face
to him. Again, as his eyes met hers, he leaned forward quickly, as
though he would leave his seat. But she checked him, by an imperative
glance and a gesture. He was unreasonable and had no right to be
annoyed, but something in her manner chilled him and pained him in a way
he could not have explained. When he spoke there was a shade of change
in the tone of his voice.

"The things you have told me do not influence me in the least," he said
with more calmness than he had yet shown. "What you believe to be the
most important reason is no reason at all to me. You are Count Spicca's
daughter. He is an old friend of my father--not that it matters very
materially, but it may make everything easier. I will go to him to-day
and tell him that I wish to marry you--"

"You will not do that!" exclaimed Maria Consuelo in a tone of alarm.

"Yes, I will. Why not? Do you know what he once said to me? He told me
he wished we might take a fancy to each other, because, as he expressed
it, we should be so well matched."

"Did he say that?" asked Maria Consuelo gravely.

"That or something to the same effect. Are you surprised? What surprises
me is that I should never have guessed the relation between you. Now
your father is a very honourable man. What he said meant something, and
when he said it he meant that our marriage would seem natural to him and
to everybody. I will go and talk to him. So much for your great reason.
As for the second you gave, it is absurd. We are of the same age, to all
intents and purposes."

"I am not twenty-three years old."

"And I am not quite two and twenty. Is that a difference? So much for
that. Take the third, which you put first. Seriously, do you think that
any intelligent being would consider you bound by such a promise? Do you
mean to say that a young girl--you were nothing more--has a right to
throw away her life out of sentiment by making a promise of that kind?
And to whom? To a man who is not her husband, and never can be, because
he is dying. To a man just not indifferent to her, to a man--"

Maria Consuelo raised herself and looked full at Orsino. Her face was
extremely pale and her eyes were suddenly dark and gleamed.

"Don Orsino, you have no right to talk to me in that way. I loved
him--no one knows how I loved him!"

There was no mistaking the tone and the look. Orsino felt again and more
strongly, the chill and the pain he had felt before. He was silent for
a moment. Maria Consuelo looked at him a second longer, and then let her
head fall back upon the cushion. But the expression which had come into
her face did not change at once.

"Forgive me," said Orsino after a pause. "I had not quite understood.
The only imaginable reason which could make our marriage impossible
would be that. If you loved him so well--if you loved him in such a way
as to prevent you from loving me as I love you--why then, you may be
right after all."

In the silence which followed, he turned his face away and gazed at the
window. He had spoken quietly enough and his expression, strange to say,
was calm and thoughtful. It is not always easy for a woman to understand
a man, for men soon learn to conceal what hurts them but take little
trouble to hide their happiness, if they are honest. A man more often
betrays himself by a look of pleasure than by an expression of
disappointment. It was thought manly to bear pain in silence long before
it became fashionable to seem indifferent to joy.

Orsino's manner displeased Maria Consuelo. It was too quiet and cold and
she thought he cared less than he really did.

"You say nothing," he said at last.

"What shall I say? You speak of something preventing me from loving you
as you love me. How can I tell how much you love me?"

"Do you not see it? Do you not feel it?" Orsino's tone warmed again as
he turned towards her, but he was conscious of an effort. Deeply as he
loved her, it was not natural for him to speak passionately just at that
moment, but he knew she expected it and he did his best. She was
disappointed.

"Not always," she answered with a little sigh.

"You do not always believe that I love you?"

"I did not say that. I am not always sure that you love me as much as
you think you do--you imagine a great deal."

"I did not know it."

"Yes--sometimes. I am sure it is so."

"And how am I to prove that you are wrong and I am right?"

"How should I know? Perhaps time will show."

"Time is too slow for me. There must be some other way."

"Find it then," said Maria Consuelo, smiling rather sadly.

"I will."

He meant what he said, but the difficulty of the problem perplexed him
and there was not enough conviction in his voice. He was thinking rather
of the matter itself than of what he said. Maria Consuelo fanned herself
slowly and stared at the wall.

"If you doubt so much," said Orsino at last, "I have the right to doubt
a little too. If you loved me well enough you would promise to marry me.
You do not."

There was a short pause. At last Maria Consuelo closed her fan, looked
at it and spoke.

"You say my reason is not good. Must I go all over it again? It seems a
good one to me. Is it incredible to you that a woman should love twice?
Such things have happened before. Is it incredible to you that, loving
one person, a woman should respect the memory of another and a solemn
promise given to that other? I should respect myself less if I did not.
That it is all my fault I will admit, if you like--that I should never
have received you as I did--I grant it all--that I was weak yesterday,
that I am weak to-day, that I should be weak to-morrow if I let this go
on. I am sorry. You can take a little of the blame if you are generous
enough, or vain enough. You have tried hard to make me love you and you
have succeeded, for I love you very much. So much the worse for me. It
must end now."

"You do not think of me, when you say that."

"Perhaps I think more of you than you know--or will understand. I am
older than you--do not interrupt me! I am older, for a woman is always
older than a man in some things. I know what will happen, what will
certainly happen in time if we do not part. You will grow jealous of a
shadow and I shall never be able to tell you that this same shadow is
not dear to me. You will come to hate what I have loved and love still,
though it does not prevent me from loving you too--"

"But less well," said Orsino rather harshly.

"You would believe that, at least, and the thought would always be
between us."

"If you loved me as much, you would not hesitate. You would marry me
living, as you married him dead."

"If there were no other reason against it--" She stopped.

"There is no other reason," said Orsino insisting.

Maria Consuelo shook her head but said nothing and a long silence
followed. Orsino sat still, watching her and wondering what was passing
in her mind. It seemed to him, and perhaps rightly, that if she were
really in earnest and loved him with all her heart, the reasons she gave
for a separation were far from sufficient. He had not even much faith in
her present obstinacy and he did not believe that she would really go
away. It was incredible that any woman could be so capricious as she
chose to be. Her calmness, or what appeared to him her calmness, made it
even less probable, he thought, that she meant to part from him. But the
thought alone was enough to disturb him seriously. He had suffered a
severe shock with outward composure but not without inward suffering,
followed naturally enough by something like angry resentment. As he
viewed the situation, Maria Consuelo had alternately drawn him on and
disappointed him from the very beginning; she had taken delight in
forcing him to speak out his love, only to chill him the next moment, or
the next day, with the certainty that she did not love him sincerely.
Just then he would have preferred not to put into words the thoughts of
her that crossed his mind. They would have expressed a disbelief in her
character which he did not really feel and an opinion of his own
judgment which he would rather not have accepted.

He even went so far, in his anger, as to imagine what would happen if he
suddenly rose to go. She would put on that sad look of hers and give him
her hand coldly. Then just as he reached the door she would call him
back, only to send him away again. He would find on the following day
that she had not left town after all, or, at most, that she had gone to
Florence for a day or two, while the workmen completed the furnishing of
her apartment. Then she would come back and would meet him just as
though there had never been anything between them.

The anticipation was so painful to him that he wished to have it
realised and over as soon as possible, and he looked at her again before
rising from his seat. He could hardly believe that she was the same
woman who had stood with him, watching the thunderstorm, on the previous
afternoon.

He saw that she was pale, but she was not facing the light and the
expression of her face was not distinctly visible. On the whole, he
fancied that her look was one of indifference. Her hands lay idly upon
her fan and by the drooping of her lids she seemed to be looking at
them. The full, curved lips were closed, but not drawn in as though in
pain, nor pouting as though in displeasure. She appeared to be
singularly calm. After hesitating another moment Orsino rose to his
feet. He had made up his mind what to say, for it was little enough, but
his voice trembled a little.

"Good-bye, Madame."

Maria Consuelo started slightly and looked up, as though to see whether
he really meant to go at that moment. She had no idea that he really
thought of taking her at her word and parting then and there. She did
not realise how true it was that she was much older than he and she had
never believed him to be as impulsive as he sometimes seemed.

"Do not go yet," she said, instinctively.

"Since you say that we must part--" he stopped, as though leaving her to
finish the sentence in imagination.

A frightened look passed quickly over Maria Consuelo's face. She made as
though she would have taken his hand, then drew back her own and bit her
lip, not angrily but as though she were controlling something.

"Since you insist upon our parting," Orsino said, after a short,
strained silence, "it is better that it should be got over at once." In
spite of himself his voice was still unsteady.

"I did not--no--yes, it is better so."

"Then good-bye, Madame."

It was impossible for her to understand all that had passed in his mind
while he had sat beside her, after the previous conversation had ended.
His abruptness and coldness were incomprehensible to her.

"Good-bye, then--Orsino."

For a moment her eyes rested on his. It was the sad look he had
anticipated, and she put out her hand now. Surely, he thought, if she
loved him she would not let him go so easily. He took her fingers and
would have raised them to his lips when they suddenly closed on his, not
with the passionate, loving pressure of yesterday, but firmly and
quietly, as though they would not be disobeyed, guiding him again to his
seat close beside her. He sat down.

"Good-bye, then, Orsino," she repeated, not yet relinquishing her hold.
"Good-bye, dear, since it must be good-bye--but not good-bye as you said
it. You shall not go until you can say it differently."

She let him go now and changed her own position. Her feet slipped to the
ground and she leaned with her elbow upon the head of the lounge,
resting her cheek against her hand. She was nearer to him now than
before and their eyes met as they faced each other. She had certainly
not chosen her attitude with any second thought of her own appearance,
but as Orsino looked into her face he saw again clearly all the
beauties that he had so long admired, the passionate eyes, the full,
firm mouth, the broad brow, the luminous white skin--all beauties in
themselves though not, together, making real beauty in her case. And
beyond these he saw and felt over them all and through them all the
charm that fascinated him, appealing as it were to him in particular of
all men as it could not appeal to another. He was still angry, disturbed
out of his natural self and almost out of his passion, but he felt none
the less that Maria Consuelo could hold him if she pleased, as long as a
shadow of affection for her remained in him, and perhaps longer. When
she spoke, he knew what she meant, and he did not interrupt her nor
attempt to answer.

"I have meant all I have said to-day," she continued. "Do not think it
is easy for me to say more. I would give all I have to give to take back
yesterday, for yesterday was my great mistake. I am only a woman and you
will forgive me. I do what. I am doing now, for your sake--God knows it
is not for mine. God knows how hard it is for me to part from you. I am
in earnest, you see. You believe me now."

Her voice was steady but the tears were already welling over.

"Yes, dear, I believe you," Orsino answered softly. Women's tears are a
great solvent of man's ill temper.

"As for this being right and best, this parting, you will see it as I do
sooner or later. But you do believe that I love you, dearly, tenderly,
very--well, no matter how--you believe it?"

"I believe it--"

"Then say 'good-bye, Consuelo'--and kiss me once--for what might have
been."

Orsino half rose, bent down and kissed her cheek.

"Good-bye, Consuelo," he said, almost whispering the words into her ear.
In his heart he did not think she meant it. He still expected that she
would call him back.

"It is good-bye, dear--believe it--remember it!" Her voice shook a
little now.

"Good-bye, Consuelo," he repeated.

With a loving look that meant no good-bye he drew back and went to the
door. He laid his hand on the handle and paused. She did not speak. Then
he looked at her again. Her head had fallen back against a cushion and
her eyes were half closed. He waited a second and a keen pain shot
through him. Perhaps she was in earnest after all. In an instant he had
recrossed the room and was on his knees beside her trying to take her
hands.

"Consuelo--darling--you do not really mean it! You cannot, you will
not--"

He covered her hands with kisses and pressed them to his heart. For a
few moments she made no movement, but her eyelids quivered. Then she
sprang to her feet, pushing him back violently as he rose with her, and
turning her face from him.

"Go--go!" she cried wildly. "Go--let me never see you again--never,
never!"

Before he could stop her, she had passed him with a rush like a swallow
on the wing and was gone from the room.



CHAPTER XXIII.


Orsino was not in an enviable frame of mind when he left the hotel. It
is easier to bear suffering when one clearly understands all its causes,
and distinguishes just how great a part of it is inevitable and how
great a part may be avoided or mitigated. In the present case there was
much in the situation which it passed his power to analyse or
comprehend. He still possessed the taste for discovering motives in the
actions of others as well as in his own, but many months of a busy life
had dulled the edge of the artificial logic in which he had formerly
delighted, while greatly sharpening his practical wit. Artificial
analysis supplies from the imagination the details lacking in facts, but
common sense needs something more tangible upon which to work. Orsino
felt that the chief circumstance which had determined Maria Consuelo's
conduct had escaped him, and he sought in vain to detect it.

He rejected the supposition that she was acting upon a caprice, that she
had yesterday believed it possible to marry him, while a change of
humour made marriage seem out of the question to-day. She was as
capricious as most women, perhaps, but not enough so for that. Besides,
she had been really consistent. Not even yesterday had she been shaken
for a moment in her resolution not to be Orsino's wife. To-day had
confirmed yesterday therefore. However Orsino might have still doubted
her intention when he had gone to her side for the last time, her
behaviour then and her final words had been unmistakable. She meant to
leave Rome at once.

Yet the reasons she had given him for her conduct were not sufficient in
his eyes. The difference of age was so small that it could safely be
disregarded. Her promise to the dying Aranjuez was an engagement, he
thought, by which no person of sense should expect her to abide. As for
the question of her birth, he relied on that speech of Spicca's which he
so well remembered. Spicca might have spoken the words thoughtlessly, it
was true, and believing that Orsino would never, under any circumstances
whatever, think seriously of marrying Maria Consuelo. But Spicca was not
a man who often spoke carelessly, and what he said generally meant at
least as much as it appeared to mean.

It was doubtless true that Maria Consuelo was ignorant of her mother's
name. Nevertheless, it was quite possible that her mother had been
Spicca's wife. Spicca's life was said to be full of strange events not
generally known. But though his daughter might, and doubtless did
believe herself a nameless child, and, as such, no match for the heir
of the Saracinesca, Orsino could not see why she should have insisted
upon a parting so sudden, so painful and so premature. She knew as much
yesterday and had known it all along. Why, if she possessed such
strength of character, had she allowed matters to go so far when she
could easily have interrupted the course of events at an earlier period?
He did not admit that she perhaps loved him so much as to have been
carried away by her passion until she found herself on the point of
doing him an injury by marrying him, and that her love was strong enough
to induce her to sacrifice herself at the critical moment. Though he
loved her much he did not believe her to be heroic in any way. On the
contrary, he said to himself that if she were sincere, and if her love
were at all like his own, she would let no obstacle stand in the way of
it. To him, the test of love must be its utter recklessness. He could
not believe that a still better test may be, and is, the constant
forethought for the object of love, and the determination to protect
that object from all danger in the present and from all suffering in the
future, no matter at what cost.

Perhaps it is not easy to believe that recklessness is a manifestation
of the second degree of passion, while the highest shows itself in
painful sacrifice. Yet the most daring act of chivalry never called for
half the bravery shown by many a martyr at the stake, and if courage be
a measure of true passion, the passion which will face life-long
suffering to save its object from unhappiness or degradation is greater
than the passion which, for the sake of possessing its object, drags it
into danger and the risk of ruin. It may be that all this is untrue, and
that the action of these two imaginary individuals, the one sacrificing
himself, the other endangering the loved one, is dependent upon the
balance of the animal, intellectual and moral elements in each. We do
not know much about the causes of what we feel, in spite of modern
analysis; but the heart rarely deceives us, when we can see the truth
for ourselves, into bestowing the more praise upon the less brave of two
deeds. But we do not often see the truth as it is. We know little of the
lives of others, but we are apt to think that other people understand
our own very well, including our good deeds if we have done any, and we
expect full measure of credit for these, and the utmost allowance of
charity for our sins. In other words we desire our neighbour to combine
a power of forgiveness almost divine with a capacity for flattery more
than parasitic. That is why we are not easily satisfied with our
acquaintances and that is why our friends do not always turn out to be
truthful persons. We ask too much for the low price we offer, and if we
insist we get the imitation.

Orsino loved Maria Consuelo with all his heart, as much as a young man
of little more than one and twenty can love the first woman to whom he
is seriously attached. There was nothing heroic in the passion, perhaps,
nothing which could ultimately lead to great results. But it was a
strong love, nevertheless, with much, of devotion in it and some latent
violence. If he did not marry Maria Consuelo, it was not likely that he
would ever love again in exactly the same way. His next love would be
either far better or far worse, far nobler or far baser--perhaps a
little less human in either case.

He walked slowly away from the hotel, unconscious of the people in the
street and not thinking of the direction he took. His brain was in a
whirl and his thoughts seemed to revolve round some central point upon
which they could not concentrate themselves even for a second. The only
thing of which he was sure was that Maria Consuelo had taken herself
from him suddenly and altogether, leaving him with a sense of loneliness
which he had not known before. He had gone to her in considerable
distress about his affairs, with the certainty of finding sympathy and
perhaps advice. He came away, as some men have returned from a grave
accident, apparently unscathed it may be, but temporarily deprived of
some one sense, of sight, or hearing, or touch. He was not sure that he
was awake, and his troubled reflexions came back by the same unvarying
round to the point he had reached the first time--if Maria Consuelo
really loved him, she would not let such obstacles as she spoke of
hinder her union with him.

For a time Orsino was not conscious of any impulse to act. Gradually,
however, his real nature asserted itself, and he remembered how he had
told her not long ago that if she went away he would follow her, and how
he had said that the world was small and that he would soon find her
again. It would undoubtedly be a simple matter to accompany her, if she
left Rome. He could easily ascertain the hour of her intended departure
and that alone would tell him the direction she had chosen. When she
found that she had not escaped him she would very probably give up the
attempt and come back, her humour would change and his own eloquence
would do the rest.

He stopped in his walk, looked at his watch and glanced about him. He
was at some distance from the hotel and it was growing dusk, for the
days were already short. If Maria Consuelo really meant to leave Rome
precipitately, she might go by the evening train to Paris and in that
case the people of the hotel would have been informed of her intended
departure.

Orsino only admitted the possibility of her actually going away while
believing in his heart that she would remain. He slowly retraced his
steps, and it was seven o'clock before he asked the hotel porter by what
train Madame d'Aranjuez was leaving. The porter did not know whether the
lady was going north or south, but he called another man, who went in
search of a third, who disappeared for some time.

"Is it sure that Madame d'Aranjuez goes to-night?" asked Orsino trying
to look indifferent.

"Quite sure. Her rooms will be free to-morrow."

Orsino turned away and slowly paced up and down the marble pavement
between the tall plants, waiting for the messenger to come back.

"Madame d'Aranjuez leaves at nine forty-five," said the man, suddenly
reappearing.

Orsino hesitated a moment, and then made up his mind.

"Ask Madame if she will receive me for a moment," he said, producing a
card.

The servant went away and again Orsino walked backwards and forwards,
pale now and very nervous. She was really going, and was going
north--probably to Paris.

"Madame regrets infinitely that she is not able to receive the Signor
Prince," said the man in black at Orsino's elbow. "She is making her
preparations for the journey."

"Show me where I can write a note," said Orsino, who had expected the
answer.

He was shown into the reading-room and writing materials were set before
him. He hurriedly wrote a few words to Maria Consuelo, without form of
address and without signature.

"I will not let you go without me. If you will not see me, I will be in
the train, and I will not leave you, wherever you go. I am in earnest."

He looked at the sheet of note-paper and wondered that he should find
nothing more to say. But he had said all he meant, and sealing the
little note he sent it up to Maria Consuelo with a request for an
immediate answer. Just then the dinner bell of the hotel was rung. The
reading-room was deserted. He waited five minutes, then ten, nervously
turning over the newspapers and reviews on the long table, but quite
unable to read even the printed titles. He rang and asked if there had
been no answer to his note. The man was the same whom he had sent
before. He said the note had been received at the door by the maid who
had said that Madame d'Aranjuez would ring when her answer was ready.
Orsino dismissed the servant and waited again. It crossed his mind that
the maid might have pocketed the note and said nothing about it, for
reasons of her own. He had almost determined to go upstairs and boldly
enter the sitting-room, when the door opposite to him opened and Maria
Consuelo herself appeared.

She was dressed in a dark close-fitting travelling costume, but she wore
no hat. Her face was quite colourless and looked if possible even more
unnaturally pale by contrast with her bright auburn hair. She shut the
door behind her and stood still, facing Orsino in the glare of the
electric lights.

"I did not mean to see you again," she said, slowly. "You have forced me
to it."

Orsino made a step forward and tried to take her hand, but she drew
back. The slight uncertainty often visible in the direction of her
glance had altogether disappeared and her eyes met Orsino's directly and
fearlessly.

"Yes," he answered. "I have forced you to it. I know it, and you cannot
reproach me if I have. I will not leave you. I am going with you
wherever you go."

He spoke calmly, considering the great emotion he felt, and there was a
quiet determination in his words and tone which told how much he was in
earnest. Maria Consuelo half believed that she could dominate him by
sheer force of will, and she would not give up the idea, even now.

"You will not go with me, you will not even attempt it," she said.

It would have been difficult to guess from her face at that moment that
she loved him. Her face was pale and the expression was almost hard. She
held her head high as though she were looking down at him, though he
towered above her from his shoulders.

"You do not understand me," he answered, quietly. "When I say that I
will go with you, I mean that I will go."

"Is this a trial of strength?" she asked after a moment's pause.

"If it is, I am not conscious of it. It costs me no effort to go--it
would cost me much to stay behind--too much."

He stood quite still before her, looking steadily into her eyes. There
was a short silence, and then she suddenly looked down, moved and turned
away, beginning to walk slowly about. The room was large, and he paced
the floor beside her, looking down at her bent head.

"Will you stay if I ask you to?"

The question came in a lower and softer tone than she had used before.

"I will go with you," answered Orsino as firmly as ever.

"Will you do nothing for my asking?"

"I will do anything but that."

"But that is all I ask."

"You are asking the impossible."

