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Title: Saracinesca
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 "Saracinesca" ***

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                              SARACINESCA

                         BY F. MARION CRAWFORD

AUTHOR OF 'MR. ISAACS,' 'DR. CLAUDIUS,' 'A ROMAN SINGER,' 'ZOROASTER,'
'A TALE OF A LONELY PARISH,' ETC.

                                 1887



NOTE


It was at first feared that the name Saracinesca, as it is now
printed, might be attached to an unused title in the possession of a
Roman house. The name was therefore printed with an additional
consonant--Sarracinesca--in the pages of 'Blackwood's Magazine.'
After careful inquiry, the original spelling is now restored.



SARACINESCA.



CHAPTER I.


In the year 1865 Rome was still in a great measure its old self. It had
not then acquired that modern air which is now beginning to pervade it.
The Corso had not been widened and whitewashed; the Villa Aldobrandini
had not been cut through to make the Via Nazionale; the south wing of the
Palazzo Colonna still looked upon a narrow lane through which men
hesitated to pass after dark; the Tiber's course had not then been
corrected below the Farnesina; the Farnesina itself was but just under
repair; the iron bridge at the Ripetta was not dreamed of; and the Prati
di Castello were still, as their name implies, a series of waste meadows.
At the southern extremity of the city, the space between the fountain of
Moses and the newly erected railway station, running past the Baths of
Diocletian, was still an exercising-ground for the French cavalry. Even
the people in the streets then presented an appearance very different
from that which is now observed by the visitors and foreigners who come
to Rome in the winter. French dragoons and hussars, French infantry and
French officers, were everywhere to be seen in great numbers, mingled
with a goodly sprinkling of the Papal Zouaves, whose grey Turco uniforms
with bright red facings, red sashes, and short yellow gaiters, gave
colour to any crowd. A fine corps of men they were, too; counting
hundreds of gentlemen in their ranks, and officered by some of the best
blood in France and Austria. In those days also were to be seen the great
coaches of the cardinals, with their gorgeous footmen and magnificent
black horses, the huge red umbrellas lying upon the top, while from the
open windows the stately princes of the Church from time to time returned
the salutations of the pedestrians in the street. And often in the
afternoon there was heard the tramp of horse as a detachment of the noble
guards trotted down the Corso on their great chargers, escorting the holy
Father himself, while all who met him dropped upon one knee and uncovered
their heads to receive the benediction of the mild-eyed old man with the
beautiful features, the head of Church and State. Many a time, too,
Pius IX. would descend from his coach and walk upon the Pincio, all
clothed in white, stopping sometimes to talk with those who accompanied
him, or to lay his gentle hand on the fair curls of some little English
child that paused from its play in awe and admiration as the Pope went
by. For he loved children well, and most of all, children with golden
hair--angels, not Angles, as Gregory said.

As for the fashions of those days, it is probable that most of us would
suffer severe penalties rather than return to them, beautiful as they
then appeared to us by contrast with the exaggerated crinoline and
flower-garden bonnet, which had given way to the somewhat milder form of
hoop-skirt madness, but had not yet flown to the opposite extreme in the
invention of the close-fitting _princesse_ garments of 1868. But, to each
other, people looked then as they look now. Fashion in dress, concerning
which nine-tenths of society gives itself so much trouble, appears to
exercise less influence upon men and women in their relations towards
each other than does any other product of human ingenuity. Provided every
one is in the fashion, everything goes on in the age of high heels and
gowns tied back precisely as it did five-and-twenty years ago, when
people wore flat shoes, and when gloves with three buttons had not been
dreamed of--when a woman of most moderate dimensions occupied three or
four square yards of space upon a ball-room floor, and men wore peg-top
trousers. Human beings since the days of Adam seem to have retired like
caterpillars into cocoons of dress, expecting constantly the wondrous
hour when they shall emerge from their self-woven prison in the garb of
the angelic butterfly, having entered into the chrysalis state as mere
human grubs. But though they both toil and spin at their garments, and
vie with Solomon in his glory to outshine the lily of the field, the
humanity of the grub shows no signs of developing either in character or
appearance in the direction of anything particularly angelic.