"There are many reasons why you should not come with me. Have you
thought of them all?"

"No."

"You should. You ought to know, without being told by me, that you would
be doing me a great injustice and a great injury in following me. You
ought to know what the world will say of it. Remember that I am alone."

"I will marry you."

"I have told you that it is impossible--no, do not answer me! I will not
go over all that again. I am going away to-night. That is the principal
thing--the only thing that concerns you. Of course, if you choose, you
can get into the same train and pursue me to the end of the world. I
cannot prevent you. I thought I could, but I was mistaken. I am alone.
Remember that, Orsino. You know as well as I what will be said--and the
fact is sure to be known."

"People will say that I am following you--"

"They will say that we are gone together, for every one will have reason
to say it. Do you suppose that nobody is aware of our--our intimacy
during the last month?"

"Why not say our love?"

"Because I hope no one knows of that--well, if they do--Orsino, be kind!
Let me go alone--as a man of honour, do not injure me by leaving Rome
with me, nor by following me when I am gone!"

She stopped and looked up into his face with an imploring glance. To
tell the truth, Orsino had not foreseen that she might appeal to his
honour, alleging the danger to her reputation. He bit his lip and
avoided her eyes. It was hard to yield, and to yield so quickly, as it
seemed to him.

"How long will you stay away?" he asked in a constrained voice.

"I shall not come back at all."

He wondered at the firmness of her tone and manner. Whatever the real
ground of her resolution might be, the resolution itself had gained
strength since they had parted little more than an hour earlier. The
belief suddenly grew upon him again that she did not love him.

"Why are you going at all?" he asked abruptly. "If you loved me at all,
you would stay."

She drew a sharp breath and clasped her hands nervously together.

"I should stay if I loved you less. But I have told you--I will not go
over it all again. This must end--this saying good-bye! It is easier to
end it at once."

"Easier for you--"

"You do not know what you are saying. You will know some day. If you can
bear this, I cannot."

"Then stay--if you love me, as you say you do."

"As I say I do!"

Her eyes grew very grave and sad as she stopped and looked at him again.
Then she held out both her hands.

"I am going, now. Good-bye."

The blood came back to Orsino's face. It seemed to him that he had
reached the crisis of his life and his instinct was to struggle hard
against his fate. With a quick movement he caught her in his arms,
lifting her from her feet and pressing her close to him.

"You shall not go!"

He kissed her passionately again and again, while she fought to be free,
straining at his arms with her small white hands and trying to turn her
face from him.

"Why do you struggle? It is of no use." He spoke in very soft deep
tones, close to her ear.

She shook her head desperately and still did her best to slip from him,
though she might as well have tried to break iron clamps with her
fingers.

"It is of no use," he repeated, pressing her still more closely to him.

"Let me go!" she cried, making a violent effort, as fruitless as the
last.

"No!"

Then she was quite still, realising that she had no chance with him.

"Is it manly to be brutal because you are strong?" she asked. "You hurt
me."

Orsino's arms relaxed, and he let her go. She drew a long breath and
moved a step backward and towards the door.

"Good-bye," she said again. But this time she did not hold out her hand,
though she looked long and fixedly into his face.

Orsino made a movement as though he would have caught her again. She
started and put out her hand behind her towards the latch. But he did
not touch her. She softly opened the door, looked at him once more and
went out.

When he realised that she was gone he sprang after her, calling her by
name.

"Consuelo!"

There were a few people walking in the broad passage. They stared at
Orsino, but he did not heed them as he passed by. Maria Consuelo was not
there, and he understood in a moment that it would be useless to seek
her further. He stood still a moment, entered the reading-room again,
got his hat and left the hotel without looking behind him.

All sorts of wild ideas and schemes flashed through his brain, each more
absurd and impracticable than the last. He thought of going back and
finding Maria Consuelo's maid--he might bribe her to prevent her
mistress's departure. He thought of offering the driver of the train an
enormous sum to do some injury to his engine before reaching the first
station out of Rome. He thought of stopping Maria Consuelo's carriage on
her way to the tram and taking her by main force to his father's house.
If she were compromised in such a way, she would be almost obliged to
marry him. He afterwards wondered at the stupidity of his own inventions
on that evening, but at the time nothing looked impossible.

He bethought him of Spicca. Perhaps the old man possessed some power
over his daughter after all and could prevent her flight if he chose.
There were yet nearly two hours left before the train started. If worst
came to worst, Orsino could still get to the station at the last minute
and leave Rome with her.

He took a passing cab and drove to Spicca's lodgings. The count was at
home, writing a letter by the light of a small lamp. He looked up in
surprise as Orsino entered, then rose and offered him a chair.

"What has happened, my friend?" he asked, glancing curiously at the
young man's face.

"Everything," answered Orsino. "I love Madame d'Aranjuez, she loves me,
she absolutely refuses to marry me and she is going to Paris at a
quarter to ten. I know she is your daughter and I want you to prevent
her from leaving. That is all, I believe."

Spicca's cadaverous face did not change, but the hollow eyes grew bright
and fixed their glance on an imaginary point at an immense distance, and
the thin hand that lay on the edge of the table closed slowly upon the
projecting wood. For a few moments he said nothing, but when he spoke he
seemed quite calm.

"If she has told you that she is my daughter," he said, "I presume that
she has told you the rest. Is that true?"

Orsino was impatient for Spicca to take some immediate action, but he
understood that the count had a right to ask the question.

"She has told me that she does not know her mother's name, and that you
killed her husband."

"Both these statements are perfectly true at all events. Is that all you
know?"

"All? Yes--all of importance. But there is no time to be lost. No one
but you can prevent her from leaving Rome to-night. You must help me
quickly."

Spicca looked gravely at Orsino and shook his head. The light that had
shone in his eyes for a moment was gone, and he was again his habitual,
melancholy, indifferent self.

"I cannot stop her," he said, almost listlessly.

"But you can--you will, you must!" cried Orsino laying a hand on the old
man's thin arm. "She must not go--"

"Better that she should, after all. Of what use is it for her to stay?
She is quite right. You cannot marry her."

"Cannot marry her? Why not? It is not long since you told me very
plainly that you wished I would marry her. You have changed your mind
very suddenly, it seems to me, and I would like to know why. Do you
remember all you said to me?"

"Yes, and I was in earnest, as I am now. And I was wrong in telling you
what I thought at the time."

"At the time! How can matters have changed so suddenly?"

"I do not say that matters have changed. I have. That is the important
thing. I remember the occasion of our conversation very well. Madame
d'Aranjuez had been rather abrupt with, me, and you and I went away
together. I forgave her easily enough, for I saw that she was
unhappy--then I thought how different her life might be if she were
married to you. I also wished to convey to you a warning, and it did not
strike me that you would ever seriously contemplate such a marriage."

"I think you are in a certain way responsible for the present
situation," answered Orsino. "That is the reason why I come to you for
help."

Spicca turned upon the young man rather suddenly.

"There you go too far," he said. "Do you mean to tell me that you have
asked that lady to marry you because I suggested it?"

"No, but--"

"Then I am not responsible at all. Besides, you might have consulted me
again, if you had chosen. I have not been out of town. I sincerely wish
that it were possible--yes, that is quite another matter. But it is not.
If Madame d'Aranjuez thinks it is not, from her point of view there are
a thousand reasons why I should consider it far more completely out of
the question. As for preventing her from leaving Rome I could not do
that even were I willing to try."

"Then I will go with her," said Orsino, angrily.

Spicca looked at him in silence for a few moments. Orsino rose to his
feet and prepared to go.

"You leave me no choice," he said, as though Spicca had protested.

"Because I cannot and will not stop her? Is that any reason why you
should compromise her reputation as you propose to do?"

"It is the best of reasons. She will marry me then, out of necessity."

Spicca rose also, with more alacrity than generally characterised his
movements. He stood before the empty fireplace, watching the young man
narrowly.

"It is not a good reason," he said, presently, in quiet tones. "You are
not the man to do that sort of thing. You are too honourable."

"I do not see anything dishonourable in following the woman I love."

"That depends on the way in which you follow her. If you go quietly home
to-night and write to your father that you have decided to go to Paris
for a few days and will leave to-morrow, if you make your arrangements
like a sensible being and go away like a sane man, I have nothing to say
in the matter--"

"I presume not--" interrupted Orsino, facing the old man somewhat
fiercely.

"Very well. We will not quarrel yet. We will reserve that pleasure for
the moment when you cease to understand me. That way of following her
would be bad enough, but no one would have any right to stop you."

"No one has any right to stop me, as it is."

"I beg your pardon. The present circumstances are different. In the
first instance the world would say that you were in love with Madame
d'Aranjuez and were pursuing her to press your suit--of whatever nature
that might be. In the second case the world will assert that you and
she, not meaning to be married, have adopted the simple plan of going
away together. That implies her consent, and you have no right to let
any one imply that. I say, it is not honourable to let people think that
a lady is risking her reputation for you and perhaps sacrificing it
altogether, when she is in reality trying to escape from you. Am I
right, or not?"

"You are ingenious, at all events. You talk as though the whole world
were to know in half an hour that I have gone to Paris in the same train
with Madame d'Aranjuez. That is absurd!"

"Is it? I think not. Half an hour is little, perhaps, but half a day is
enough. You are not an insignificant son of an unknown Roman citizen,
nor is Madame d'Aranjuez a person who passes unnoticed. Reporters watch
people like you for items of news, and you are perfectly well known by
sight. Apart from that, do you think that your servants will not tell
your friends' servants of your sudden departure, or that Madame
d'Aranjuez' going will not be observed? You ought to know Rome better
than that. I ask you again, am I right or wrong?"

"What difference will it make, if we are married immediately?"

"She will never marry you. I am convinced of that."

"How can you know? Has she spoken to you about it?"

"I am the last person to whom she would come."

"Her own father--"

"With limitations. Besides, I had the misfortune to deprive her of the
chosen companion of her life, and at a critical moment. She has not
forgotten that."

"No she has not," answered Orsino gloomily. The memory of Aranjuez was a
sore point. "Why did you kill him?" he asked, suddenly.

"Because he was an adventurer, a liar and a thief--three excellent
reasons for killing any man, if one can. Moreover he struck her
once--with that silver paper cutter which she insists on using--and I
saw it from a distance. Then I killed him. Unluckily I was very angry
and made a little mistake, so that he lived twelve hours, and she had
time to get a priest and marry him. She always pretends that he struck
her in play, by accident, as he was showing her something about fencing.
I was in the next room and the door was open--it did not look like play.
And she still thinks that he was the paragon of all virtues. He was a
handsome devil--something like you, but shorter, with a bad eye. I am
glad I killed him."

Spicca had looked steadily at Orsino while speaking. When he ceased, he
began to walk about the small room with something of his old energy.
Orsino roused himself. He had almost begun to forget his own position in
the interest of listening to the count's short story.

"So much for Aranjuez," said Spicca. "Let us hear no more of him. As for
this mad plan of yours, you are convinced, I suppose, and you will give
it up. Go home and decide in the morning. For my part, I tell you it is
useless. She will not marry you. Therefore leave her alone and do
nothing which can injure her."

"I am not convinced," answered Orsino doggedly.

"Then you are not your father's son. No Saracinesca that I ever knew
would do what you mean to do--would wantonly tarnish the good name of a
woman--of a woman who loves him too--and whose only fault is that she
cannot marry him."

"That she will not."

"That she cannot."

"Do you give me your word that she cannot?"

"She is legally free to marry whom she pleases, with or without my
consent."

"That is all I want to know. The rest is nothing to me--"

"The rest is a great deal. I beg you to consider all I have said, and I
am sure that you will, quite sure. There are very good reasons for not
telling you or any one else all the details I know in this story--so
good that I would rather go to the length of a quarrel with you than
give them all. I am an old man, Orsino, and what is left of life does
not mean much to me. I will sacrifice it to prevent your opening this
door unless you tell me that you give up the idea of leaving Rome
to-night."

As he spoke he placed himself before the closed door and faced the young
man. He was old, emaciated, physically broken down, and his hands were
empty. Orsino was in his first youth, tall, lean, active and very
strong, and no coward. He was moreover in an ugly humour and inclined to
be violent on much smaller provocation than he had received. But Spicca
imposed upon him, nevertheless, for he saw that he was in earnest.
Orsino was never afterwards able to recall exactly what passed through
his mind at that moment. He was physically able to thrust Spicca aside
and to open the door, without so much as hurting him. He did not
believe that, even in that case, the old man would have insisted upon
the satisfaction of arms, nor would he have been afraid to meet him if a
duel had been required. He knew that what withheld him from an act of
violence was neither fear nor respect for his adversary's weakness and
age. Yet he was quite unable to define the influence which at last broke
down his resolution. It was in all probability only the resultant of the
argument Spicca had brought to bear and which Maria Consuelo had herself
used in the first instance, and of Spicca's calm, undaunted personality.

The crisis did not last long. The two men faced each other for ten
seconds and then Orsino turned away with an impatient movement of the
shoulders.

"Very well," he said. "I will not go with her."

"It is best so," answered Spicca, leaving the door and returning to his
seat.

"I suppose that she will let you know where she is, will she not?" asked
Orsino.

"Yes. She will write to me."

"Good-night, then."

"Good-night."

Without shaking hands, and almost without a glance at the old man,
Orsino left the room.



CHAPTER XXIV.


Orsino walked slowly homeward, trying to collect his thoughts and to
reach some distinct determination with regard to the future. He was
oppressed by the sense of failure and disappointment and felt inclined
to despise himself for his weakness in yielding so easily. To all
intents and purposes he had lost Maria Consuelo, and if he had not lost
her through his own fault, he had at least tamely abandoned what had
seemed like a last chance of winning her back. As he thought of all that
had happened he tried to fix some point in the past, at which he might
have acted differently, and from which another act of consequence might
have begun. But that was not easy. Events had followed each other with a
certain inevitable logic, which only looked unreasonable because he
suspected the existence of facts beyond his certain knowledge. His great
mistake had been in going to Spicca, but nothing could have been more
natural, under the circumstances, than his appeal to Maria Consuelo's
father, nothing more unexpected than the latter's determined refusal to
help him. That there was weight in the argument used by both Spicca and
Maria Consuelo herself, he could not deny; but he failed to see why the
marriage was so utterly impossible as they both declared it to be. There
must be much more behind the visible circumstances than he could guess.

He tried to comfort himself with the assurance that he could leave Rome
on the following day, and that Spicca would not refuse to give him Maria
Consuelo's address in Paris. But the consolation he derived from the
idea was small. He found himself wondering at the recklessness shown by
the woman he loved in escaping from him. His practical Italian mind
could hardly understand how she could have changed all her plans in a
moment, abandoning her half-furnished apartment without a word of notice
even to the workmen, throwing over her intention of spending the winter
in Rome as though she had not already spent many thousands in preparing
her dwelling, and going away, probably, without as much as leaving a
representative to wind up her accounts. It may seem strange that a man
as much in love as Orsino was should think of such details at such a
moment. Perhaps he looked upon them rather as proofs that she meant to
come back after all; in any case he thought of them seriously, and even
calculated roughly the sum she would be sacrificing if she stayed away.

Beyond all he felt the dismal loneliness which a man can only feel when
he is suddenly and effectually parted from the woman he dearly loves,
and which is not like any other sensation of which the human heart is
capable.

More than once, up to the last possible moment, he was tempted to drive
to the station and leave with Maria Consuelo after all, but he would not
break the promise he had given Spicca, no matter how weak he had been in
giving it.

On reaching his home he was informed, to his great surprise, that San
Giacinto was waiting to see him. He could not remember that his cousin
had ever before honoured him with a visit and he wondered what could
have brought him now and induced him to wait, just at the hour when most
people were at dinner.

The giant was reading the evening paper, with the help of a particularly
strong cigar.

"I am glad you have come home," he said, rising and taking the young
man's outstretched hand. "I should have waited until you did."

"Has anything happened?" asked Orsino nervously. It struck him that San
Giacinto might be the bearer of some bad news about his people, and the
grave expression on the strongly marked face helped the idea.

"A great deal is happening. The crash has begun. You must get out of
your business in less than three days if you can."

Orsino drew a breath of relief at first, and then grew grave in his
turn, realising that unless matters were very serious such a man as San
Giacinto would not put himself to the inconvenience of coming. San
Giacinto was little given to offering advice unasked, still less to
interfering in the affairs of others.

"I understand," said Orsino. "You think that everything is going to
pieces. I see."

The big man looked at his young cousin with something like pity.

"If I only suspected, or thought--as you put it--that there was to be a
collapse of business, I should not have taken the trouble to warn you.
The crash has actually begun. If you can save yourself, do so at once."

"I think I can," answered the young man, bravely. But he did not at all
see how his salvation was to be accomplished. "Can you tell me a little
more definitely what is the matter? Have there been any more failures
to-day?"

"My brother-in-law Montevarchi is on the point of stopping payment,"
said San Giacinto calmly.

"Montevarchi!"

Orsino did not conceal his astonishment.

"Yes. Do not speak of it. And he is in precisely the same position, so
far as I can judge of your affairs, as you yourself, though of course he
has dealt with sums ten times as great. He will make enormous sacrifices
and will pay, I suppose, after all. But he will be quite ruined. He also
has worked with Del Fence's bank."

"And the bank refuses to discount any more of his paper?"

"Precisely. Since this afternoon."

"Then it will refuse to discount mine to-morrow."

"Have you acceptances due to-morrow?"

"Yes--not much, but enough to make the trouble. It will be Saturday,
too, and we must have money for the workmen."

"Have you not even enough in reserve for that?"

"Perhaps. I cannot tell. Besides, if the bank refuses to renew I cannot
draw a cheque."

"I am sorry for you. If I had known yesterday how near the end was, I
would have warned you."

"Thanks. I am grateful as it is. Can you give me any advice?"

Orsino had a vague idea that his rich cousin would generously propose to
help him out of his difficulties. He was not quite sure whether he could
bring himself to accept such assistance, but he more than half expected
that it would be offered. In this, however, he was completely mistaken.
San Giacinto had not the smallest intention of offering anything more
substantial than his opinion. Considering that his wife's brother's
liabilities amounted to something like five and twenty millions, this
was not surprising. The giant bit his cigar and folded his long arms
over his enormous chest, leaning back in the easy chair which creaked
under his weight.

"You have tried yourself in business by this time, Orsino," he said,
"and you know as well as I what there is to be done. You have three
modes of action open to you. You can fail. It is a simple affair enough.
The bank will take your buildings for what they will be worth a few
months hence, on the day of liquidation. There will be a big deficit,
which your father will pay for you and deduct from your share of the
division at his death. That is one plan, and seems to me the best. It is
perfectly honourable, and you lose by it. Secondly, you can go to your
father to-morrow and ask him to lend you money to meet your acceptances
and to continue the work until the houses are finished and can be sold.
They will ultimately go for a quarter of their value, if you can sell
them at all within the year, and you will be in your father's debt,
exactly as in the other case. You would avoid the publicity of a
failure, but it would cost you more, because the houses will not be
worth much more when they are finished than they are now."

"And the third plan--what is it?" inquired Orsino.

"The third way is this. You can go to Del Ferice, and if you are a
diplomatist you may persuade him that it is in his interest not to let
you fail. I do not think you will succeed, but you can try. If he agrees
it will be because he counts on your father to pay in the end, but it is
questionable whether Del Ferice's bank can afford to let out any more
cash at the present moment. Money is going to be very tight, as they
say."

Orsino smoked in silence, pondering over the situation. San Giacinto
rose.

"You are warned, at all events," he said. "You will find a great change
for the worse in the general aspect of things to-morrow."

"I am much obliged for the warning," answered Orsino. "I suppose I can
always find you if I need your advice--and you will advise me?"

"You are welcome to my advice, such as it is, my dear boy. But as for
me, I am going towards Naples to-night on business, and I may not be
back again for a day or two. If you get into serious trouble before I am
here again, you should go to your father at once. He knows nothing of
business, and has been sensible enough to keep out of it. The
consequence is that he is as rich as ever, and he would sacrifice a
great deal rather than see your name dragged into the publicity of a
failure. Good-night, and good luck to you."

Thereupon the Titan shook Orsino's hand in his mighty grip and went
away. As a matter of fact he was going down to look over one of
Montevarchi's biggest estates with a view to buying it in the coming
cataclysm, but it would not have been like him to communicate the
smallest of his intentions to Orsino, or to any one, not excepting his
wife and his lawyer.

Orsino was left to his own devices and meditations. A servant came in
and inquired whether he wished to dine at home, and he ordered strong
coffee by way of a meal. He was at the age when a man expects to find a
way out of his difficulties in an artificial excitement of the nerves.

Indeed, he had enough to disturb him, for it seemed as though all
possible misfortunes had fallen upon him at once. He had suffered on the
same day the greatest shock to his heart, and the greatest blow to his
vanity which he could conceive possible. Maria Consuelo was gone and the
failure of his business was apparently inevitable. When he tried to
review the three plans which San Giacinto had suggested, he found
himself suddenly thinking of the woman he loved and making schemes for
following her; but so soon as he had transported himself in imagination
to her side and was beginning to hope that he might win her back, he
was torn away and plunged again into the whirlpool of business at home,
struggling with unheard of difficulties and sinking deeper at every
stroke.

A hundred times he rose from his chair and paced the floor impatiently,
and a hundred times he threw himself down again, overcome by the
hopelessness of the situation. Occasionally he found a little comfort in
the reflexion that the night could not last for ever. When the day came
he would be driven to act, in one way or another, and he would be
obliged to consult his partner, Contini. Then at last his mind would be
able to follow one connected train of thought for a time, and he would
get rest of some kind.

Little by little, however, and long before the day dawned, the
dominating influence asserted itself above the secondary one and he was
thinking only of Maria Consuelo. Throughout all that night she was
travelling, as she would perhaps travel throughout all the next day and
the second night succeeding that. For she was strong and having once
determined upon the journey would very probably go to the end of it
without stopping to rest. He wondered whether she too were waking
through all those long hours, thinking of what she had left behind, or
whether she had closed her eyes and found the peace of sleep for which
he longed in vain. He thought of her face, softly lighted by the dim
lamp of the railway carriage, and fancied he could actually see it with
the delicate shadows, the subdued richness of colour, the settled look
of sadness. When the picture grew dim, he recalled it by a strong
effort, though he knew that each time it rose before his eyes he must
feel the same sharp thrust of pain, followed by the same dull wave of
hopeless misery which had ebbed and flowed again so many times since he
had parted from her.

At last he roused himself, looked about him as though he were in a
strange place, lighted a candle and betook himself to his own quarters.
It was very late, and he was more tired than he knew, for in spite of
all his troubles he fell asleep and did not awake till the sun was
streaming into the room.

Some one knocked at the door, and a servant announced that Signor
Contini was waiting to see Don Orsino. The man's face expressed a sort
of servile surprise when he saw that Orsino had not undressed for the
night and had been sleeping on the divan. He began to busy himself with
the toilet things as though expecting Orsino to take some thought for
his appearance. But the latter was anxious to see Contini at once, and
sent for him.

The architect was evidently very much disturbed. He was as pale as
though he had just recovered from a long illness and he seemed to have
grown suddenly emaciated during the night. He spoke in a low, excited
tone.

In substance he told Orsino what San Giacinto had said on the previous
evening. Things looked very black indeed, and Del Ferice's bank had
refused to discount any more of Prince Montevarchi's paper.

"And we must have money to-day," Contini concluded.

When he had finished speaking his excitement disappeared and he relapsed
into the utmost dejection. Orsino remained silent for some time and then
lit a cigarette.

"You need not be so down-hearted, Contini," he said at last. "I shall
not have any difficulty in getting money--you know that. What I feel
most is the moral failure."

"What is the moral failure to me?" asked Contini gloomily. "It is all
very well to talk of getting money. The bank will shut its tills like a
steel trap and to-day is Saturday, and there are the workmen and others
to be paid, and several bills due into the bargain. Of course your
family can give you millions--in time. But we need cash to-day. That is
the trouble."

"I suppose the state telegraph is not destroyed because Prince
Montevarchi cannot meet his acceptances," observed Orsino. "And I
imagine that our steward here in the house has enough cash for our
needs, and will not hesitate to hand it to me if he receives a telegram
from my father ordering him to do so. Whether he has enough to take up
the bills or not, I do not know; but as to-day is Saturday we have all
day to-morrow to make arrangements. I could even go out to Saracinesca
and be back on Monday morning when the bank opens."

"You seem to take a hopeful view."

"I have not the least hope of saving the business. But the question of
ready money does not of itself disturb me."

This was undoubtedly true, but it was also undeniable that Orsino now
looked upon the prospect of failure with more equanimity than on the
previous evening. On the other hand he felt even more keenly than before
all the pain of his sudden separation from Maria Consuelo. When a man is
assailed, by several misfortunes at once, twenty-four hours are
generally enough to sift the small from the great and to show him
plainly which is the greatest of all.

"What shall we do this morning?" inquired Contini.

"You ask the question as though you were going to propose a picnic,"
answered Orsino. "I do not see why this morning need be so different
from other mornings."

"We must stop the works instantly--"

"Why? At all events we will change nothing until we find out the real
state of business. The first thing to be done is to go to the bank as
usual on Saturdays. We shall then know exactly what to do."

Contini shook his head gloomily and went away to wait in another room
while Orsino dressed. An hour later they were at the bank. Contini grew
paler than ever. The head clerk would of course inform them that no more
bills would be discounted, and that they must meet those already out
when they fell due. He would also tell them that the credit balance of
their account current would not be at their disposal until their
acceptances were met. Orsino would probably at last believe that the
situation was serious, though he now looked so supremely and scornfully
indifferent to events.

They waited some time. Several men were engaged in earnest conversation,
and their faces told plainly enough that they were in trouble. The head
clerk was standing with them, and made a sign to Orsino, signifying that
they would soon go. Orsino watched him. From time to time he shook his
head and made gestures which indicated his utter inability to do
anything for them. Contini's courage sank lower and lower.

"I will ask for Del Ferice at once," said Orsino.

He accordingly sought out one of the men who wore the bank's livery and
told him to take his card to the count.

"The Signor Commendatore is not coming this morning," answered the man
mysteriously.

Orsino went back to the head clerk, interrupting his conversation with
the others. He inquired if it were true that Del Ferice were not coming.

"It is not probable," answered the clerk with a grave face. "They say
that the Signora Contessa is not likely to live through the day."

"Is Donna Tullia ill?" asked Orsino in considerable astonishment.

"She returned from Naples yesterday morning, and was taken ill in the
afternoon--it is said to be apoplexy," he added in a low voice. "If you
will have patience Signor Principe, I will be at your disposal in five
minutes."

Orsino was obliged to be satisfied and sat down again by Contini. He
told him the news of Del Ferice's wife.

"That will make matters worse," said Contini.

"It will not improve them," answered Orsino indifferently. "Considering
the state of affairs I would like to see Del Ferice before speaking with
any of the others."

"Those men are all involved with Prince Montevarchi," observed Contini,
watching the group of which the head clerk was the central figure. "You
can see by their faces what they think of the business. The short, grey
haired man is the steward--the big man is the architect. The others are
contractors. They say it is not less than thirty millions."

Orsino said nothing. He was thinking of Maria Consuelo and wishing that
he could get away from Rome that night, while admitting that there was
no possibility of such a thing. Meanwhile the head clerk's gestures to
his interlocutors expressed more and more helplessness. At last they
went out in a body.

"And now I am at your service, Signor Principe," said the grave man of
business coming up to Orsino and Contini. "The usual accommodation, I
suppose? We will just look over the bills and make out the new ones. It
will not take ten minutes. The usual cash, I suppose, Signor Principe?
Yes, to-day is Saturday and you have your men to pay. Quite as usual,
quite as usual. Will you come into my office?"

Orsino looked at Contini, and Contini looked at Orsino, grasping the
back of a chair to steady himself.

"Then there is no difficulty about discounting?" stammered Contini,
turning his face, now suddenly flushed, towards the clerk.

"None whatever," answered the latter with an air of real or affected
surprise. "I have received the usual instructions to let Andrea Contini
and Company have all the money they need."

He turned and led the way to his private office. Contini walked
unsteadily. Orsino showed no astonishment, but his black eyes grew a
little brighter than usual as he anticipated his next interview with San
Giacinto. He readily attributed his good fortune to the supposed
well-known prosperity of the firm, and he rose in his own estimation. He
quite forgot that Contini, who had now lost his head, had but yesterday
clearly foreseen the future when he had said that Del Ferice would not
let the two partners fail until they had fitted the last door and the
last window in the last of their houses. The conclusion had struck him
as just at the time. Contini was the first to recall it.

"It will turn out, as I said," he began, when they were driving to their
office in a cab after leaving the bank. "He will let us live until we
are worth eating."

"We will arrange matters on a firmer basis before that," answered Orsino
confidently. "Poor old Donna Tullia! Who would have thought that she
could die! I will stop and ask for news as we pass."

He stopped the cab before the gilded gate of the detached house.
Glancing up, he saw that the shutters were closed. The porter came to
the bars but did not show any intention of opening.

"The Signora Contessa is dead," he said solemnly, in answer to Orsino's
inquiry.

"This morning?"

"Two hours ago."

Orsino's face grew grave as he left his card of condolence and turned
away. He could hardly have named a person more indifferent to him than
poor Donna Tullia, but he could not help feeling an odd regret at the
thought that she was gone at last with all her noisy vanity, her
restless meddlesomeness and her perpetual chatter. She had not been old
either, though he called her so, and there had seemed to be still a
superabundance of life in her. There had been yet many years of
rattling, useless, social life before her. To-morrow she would have
taken her last drive through Rome--out through the gate of Saint
Lawrence to the Campo Varano, there to wait many years perhaps for the
pale and half sickly Ugo, of whom every one had said for years that he
could not live through another twelve month with the disease of the
heart which threatened him. Of late, people had even begun to joke about
Donna Tullia's third husband. Poor Donna Tullia!

Orsino went to his office with Contini and forced himself through the
usual round of work. Occasionally he was assailed by a mad desire to
leave Rome at once, but he opposed it and would not yield. Though his
affairs had gone well beyond his expectation the present crisis made it
impossible to abandon his business, unless he could get rid of it
altogether. And this he seriously contemplated. He knew however, or
thought he knew, that Contini would be ruined without him. His own name
was the one which gave the paper its value and decided Del Ferice to
continue the advances of money. The time was past when Contini would
gladly have accepted his partner's share of the undertaking, and would
even have tried to raise funds to purchase it. To retire now would be
possible only if he could provide for the final liquidation of the
whole, and this he could only do by applying to his father or mother, in
other words by acknowledging himself completely beaten in his struggle
for independence.

The day ended at last and was succeeded by the idleness of Sunday. A
sort of listless indifference came over Orsino, the reaction, no doubt,
after all the excitement through which he had passed. It seemed to him
that Maria Consuelo had never loved him, and that it was better after
all that she should be gone. He longed for the old days, indeed, but as
she now appeared to him in his meditations he did not wish her back. He
had no desire to renew the uncertain struggle for a love which she
denied in the end; and this mood showed, no doubt, that his own passion
was less violent than he had himself believed. When a man loves with his
whole nature, undividedly, he is not apt to submit to separations
without making a strong effort to reunite himself, by force, persuasion
or stratagem, with the woman who is trying to escape from him. Orsino
was conscious of having at first felt the inclination to make such an
attempt even more strongly than he had shown it, but he was conscious
also that the interval of two days had been enough to reduce the wish to
follow Maria Consuelo in such a way that he could hardly understand
having ever entertained it.

Unsatisfied passion wears itself out very soon. The higher part of love
may and often does survive in such cases, and the passionate impulses
may surge up after long quiescence as fierce and dangerous as ever. But
it is rarely indeed that two unsatisfied lovers who have parted by the
will of the one or of both can meet again without the consciousness that
the experimental separation has chilled feelings once familiar and
destroyed illusions once more than dear. In older times, perhaps, men
and women loved differently. There was more solitude in those days than
now, for what is called society was not invented, and people generally
were more inclined to sadness from living much alone. Melancholy is a
great strengthener of faithfulness in love. Moreover at that time the
modern fight for life had not begun, men as a rule had few interests
besides love and war, and women no interests at all beyond love. We
moderns should go mad if we were suddenly forced to lead the lives led
by knights and ladies in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The
monotonous round of such an existence in time of peace would make idiots
of us, the horrors of that old warfare would make many of us maniacs.
But it is possible that youths and maidens would love more faithfully
and wait longer for each other than they will or can to-day. It is
questionable whether Bayard would have understood a single page of a
modern love story, Tancred would certainly not have done so; but Caesar
would have comprehended our lives and our interests without effort, and
Catullus could have described us as we are, for one great civilization
is very like another where the same races are concerned.

In the days which followed Maria Consuelo's departure, Orsino came to a
state of indifference which surprised himself. He remembered that when
she had gone away in the spring he had scarcely missed her, and that he
had not thought his own coldness strange, since he was sure that he had
not loved her then. But that he had loved her now, during her last stay
in Rome, he was sure, and he would have despised himself if he had not
been able to believe that he loved her still. Yet, if he was not glad
that she had quitted him, he was at least strangely satisfied at being
left alone, and the old fancy for analysis made him try to understand
himself. The attempt was fruitless, of course, but it occupied his
thoughts.

He met Spicca in the street, and avoided him. He imagined that the old
man must despise him for not having resisted and followed Maria Consuelo
after all. The hypothesis was absurd and the conclusion vain, but he
could not escape the idea, and it annoyed him. He was probably ashamed
of not having acted recklessly, as a man should who is dominated by a
master passion, and yet he was inwardly glad that he had not been
allowed to yield to the first impulse.

The days succeeded each other and a week passed away, bringing Saturday
again and the necessity for a visit to the bank. Business had been in a
very bad state since it had been known that Montevarchi was ruined. So
far, he had not stopped payment and although the bank refused discount
he had managed to find money with which to meet his engagements.
Probably, as San Giacinto had foretold, he would pay everything and
remain a very poor man indeed. But, although many persons knew this,
confidence was not restored. Del Ferice declared that he believed
Montevarchi solvent, as he believed every one with whom his bank dealt
to be solvent to the uttermost centime, but that he could lend no more
money to any one on any condition whatsoever, because neither he nor the
bank had any to lend. Every one, he said, had behaved honestly, and he
proposed to eclipse the honesty of every one by the frank acknowledgment
of his own lack of cash. He was distressed, he said, overcome by the
sufferings of his friends and clients, ready to sell his house, his
jewelry and his very boots, in the Roman phrase, to accommodate every
one; but he was conscious that the demand far exceeded any supply which
he could furnish, no matter at what personal sacrifice, and as it was
therefore impossible to help everybody, it would be unjust to help a
few where all were equally deserving.

In the meanwhile he proved the will of his deceased wife, leaving him
about four and a half millions of francs unconditionally, and half a
million more to be devoted to some public charity at Ugo's discretion,
for the repose of Donna Tullia's unquiet spirit. It is needless to say
that the sorrowing husband determined to spend the legacy magnificently
in the improvement of the town represented by him in parliament. A part
of the improvement would consist in a statue of Del Ferice
himself--representing him, perhaps, as he had escaped from Rome, in the
garb of a Capuchin friar, but with the addition of an army revolver to
show that he had fought for Italian unity, though when or where no man
could tell. But it is worth noting that while he protested his total
inability to discount any one's bills, Andrea Contini and Company
regularly renewed their acceptances when due and signed new ones for any
amount of cash they required. The accommodation was accompanied with a
request that it should not be mentioned. Orsino took the money
indifferently enough, conscious that he had three fortunes at his back
in case of trouble, but Contini grew more nervous as time went on and
the sums on paper increased in magnitude, while the chances of disposing
of the buildings seemed reduced to nothing in the stagnation which had
already set in.



CHAPTER XXV.


At this time Count Spicca received a letter from Maria Consuelo, written
from Nice and bearing a postmark more recent than the date which headed
the page, a fact which proved that the writer had either taken an
unusually long time in the composition or had withheld the missive
several days before finally despatching it.

"My father--I write to inform you of certain things which have recently
taken place and which it is important that you should know, and of which
I should have the right to require an explanation if I chose to ask it.
Having been the author of my life, you have made yourself also the
author of all my unhappiness and of all my trouble. I have never
understood the cause of your intense hatred for me, but I have felt its
consequences, even at a great distance from you, and you know well
enough that I return it with all my heart. Moreover I have made up my
mind that I will not be made to suffer by you any longer. I tell you so
quite frankly. This is a declaration of war, and I will act upon it
immediately.

"You are no doubt aware that Don Orsino Saracinesca has for a long time
been among my intimate friends. I will not discuss the question, whether
I did well to admit him to my intimacy or not. That, at least, does not
concern you. Even admitting your power to exercise the most complete
tyranny over me in other ways, I am and have always been free to choose
my own acquaintances, and I am able to defend myself better than most
women, and as well as any. I will be just, too. I do not mean to
reproach you with the consequences of what I do. But I will not spare
you where the results of your action towards me are concerned.

"Don Orsino made love to me last spring. I loved him from the first. I
can hear your cruel laugh and see your contemptuous face as I write. But
the information is necessary, and I can bear your scorn because this is
the last opportunity for such diversion which I shall afford you, and
because I mean that you shall pay dearly for it. I loved Don Orsino, and
I love him still. You, of course, have never loved. You have hated,
however, and perhaps one passion may be the measure of another. It is in
my case, I can assure you, for the better I love, the better I learn to
hate you.

"Last Thursday Don Orsino asked me to be his wife. I had known for some
time that he loved me and I knew that he would speak of it before long.
The day was sultry at first and then there was a thunderstorm. My nerves
were unstrung and I lost my head. I told him that I loved him. That does
not concern you. I told him, also, however, that I had given a solemn
promise to my dying husband, and I had still the strength to say that I
would not marry again. I meant to gain time, I longed to be alone, I
knew that I should yield, but I would not yield blindly. Thank God, I
was strong. I am like you in that, though happily not in any other way.
You ask me why I should even think of yielding. I answer that I love Don
Orsino better than I loved the man you murdered. There is nothing
humiliating in that, and I make the confession without reserve. I love
him better, and therefore, being human, I would have broken my promise
and married him, had marriage been possible. But it is not, as you know.
It is one thing to turn to the priest as he stands by a dying man and to
say, Pronounce us man and wife, and give us a blessing, for the sake of
this man's rest. The priest knew that we were both free, and took the
responsibility upon himself, knowing also that the act could have no
consequences in fact, whatever it might prove to be in theory. It is
quite another matter to be legally married to Don Orsino Saracinesca, in
the face of a strong opposition. But I went home that evening, believing
that it could be done and that the opposition would vanish. I believed
because I loved. I love still, but what I learned that night has killed
my belief in an impossible happiness.

"I need not tell you all that passed between me and Lucrezia Ferris. How
she knew of what had happened I cannot tell. She must have followed us
to the apartment I was furnishing, and she must have overheard what we
said, or seen enough to convince her. She is a spy. I suppose that is
the reason why she is imposed upon me, and always has been, since I can
remember--since I was born, she says. I found her waiting to dress me as
usual, and as usual I did not speak to her. She spoke first. 'You will
not marry Don Orsino Saracinesca,' she said, facing me with her bad
eyes. I could have struck her, but I would not. I asked her what she
meant. She told me that she knew what I was doing, and asked me whether
I was aware that I needed documents in order to be married to a beggar
in Rome, and whether I supposed that the Saracinesca would be inclined
to overlook the absence of such papers, or could pass a law of their own
abolishing the necessity for them, or, finally, whether they would
accept such certificates of my origin as she could produce. She showed
me a package. She had nothing better to offer me, she said, but such as
she had, she heartily placed at my disposal. I took the papers. I was
prepared for a shock, but not for the blow I received.

"You know what I read. The certificate of my birth as the daughter of
Lucrezia Ferris, unmarried, by Count Spicca who acknowledged the child
as his--and the certificate of your marriage with Lucrezia Ferris,
dated--strangely enough a fortnight after my birth--and further a
document legitimizing me as the lawful daughter of you two. All these
documents are from Monte Carlo. You will understand why I am in Nice.
Yes--they are all genuine, every one of them, as I have had no
difficulty in ascertaining. So I am the daughter of Lucrezia Ferris,
born out of wedlock and subsequently whitewashed into a sort of
legitimacy. And Lucrezia Ferris is lawfully the Countess Spicca.
Lucrezia Ferris, the cowardly spy-woman who more than half controls my
life, the lying, thieving servant--she robs me at every turn--the
common, half educated Italian creature,--she is my mother, she is that
radiant being of whom you sometimes speak with tears in your eyes, she
is that angel of whom I remind you, she is that sweet influence that
softened and brightened your lonely life for a brief space some three
and twenty years ago! She has changed since then.

"And this is the mystery of my birth which you have concealed from me,
and which it was at any moment in the power of my vile mother to reveal.
You cannot deny the fact, I suppose, especially since I have taken the
trouble to search the registers and verify each separate document.

"I gave them all back to her, for I shall never need them. The woman--I
mean my mother--was quite right. I shall not marry Don Orsino
Saracinesca. You have lied to me throughout my life. You have always
told me that my mother was dead, and that I need not be ashamed of my
birth, though you wished it kept a secret. So far, I have obeyed you. In
that respect, and only in that, I will continue to act according to your
wishes. I am not called upon to proclaim to the world and my
acquaintance that I am the daughter of my own servant, and that you were
kind enough to marry your estimable mistress after my birth in order to
confer upon me what you dignify by the name of legitimacy. No. That is
not necessary. If it could hurt you to proclaim it I would do so in the
most public way I could find. But it is folly to suppose that you could
be made to suffer by so simple a process.

"Are you aware, my father, that you have ruined all my life from the
first? Being so bad, you must be intelligent and you must realise what
you have done, even if you have done it out of pure love of evil. You
pretended to be kind to me, until I was old enough to feel all the pain
you had in store for me. But even then, after you had taken the trouble
to marry my mother, why did you give me another name? Was that
necessary? I suppose it was. I did not understand then why my older
companions looked askance at me in the convent, nor why the nuns
sometimes whispered together and looked at me. They knew perhaps that no
such name as mine existed. Since I was your daughter why did I not bear
your name when I was a little girl? You were ashamed to let it be known
that you were married, seeing what sort of wife you had taken, and you
found yourself in a dilemma. If you had acknowledged me as your daughter
in Austria, your friends in Rome would soon have found out my
existence--and the existence of your wife. You were very cautious in
those days, but you seem to have grown careless of late, or you would
not have left those papers in the care of the Countess Spicca, my
maid--and my mother. I have heard that very bad men soon reach their
second childhood and act foolishly. It is quite true.

"Then, later, when you saw that I loved, and was loved, and was to be
happy, you came between my love and me. You appeared in your own
character as a liar, a slanderer and a traitor. I loved a man who was
brave, honourable, faithful--reckless, perhaps, and wild as such men
are--but devoted and true. You came between us. You told me that he was
false, cowardly, an adventurer of the worst kind. Because I would not
believe you, and would have married him in spite of you, you killed him.
Was it cowardly of him to face the first swordsman in Europe? They told
me that he was not afraid of you, the men who saw it, and that he fought
you like a lion, as he was. And the provocation, too! He never struck
me. He was showing me what he meant by a term in fencing--the silver
knife he held grazed my cheek because I was startled and moved. But you
meant to kill him, and you chose to say that he had struck me. Did you
ever hear a harsh word from his lips during those months of waiting?
When you had done your work you fled--like the murderer you were and
are. But I escaped from the woman who says she is my mother--and is--and
I went to him and found him living and married him. You used to tell me
that he was an adventurer and little better than a beggar. Yet he left
me a large fortune. It is as well that he provided for me, since you
have succeeded in losing most of your own money at play--doubtless to
insure my not profiting by it at your death. Not that you will die--men
of your kind outlive their victims, because they kill them.