It was not the dress of the period which gave to the streets of Rome
their distinctive feature. It would be hard to say, now that so much is
changed, wherein the peculiar charm of the old-time city consisted; but
it was there, nevertheless, and made itself felt so distinctly beyond the
charm of any other place, that the very fascination of Rome was
proverbial. Perhaps no spot in Europe has ever possessed such an
attractive individuality. In those days there were many foreigners, too,
as there are to-day, both residents and visitors; but they seemed to
belong to a different class of humanity. They seemed less inharmonious to
their surroundings then than now, less offensive to the general air of
antiquity. Probably they were more in earnest; they came to Rome with the
intention of liking the place, rather than of abusing the cookery in the
hotels. They came with a certain knowledge of the history, the
literature, and the manners of the ancients, derived from an education
which in those days taught more through the classics and less through
handy text-books and shallow treatises concerning the Renaissance; they
came with preconceived notions which were often strongly dashed with
old-fashioned prejudice, but which did not lack originality: they come
now in the smattering mood, imbued with no genuine beliefs, but covered
with exceeding thick varnish. Old gentlemen then visited the sights in
the morning, and quoted Horace to each other, and in the evening
endeavoured by associating with Romans to understand something of Rome;
young gentlemen now spend one or two mornings in finding fault with the
architecture of Bramante, and "in the evening," like David's enemies,
"they grin like a dog and run about the city:" young women were content
to find much beauty in the galleries and in the museums, and were simple
enough to admire what they liked; young ladies of the present day can
find nothing to admire except their own perspicacity in detecting faults
in Raphael's drawing or Michael Angelo's colouring. This is the age of
incompetent criticism in matters artistic, and no one is too ignorant to
volunteer an opinion. It is sufficient to have visited half-a-dozen
Italian towns, and to have read a few pages of fashionable aesthetic
literature--no other education is needed to fit the intelligent young
critic for his easy task. The art of paradox can be learned in five
minutes, and practised by any child; it consists chiefly in taking two
expressions of opinion from different authors, halving them, and uniting
the first half of the one with the second half of the other. The result
is invariably startling, and generally incomprehensible. When a young
society critic knows how to be startling and incomprehensible, his
reputation is soon made, for people readily believe that what they cannot
understand is profound, and anything which astonishes is agreeable to a
taste deadened by a surfeit of spices. But in 1865 the taste of Europe
was in a very different state. The Second Empire was in its glory.
M. Emile Zola had not written his 'Assommoir.' Count Bismarck had only
just brought to a successful termination the first part of his trimachy;
Sadowa and Sedan were yet unfought. Garibaldi had won Naples, and Cavour
had said, "If we did for ourselves what we are doing for Italy, we should
be great scoundrels;" but Garibaldi had not yet failed at Mentana, nor
had Austria ceded Venice. Cardinal Antonelli had yet ten years of life
before him in which to maintain his gallant struggle for the remnant of
the temporal power; Pius IX. was to live thirteen years longer, just long
enough to outlive by one month the "honest king," Victor Emmanuel.
Antonelli's influence pervaded Rome, and to a great extent all the
Catholic Courts of Europe; yet he was far from popular with the Romans.
The Jesuits, however, were even less popular than he, and certainly
received a much larger share of abuse. For the Romans love faction more
than party, and understand it better; so that popular opinion is too
frequently represented by a transitory frenzy, violent and pestilent
while it lasts, utterly insignificant when it has spent its fury.

But Rome in those days was peopled solely by Romans, whereas now a large
proportion of the population consists of Italians from the north and
south, who have been attracted to the capital by many interests--races as
different from its former citizens as Germans or Spaniards, and
unfortunately not disposed to show overmuch good-fellowship or
loving-kindness to the original inhabitants. The Roman is a grumbler by
nature, but he is also a "peace-at-any-price" man. Politicians and
revolutionary agents have more than once been deceived by these traits,
supposing that because the Roman grumbled he really desired change, but
realising too late, when the change has been begun, that that same Roman
is but a lukewarm partisan. The Papal Government repressed grumbling as a
nuisance, and the people consequently took a delight in annoying the
authorities by grumbling in secret places and calling themselves
conspirators. The harmless whispering of petty discontent was mistaken by
the Italian party for the low thunder of a smothered volcano; but, the
change being brought about, the Italians find to their disgust that the
Roman meant nothing by his murmurings, and that he now not only still
grumbles at everything, but takes the trouble to fight the Government at
every point which concerns the internal management of the city. In the
days before the change, a paternal Government directed the affairs of the
little State, and thought it best to remove all possibility of strife by
giving the grumblers no voice in public or economic matters. The
grumblers made a grievance of tins; and then, as soon as the grievance
had been redressed, they redoubled their complaints and retrenched
themselves within the infallibility of inaction, on the principle that
men who persist in doing nothing cannot possibly do wrong.