"And now, when you saw--for you did see it--when you saw and knew that
Orsino Saracinesca and I loved each other, you have broken my life a
second time. You might so easily have gone to him, or have come to me,
at the first, with the truth. You know that I should never forgive you
for what you had done already. A little more could have made matters no
worse then. You knew that Don Orsino would have thanked you as a friend
for the warning. Instead--I refuse to believe you in your dotage after
all--you make that woman spy upon me until the great moment is come, you
give her the weapons and you bid her strike when the blow will be most
excruciating. You are not a man. You are Satan. I parted twice from the
man I love. He would not let me go, and he came back and tried to keep
me--I do not know how I escaped. God helped me. He is so brave and noble
that if he had held those accursed papers in his hands and known all the
truth he would not have given me up. He would have brought a stain on
his great name, and shame upon his great house for my sake. He is not
like you. I parted from him twice, I know all that I can suffer, and I
hate you for each individual suffering, great and small.

"I have dismissed my mother from my service. How that would sound in
Rome! I have given her as much money as she can expect and I have got
rid of her. She said that she would not go, that she would write to you,
and many other things. I told her that if she attempted to stay I would
go to the authorities, prove that she was my mother, provide for her, if
the law required it and have her forcibly turned out of my house by the
aid of the same law. I am of age, married, independent, and I cannot be
obliged to entertain my mother either in the character of a servant, or
as a visitor. I suppose she has a right to a lodging under your roof. I
hope she will take advantage of it, as I advised her. She took the money
and went away, cursing me. I think that if she had ever, in all my life,
shown the smallest affection for me--even at the last, when she declared
herself my mother, if she had shown a spark of motherly feeling, of
tenderness, of anything human, I could have accepted her and tolerated
her, half peasant woman as she is, spy as she has been, and cheat and
thief. But she stood before me with the most perfect indifference,
watching my surprise with those bad eyes of hers. I wonder why I have
borne her presence so long. I suppose it had never struck me that I
could get rid of her, in spite of you, if I chose. By the bye, I sent
for a notary when I paid her, and I got a legal receipt signed with her
legal name, Lucrezia Spicca, _ta Ferris_. The document formally
releases me from all further claims. I hope you will understand that you
have no power whatsoever to impose her upon me again, though I confess
that I am expecting your next move with interest. I suppose that you
have not done with me yet, and have some new means of torment in
reserve. Satan is rarely idle long.

"And now I have done. If you were not the villain you are, I should
expect you to go to the man whose happiness I have endangered, if not
destroyed. I should expect you to tell Don Orsino Saracinesca enough of
the truth to make him understand my action. But I know you far too well
to imagine that you would willingly take from my life one thorn of the
many you have planted in it. I will write to Don Orsino myself. I think
you need not fear him--I am sorry that you need not. But I shall not
tell him more than is necessary. You will remember, I hope, that such
discretion as I may show, is not shown out of consideration for you, but
out of forethought for my own welfare. I have unfortunately no means of
preventing you from writing to me, but you may be sure that your letters
will never be read, so that you will do as well to spare yourself the
trouble of composing them.

"MARIA CONSUELO D'ARANJUEZ."

Spicca received this letter early in the morning, and at mid-day he
still sat in his chair, holding it in his hand. His face was very white,
his head hung forward upon his breast, his thin fingers were stiffened
upon the thin paper. Only the hardly perceptible rise and fall of the
chest showed that he still breathed.

The clocks had already struck twelve when his old servant entered the
room, a being thin, wizened, grey and noiseless as the ghost of a
greyhound. He stood still a moment before his master, expecting that he
would look up, then bent anxiously over him and felt his hands.

Spicca slowly raised his sunken eyes.

"It will pass, Santi--it will pass," he said feebly.

Then he began to fold up the sheets slowly and with difficulty, but very
neatly, as men of extraordinary skill with their hands do everything.
Santi looked at him doubtfully and then got a glass and a bottle of
cordial from a small carved press in the corner. Spicca drank the
liqueur slowly and set the glass steadily upon the table.

"Bad news, Signor Conte?" asked the servant anxiously, and in a way
which betrayed at once the kindly relations existing between the two.

"Very bad news," Spicca answered sadly and shaking his head.

Santi sighed, restored the cordial to the press and took up the glass,
as though he were about to leave the room. But he still lingered near
the table, glancing uneasily at his master as though he had something to
say, but was hesitating to begin.

"What is it, Santi?" asked the count.

"I beg your pardon, Signor Conte--you have had bad news--if you will
allow me to speak, there are several small economies which could still
be managed without too much inconveniencing you. Pardon the liberty,
Signor Conte."

"I know, I know. But it is not money this time. I wish it were."

Santi's expression immediately lost much of its anxiety. He had shared
his master's fallen fortunes and knew better than he what he meant by a
few more small economies, as he called them.

"God be praised, Signor Conte," he said solemnly. "May I serve the
breakfast?"

"I have no appetite, Santi. Go and eat yourself."

"A little something?" Santi spoke in a coaxing way. "I have prepared a
little mixed fry, with toast, as you like it, Signor Conte, and the
salad is good to-day--ham and figs are also in the house. Let me lay the
cloth--when you see, you will eat--and just one egg beaten up with a
glass of red wine to begin--that will dispose the stomach."

Spicca shook his head again, but Santi paid no attention to the refusal
and went about preparing the meal. When it was ready the old man
suffered himself to be persuaded and ate a little. He was in reality
stronger than he looked, and an extraordinary nervous energy still
lurked beneath the appearance of a feebleness almost amounting to
decrepitude. The little nourishment he took sufficed to restore the
balance, and when he rose from the table, he was outwardly almost
himself again. When a man has suffered great moral pain for years, he
bears a new shock, even the worst, better than one who is hard hit in
the midst of a placid and long habitual happiness. The soul can be
taught to bear trouble as the great self mortifiers of an earlier time
taught their bodies to bear scourging. The process is painful but
hardening.

"I feel better, Santi," said Spicca. "Your breakfast has done me good.
You are an excellent doctor."

He turned away and took out his pocket-book--not over well garnished. He
found a ten franc note. Then he looked round and spoke in a gentle,
kindly tone.

"Santi--this trouble has nothing to do with money. You need a new pair
of shoes, I am sure. Do you think that ten francs is enough?"

Santi bowed respectfully and took the money.

"A thousand thanks, Signor Conte," he said.

Santi was a strange man, from the heart of the Abruzzi. He pocketed the
note, but that night, when he had undressed his master and was arranging
the things on the dressing table, the ten francs found their way back
into the black pocket-book. Spicca never counted, and never knew.

He did not write to Maria Consuelo, for he was well aware that in her
present state of mind she would undoubtedly burn his letter unopened, as
she had said she would. Late in the day he went out, walked for an hour,
entered the club and read the papers, and at last betook himself to the
restaurant where Orsino dined when his people were out of town.

In due time, Orsino appeared, looking pale and ill tempered. He caught
sight of Spicca and went at once to the table where he sat.

"I have had a letter," said the young man. "I must speak to you. If you
do not object, we will dine together."

"By all means. There is nothing like a thoroughly bad dinner to promote
ill-feeling."

Orsino glanced at the old man in momentary surprise. But he knew his
ways tolerably well, and was familiar with the chronic acidity of his
speech.

"You probably guess who has written to me," Orsino resumed. "It was
natural, perhaps, that she should have something to say, but what she
actually says, is more than I was prepared to hear."

Spicca's eyes grew less dull and he turned an inquiring glance on his
companion.

"When I tell you that in this letter, Madame d'Aranjuez has confided to
me the true story of her origin, I have probably said enough," continued
the young man.

"You have said too much or too little," Spicca answered in an almost
indifferent tone.

"How so?"

"Unless you tell me just what she has told you, or show me the letter, I
cannot possibly judge of the truth of the tale."

Orsino raised his head angrily.

"Do you mean me to doubt that Madame d'Aranjuez speaks the truth?" he
asked.

"Calm yourself. Whatever Madame d'Aranjuez has written to you, she
believes to be true. But she may have been herself deceived."

"In spite of documents--public registers--"

"Ah! Then she has told you about those certificates?"

"That--and a great deal more which concerns you."

"Precisely. A great deal more. I know all about the registers, as you
may easily suppose, seeing that they concern two somewhat important acts
in my own life and that I was very careful to have those acts properly
recorded, beyond the possibility of denial--beyond the possibility of
denial," he repeated very slowly and emphatically. "Do you understand
that?"

"It would not enter the mind of a sane person to doubt such evidence,"
answered Orsino rather scornfully.

"No, I suppose not. As you do not therefore come to me for confirmation
of what is already undeniable, I cannot understand why you come to me at
all in this matter, unless you do so on account of other things which
Madame d'Aranjuez has written you, and of which you have so far kept me
in ignorance."

Spicca spoke with a formal manner and in cold tones, drawing up his bent
figure a little. A waiter came to the table and both men ordered their
dinner. The interruption rather favoured the development of a hostile
feeling between them, than otherwise.

"I will explain my reasons for coming to find you here," said Orsino
when they were again alone.

"So far as I am concerned, no explanation is necessary. I am content not
to understand. Moreover, this is a public place, in which we have
accidentally met and dined together before."

"I did not come here by accident," answered Orsino. "And I did not come
in order to give explanations but to ask for one."

"Ah?" Spicca eyed him coolly.

"Yes. I wish to know why you have hated your daughter all her life, why
you persecute her in every way, why you--"

"Will you kindly stop?"

The old man's voice grew suddenly clear and incisive, and Orsino broke
off in the middle of his sentence. A moment's pause followed.

"I requested you to stop speaking," Spicca resumed, "because you were
unconsciously making statements which have no foundation whatever in
fact. Observe that I say, unconsciously. You are completely mistaken. I
do not hate Madame d'Aranjuez. I love her with all my heart and soul. I
do not persecute her in every way, nor in any way. On the contrary, her
happiness is the only object of such life as I still have to live, and I
have little but that life left to give her. I am in earnest, Orsino."

"I see you are. That makes what you say all the more surprising."

"No doubt it does. Madame d'Aranjuez has just written to you, and you
have her letter in your pocket. She has told you in that letter a number
of facts in her own life, as she sees them, and you look at them as she
does. It is natural. To her and to you, I appear to be a monster of
evil, a hideous incarnation of cruelty, a devil in short. Did she call
me a devil in her letter?"

"She did."

"Precisely. She has also written to me, informing me that I am Satan.
There is a directness in the statement and a general disregard of
probability which is not without charm. Nevertheless, I am Spicca, and
not Beelzebub, her assurances to the contrary notwithstanding. You see
how views may differ. You know much of her life, but you know nothing of
mine, nor is it my intention to tell you anything about myself. But I
will tell you this much. If I could do anything to mend matters, I
would. If I could make it possible for you to marry Madame
d'Aranjuez--being what you are, and fenced in as you are, I would. If I
could tell you all the rest of the truth, which she does not know, nor
dream of, I would. I am bound by a very solemn promise of secrecy--by
something more than a promise in fact. Yet, if I could do good to her by
breaking oaths, betraying confidence and trampling on the deepest
obligations which can bind a man, I would. But that good cannot be done
any more. That is all I can tell you."

"It is little enough. You could, and you can, tell the whole truth, as
you call it, to Madame d'Aranjuez. I would advise you to do so, instead
of embittering her life at every turn."

"I have not asked for your advice, Orsino. That she is unhappy, I know.
That she hates me, is clear. She would not be the happier for hating me
less, since nothing else would be changed. She need not think of me, if
the subject is disagreeable. In all other respects she is perfectly
free. She is young, rich, and at liberty to go where she pleases and to
do what she likes. So long as I am alive, I shall watch over her--"

"And destroy every chance of happiness which presents itself,"
interrupted Orsino.

"I gave you some idea, the other night, of the happiness she might have
enjoyed with the deceased Aranjuez. If I made a mistake in regard to
what I saw him do--I admit the possibility of an error--I was
nevertheless quite right in ridding her of the man. I have atoned for
the mistake, if we call it so, in a way of which you do not dream, nor
she either. The good remains, for Aranjuez is buried."

"You speak of secret atonement--I was not aware that you ever suffered
from remorse."

"Nor I," answered Spicca drily.

"Then what do you mean?"

"You are questioning me, and I have warned you that I will tell you
nothing about myself. You will confer a great favour upon me by not
insisting."

"Are you threatening me again?"

"I am not doing anything of the kind. I never threaten any one. I could
kill you as easily as I killed Aranjuez, old and decrepit as I look, and
I should be perfectly indifferent to the opprobrium of killing so young
a man--though I think that, looking at us two, many people might suppose
the advantage to be on your side rather than on mine. But young men
nowadays do not learn to handle arms. Short of laying violent hands upon
me, you will find it quite impossible to provoke me. I am almost old
enough to be your grandfather, and I understand you very well. You love
Madame d'Aranjuez. She knows that to marry you would be to bring about
such a quarrel with your family as might ruin half your life, and she
has the rare courage to tell you so and to refuse your offer. You think
that I can do something to help you and you are incensed because I am
powerless, and furious because I object to your leaving Rome in the same
train with her, against her will. You are more furious still to-day
because you have adopted her belief that I am a monster of iniquity.
Observe--that, apart from hindering you from a great piece of folly the
other day, I have never interfered. I do not interfere now. As I said
then, follow her if you please, persuade her to marry you if you can,
quarrel with all your family if you like. It is nothing to me. Publish
the banns of your marriage on the doors of the Capitol and declare to
the whole world that Madame d'Aranjuez, the future Princess Saracinesca,
is the daughter of Count Spicca and Lucrezia Ferris, his lawful wife.
There will be a little talk, but it will not hurt me. People have kept
their marriages a secret for a whole lifetime before now. I do not care
what you do, nor what the whole tribe of the Saracinesca may do,
provided that none of you do harm to Maria Consuelo, nor bring useless
suffering upon her. If any of you do that, I will kill you. That at
least is a threat, if you like. Good-night."

Thereupon Spicca rose suddenly from his seat, leaving his dinner
unfinished, and went out.



CHAPTER XXVI.


Orsino did not leave Rome after all. He was not in reality prevented
from doing so by the necessity of attending to his business, for he
might assuredly have absented himself for a week or two at almost any
time before the new year, without incurring any especial danger. From
time to time, at ever increasing intervals, he felt strongly impelled to
rejoin Maria Consuelo in Paris where she had ultimately determined to
spend the autumn and winter, but the impulse always lacked just the
measure of strength which would have made it a resolution. When he
thought of his many hesitations he did not understand himself and he
fell in his own estimation, so that he became by degrees more silent and
melancholy of disposition than had originally been natural with him.

He had much time for reflection and he constantly brooded over the
situation in which he found himself. The question seemed to be, whether
he loved Maria Consuelo or not, since he was able to display such
apparent indifference to her absence. In reality he also doubted whether
he was loved by her, and the one uncertainty was fully as great as the
other.

He went over all that had passed. The position had never been an easy
one, and the letter which Maria Consuelo had written to him after her
departure had not made it easier. It had contained the revelations
concerning her birth, together with many references to Spicca's
continued cruelty, plentifully supported by statements of facts. She had
then distinctly told Orsino that she would never marry him, under any
circumstances whatever, declaring that if he followed her she would not
even see him. She would not ruin his life and plunge him into a life
long quarrel with his family, she said, and she added that she would
certainly not expose herself to such treatment as she would undoubtedly
receive at the hands of the Saracinesca if she married Orsino without
his parents' consent.

A man does not easily believe that he is deprived of what he most
desires exclusively for his own good and welfare, and the last sentence
quoted wounded Orsino deeply. He believed himself ready to incur the
displeasure of all his people for Maria Consuelo's sake, and he said in
his heart that if she loved him she should be ready to bear as much as
he. The language in which she expressed herself, too, was cold and
almost incisive.

Unlike Spicca Orsino answered this letter, writing in an argumentative
strain, bringing the best reasons he could find to bear against those
she alleged, and at last reproaching her with not being willing to
suffer for his sake a tenth part of what he would endure for her. But he
announced his intention of joining her before long, and expressed the
certainty that she would receive him.

To this Maria Consuelo made no reply for some time. When she wrote at
last, it was to say that she had carefully considered her decision and
saw no good cause for changing it. To Orsino her tone seemed colder and
more distant than ever. The fact that the pages were blotted here and
there and that the handwriting was unsteady, was probably to be referred
to her carelessness. He brooded over his misfortune, thought more than
once of making a desperate effort to win back her love, and remained in
Rome. After a long interval he wrote to her again. This time he produced
an epistle which, under the circumstances, might have seemed almost
ridiculous. It was full of indifferent gossip about society, it
contained a few sarcastic remarks about his own approaching failure,
with some rather youthfully cynical observations on the instability of
things in general and the hollowness of all aspirations whatsoever.

He received no answer, and duly repented the flippant tone he had taken.
He would have been greatly surprised could he have learned that this
last letter was destined to produce a greater effect upon his life than
all he had written before it.

In the meanwhile his father, who had heard of the increasing troubles in
the world of business, wrote him in a constant strain of warning, to
which he paid little attention. His mother's letters, too, betrayed her
anxiety, but expressed what his father's did not, to wit the most
boundless confidence in his power to extricate himself honourably from
all difficulties, together with the assurance that if worst came to
worst she was always ready to help him.

Suddenly and without warning old Saracinesca returned from his
wanderings. He had taken the trouble to keep the family informed of his
movements by his secretary during two or three months and had then
temporarily allowed them to lose sight of him, thereby causing them
considerable anxiety, though an occasional paragraph in a newspaper
reassured them from time to time. Then, on a certain afternoon in
November, he appeared, alone and in a cab, as though he had been out for
a stroll.

"Well, my boy, are you ruined yet?" he inquired, entering Orsino's room
without ceremony.

The young man started from his seat and took the old gentleman's rough
hand, with an exclamation of surprise.

"Yes--you may well look at me," laughed the Prince. "I have grown ten
years younger. And you?" He pushed his grandson into the light and
scrutinised his face fiercely. "And you are ten years older," he
concluded, in a discontented tone.

"I did not know it," answered Orsino with an attempt at a laugh.

"You have been at some mischief. I know it. I can see it."

He dropped the young fellow's arm, shook his head and began to move
about the room. Then he came back all at once and looked up into
Orsino's face from beneath his bushy eyebrows.

"Out with it, I mean to know!" he said, roughly but not unkindly. "Have
you lost money? Are you ill? Are you in love?"

Orsino would certainly have resented the first and the last questions,
if not all three, had they been put to him by his father. There was
something in the old Prince's nature, something warmer and more human,
which appealed to his own. Sant' Ilario was, and always had been,
outwardly cold, somewhat measured in his speech, undemonstrative, a man
not easily moved to much expression or to real sympathy except by love,
but capable, under that influence, of going to great lengths. And
Orsino, though in some respects resembling his mother rather than his
father, was not unlike the latter, with a larger measure of ambition
and less real pride. It was probably the latter characteristic which
made him feel the need of sympathy in a way his father had never felt it
and could never understand it, and he was thereby drawn more closely to
his mother and to his grandfather than to Sant' Ilario.

Old Saracinesca evidently meant to be answered, as he stood there gazing
into Orsino's eyes.

"A great deal has happened since you went away," said Orsino, half
wishing that he could tell everything. "In the first place, business is
in a very bad state, and I am anxious."

"Dirty work, business," grumbled Saracinesca. "I always told you so.
Then you have lost money, you young idiot! I thought so. Did you think
you were any better than Montevarchi? I hope you have kept your name out
of the market, at all events. What in the name of heaven made you put
your hand to such filth! Come--how much do you want? We will whitewash
you and you shall start to-morrow and go round the world."

"But I am not in actual need of money at all--"

"Then what the devil are you in need of?"

"An improvement in business, and the assurance that I shall not
ultimately be bankrupt."

"If money is not an assurance that you will not be bankrupt, I would
like to learn what is. All this is nonsense. Tell me the truth, my
boy--you are in love. That is the trouble."

Orsino shrugged his shoulders.

"I have been in love some time," he answered.

"Young? Old? Marriageable? Married? Out with it, I say!"

"I would rather talk about business. I think it is all over now."

"Just like your father--always full of secrets! As if I did not know all
about it. You are in love with that Madame d'Aranjuez."

Orsino turned a little pale.

"Please do not call her 'that' Madame d'Aranjuez," he said, gravely.

"Eh? What? Are you so sensitive about her?"

"Yes."

"You are? Very well--I like that. What about her?"

"What a question!"

"I mean--is she indifferent, cold, in love with some one else?"

"Not that I am aware. She has refused to marry me and has left Rome,
that is all."

"Refused to marry you!" cried old Saracinesca in boundless astonishment.
"My dear boy, you must be out of your mind! The thing is impossible. You
are the best match in Rome. Madame d'Aranjuez refuse you--absolutely
incredible, not to be believed for a moment. You are dreaming. A
widow--without much fortune--the relict of some curious adventurer--a
woman looking for a fortune, a woman--"

"Stop!" cried Orsino, savagely.

"Oh yes--I forgot. You are sensitive. Well, well, I meant nothing
against her, except that she must be insane if what you tell me is true.
But I am glad of it, my boy, very glad. She is no match for you, Orsino.
I confess, I wish you would marry at once. I would like to see my great
grandchildren--but not Madame d'Aranjuez. A widow, too."