Those were the days, too, of the old school of artists--men who, if their
powers of creation were not always proportioned to their ambition for
excellence, were as superior to their more recent successors in their
pure conceptions of what art should be as Apelles was to the Pompeian
wall-painters, and as the Pompeians were to modern house-decorators. The
age of Overbeck and the last religious painters was almost past, but the
age of fashionable artistic debauchery had hardly begun. Water-colour
was in its infancy; wood-engraving was hardly yet a great profession;
but the "Dirty Boy" had not yet taken a prize at Paris, nor had indecency
become a fine art. The French school had not demonstrated the startling
distinction between the nude and the naked, nor had the English school
dreamed nightmares of anatomical distortion.

Darwin's theories had been propagated, but had not yet been passed into
law, and very few Romans had heard of them; still less had any one been
found to assert that the real truth of these theories would be soon
demonstrated retrogressively by the rapid degeneration of men into apes,
while apes would hereafter have cause to congratulate themselves upon not
having developed into men. Many theories also were then enjoying vast
popularity which have since fallen low in the popular estimation. Prussia
was still, in theory, a Power of the second class, and the empire of
Louis Napoleon was supposed to possess elements of stability. The great
civil war in the United States had just been fought, and people still
doubted whether the republic would hold together. It is hard to recall
the common beliefs of those times. A great part of the political creed of
twenty years ago seems now a mass of idiotic superstition, in no wise
preferable, as Macaulay would have said, to the Egyptian worship of cats
and onions. Nevertheless, then, as now, men met together secretly in
cellars and dens, as well as in drawing-rooms and clubs, and whispered
together, and said their theories were worth something, and ought to be
tried. The word republic possessed then, as now, a delicious attraction
for people who had grievances; and although, after the conquest of
Naples, Garibaldi had made a sort of public abjuration of republican
principles, so far as Italy was concerned, the plotters of all classes
persisted in coupling his name with the idea of a commonwealth erected on
the plan of "sois mon frère ou je te tue." Profound silence on the part
of Governments, and a still more guarded secrecy on the part of
conspiring bodies, were practised as the very first principle of all
political operations. No copyist, at half-a-crown an hour, had yet
betrayed the English Foreign Office; and it had not dawned upon the
clouded intellects of European statesmen that deliberate national
perjury, accompanied by public meetings of sovereigns, and much blare of
many trumpets, could be practised with such triumphant success as events
have since shown. In the beginning of the year 1865 people crossed the
Alps in carriages; the Suez Canal had not been opened; the first Atlantic
cable was not laid; German unity had not been invented; Pius IX. reigned
in the Pontifical States; Louis Napoleon was the idol of the French;
President Lincoln had not been murdered,--is anything needed to widen the
gulf which separates those times from these? The difference between the
States of the world in 1865 and in 1885 is nearly as great as that which
divided the Europe of 1789 from the Europe of 1814.

But my business is with Rome, and not with Europe at large. I intend to
tell the story of certain persons, of their good and bad fortune, their
adventures, and the complications in which they found themselves placed
during a period of about twenty years. The people of whom I tell this
story are chiefly patricians; and in the first part of their history they
have very little to do with any but their own class--a class peculiar and
almost unique in the world.