"My father married a widow."

"When you find a widow like your mother, and ten years younger than
yourself, marry her if you can. But not Madame d'Aranjuez--older than
you by several years."

"A few years."

"Is that all? It is too much, though. And who is Madame d'Aranjuez?
Everybody was asking the question last winter. I suppose she had a name
before she married, and since you have been trying to make her your
wife, you must know all about her. Who was she?"

Orsino hesitated.

"You see!" cried, the old Prince. "It is not all right. There is a
secret--there is something wrong about her family, or about her entrance
into the world. She knows perfectly well that we would never receive her
and has concealed it all from you--"

"She has not concealed it. She has told me the exact truth. But I shall
not repeat it to you."

"All the stronger proof that everything is not right. You are well out
of it, my boy, exceedingly well out of it. I congratulate you."

"I would rather not be congratulated."

"As you please. I am sorry for you, if you are unhappy. Try and forget
all about it. How is your mother?"

At any other time Orsino would have laughed at the characteristic
abruptness.

"Perfectly well, I believe. I have not seen her all summer," he answered
gravely.

"Not been to Saracinesca all summer! No wonder you look ill. Telegraph
to them that I have come back and let us get the family together as soon
as possible. Do you think I mean to spend six months alone in your
company, especially when you are away all day at that wretched office of
yours? Be quick about it--telegraph at once."

"Very well. But please do not repeat anything of what I have told you to
my father or my mother. That is the only thing I have to ask."

"Am I a parrot? I never talk to them of your affairs."

"Thanks. I am grateful."

"To heaven because your grandfather is not a parakeet! No doubt. You
have good cause. And look here, Orsino--"

The old man took Orsino's arm and held it firmly, speaking in a lower
tone.

"Do not make an ass of yourself, my boy--especially in business. But if
you do--and you probably will, you know--just come to me, without
speaking to any one else. I will see what can be done without noise.
There--take that, and forget all about your troubles and get a little
more colour into your face."

"You are too good to me," said Orsino, grasping the old Prince's hand.
For once, he was really moved.

"Nonsense--go and send that telegram at once. I do not want to be kept
waiting a week for a sight of my family."

With a deep, good humoured laugh he pushed Orsino out of the door in
front of him and went off to his own quarters.

In due time the family returned from Saracinesca and the gloomy old
palace waked to life again. Corona and her husband were both struck by
the change in Orsino's appearance, which indeed contrasted strongly with
their own, refreshed and strengthened as they were by the keen mountain
air, the endless out-of-door life, the manifold occupations of people
deeply interested in the welfare of those around them and supremely
conscious of their own power to produce good results in their own way.
When they all came back, Orsino himself felt how jaded and worn he was
as compared with them.

Before twelve hours had gone by, he found himself alone with his mother.
Strange to say he had not looked forward to the interview with pleasure.
The bond of sympathy which had so closely united the two during the
spring seemed weakened, and Orsino would, if possible, have put off the
renewal of intimate converse which he knew to be inevitable. But that
could not be done.

It would not be hard to find reasons for his wishing to avoid his
mother. Formerly his daily tale had been one of success, of hope, of
ever increasing confidence. Now he had nothing to tell of but danger and
anxiety for the future, and he was not without a suspicion that she
would strongly disapprove of his allowing himself to be kept afloat by
Del Ferice's personal influence, and perhaps by his personal aid. It was
hard to begin daily intercourse on a basis of things so different from
that which had seemed solid and safe when they had last talked together.
He had learned to bear his own troubles bravely, too, and there was
something which he associated with weakness in the idea of asking
sympathy for them now. He would rather have been left alone.

Deep down, too, was the consciousness of all that had happened between
himself and Maria Consuelo since his mother's departure. Another
suffering, another and distinctly different misfortune, to be borne
better in silence than under question even of the most affectionate
kind. His grandfather had indeed guessed at both truths and had taxed
him with them at once, but that was quite another matter. He knew that
the old gentleman would never refer again to what he had learned, and he
appreciated the generous offer of help, of which he would never avail
himself, in a way in which he could not appreciate an assistance even
more lovingly proffered, perhaps, but which must be asked for by a
confession of his own failure.

On the other hand, he was incapable of distorting the facts in any way
so as to make his mother believe him more successful than he actually
was. There was nothing dishonest, perhaps, in pretending to be hopeful
when he really had little hope, but he could not have represented the
condition of the business otherwise than as it really stood.

The interview was a long one, and Corona's dark face grew grave if not
despondent as he explained to her one point after another, taking
especial care to elucidate all that bore upon his relations with Del
Ferice. It was most important that his mother should understand how he
was placed, and how Del Ferice's continued advances of money were not to
be regarded in the light of a personal favour, but as a speculation in
which Ugo would probably get the best of the bargain. Orsino knew how
sensitive his mother would be on such a point, and dreaded the moment
when she should begin to think that he was laying himself under
obligations beyond the strict limits of business.

Corona leaned back in her low seat and covered her eyes with one hand
for a moment, in deep thought. Orsino waited anxiously for her to speak.

"My dear," she said at last, "you make it very clear, and I understand
you perfectly. Nevertheless, it seems to me that your position is not
very dignified, considering who you are, and what Del Ferice is. Do you
not think so yourself?"

Orsino flushed a little. She had not put the point as he had expected,
and her words told upon him.

"When I entered business, I put my dignity in my pocket," he answered,
with a forced laugh. "There cannot be much of it in business, at the
best."

His mother's black eyes seemed to grow blacker, and the delicate nostril
quivered a little.

"If that is true, I wish you had never meddled in these affairs," she
said, proudly. "But you talked differently last spring, and you made me
see it all in another way. You made me feel, on the contrary that in
doing something for yourself, in showing that you were able to
accomplish something, in asserting your independence, you were making
yourself more worthy of respect--and I have respected you accordingly."

"Exactly," answered Orsino, catching at the old argument. "That is just
what I wished to do. What I said a moment since was in the way of a
generality. Business means a struggle for money, I suppose, and that, in
itself, is not dignified. But it is not dishonourable. After all, the
means may justify the end."

"I hate that saying!" exclaimed Corona hotly. "I wish you were free of
the whole affair."

"So do I, with all my heart!"

A short silence followed.

"If I had known all this three months ago," Corona resumed, "I would
have taken the money and given it to you, to clear yourself. I thought
you were succeeding and I have used all the funds I could gather to buy
the Montevarchi's property between us and Affile and in planting
eucalyptus trees in that low land of mine where the people have suffered
so much from fever. I have nothing at my disposal unless I borrow. Why
did you not tell me the truth in the summer, Orsino? Why have you let me
imagine that you were prospering all along, when you have been and are
at the point of failure? It is too bad--"

She broke off suddenly and clasped her hands together on her knee.

"It is only lately that business has gone so badly," said Orsino.

"It was all wrong from the beginning! I should never have encouraged
you. Your father was right, as he always is--and now you must tell him
so."

But Orsino refused to go to his father, except in the last extremity. He
represented that it was better, and more dignified, since Corona
insisted upon the point of dignity, to fight the battle alone so long as
there was a chance of winning. His mother, on the other hand, maintained
that he should free himself at once and at any cost. A few months
earlier he could easily have persuaded her that he was right; but she
seemed changed since he had parted from her, and he fancied that his
father's influence had been at work with her. This he resented bitterly.
It must be remembered, too, that he had begun the interview with a
preconceived prejudice, expecting it to turn out badly, so that he was
the more ready to allow matters to take an unfavourable turn.

The result was not a decided break in his relations with his mother, but
a state of things more irritating than any open difference could have
been. From that time Corona discouraged him, and never ceased to advise
him to go to his father and ask frankly for enough money to clear him
outright. Orsino, on his part, obstinately refused to apply to any one
for help, as long as Del Ferice continued to advance him money.

In those months which followed there were few indeed who did not suffer
in the almost universal financial cataclysm. All that Contini and
others, older and wiser than he, had predicted, took place, and more
also. The banks refused discount, even upon the best paper, saying with
justice that they were obliged to hold their funds in reserve at such a
time. The works stopped almost everywhere. It was impossible to raise
money. Thousands upon thousands of workmen who had come from great
distances during the past two or three years were suddenly thrown out of
work, penniless in the streets and many of them burdened with wives and
children. There were one or two small riots and there was much
demonstration, but, on the whole, the poor masons behaved very well. The
government and the municipality did what they could--what governments
and municipalities can do when hampered at every turn by the most
complicated and ill-considered machinery of administration ever invented
in any country. The starving workmen were by slow degrees got out of the
city and sent back to starve out of sight in their native places. The
emigration was enormous in all directions.

The dismal ruins of that new city which was to have been built and which
never reached completion are visible everywhere. Houses seven stories
high, abandoned within a month of completion rise uninhabited and
uninhabitable out of a rank growth of weeds, amidst heaps of rubbish,
staring down at the broad, desolate streets where the vigorous grass
pushes its way up through the loose stones of the unrolled metalling.
Amidst heavy low walls which were to have been the ground stories of
palaces, a few ragged children play in the sun, a lean donkey crops the
thistles, or if near to a few occupied dwellings, a wine seller makes a
booth of straw and chestnut boughs and dispenses a poisonous, sour drink
to those who will buy. But that is only in the warm months. The winter
winds blow the wretched booth to pieces and increase the desolation.
Further on, tall façades rise suddenly up, the blue sky gleaming
through their windows, the green moss already growing upon their naked
stones and bricks. The Barbarini of the future, if any should arise,
will not need to despoil the Colosseum to quarry material for their
palaces. If, as the old pasquinade had it the Barbarini did what the
Barbarians did not, how much worse than barbarians have these modern
civilizers done!

The distress was very great in the early months of 1889. The
satisfaction which many of the new men would have felt at the ruin of
great old families was effectually neutralized by their own financial
destruction. Princes, bankers, contractors and master masons went down
together in the general bankruptcy. Ugo Del Ferice survived and with him
Andrea Contini and Company, and doubtless other small firms which he
protected for his own ends. San Giacinto, calm, far-seeing, and keen as
an eagle, surveyed the chaos from the height of his magnificent fortune,
unmoved and immovable, awaiting the lowest ebb of the tide. The
Saracinesca looked on, hampered a little by the sudden fall in rents and
other sources of their income, but still superior to events, though
secretly anxious about Orsino's affairs, and daily expecting that he
must fail.

And Orsino himself had changed, as was natural enough. He was learning
to seem what he was not, and those who have learned that lesson know how
it influences the real man whom no one can judge but himself. So long as
there had been one person in his life with whom he could live in perfect
sympathy he had given himself little trouble about his outward
behaviour. So long as he had felt that, come what might, his mother was
on his side, he had not thought it worth his while not to be natural
with every one, according to his humour. He was wrong, no doubt, in
fancying that Corona had deserted him. But he had already suffered a
loss, in Maria Consuelo, which had at the time seemed the greatest
conceivable, and the pain he had suffered then, together with, the deep
though, unacknowledged wound to his vanity, had predisposed him to
believe that he was destined to be friendless. The consequence was that
a very slight break in the perfect understanding which had so long
existed between him and his mother had produced serious results. He now
felt that he was completely alone, and like most lonely men of sound
character he acquired the habit of keeping his troubles entirely to
himself, while affecting an almost unnaturally quiet and equable manner
with those around him. On the whole, he found that his life was easier
when he lived it on this principle. He found that he was more careful in
his actions since he had a part to sustain, and that his opinion carried
more weight since he expressed it more cautiously and seemed less liable
to fluctuations of mood and temper. The change in his character was more
apparent than real, perhaps, as changes of character generally are when
not in the way of logical development; but the constant thought of
appearances reacts upon the inner nature in the end, and much which at
first is only put on, becomes a habit next, and ends by taking the place
of an impulse.

Orsino was aware that his chief preoccupation was identical with that
which absorbed his mother's thoughts. He wished to free himself from the
business in which he was so deeply involved, and which still prospered
so strangely in spite of the general ruin. But here the community of
ideas ended. He wished to free himself in his own way, without
humiliating himself by going to his father for help. Meanwhile, too,
Sant' Ilario himself had his doubts concerning his own judgment. It was
inconceivable to him that Del Ferice could be losing money to oblige
Orsino, and if he had desired to ruin him he could have done so with
ease a hundred times in the past months. It might be, he said to
himself, that Orsino had after all, a surprising genius for affairs and
had weathered the storm in the face of tremendous difficulties. Orsino
saw the belief growing in his father's mind, and the certainty that it
was there did not dispose him to throw up the fight and acknowledge
himself beaten.

The Saracinesca were one of the very few Roman families in which there
is a tradition in favour of non-interference with the action of children
already of age. The consequence was that although the old Prince,
Giovanni and his wife, all three felt considerable anxiety, they did
nothing to hamper Orsino's action, beyond an occasionally repeated
warning to be careful. That his occupation was distasteful to them, they
did not conceal, but he met their expressions of opinion with perfect
equanimity and outward good humour, even when his mother, once his
staunch ally, openly advised him to give up business and travel for a
year. Their prejudice was certainly not unnatural, and had been
strengthened by the perusal of the unsavoury details published by the
papers at each new bankruptcy during the year. But they found Orsino now
always the same, always quiet, good-humoured and firm in his projects.

Andrea Contini had not been very exact in his calculation of the date at
which the last door and the last window would be placed in the last of
the houses which he and Orsino had undertaken to build. The disturbance
in business might account for the delay. At all events it was late in
April of the following year before the work was completed. Then Orsino
went to Del Ferice.

"Of course," he said, maintaining the appearance of calm which had now
become habitual with him, "I cannot expect to pay what I owe the bank,
unless I can effect a sale of these buildings. You have known that, all
along, as well as I. The question is, can they be sold?"

"You have no applicant, then?" Del Ferice looked grave and somewhat
surprised.

"No. We have received no offer."

"You owe the bank a very large sum on these buildings, Don Orsino."

"Secured by mortgages on them," answered the young man quietly, but
preparing for trouble.

"Just so. Secured by mortgages. But if the bank should foreclose within
the next few months, and if the buildings do not realize the amount
secured, Contini and Company are liable for the difference."

"I know that."

"And the market is very bad, Don Orsino, and shows no signs of
improvement."

"On the other hand the houses are finished, habitable, and can be let
immediately."

"They are certainly finished. You must be aware that the bank has
continued to advance the sums necessary for two reasons. Firstly,
because an expensive but habitable dwelling is better than a cheap one
with no roof. Secondly, because in doing business with Andrea Contini
and Company we have been dealing with the only really honest and
economical firm in Rome."

Orsino smiled vaguely, but said nothing. He had not much faith in Del
Ferice's flattery.

"But that," continued the latter, "does not dispense us from the
necessity of realising what is owing to us--I mean the bank--either in
money, or in an equivalent--or in an equivalent," he repeated,
thoughtfully rolling a big silver pencil case backward and forward upon
the table under his fat white hand.

"Evidently," assented Orsino. "Unfortunately, at the present time, there
seems to be no equivalent for ready money."

"No--no--perhaps not," said Ugo, apparently becoming more and more
absorbed in his own thoughts. "And yet," he added, after a little pause,
"an arrangement may be possible. The houses certainly possess advantages
over much of this wretched property which is thrown upon the market. The
position is good and the work is good. Your work is very good, Don
Orsino. You know that better than I. Yes--the houses have advantages, I
admit. The bank has a great deal of waste masonry on its hands, Don
Orsino--more than I like to think of."

"Unfortunately, again, the time for improving such property is gone by."

"It is never too late to mend, says the proverb," retorted Del Ferice
with a smile. "I have a proposition to make. I will state it clearly. If
it is not to our mutual advantage, I think neither of us will lose so
much by it as we should lose in other ways. It is simply this. We will
cry quits. You have a small account current with the bank, and you must
sacrifice the credit balance--it is not much, I find--about thirty-five
thousand."

"That was chiefly the profit on the first contract," observed Orsino.

"Precisely. It will help to cover the bank's loss on this. It will help,
because when I say we will cry quits, I mean that you shall receive an
equivalent for your houses--a nominal equivalent of course, which the
bank nominally takes back as payment of the mortgages."

"That is not very clear," said Orsino. "I do not understand you."

"No," laughed Del Ferice. "I admit that it is not. It represented rather
my own view of the transaction than the practical side. But I will
explain myself beyond the possibility of mistake. The bank takes the
houses and your cash balance and cancels the mortgages. You are then
released from all debt and all obligation upon the old contract. But the
bank makes one condition which, is important. You must buy from the
bank, on mortgage of course, certain unfinished buildings which it now
owns, and you--Andrea Contini and Company--must take a contract to
complete them within a given time, the bank advancing you money as
before upon notes of hand, secured by subsequent and successive
mortgages."

Orsino was silent. He saw that if he accepted, Del Ferice was receiving
the work of a whole year and more without allowing the smallest profit
to the workers, besides absorbing the profits of a previous successfully
executed contract, and besides taking it for granted that the existing
mortgages only just covered the value of the buildings. If, as was
probable, Del Ferice had means of either selling or letting the houses,
he stood to make an enormous profit. He saw, too, that if he accepted
now, he must in all likelihood be driven to accept similar conditions on
a future occasion, and that he would be binding Andrea Contini and
himself to work, and to work hard, for nothing and perhaps during years.

But he saw also that the only alternative was an appeal to his father,
or bankruptcy which ultimately meant the same thing. Del Ferice spoke
again.

"Whether you agree, or whether you prefer a foreclosure, we shall both
lose. But we should lose more by the latter course. In the interests of
the bank I trust that you will accept. You see how frankly I speak about
it. In the interests of the bank. But then, I need not remind you that
it would hardly be fair to let us lose heavily when you can make the
loss relatively a slight one--considering how the bank has behaved to
you, and to you alone, throughout this fatal year."

"I will give you an answer to-morrow," said Orsino.

He thought of poor Contini who would find that he had worked for nothing
during a whole year. But then, it would be easy for Orsino to give
Contini a sum of money out of his private resources. Anything was better
than giving up the struggle and applying to his father.



CHAPTER XXVII.


Orsino was to all intents and purposes without a friend. How far
circumstances had contributed to this result and how far he himself was
to blame for his lonely state, those may judge who have followed his
history to this point. His grandfather had indeed offered him help and
in a way to make it acceptable if he had felt that he could accept it
at all. But the old Prince did not in the least understand the business
nor the situation. Moreover a young fellow of two or three and twenty
does not look for a friend in the person of a man sixty years older than
himself. While maintaining the most uniformly good relations in his
home, Orsino felt himself estranged from his father and mother. His
brothers were too young, and were generally away from home at school and
college, and he had no sisters. Beyond the walls of the Palazzo
Saracinesca, San Giacinto was the only man whom he would willingly have
consulted; but San Giacinto was of all men the one least inclined to
intimacy with his neighbours, and, after all, as Orsino reflected, he
would probably repeat the advice he had already given, if he vouchsafed
counsel of any kind.

He thought of all his acquaintance and came to the conclusion that he
was in reality in terms more closely approaching to friendship with
Andrea Contini than with any man of his own class. Yet he would have
hesitated to call the architect his friend, as he would have found it
impossible to confide in him concerning any detail of his own private
life.

At a time when most young men are making friends, Orsino had been
hindered, from the formation of such ties by the two great interests
which had absorbed his existence, his attachment and subsequent love for
Maria Consuelo, and the business at which he had worked so steadily. He
had lost Maria Consuelo, in whom he would have confided as he had often
done before, and at the present important juncture he stood quite alone.

He felt that he was no match for Del Ferice. The keen banker was making
use of him for his own purposes in a way which neither Orsino nor
Contini had ever suspected. It could not be supposed that Ugo had
foreseen from the first the advantage he might reap from the firm he had
created and which was so wholly dependent on him. Orsino might have
turned out ignorant and incapable. Contini might have proved idle and
even dishonest. But, instead of this, the experiment had succeeded
admirably and Ugo found himself possessed of an instrument, as it were,
precisely adapted to his end, which was to make worthless property
valuable at the smallest possible expense, in fact, at the lowest cost
price. He had secured a first-rate architect and a first-rate
accountant, both men of spotless integrity, both young, energetic and
unusually industrious. He paid nothing for their services and he
entirely controlled their expenditure. It was clear that he would do his
utmost to maintain an arrangement so immensely profitable to himself. If
Orsino had realised exactly how profitable it was, he might have forced
Del Ferice to share the gain with him, and would have done so for the
sake of Contini, if not for his own. He suspected, indeed, that Ugo was
certain beforehand, in each case, of selling or letting the houses, but
he had no proof of the fact. Ugo did not leave everything to his
confidential clerk, and the secrets he kept to himself were well kept.

Orsino consulted Contini, as a matter of necessity, before accepting Del
Ferice's last offer. The architect went into a tragic-comic rage, bit
his cigar through several times, ground his teeth, drank several glasses
of cold water, talked of the blood of Cola di Rienzo, vowed vengeance on
Del Ferice and finally submitted.

The signing of the new contract determined the course of Orsino's life
for another year. It is surprising to see, in the existence of others,
how periods of monotonous calm succeed seasons of storm and danger. In
our own they do not astonish us so much, if at all. Orsino continued to
work hard, to live regularly and to do all those things which, under the
circumstances he ought to have done and earned the reputation of being a
model young man, a fact which surprised him on one or two occasions when
it came to his ears. Yet when he reflected upon it, he saw that he was
in reality not like other young men, and that his conduct was
undoubtedly abnormally good as viewed by those around him. His
grandfather began to look upon him as something almost unnatural, and
more than once hinted to Giovanni that the boy, as he still called him,
ought to behave like other boys.

"He is more like San Giacinto than any of us," said Giovanni,
thoughtfully. "He has taken after that branch."

"If that is the case, he might have done worse," answered the old man.
"I like San Giacinto. But you always judge superficially, Giovanni--you
always did. And the worst of it is, you are always perfectly well
satisfied with your own judgments."

"Possibly. I have certainly not accepted those of others."

"And the result is that you are turning into an oyster--and Orsino has
begun to turn into an oyster, too, and the other boys will follow his
example--a perfect oyster-bed! Go and take Orsino by the throat and
shake him--"

"I regret to say that I am physically not equal to that feat," said
Giovanni with a laugh.

"I should be!" exclaimed the aged Prince, doubling his hard hand and
bringing it down on the table, while his bright eyes gleamed. "Go and
shake him, and tell him to give up this dirty building business--make
him give it up, buy him out of it, put plenty of money into his pockets
and send him off to amuse himself! You and Corona have made a prig of
him, and business is making an oyster of him, and he will be a hopeless
idiot before you realise it! Stir him, shake him, make him move! I hate
your furniture-man--who is always in the right place and always ready to
be sat upon!"

"If you can persuade him to give up affairs I have no objection."

"Persuade him! I never knew a man worth speaking to who could be
persuaded to anything he did not like. Make him--that is the way."

"But since he is behaving himself and is occupied--that is better than
the lives all these young fellows are leading."

"Do not argue with me, Giovanni, I hate it. Besides, your reason is
worth nothing at all. Did I spend my youth over accounts, in the society
of an architect? Did I put water in my wine and sit up like a model
little boy at my papa's table and spend my evenings in carrying my
mamma's fan? Nonsense! And yet all that was expected in my day, in a way
it is not expected now. Look at yourself. You are bad enough--dull
enough, I mean. Did you waste the best years of your life in counting
bricks and measuring mortar?"

"You say that you hate argument, and yet you are arguing. But Orsino
shall please himself, as I did, and in his own way. I will certainly not
interfere."

"Because you know you can do nothing with him!" retorted old Saracinesca
contemptuously.

Giovanni laughed. Twenty years earlier he would have lost his temper to
no purpose. But twenty years of unruffled existence had changed him.

"You are not the man you were," grumbled his father.

"No. I have been too happy, far too long, to be much like what I was at
thirty."

"And do you mean to say I am not happy, and have not been happy, and do
not mean to be happy, and do not wish everybody to be happy, so long as
this old machine hangs together? What nonsense you talk, my boy. Go and
make love to your wife. That is all you are fit for!"

Discussions of this kind were not unfrequent but of course led to
nothing. As a matter of fact Sant' Ilario was quite right in believing
interference useless. It would have been impossible. He was no more able
to change Orsino's determination than he was physically capable of
shaking him. Not that Sant' Ilario was weak, physically or morally, nor
ever had been. But his son had grown up to be stronger than he.

Twelve months passed away. During that time the young man worked, as he
had worked before, regularly and untiringly. But his object now was to
free himself, and he no longer hoped to make a fortune or to do any
thing beyond the strict execution of the contract he had in hand,
determined if possible to avoid taking another. With a coolness and
self-denial beyond his years, he systematically hoarded the allowance he
received from his father, in order to put together a sum of money for
poor Contini. He made economies everywhere, refused to go into society
and spent his evenings in reading. His acquired manner stood him in good
stead, but he could not bear more than a limited amount of the daily
talk in the family. Being witty, rather than gay, if he could be said to
be either, he found himself inclined rather to be bitter than amusing
when he was wearied by the monotonous conversation of others. He knew
this to be a mistake and controlled himself, taking refuge in solitude
and books when he could control himself no longer.

Whether he loved Maria Consuelo still, or not, it was clear that he was
not inclined to love any one else for the present. The tolerably
harmless dissipation and wildness of the two or three years he had spent
in England could not account for such a period of coldness as followed
his separation from Maria Consuelo. He had by no means exhausted the
pleasures of life and his capacity for enjoyment could not even be said
to have reached its height. But he avoided the society of women even
more consistently than he shunned the club and the card table.

More than a year had gone by since he had heard from Maria Consuelo. He
met Spicca from time to time, looking now as though he had not a day to
live, but neither of them mentioned past events. The Romans had talked a
little of her sudden change of plans, for it had been known that she had
begun to furnish a large apartment for the winter of the previous year,
and had then very unaccountably changed her mind and left the place in
the hands of an agent to be sub-let. People said she had lost her
fortune. Then she had been forgotten in the general disaster that
followed, and no one had taken the trouble to remember her since then.
Even Gouache, who had once been so enthusiastic over her portrait, did
not seem to know or care what had become of her. Once only, and quite
accidentally, Orsino had authentic information of her whereabouts. He
took up an English society journal one evening and glanced idly over the
paragraphs. Maria Consuelo's name arrested his attention. A certain very
high and mighty old lady of royal lineage was about to travel in Egypt
during the winter. "Her Royal Highness," said the paper, "will be
accompanied by the Countess d'Aranjuez d'Aragona." Orsino's hand shook a
little as he laid the sheet aside, and he was pale when he rose a few
moments later and went off to his own room. He could not help wondering
why Maria Consuelo was styled by a title to which she certainly had a
legal right, but which she had never before used, and he wondered still
more why she travelled in Egypt with an old princess who was generally
said to be anything but an agreeable companion, and was reported to be
quite deaf. But on the whole he thought little of the information
itself. It was the sight of Maria Consuelo's name which had moved him,
and he was not altogether himself for several days. The impression wore
off before long, and he followed the round of his monotonous life as
before.

Early in the month of March in the year 1890, he was seated alone in his
room one evening before dinner. The great contract he had undertaken was
almost finished, and he knew that within two months he would be placed
in the same difficult position from which he had formerly so signally
failed to extricate himself. That he and Contini had executed the terms
of the contract with scrupulous and conscientious nicety did not better
the position. That they had made the most strenuous efforts to find
purchasers for the property, as they had a right to do if they could,
and had failed, made the position hopeless or almost as bad as that.
Whether they liked it or not, Del Ferice had so arranged that the great
mass of their acceptances should fall due about the time when the work
would be finished. To mortgage on the same terms or anything approaching
the same terms with any other bank was out of the question, so that they
had no hope of holding the property for the purpose of leasing it. Even
if Orsino could have contemplated for a moment such an act of bad faith
as wilfully retarding the work in order to gain a renewal of the bills,
such a course could have led to no actual improvement in the situation.
The property was unsaleable and Del Ferice knew it, and had no intention
of selling it. He meant to keep it for himself and let it, as a
permanent source of income. It would not have cost him in the end one
half of its actual value, and was exceptionally good property. Orsino
saw how hopeless it was to attempt resistance, unless he would resign
himself to voting an appeal to his own people, and this, as of old, he
was resolved not to do.

He was reflecting upon his life of bondage when a servant brought him a
letter. He tossed it aside without looking at it, but it chanced to slip
from the polished table and fall to the ground. As he picked it up his
attention was arrested by the handwriting and by the stamp. The stamp
was Egyptian and the writing was that of Maria Consuelo. He started,
tore open the envelope and took out a letter of many pages, written on
thin paper. At first he found it hard to follow the characters, and his
heart beat at a rate which annoyed him. He rose, walked the length of
the room and back again, sat down in another seat close to the lamp and
read the letter steadily from beginning to end.


     "My Dear Friend--You may, perhaps, be surprised at hearing from me
     after so long a time. I received your last letter. How long ago was
     that? Twelve, fourteen, fifteen months? I do not know. It is as
     well to forget, since I at least would rather not remember what you
     wrote. And I write now--why? Simply because I have the impulse to
     do so. That is the best of all reasons. I wish to hear from you,
     which is selfish; and I wish to hear about you, which is not. Are
     you still working at that business in which you were so much
     interested? Or have you given it up and gone back to the life you
     used to hate so thoroughly? I would like to know. Do you remember
     how angry I was long ago, because you agreed to meet Del Ferice in
     my drawing-room? I was very wrong, for the meeting led to many good
     results. I like to think that you are not quite like all the young
     men of your set, who do nothing--and cannot even do that
     gracefully. I think you used those very words about yourself, once
     upon a time. But you proved that you could live a very different
     life if you chose. I hope you are living it still.

     "And so poor Donna Tullia is dead--has been dead a year and a half!
     I wrote Del Ferice a long letter when I got the news. He answered
     me. He is not as bad as you used to think, for he was terribly
     pained by his loss--I could see that well enough in what he wrote
     though there was nothing exaggerated or desperate in the phrases.
     In fact there were no phrases at all. I wish I had kept the letter
     to send to you, but I never keep letters. Poor Donna Tullia! I
     cannot imagine Rome without her. It would certainly not be the same
     place to me, for she was uniformly kind and thoughtful where I was
     concerned, whatever she may have been to others.

     "Echoes reach me from time to time in different parts of the world,
     as I travel, and Rome seems to be changed in many ways. They say
     the ruin was dreadful when the crash came. I suppose you gave up
     business then, as was natural, since they say there is no more
     business to do. But I would be glad to know that nothing
     disagreeable happened to you in the financial storm. I confess to
     having felt an unaccountable anxiety about you of late. Perhaps
     that is why I write and why I hope for an answer at once. I have
     always looked upon presentiments and forewarnings and all such
     intimations as utterly false and absurd, and I do not really
     believe that anything has happened or is happening to distress you.
     But it is our woman's privilege to be inconsistent, and we should
     be still more inconsistent if we did not use it. Besides I have
     felt the same vague disquietude about you more than once before and
     have not written. Perhaps I should not write even now unless I had
     a great deal more time at my disposal than I know what to do with.
     Who knows? If you are busy, write a word on a post-card, just to
     say that nothing is the matter. Here in Egypt we do not realise
     what time means, and certainly not that it can ever mean money.

     "It is an idle life, less idle for me perhaps than for some of
     those about me, but even for me not over-full of occupations. The
     climate occupies all the time not actually spent in eating,
     sleeping and visiting ruins. It is fair, I suppose, to tell you
     something of myself since I ask for news of you. I will tell you
     what I can.

     "I am travelling with an old lady, as her companion--not exactly
     out of inclination and yet not exactly out of duty. Is that too
     mysterious? Do you see me as Companion and general amuser to an old
     lady--over seventy years of age? No. I presume not. And I am not
     with her by necessity either, for I have not suffered any losses.
     On the contrary, since I dismissed a certain person--an attendant,
     we will call her--from my service, it seems to me that my income is
     doubled. The attendant, by the bye, has opened a hotel on the Lake
     of Como. Perhaps you, who are so good a man of business, may see
     some connexion between these simple facts. I was never good at
     managing money, nor at understanding what it meant. It seems that I
     have not inherited all the family talents.

     "But I return to Egypt, to the Nile, to this dahabiyah, on board of
     which it has pleased the fates to dispose my existence for the
     present. I am not called a companion, but a lady in waiting, which
     would be only another term for the same thing, if I were not really
     very much attached to the Princess, old and deaf as she is. And
     that is saying a great deal. No one knows what deafness means who
     has not read aloud to a deaf person, which is what I do every day.
     I do not think I ever told you about her. I have known her all my
     life, ever since I was a little girl in the convent in Vienna. She
     used to come and see me and bring me good things--and books of
     prayers--I remember especially a box of candied fruits which she
     told me came from Kiew. I have never eaten any like them since. I
     wonder how many sincere affections between young and old people owe
     their existence originally to a confectioner!

     "When I left Rome, I met her again in Nice. She was there with the
     Prince, who was in wretched health and who died soon afterwards. He
     never was so fond of me as she was. After his death, she asked me
     to stay with her as long as I would. I do not think I shall leave
     her again so long as she lives. She treats me like her own
     child--or rather, her grandchild--and besides, the life suits me
     very well. I am, really, perfectly independent, and yet I am
     perfectly protected. I shall not repeat the experiment of living
     alone for three years, until I am much older.

     "It is a rather strange friendship. My Princess knows all about
     me--all that you know. I told her one day and she did not seem at
     all surprised. I thought I owed her the truth about myself, since I
     was to live with her, and since she had always been so kind to me.
     She says I remind her of her daughter, the poor young Princess
     Marie, who died nearly thirty years ago. In Nice, too, like her
     father, poor girl. She was only just nineteen, and very beautiful
     they say. I suppose the dear good old lady fancies she sees some
     resemblance even now, though I am so much older than her daughter
     was when she died. There is the origin of our friendship--the
     trivial and the tragic--confectionery and death--a box of candied
     fruits and an irreparable loss! If there were no contrasts what
     would the world be? All one or the other, I suppose. All death, or
     all Kiew sweetmeats.

     "I suppose you know what life in Egypt is like. If you have not
     tried it yourself, your friends have and can describe it to you. I
     will certainly not inflict my impressions upon your friendship. It
     would be rather a severe test--perhaps yours would not bear it, and
     then I should be sorry.

     "Do you know? I like to think that I have a friend in you. I like
     to remember the time when you used to talk to me of all your
     plans--the dear old time! I would rather remember that than much
     which came afterwards. You have forgiven me for all I did, and are
     glad, now, that I did it. Yes, I can fancy your smile. You do not
     see yourself, Prince Saracinesca, Prince Sant' Ilario, Duke of
     Whatever-it-may-be, Lord of ever so many What-are-their-names,
     Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, Grandee of Spain of the First
     Class, Knight of Malta and Hereditary Something to the Holy See--in
     short the tremendous personage you will one day be--you do not
     exactly see yourself as the son-in-law of the Signora Lucrezia
     Ferris, proprietor of a tourist's hotel on the Lake of Como!
     Confess that the idea was an absurdity! As for me, I will confess
     that I did very wrong. Had I known all the truth on that
     afternoon--do you remember the thunderstorm? I would have saved you
     much, and I should have saved myself--well--something. But we have
     better things to do than to run after shadows. Perhaps it is as
     well not even to think of them. It is all over now. Whatever you
     may think of it all, forgive your old friend,

     Maria Consuelo d'A."

Orsino read the long letter to the end, and sat a while thinking over
the contents. Two points in it struck him especially. In the first place
it was not the letter of a woman who wished to call back a man she had
dismissed. There was no sentiment in it, or next to none. She professed
herself contented in her life, if not happy, and in one sentence she
brought before him the enormous absurdity of the marriage he had once
contemplated. He had more than once been ashamed of not making some
further direct effort to win her again. He was now suddenly conscious of
the great influence which her first letter, containing the statement of
her parentage, had really exercised over him. Strangely enough, what she
now wrote reconciled him, as it were, with himself. It had turned out
best, after all.

That he loved her still, he felt sure, as he held in his hand the pages
she had written and felt the old thrill he knew so well in his fingers,
and the old, quick beating of the heart. But he acknowledged gladly--too
gladly, perhaps--that he had done well to let her go.

Then came the second impression. "I like to remember the time when you
used to talk to me of all your plans." The words rang in his ears and
called up delicious visions of the past, soft hours spent by her side
while she listened with something warmer than patience to the outpouring
of his young hopes and aspirations. She, at least, had understood him,
and encouraged him, and strengthened him with her sympathy. And why not
now, if then? Why should she not understand him now, when he most needed
a friend, and give him sympathy now, when he stood most in need of it?
She was in Egypt and he in Rome, it was true. But what of that? If she
could write to him, he could write to her, and she could answer him
again. No one had ever felt with him as she had.

He did not hesitate long. On that same evening, after dinner, he went
back to his own room and wrote to her. It was a little hard at first,
but, as the ink flowed, he expressed himself better and more clearly.
With an odd sort of caution, which had grown upon him of late, he tried
to make his letter take a form as similar to hers as possible.


     "MY DEAR FRIEND" (he wrote)--"If people always yielded to their
     impulses as you have done in writing to me, there would be more
     good fellowship and less loneliness in the world. It would not be
     easy for me to tell you how great a pleasure you have given me.
     Perhaps, hereafter, I may compare it to your own memory of the Kiew
     candied fruits! For the present I do not find a worthy comparison
     to my hand.

     "You ask many questions. I propose to answer them all. Will you
     have the patience to read what I write? I hope so, for the sake of
     the time when I used to talk to you of all my plans--and which you
     say you like to remember. For another reason, too. I have never
     felt so lonely in my life as I feel now, nor so much in need of a
     friend--not a helping friend, but one to whom I can speak a little
     freely. I am very much alone. A sort of estrangement has grown up
     between my mother and me, and she no longer takes my side in all I
     want to do, as she did once.

     "I will be quite plain. I will tell you all my troubles, because
     there is not another person in the world to whom I could tell
     them--and because I know that they will not trouble you. You will
     feel a little friendly sympathy, and that will be enough. But you
     will feel no pain. After all, I daresay that I exaggerate, and that
     there is nothing so very painful in the matter, as it will strike
     you. But the case is serious, as you will see. It involves my life,
     perhaps for many years to come.

     "I am completely in Del Ferice's power. A year ago I had the
     possibility of freeing myself. What do you think that chance was? I
     could have gone to my grandfather and asked him to lay down a sum
     of money sufficient to liberate me, or I could have refused Del
     Ferice's new offer and allowed myself to be declared bankrupt. My
     abominable vanity stood in the way of my following either of those
     plans. In less than two months I shall be placed in the same
     position again. But the circumstances are changed. The sum of money
     is so considerable that I would not like to ask all my family, with
     their three fortunes, to contribute it. The business is enormous. I
     have an establishment like a bank and Contini--you remember
     Contini?--has several assistant architects. Moreover we stand
     alone. There is no other firm of the kind left, and our failure
     would be a very disagreeable affair. But so long as I remain Del
     Ferice's slave, we shall not fail. Do you know that this great and
     successful firm is carried on systematically without a centime of
     profit to the partners, and with the constant threat of a
     disgraceful failure, used to force me on? Do you think that if I
     chose the alternative, any one would believe, or that my tyrant
     would let any one believe, that Orsino Saracinesca had served Ugo
     Del Ferice for years--two years and a half before long--as a sort
     of bondsman? I am in a very unenviable position. I am sure that Del
     Ferice made use of me at first for his own ends--that is, to make
     money for him. The magnitude of the sums which pass through my
     hands makes me sure that he is now backed by a powerful syndicate,
     probably of foreign bankers who lost money in the Roman crash, and
     who see a chance of getting it back through Del Ferice's
     management. It is a question of millions. You do not understand?
     Will you try to read my explanation?"

And here Orsino summed up his position towards Del Ferice in a clear and
succinct statement, which it is not necessary to reproduce here. It
needed no talent for business on Maria Consuelo's part to understand
that he was bound hand and foot.


     "One of three things must happen" (Orsino continued). "I must
     cripple, if not ruin, the fortune of my family, or I must go
     through a scandalous bankruptcy, or I must continue to be Ugo Del
     Ferice's servant during the best years of my life. My only
     consolation is that I am unpaid. I do not speak of poor Contini. He
     is making a reputation, it is true, and Del Ferice gives him
     something which I increase as much as I can. Considering our
     positions, he is the more completely sacrificed of the two, poor
     fellow--and through my fault. If I had only had the courage to put
     my vanity out of the way eighteen months ago, I might have saved
     him as well as myself. I believed myself a match for Del
     Ferice--and I neither was nor ever shall be. I am a little
     desperate.

     "That is my life, my dear friend. Since you have not quite
     forgotten me, write me a word of that good old sympathy on which I
     lived so long. It may soon be all I have to live on. If Del Ferice
     should have the bad taste to follow Donna Tullia to Saint
     Lawrence's, nothing could save me. I should no longer have the
     alternative of remaining his slave in exchange for safety from
     bankruptcy to myself and ruin--or something like it--to my father.

     "But let us talk no more about it all. But for your kindly letter,
     no one would ever have known all this, except Contini. In your calm
     Egyptian life--thank God, dear, that your life is calm!--my story
     must sound like a fragment from an unpleasant dream. One thing you
     do not tell me. Are you happy, as well as peaceful? I would like to
     know. I am not.

     "Pray write again, when you have time--and inclination. If there is
     anything to be done for you in Rome--any little thing, or great
     thing either--command your old friend,

     "ORSINO SARACINESCA."



CHAPTER XXVIII.


Orsino posted his letter with an odd sensation of relief. He felt that
he was once more in communication with humanity, since he had been able
to speak out and tell some one of the troubles that oppressed him. He
had assuredly no reason for being more hopeful than before, and matters
were in reality growing more serious every day; but his heart was
lighter and he took a more cheerful view of the future, almost against
his own better judgment.

He had not expected to receive an answer from Maria Consuelo for some
time and was surprised when one came in less than ten days from the date
of his writing. This letter was short, hurriedly written and carelessly
worded, but there was a ring of anxiety for him in every line of it
which he could not misinterpret. Not only did she express the deepest
sympathy for him and assure him that all he did still had the liveliest
interest for her, but she also insisted upon being informed of the state
of his affairs as often as possible. He had spoken of three
possibilities, she said. Was there not a fourth somewhere? There might
often be an issue from the most desperate situation, of which no one
dreamed. Could she not help him to discover where it lay in this case?
Could they not write to each other and find it out together?

Orsino looked uneasily at the lines, and the blood rose to his temples.
Did she mean what she said, or more, or less? He was overwrought and
over-sensitive, and she had written thoughtlessly, as though not
weighing her words, but only following an impulse for which she had no
time to find the proper expression. She could not imagine that he would
accept substantial help from her--still less that he would consent to
marry her for the sake of the fortune which might save him. He grew very
angry, then turned cold again, and then, reading the words again, saw
that he had no right to attach any such meaning to them. Then it struck
him that even if, by any possibility, she had meant to convey such an
idea, he would have no right at all to resent it. Women, he reflected,
did not look upon such matters as men did. She had refused to marry him
when he was prosperous. If she meant that she would marry him now, to
save him from ruin, he could not but acknowledge that she was carrying
devotion near to its farthest limit. But the words themselves would not
bear such an interpretation. He was straining language too far in
suggesting it.

"And yet she means something," he said to himself. "Something which I
cannot understand."

He wrote again, maintaining the tone of his first letter more carefully
than she had done on her part, though not sparing the warmest
expressions of heartfelt thanks for the sympathy she had so readily
given. But there was no fourth way, he said. One of those three things
which he had explained to her must happen. There was no hope, and he was
resigned to continue his existence of slavery until Del Ferice's death
brought about the great crisis of his life. Not that Del Ferice was in
any danger of dying, he added, in spite of the general gossip about his
bad health. Such men often outlasted stronger people, as Ugo had
outlived Donna Tullia. Not that his death would improve matters, either,
as they stood at present. That he had explained before. If the count
died now, there were ninety-nine chances out of a hundred that Orsino
would be ruined. For the present, nothing would happen. In little more
than a month--in six weeks at the utmost--a new arrangement would be
forced upon him, binding him perhaps for years to come. Del Ferice had
already spoken to him of a great public undertaking, at least half of
the contract for which could easily be secured or controlled by his
bank. He had added that this might be a favourable occasion for Andrea
Contini and Company to act in concert with the bank. Orsino knew what
that meant. Indeed, there was no possibility of mistaking the meaning,
which was clear enough. The fourth plan could only lie in finding
beforehand a purchaser for buildings which could not be so disposed of,
because they were built for a particular purpose, and could only be
bought by those who had ordered them, namely persons whom Del Ferice so
controlled that he could postpone their appearance if he chose and drive
Orsino into a failure at any moment after the completion of the work.
For instance, one of those buildings was evidently intended for a
factory, and probably for a match factory. Del Ferice, in requiring that
Contini and Company should erect what he had already arranged to dispose
of, had vaguely remarked that there were no match factories in Rome and
that perhaps some one would like to buy one. If Orsino had been less
desperate he would willingly have risked much to resent the suave
insolence. As it was, he had laughed in his tyrant's face, and bitterly
enough; a form of insult, however, to which Ugo was supremely
indifferent. These and many other details Orsino wrote to Maria
Consuelo, pouring out his confidence with the assurance of a man who
asks nothing but sympathy and is sure of receiving that in overflowing
measure. He no longer waited for her answers, as the crucial moment
approached, but wrote freely from day to day, as he felt inclined.
There was little which he did not tell her in the dozen or fifteen
letters he penned in the course of the month. Like many reticent men who
have never taken up a pen except for ordinary correspondence or for the
routine work of a business requiring accuracy, and who all at once begin
to write the history of their daily lives for the perusal of one trusted
person, Orsino felt as though he had found a new means of expression and
abandoned himself willingly to the comparative pleasure of complete
confidence. Like all such men, too, he unconsciously exhibited the chief
fault of his character in his long, diary-like letters. That fault was
his vanity. Had he been describing a great success he could and would
have concealed it better; in writing of his own successive errors and
disappointments he showed by the excessive blame he cast upon himself,
how deeply that vanity of his was wounded. It is possible that Maria
Consuelo discovered this. But she made no profession of analysis, and
while appearing outwardly far colder than Orsino, she seemed much more
disposed than he to yield to unexpected impulses when she felt their
influence. And Orsino was quite unconscious that he might be exhibiting
the defects of his moral nature to eyes keener than his own.

He wrote constantly therefore, with the utmost freedom, and in the
moments while he was writing he enjoyed a faint illusion of increased
safety, as though he were retarding the events of the future by
describing minutely those of the past. More than once again Maria
Consuelo answered him, and always in the same strain, doing her best,
apparently, to give him hope and to reconcile him with himself. However
much he might condemn his own lack of foresight, she said, no man who
did his best according to his best judgment, and who acted honourably,
was to be blamed for the result, though it might involve the ruin of
thousands. That was her chief argument and it comforted him, and seemed
to relieve him from a small part of the responsibility which weighed so
heavily upon his shoulders, a burden now grown so heavy that the least
lightening of it made him feel comparatively free until called upon to
face facts again and fight with realities.

But events would not be retarded, and Orsino's own good qualities tended
to hasten them, as they had to a great extent been the cause of his
embarrassment ever since the success of his first attempt, in making him
valuable as a slave to be kept from escaping at all risks. The system
upon which the business was conducted was admirable. It had been good
from the beginning and Orsino had improved it to a degree very uncommon
in Rome. He had mastered the science of book-keeping in a short time,
and had forced himself to an accuracy of detail and a promptness of
ready reference which would have surprised many an old professional
clerk. It must be remembered that from the first he had found little
else to do. The technical work had always been in Contini's hands, and
Del Ferice's forethought had relieved them both from the necessity of
entering upon financial negotiations requiring time, diplomatic tact and
skill of a higher order. The consequence was that Orsino had devoted the
whole of his great energy and native talent for order to the keeping of
the books, with the result that when a contract had been executed there
was hardly any accountant's work to be done. Nominally, too, Andrea
Contini and Company were not responsible to any one for their
book-keeping; but in practice, and under pretence of rendering valuable
service, Del Ferice sent an auditor from time to time to look into the
state of affairs, a proceeding which Contini bitterly resented while
Orsino expressed himself perfectly indifferent to the interference, on
the ground that there was nothing to conceal. Had the books been badly
kept, the final winding up of each contract would have been retarded for
one or more weeks. But the more deeply Orsino became involved, the more
keenly he felt the value and, at last, the vital importance, of the
most minute accuracy. If worse came to worst and he should be obliged
to fail, through Del Ferice's sudden death or from any other cause, his
reputation as an honourable man might depend upon this very accuracy of
detail, by which he would be able to prove that in the midst of great
undertakings, and while very large sums of money were passing daily
through his hands, he had never received even the very smallest share of
the profits absorbed by the bank. He even kept a private account of his
own expenditure on the allowance he received from his father, in order
that, if called upon, he might be able to prove how large a part of that
allowance he regularly paid to poor Contini as compensation for the
unhappy position in which the latter found himself. If bankruptcy
awaited him, his failure would, if the facts were properly made known,
reckon as one of the most honourable on record, though he was pleased to
look upon such a contingency as a certain source of scandal and more
than possible disgrace.

Unconsciously his own determined industry in book-keeping gave him a
little more confidence. In his great anxiety he was spared the terrible
uncertainty felt by a man who does not precisely know his own financial
position at a given critical moment. His studiously acquired outward
calm also stood him in good stead. Even San Giacinto who knew the
financial world as few men knew it watched his youthful cousin with
curiosity and not without a certain sympathy and a very little
admiration. The young man's face was growing stern and thoughtful like
his own, lean, grave and strong. San Giacinto remembered that night a
year and a half earlier when he had warned Orsino of the coming danger,
and he was almost displeased with himself now for having taken a step
which seemed to have been unnecessary. It was San Giacinto's principle
never to do anything unnecessary, because a useless action meant a loss
of time and therefore a loss of advantage over the adversary of the
moment. San Giacinto, in different circumstances, would have made a
good general--possibly a great one; his strange life had made him a
financier of a type singular and wholly different from that of the men
with whom he had to deal. He never sought to gain an advantage by a
deception, but he won everything by superior foresight, imperturbable
coolness, matchless rapidity of action and undaunted courage under all
circumstances. It needs higher qualities to be a good man, but no others
are needed to make a successful one. Orsino possessed something of the
same rapidity and much of a similar coolness and courage, but he lacked
the foresight. It was vanity, of the most pardonable kind, indeed, but
vanity nevertheless which had led him to embark upon his dangerous
enterprise--not in the determination to accomplish for the sake of
accomplishing, still less in the direct desire for wealth as an ultimate
object, but in the almost boyish longing to show to his own people that
there was more in him than they suspected. The gift of foresight is
generally weakened by the presence of vanity, but when vanity takes its
place the result is as likely to be failure as not, and depends almost
directly upon chance alone.

The crisis in Orsino's life was at hand, and what has here been finally
said of his position at that time seemed necessary, as summing up the
consequences to him of more than two years' unremitting labour, during
which he had become involved in affairs of enormous consequence at an
age when most young men are spending their time, more profitably perhaps
and certainly more agreeably, in such pleasures and pursuits as mother
society provides for her half-fledged nestlings.

On the day before his final interview with Del Ferice Orsino wrote a
lengthy letter to Maria Consuelo. As she did not receive it until long
afterwards it is quite unnecessary to give any account of its contents.
Some time had passed since he had heard from her and he was not sure
whether or not she were still in Egypt. But he wrote to her,
nevertheless, drawing much fictitious comfort and little real advantage
from the last clear statement of his difficulties. By this time, writing
to her had become a habit and he resorted to it naturally when over
wearied by work and anxiety.

On this same day also he had spent several hours in talking over the
situation with Contini. The architect, strange to say, was more
reconciled with his position than he had formerly been. He, at least,
received a certain substantial remuneration. He, at least, loved his
profession and rejoiced in the handling of great masses of brick and
stone. He, too, was rapidly making a reputation and a name for himself,
and, if business improved, was not prevented from entering into other
enterprises besides the one in which he found himself so deeply
interested. As a member of the firm, he could not free himself. As an
architect, he could have an architect's office of his own and build for
any one who chose to employ him. For his own part, he said, he might
perhaps be more profitably employed upon less important work; but then,
he might not, for business was very bad. The great works in which Del
Ferice kept him engaged had the incalculable advantage of bringing him
constantly before the public as an architect and of keeping his name,
which was the name of the firm, continually in the notice of all men of
business. He was deeply indebted to Orsino for the generous help given
when the realities of profit were so greatly at variance with the
appearances of prosperity. He would always regard repayment of the money
so advanced to him as a debt of honour and he hoped to live long enough
to extinguish it. He sympathised with Orsino in his desire to be freer
and more independent, but reminded him that when the day of liberation
came, he would not regret the comparatively short apprenticeship during
which he had acquired so great a mastery of business. Business, he said,
had been Orsino's ambition from the beginning, and business he had, in
plenty, if not with profit. For his own part, he was satisfied.

Orsino felt that his partner could not be blamed, and he felt, too, that
he would be doing Contini a great injury in involving him in a failure.
But he regretted the time when their interests had coincided and they
had cursed Del Ferice in common and with a good will. There was nothing
to be done but to submit. He knew well enough what awaited him.

On the following morning, by appointment, he went with a heavy heart to
meet Del Ferice at the bank. The latter had always preferred to see
Orsino without Contini when a new contract was to be discussed. As a
personal acquaintance he treated with Orsino on a footing of social
equality, and the balance of outwardly agreeable relations would have
been disturbed by the presence of a social inferior. Moreover, Del
Ferice knew the Saracinesca people tolerably well, and though not so
timid as many people supposed, he somewhat dreaded a sudden outbreak of
the hereditary temper; if such a manifestation really took place, it
would be more agreeable that there should be no witnesses of it.

Orsino was surprised to find that Ugo was out of town. Having made an
appointment, he ought at least to have sent word to the Palazzo
Saracinesca of his departure. He had indeed left a message for Orsino,
which was correctly delivered, to the effect that he would return in
twenty-four hours, and requesting him to postpone the interview until
the following afternoon. In Orsino's humour this was not altogether
pleasant. The young man felt little suspense indeed, for he knew how
matters must turn out, and that he should be saddled with another
contract. But he found it hard to wait with equanimity, now that he had
made up his mind to the worst, and he resented Del Ferice's rudeness in
not giving a civil warning of his intended journey.

The day passed somehow, at last, and towards evening Orsino received a
telegram from Ugo, full of excuses, but begging to put off the meeting
two days longer. The dispatch was from Naples whither Del Ferice often
went on business.

It was almost unbearable and yet it must be borne. Orsino spent his time
in roaming about the less frequented parts of the city, trying to make
new plans for the future which was already planned for him, doing his
best to follow out a distinct line of thought, if only to distract his
own attention. He could not even write to Maria Consuelo, for he felt
that he had said all there was to be said, in his last long letter.

On the morning of the fourth day he went to the bank again. Del Ferice
was there and greeted him warmly, interweaving his phrases with excuses
for his absence.

"You will forgive me, I am sure," he said, "though I have put you to
very great inconvenience. The case was urgent and I could not leave it
in the hands of others. Of course you could have settled the business
with another of the directors, but I think--indeed, I know--that you
prefer only to see me in these matters. We have worked together so long
now, that we understand each other with half a word. Really, I am very
sorry to have kept you waiting so long!"

"It is of no importance," answered Orsino coolly. "Pray do not speak of
it."

"Of importance--no--perhaps not. That is, as you could not lose by it,
it was not of financial importance. But when I have made an engagement,
I like to keep it. In business, so much depends upon keeping small
engagements--and they may mean quite as much in the relations of
society. However, as you are so kind, we will not speak of it again. I
have made my excuses and you have accepted them. Let that end the
matter. To business, now, Don Orsino--to business!"

Orsino fancied that Del Ferice's manner was not quite natural. He was
generally more quiet. His rather watery blue eyes did not usually look
so wide awake, his fat white hands were not commonly so active in their
gestures. Altogether he seemed more nervous, and at the same time better
pleased with himself and with life than usual. Orsino wondered what had
happened. He had perhaps made some very successful stroke in his
affairs during the three days he had spent in Naples.

"So let us now have a look into your contracts, Don Orsino," he said.
"Or rather, look into the state of the account yourself if you wish to
do so, for I have already examined it."

"I am familiar enough with the details," answered the young man. "I do
not need to look over everything. The books have been audited as you
see. The only thing left to be done is to hand over the work to you,
since it is executed according to the contract. You doubtless remember
that verbal part of the agreement. You receive the buildings as they now
stand and our credit cash if there is any, in full discharge of all the
obligations of Andrea Contini and Company to the bank--acceptances
coming due, balance of account if in debit, and mortgages on land and
houses--and we are quits again, my firm being discharged of all
obligation."

Del Ferice's expression changed a little and became more grave.

"Doubtless," he answered, "there was a tacit understanding to that
effect. Yes--yes--I remember. Indeed it was not altogether tacit. A word
was said about it, and a word is as good as a contract. Very well, Don
Orsino--very well. Since you desire it, we will cry quits again. This
kind of business is not very profitable to the bank--not very--but it is
not actual loss."

"It is not profitable to us," observed Orsino. "If you do not wish any
more of it, we do not."

"Really?"

Del Ferice looked at him rather curiously as though wishing that he
would say more. Orsino met his glance steadily, expecting to be informed
of the nature of the next contract to be forced upon him.

"So you really prefer to discontinue these operations--if I may call
them so," said Del Ferice thoughtfully. "It is strange that you should,
I confess. I remember that you much desired to take a part in affairs,
to be an actor in the interesting doings of the day, to be a financial
personage, in short. You have had your wish, Don Orsino. Your firm plays
an important part in Rome. Do you remember our first interview on the
steps of Monte Citorio? You asked me whether I could and would help you
to enter business. I promised that I would, and I have kept my word. The
sums mentioned in those papers, here, show that I have done all I
promised. You told me that you had fifteen thousand francs at your
disposal. From that small beginning I have shown you how to deal with
millions. But you do not seem to care for business, after all, Don
Orsino. You really do not seem to care for it, though I must confess
that you have a remarkable talent. It is very strange."

"Is it?" asked Orsino with a shade of contempt. "You may remember that
my business has not been profitable, in spite of what you call my
talent, and in spite of what I know to have been hard work."

Del Ferice smiled softly.

"That is quite another matter," he answered. "If you had asked me
whether you could make a fortune at this time, I would have told you
that it was quite impossible without enormous capital. Quite impossible.
Understand that, if you please. But, negatively, you have profited,
because others have failed--hundreds of firms and contractors--while you
have lost but the paltry fifteen thousand or so with which you began.
And you have acquired great knowledge and experience. Therefore, on the
whole, you have been the gainer. In balancing an account one takes but
the sordid debit and credit and compares them--but in estimating the
value of a firm one should consider its reputation and the goodwill it
has created. The name of Andrea Contini and Company is a power in Rome.
That is the result of your work, and it is not a loss."

Orsino said nothing, but leaned back in his chair, gloomily staring at
the wall. He wondered when Del Ferice would come to the point, and begin
to talk about the new contract.

"You do not seem to agree with me," observed Ugo in an injured tone.

"Not altogether, I confess," replied the young man with a contemptuous
laugh.

"Well, well--it is no matter--it is of no importance--of no consequence
whatever," said Del Fence, who seemed inclined to repeat himself and to
lengthen, his phrases as though he wished to gain time. "Only this, Don
Orsino. I would remind you that you have just executed a piece of work
successfully, which no other firm in Rome could have carried out without
failure, under the present depression. It seems to me that you have
every reason to congratulate yourself. Of course, it was impossible for
me to understand that you really cared for a large profit--for actual
money--"

"And I do not," interrupted Orsino with more warmth than he had hitherto
shown.

"But, in that case, you ought to be more than satisfied," objected Ugo
suavely.

Orsino grew impatient at last and spoke out frankly.

"I cannot be satisfied with a position of absolute dependence, from
which I cannot escape except by bankruptcy. You know that I am
completely in your power. You know very well that while you are talking
to me now you contemplate making your usual condition before crying
quits, as you express it. You intend to impose another and probably a
larger piece of work on me, which I shall be obliged to undertake on the
same terms as before, because if I do not accept it, it is in your power
to ruin me at once. And this state of things may go on for years. That
is the enviable position of Andrea Contini and Company."

Del Ferice assumed an air of injured dignity.

"If you think anything of this kind you greatly misjudge me," he said.

"I do not see why I should judge otherwise," retorted Orsino. "That is
exactly what took place on the last occasion, and what will take place
now--"

"I think not," said Del Ferice very quietly, and watching him.

Orsino was somewhat startled by the words, but his face betrayed
nothing. It was clear to him that Ugo had something new to propose, and
it was not easy to guess the nature of the coming proposition.

"Will you kindly explain yourself?" he asked.

"My dear Don Orsino, there is nothing to explain," replied Del Ferice
again becoming very bland.

"I do not understand."

"No? It is very simple. You have finished the buildings. The bank will
take them over and consider the account closed. You stated the position
yourself in the most precise terms. I do not see why you should suppose
that the bank wishes to impose anything upon you which you are not
inclined to accept. I really do not see why you should think anything of
the kind."

In the dead silence which followed Orsino could hear his own heart
beating loudly. He wondered whether he had heard aright. He wondered
whether this were not some new manoeuvre on Del Ferice's part by which
he must ultimately fall still more completely under the banker's
domination. Ugo doubtless meant to qualify what he had just said by
adding a clause. Orsino waited for what was to follow.

"Am I to understand that this does not suit your wishes?" inquired Ugo,
presently.

"On the contrary, it would suit me perfectly," answered Orsino
controlling his voice with some difficulty.

"In that case, there is nothing more to be said," observed Del Ferice.
"The bank will give you a formal release--indeed, I think the notary is
at this moment here. I am very glad to be able to meet your views, Don
Orsino. Very glad, I am sure. It is always pleasant to find that
amicable relations have been preserved after a long and somewhat
complicated business connexion. The bank owes it to you, I am sure--"

"I am quite willing to owe that to the bank," answered Orsino with a
ready smile. He was almost beside himself with joy.

"You are very good, I assure you," said Del Ferice, with much
politeness. He touched a bell and his confidential clerk appeared.

"Cancel these drafts," he said, giving the man a small bundle of bills.
"Direct the notary to prepare a deed of sale, transferring all this
property, as was done before--" he hesitated. "I will see him myself in
ten minutes," he added. "It will be simpler. The account of Andrea
Contini is balanced and closed. Make out a preliminary receipt for all
dues whatsoever and bring it to me."

The clerk stared for one moment as though he believed that Del Ferice
were mad. Then he went out.

"I am sorry to lose you, Don Orsino," said Del Ferice, thoughtfully
rolling his big silver pencil case on the table. "All the legal papers
will be ready to-morrow afternoon."

"Pray express to the directors my best thanks for so speedily winding up
the business," answered Orsino. "I think that, after all, I have no
great talent for affairs."

"On the contrary, on the contrary," protested Ugo. "I have a great deal
to say against that statement." And he eulogised Orsino's gifts almost
without pausing for breath until the clerk returned with the preliminary
receipt. Del Ferice signed it and handed it to Orsino with a smile.

"This was unnecessary," said the young man. "I could have waited until
to-morrow."

"A matter of conscience, dear Don Orsino--nothing more."



CHAPTER XXIX.


Orsino was free at last. The whole matter was incomprehensible to him,
and almost mysterious, so that after he had at last received his legal
release he spent his time in trying to discover the motives of Del
Ferice's conduct. The simplest explanation seemed to be that Ugo had not
derived as much profit from the last contract as he had hoped for,
though it had been enough to justify him in keeping his informal
engagement with Contini and Company, and that he feared a new and
unfavourable change in business which made any further speculations of
the kind dangerous. For some time Orsino believed this to have been the
case, but events proved that he was mistaken. He dissolved his
partnership with Contini, but Andrea Contini and Company still continued
to exist. The new partner was no less a personage than Del Ferice
himself, who was constantly represented in the firm by the confidential
clerk who has been more than once mentioned in this history, and who was
a friend of Contini's. What terms Contini made for himself, Orsino never
knew, but it is certain that the architect prospered from that time and
is still prosperous.

Late in the spring of that year 1890 Roman society was considerably
surprised by the news of a most unexpected marriage. The engagement had
been carefully kept a secret, the banns had been published in Palermo,
the civil and religious ceremonies had taken place there, and the happy
couple had already reached Paris before either of them thought of
informing their friends and before any notice of the event appeared in
the papers. Even then, society felt itself aggrieved by the laconic form
in which the information was communicated.

The statement, indeed, left nothing to be desired on the score of
plainness or conciseness of style. Count Del Ferice had married Maria
Consuelo d'Aranjuez d'Aragona.

Two persons only received the intelligence a few days before it was
generally made known. One was Orsino and the other was Spicca. The
letters were characteristic and may be worth reproducing.


     "MY FATHER" (Maria Consuelo wrote)--"I am married to Count Del
     Ferice, with whom I think that you are acquainted. There is no
     reason why I should enter into any explanation of my reasons for
     taking this step. There are plenty which everybody can see. My
     husband's present position and great wealth make him what the world
     calls a good match, and my fortune places me above the suspicion of
     having married him for his money. If his birth was not originally
     of the highest, it was at least as good as mine, and society will
     say that the marriage was appropriate in all its circumstances. You
     are aware that I could not be married without informing my husband
     and the municipal authorities of my parentage, by presenting copies
     of the registers in Nice. Count Del Ferice was good enough to
     overlook some little peculiarity in the relation between the dates
     of my birth and your marriage. We will therefore say no more about
     the matter. The object of this letter is to let you know that those
     facts have been communicated to several persons, as a matter of
     necessity. I do not expect you to congratulate me. I congratulate
     myself, however, with all my heart. Within two years I have freed
     myself from my worthy mother, I have placed myself beyond your
     power to injure me, and I have escaped ruining a man I loved by
     marrying him. I have laid the foundations of peace if not of
     happiness.

     "The Princess is very ill but hopes to reach Normandy before the
     summer begins. My husband will be obliged to be often in Rome but
     will come to me from time to time, as I cannot leave the Princess
     at present. She is trying, however, to select among her
     acquaintance another lady in waiting--the more willingly as she is
     not pleased with my marriage. Is that a satisfaction to you? I
     expect to spend the winter in Rome.

     "MARIA CONSUELO DEL FERICE."

This was the letter by which Maria Consuelo announced her marriage to
the father whom she so sincerely hated. For cruelty of language and
expression it was not to be compared with the one she had written to
him after parting with Orsino. But had she known how the news she now
conveyed would affect the old man who was to learn it, her heart might
have softened a little towards him, even after all she had suffered.
Very different were the lines Orsino received from her at the same time.


     "My dear Friend--When you read this letter, which I write on the
     eve of my marriage, but shall not send till some days have passed,
     you must think of me as the wife of Ugo Del Ferice. To-night, I am
     still Maria Consuelo. I have something to say to you, and you must
     read it patiently, for I shall never say it again--and after all,
     it will not be much. Is it right of me to say it? I do not know.
     Until to-morrow I have still time to refuse to be married.
     Therefore I am still a free agent, and entitled to think freely.
     After to-morrow it will be different.

     "I wish, dear, that I could tell you all the truth. Perhaps you
     would not be ashamed of having loved the daughter of Lucrezia
     Ferris. But I cannot tell you all. There are reasons why you had
     better never know it. But I will tell you this, for I must say it
     once. I love you very dearly. I loved you long ago, I loved you
     when I left you in Rome, I have loved you ever since, and I am
     afraid that I shall love you until I die.

     "It is not foolish of me to write the words, though it may be
     wrong. If I love you, it is because I know you. We shall meet
     before long, and then meet, perhaps, hundreds of times, and more,
     for I am to live in Rome. I know that you will be all you should
     be, or I would not speak now as I never spoke before, at the moment
     when I am raising an impassable barrier between us by my own free
     will. If you ever loved me--and you did--you will respect that
     barrier in deed and word, and even in thought. You will remember
     only that I loved you with all my heart on the day before my
     marriage. You will forget even to think that I may love you still
     to-morrow, and think tenderly of you on the day after that.

     "You are free now, dear, and can begin your real life. How do I
     know it? Del Ferice has told me that he has released you--for we
     sometimes speak of you. He has even shown me a copy of the legal
     act of release, which he chanced to find among the papers he had
     brought. An accident, perhaps. Or, perhaps he knows that I loved
     you. I do not care--I had a right to, then.

     "So you are quite free. I like to think that you have come out of
     all your troubles quite unscathed, young, your name untarnished,
     your hands clean. I am glad that you answered the letter I wrote to
     you from Egypt and told me all, and wrote so often afterwards. I
     could not do much beyond give you my sympathy, and I gave it
     all--to the uttermost. You will not need any more of it. You are
     free now, thank God!

     "If you think of me, wish me peace, dear--I do not ask for anything
     nearer to happiness than that. But I wish you many things, the
     least of which should make you happy. Most of all, I wish that you
     may some day love well and truly, and win the reality of which you
     once thought you held the shadow. Can I say more than that? No
     loving woman can.

     "And so, good-bye--good-bye, love of all my life, good-bye dear,
     dear Orsino--I think this is the hardest good-bye of all--when we
     are to meet so soon. I cannot write any more. Once again, the
     last--the very last time, for ever--I love you.

     "MARIA CONSUELO."

A strange sensation came over Orsino as he read this letter. He was not
able at first to realise much beyond the fact that Maria Consuelo was
actually married to Del Ferice--a match than which none imaginable could
have been more unexpected. But he felt that there was more behind the
facts than he was able to grasp, almost more than he dared to guess at.
A mysterious horror filled his mind as he read and reread the lines.
There was no doubting the sincerity of what she said. He doubted the
survival of his own love much more. She could have no reason whatever
for writing as she did, on the eve of her marriage, no reason beyond the
irresistible desire to speak out all her heart once only and for the
last time. Again and again he went over the passages which struck him as
most strange. Then the truth flashed upon him. Maria Consuelo had sold
herself to free him from his difficulties, to save him from the terrible
alternatives of either wasting his life as Del Ferice's slave or of
ruining his family.

With a smothered exclamation, between an oath and a groan of pain,
Orsino threw himself upon the divan and buried his face in his hands.
It is kinder to leave him there for a time, alone.

Poor Spicca broke down under this last blow. In vain old Santi got out
the cordial from the press in the corner, and did his best to bring his
master back to his natural self. In vain Spicca roused himself, forced
himself to eat, went out, walked his hour, dragging his feet after him,
and attempted to exchange a word with his friends at the club. He seemed
to have got his death wound. His head sank lower on his breast, his long
emaciated frame stooped more and more, the thin hands grew daily more
colourless, and the deathly face daily more deathly pale. Days passed
away, and weeks, and it was early June. He no longer tried to go out.
Santi tried to prevail upon him to take a little air in a cab, on the
Via Appia. It would be money well spent, he said, apologising for
suggesting such extravagance. Spicca shook his head, and kept to his
chair by the open window. Then, on a certain morning, he was worse and
had not the strength to rise from his bed.

On that very morning a telegram came. He looked at it as though hardly
understanding what he should do, as Santi held it before him. Then he
opened it. His fingers did not tremble even now. The iron nerve of the
great swordsman survived still.

"Ventnor--Rome. Count Spicca. The Princess is dead. I know the truth at
last. God forgive me and bless you. I come to you at once.--Maria
Consuelo."

Spicca read the few words printed on the white strip that was pasted to
the yellow paper. Then his hands sank to his sides and he closed his
eyes. Santi thought it was the end, and burst into tears as he fell to
his knees by the bed.

Half an hour passed. Then Spicca raised his head, and made a gesture
with his hand.

"Do not be a fool, Santi, I am not dead yet," he said, with kindly
impatience. "Get up and send for Don Orsino Saracinesca, if he is still
in Rome."

Santi left the room, drying his eyes and uttering incoherent
exclamations of astonishment mingled with a singular cross fire of
praise and prayer directed to the Saints and of imprecations upon
himself for his own stupidity.

Before noon Orsino appeared. He was gaunt and pale, and more like San
Giacinto than ever. There was a settled hardness in his face which was
never again to disappear permanently. But he was horror-struck by
Spicca's appearance. He had no idea that a man already so cadaverous
could still change as the old man had changed. Spicca seemed little more
than a grey shadow barely resting upon the white bed. He put the
telegram into Orsino's hands. The young man read it twice and his face
expressed his astonishment. Spicca smiled faintly, as he watched him.

"What does it mean?" asked Orsino. "Of what truth does she speak? She
hated you, and now, all at once, she loves you. I do not understand."

"How should you?" The old man spoke in a clear, thin voice, very unlike
his own. "You could not understand. But before I die, I will tell you."

"Do not talk of dying--"

"No. It is not necessary. I realise it enough, and you need not realise
it at all. I have not much to tell you, but a little truth will
sometimes destroy many falsehoods. You remember the story about Lucrezia
Ferris? Maria Consuelo wrote it to you."

"Remember it! Could I forget it?"

"You may as well. There is not a word of truth in it. Lucrezia Ferris is
not her mother."

"Not her mother!"

"No. I only wonder how you could ever have believed that a Piedmontese
nurse could be the mother of Maria Consuelo. Nor am I Maria Consuelo's
father. Perhaps that will not surprise you so much. She does not
resemble me, thank Heaven!"

"What is she then? Who is she?" asked Orsino impatiently.

"To tell you that I must tell you the story. When I was young--very long
before you were born--I travelled much, and I was well received. I was
rich and of good family. At a certain court in Europe--I was at one time
in the diplomacy--I loved a lady whom I could not have married, even had
she been free. Her station was far above mine. She was also considerably
older than I, and she paid very little attention to me, I confess. But I
loved her. She is just dead. She was that princess mentioned in this
telegram. Do you understand? Do you hear me? My voice is weak."

"Perfectly. Pray go on."

"Maria Consuelo is her grandchild--the granddaughter of the only woman I
ever loved. Understand that, too. It happened in this way. My Princess
had but one daughter, the Princess Marie, a mere child when I first saw
her--not more than fourteen years old. We were all in Nice, one winter
thirty years ago--some four years after I had first met the Princess. I
travelled in order to see her, and she was always kind to me, though she
did not love me. Perhaps I was useful, too, before that. People were
always afraid of me, because I could handle the foils. It was thirty
years ago, and the Princess Marie was eighteen. Poor child!"

Spicca paused a moment, and passed his transparent hand over his eyes.

"I think I understand," said Orsino.

"No you do not," answered Spicca, with unexpected sharpness. "You will
not understand, until I have told you everything. The Princess Marie
fell ill, or pretended to fall ill while we were at Nice. But she could
not conceal the truth long--at least not from her mother. She had
already taken into her confidence a little Piedmontese maid, scarcely
older than herself--a certain Lucrezia Ferris--and she allowed no other
woman to come near her. Then she told her mother the truth. She loved a
man of her own rank and not much older--not yet of age, in fact.
Unfortunately, as happens with such people, a marriage was
diplomatically impossible. He was not of her nationality and the
relations were strained. But she had married him nevertheless, secretly
and, as it turned out, without any legal formalities. It is questionable
whether the marriage, even then, could have been proved to be valid, for
she was a Catholic and he was not, and a Catholic priest had married
them without proper authorisation or dispensation. But they were both in
earnest, both young and both foolish. The husband--his name is of no
importance--was very far away at the time we were in Nice, and was quite
unable to come to her. She was about to be a mother and she turned to
her own mother in her extremity, with a full confession of the truth."

"I see," said Orsino. "And you adopted--"

"You do not see yet. The Princess came to me for advice. The situation
was an extremely delicate one from all points of view. To declare the
marriage at that moment might have produced extraordinary complications,
for the countries to which, the two young people belonged were on the
verge of a war which was only retarded by the extraordinary genius of
one man. To conceal it seemed equally dangerous, if not more so. The
Princess Marie's reputation was at stake--the reputation of a young
girl, as people supposed her to be, remember that. Various schemes
suggested themselves. I cannot tell what would have been done, for fate
decided the matter--tragically, as fate does. The young husband was
killed while on a shooting expedition--at least so it was stated. I
always believed that he shot himself. It was all very mysterious. We
could not keep the news from the Princess Marie. That night Maria
Consuelo was born. On the next day, her mother died. The shock had
killed her. The secret was now known to the old Princess, to me, to
Lucrezia Ferris and to the French doctor--a man of great skill and
discretion. Maria Consuelo was the nameless orphan child of an
unacknowledged marriage--of a marriage which was certainly not legal,
and which the Church must hesitate to ratify. Again we saw that the
complications, diplomatic and of other kinds, which would arise if the
truth were published, would be enormous. The Prince himself was not yet
in Nice and was quite ignorant of the true cause of his daughter's
sudden death. But he would arrive in forty-eight hours, and it was
necessary to decide upon some course. We could rely upon the doctor and
upon our two selves--the Princess and I. Lucrezia Ferris seemed to be a
sensible, quiet girl, and she certainly proved to be discreet for a long
time. The Princess was distracted with grief and beside herself with
anxiety. Remember that I loved her--that explains what I did. I proposed
the plan which was carried out and with which you are acquainted. I took
the child, declared it to be mine, and married Lucrezia. The only legal
documents in existence concerning Maria Consuelo prove her to be my
daughter. The priest who had married the poor Princess Marie could never
be found. Terrified, perhaps, at what he had done, he
disappeared--probably as a monk in an Austrian monastery. I hunted him
for years. Lucrezia Ferris was discreet for two reasons. She received a
large sum of money, and a large allowance afterwards, and later on it
appears that she further enriched herself at Maria Consuelo's expense.
Avarice was her chief fault, and by it we held her. Secondly, however,
she was well aware, and knows to-day, that no one would believe her
story if she told the truth. The proofs are all positive and legal for
Maria Consuelo's supposed parentage, and there is not a trace of
evidence in favour of the truth. You know the story now. I am glad I
have been able to tell it to you. I will rest now, for I am very tired.
If I am alive to-morrow, come and see me--good-bye, in case you should
not find me."

Orsino pressed the wasted hand and went out silently, more affected than
he owned by the dying man's words and looks. It was a painful story of
well-meant mistakes, he thought, and it explained many things which he
had not understood. Linking it with all he knew besides, he had the
whole history of Spicca's mysterious, broken life, together with the
explanation of some points in his own which had never been clear to him.
The old cynic of a duellist had been a man of heart, after all, and had
sacrificed his whole existence to keep a secret for a woman whom he
loved but who did not care for him. That was all. She was dead and he
was dying. The secret was already half buried in the past. If it were
told now, no one would believe it.

Orsino returned on the following day. He had sent for news several
times, and was told that Spicca still lingered. He saw him again but the
old man seemed very weak and only spoke a few words during the hour
Orsino spent with him. The doctor had said that he might possibly live,
but that there was not much hope.

And again on the next day Orsino came back. He started as he entered the
room. An old Franciscan, a Minorite, was by the bedside, speaking in low
tones. Orsino made as though he would withdraw, but Spicca feebly
beckoned to him to stay, and the monk rose.

"Good-bye," whispered Spicca, following him with his sunken eyes.

Orsino led the Franciscan out. At the outer door the latter turned to
Orsino with a strange look and laid a hand upon his arm.

"Who are you, my son?" he asked.

"Orsino Saracinesca."

"A friend of his?"

"Yes."

"He has done terrible things in his long life. But he has done noble
things, too, and has suffered much, and in silence. He has earned his
rest, and God will forgive him."

The monk bowed his head and went out. Orsino re-entered the room and
took the vacant chair beside the bed. He touched Spicca's hand almost
affectionately, but the latter withdrew it with an effort. He had never
liked sympathy, and liked it least when another would have needed it
most. For a considerable time neither spoke. The pale hand lay
peacefully upon the pillows, the long, shadowy frame was wrapped in a
gown of dark woollen material.

"Do you think she will come to-day?" asked the old man at length.

"She may come to-day--I hope so," Orsino answered.

A long pause followed.

"I hope so, too," Spicca whispered. "I have not much strength left. I
cannot wait much longer."

Again there was silence. Orsino knew that there was nothing to be said,
nothing at least which he could say, to cheer the last hours of the
lonely life. But Spicca seemed contented that he should sit there.

"Give me that photograph," he said, suddenly, a quarter of an hour
later.

Orsino looked about him but could not see what Spicca wanted.

"Hers," said the feeble voice, "in the next room."

It was the photograph in the little chiselled frame--the same frame
which had once excited Donna Tullia's scorn. Orsino brought it quickly
from its place over the chimney-piece, and held it before his friend's
eyes. Spicca gazed at it a long time in silence.

"Take it away," he said, at last. "It is not like her."

Orsino put it aside and sat down again. Presently Spicca turned a little
on the pillow and looked at him.

"Do you remember that I once said I wished you might marry her?" he
asked.

"Yes."

"It was quite true. You understand now? I could not tell you then."

"Yes. I understand everything now."

"But I am sorry I said it."

"Why?" "Perhaps it influenced you and has hurt your life. I am sorry.
You must forgive me."

"For Heaven's sake, do not distress yourself about such trifles," said
Orsino, earnestly. "There is nothing to forgive."

"Thank you."

Orsino looked at him, pondering on the peaceful ending of the strange
life, and wondering what manner of heart and soul the man had really
lived with. With the intuition which sometimes comes to dying persons,
Spicca understood, though it was long before he spoke again. There was a
faint touch of his old manner in his words.

"I am an awful example, Orsino," he said, with the ghost of a smile. "Do
not imitate me. Do not sacrifice your life for the love of any woman.
Try and appreciate sacrifices in others."

The smile died away again.

"And yet I am glad I did it," he added, a moment later. "Perhaps it was
all a mistake--but I did my best."

"You did indeed," Orsino answered gravely.

He meant what he said, though he felt that it had indeed been all a
mistake, as Spicca suggested. The young face was very thoughtful. Spicca
little knew how hard his last cynicism hit the man beside him, for whose
freedom and safety the woman of whom Spicca was thinking had sacrificed
so very much. He would die without knowing that.

The door opened softly and a woman's light footstep was on the
threshold. Maria Consuelo came silently and swiftly forward with
outstretched hands that had clasped the dying man's almost before Orsino
realised that it was she herself. She fell on her knees beside the bed
and pressed the powerless cold fingers to her forehead.

Spicca started and for one moment raised his head from the pillow. It
fell back almost instantly. A look of supreme happiness flashed over
the deathly features, followed by an expression of pain.

"Why did you marry him?" he asked in tones so loud that Orsino started,
and Maria Consuelo looked up with streaming eyes.

She did not answer, but tried to soothe him, rising and caressing his
hand, and smoothing his pillows.

"Tell me why you married him!" he cried again. "I am dying--I must
know!"

She bent down very low and whispered into his ear. He shook his head
impatiently.

"Louder! I cannot hear! Louder!"

Again she whispered, more distinctly this time, and casting an imploring
glance at Orsino, who was too much disturbed to understand.

"Louder!" gasped the dying man, struggling to sit up. "Louder! O my God!
I shall die without hearing you--without knowing--"

It would have been inhuman to torture the departing soul any longer.
Then Maria Consuelo made her last sacrifice. She spoke in calm, clear
tones.

"I married to save the man I loved."

Spicca's expression changed. For fully twenty seconds his sunken eyes
remained fixed, gazing into hers. Then the light began to flash in them
for the last time, keen as the lightning.

"God have mercy on you! God reward you!" he cried.

The shadowy figure quivered throughout its length, was still, then
quivered again, then sprang up suddenly with a leap, and Spicca was
standing on the floor, clasping Maria Consuelo in his arms. All at once
there was colour in his face and the fire grew bright in his glance.

"Oh, my darling, I have loved you so!" he cried.

He almost lifted her from the ground as he pressed his lips passionately
upon her forehead. His long thin hands relaxed suddenly, and the light
broke in his eyes as when a mirror is shivered by a blow. For an instant
that seemed an age, he stood upright, dead already, and then fell back
all his length across the bed with wide extended arms.

There was a short, sharp sob, and then a sound of passionate weeping
filled the silent room. Strongly and tenderly Orsino laid his dead
friend upon the couch as he had lain alive but two minutes earlier. He
crossed the hands upon the breast and gently closed the staring eyes. He
could not have had Maria Consuelo see him as he had fallen, when she
next looked up.

A little later they stood side by side, gazing at the calm dead face, in
a long silence. How long they stood, they never knew, for their hearts
were very full. The sun was going down and the evening light filled the
room.

"Did he tell you, before he died--about me?" asked Maria Consuelo in a
low voice.

"Yes. He told me everything."

Maria Consuelo went forward and bent over the face and kissed the white
forehead, and made the sign of the Cross upon it. Then she turned and
took Orsino's hand in hers.

"I could not help your hearing what I said, Orsino. He was dying, you
see. You know all, now."

Orsino's fingers pressed hers desperately. For a moment he could not
speak. Then the agonised words came with a great effort, harshly but
ringing from the heart.

"And I can give you nothing!"

He covered his face and turned away.

"Give me your friendship, dear--I never had your love," she said.

It was long before they talked together again.

This is what I know of young Orsino Saracinesca's life up to the present
time. Maria Consuelo, Countess Del Ferice, was right. She never had his
love as he had hers. Perhaps the power of loving so is not in him. He
is, after all, more like San Giacinto than any other member of the
family, cold, perhaps, and hard by nature. But these things which I have
described have made a man of him at an age when many men are but boys,
and he has learnt what many never learn at all--that there is more true
devotion to be found in the world than most people will acknowledge. He
may some day be heard of. He may some day fall under the great passion.
Or he may never love at all and may never distinguish himself any more
than his father has done. One or the other may happen, but not both, in
all probability. The very greatest passion is rarely compatible with the
very greatest success except in extraordinary good or bad natures. And
Orsino Saracinesca is not extraordinary in any way. His character has
been formed by the unusual circumstances in which he was placed when
very young, rather than by anything like the self-development which we
hear of in the lives of great men. From a somewhat foolish and
affectedly cynical youth he has grown into a decidedly hard and
cool-headed man. He is very much seen in society but talks little on the
whole. If, hereafter, there should be anything in his life worth
recording, another hand than mine may write it down for future readers.

If any one cares to ask why I have thought it worth the trouble to
describe his early years so minutely, I answer that the young man of the
Transition Period interests me. Perhaps I am singular in that. Orsino
Saracinesca is a fair type, I think, of his class at his age. I have
done my best to be just to him.


THE END.





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