Speaking broadly, there is no one at once so thoroughly Roman and so
thoroughly non-Roman as the Roman noble. This is no paradox, no play on
words. Roman nobles are Roman by education and tradition; by blood they
are almost cosmopolitans. The practice of intermarrying with the great
families of the rest of Europe is so general as to be almost a rule. One
Roman prince is an English peer; most of the Roman princes are grandees
of Spain; many of them have married daughters of great French houses, of
reigning German princes, of ex-kings and ex-queens. In one princely house
alone are found the following combinations: There are three brothers: the
eldest married first the daughter of a great English peer, and secondly
the daughter of an even greater peer of Prance; the second brother
married first a German "serene highness," and secondly the daughter of a
great Hungarian noble; the third brother married the daughter of a French
house of royal Stuart descent. This is no solitary instance. A score of
families might be cited who, by constant foreign marriages, have almost
eliminated from their blood the original Italian element; and this great
intermixture of races may account for the strangely un-Italian types that
are found among them, for the undying vitality which seems to animate
races already a thousand years old, and above all, for a very remarkable
cosmopolitanism which pervades Roman society. A set of people whose near
relations are socially prominent in every capital of Europe, could hardly
be expected to have anything provincial about them in appearance or
manners; still less can they be considered to be types of their own
nation. And yet such is the force of tradition, of the patriarchal family
life, of the early surroundings in which are placed these children of a
mixed race, that they acquire from their earliest years the unmistakable
outward manner of Romans, the broad Roman speech, and a sort of clannish
and federative spirit which has not its like in the same class anywhere
in Europe. They grow up together, go to school together, go together into
the world, and together discuss all the social affairs of their native
city. Not a house is bought or sold, not a hundred francs won at écarté,
not a marriage contract made, without being duly considered and commented
upon by the whole of society. And yet, though there is much gossip, there
is little scandal; there was even less twenty years ago than there is
now--not, perhaps, because the increment of people attracted to the new
capital have had any bad influence, but simply because the city has grown
much larger, and in some respects has outgrown a certain simplicity of
manners it once possessed, and which was its chief safeguard. For, in
spite of a vast number of writers of all nations who have attempted to
describe Italian life, and who, from an imperfect acquaintance with the
people, have fallen into the error of supposing them to live perpetually
in a highly complicated state of mind, the foundation of the Italian
character is simple--far more so than that of his hereditary antagonist,
the northern European. It is enough to notice that the Italian habitually
expresses what he feels, while it is the chief pride of Northern men that
whatever they may feel they express nothing. The chief object of most
Italians is to make life agreeable; the chief object of the Teutonic
races is to make it profitable. Hence the Italian excels in the art of
pleasing, and in pleasing by means of the arts; whereas the Northern man
is pre-eminent in the faculty of producing wealth under any
circumstances, and when he has amassed enough possessions to think of
enjoying his leisure, has generally been under the necessity of employing
Southern art as a means to that end. But Southern simplicity carried to
its ultimate expression leads not uncommonly to startling results; for it
is not generally a satisfaction to an Italian to be paid a sum of money
as damages for an injury done. When his enemy has harmed him, he desires
the simple retribution afforded by putting his enemy to death, and he
frequently exacts it by any means that he finds ready to his hand. Being
simple, he reflects little, and often acts with violence. The Northern
mind, capable of vast intricacy of thought, seeks to combine revenge of
injury with personal profit, and in a spirit of cold, far-sighted
calculation, reckons up the advantages to be got by sacrificing an innate
desire for blood to a civilised greed of money.

Dr. Johnson would have liked the Romans--for in general they are good
lovers and good haters, whatever faults they may have. The patriarchal
system, which was all but universal twenty years ago, and is only now
beginning to yield to more modern institutions of life, tends to foster
the passions of love and hate. Where father and mother sit at the head
and foot of the table, their sons with their wives and their children
each in his or her place, often to the number of twenty souls--all living
under one roof, one name, and one bond of family unity--there is likely
to be a great similarity of feeling upon all questions of family pride,
especially among people who discuss everything with vehemence, from
European politics to the family cook. They may bicker and squabble among
themselves,--and they frequently do,--but in their outward relations with
the world they act as one individual, and the enemy of one is the enemy
of all; for the pride of race and name is very great. There is a family
in Rome who, since the memory of man, have not failed to dine together
twice every week, and there are now more than thirty persons who take
their places at the patriarchal board. No excuse can be pleaded for
absence, and no one would think of violating the rule. Whether such a
mode of life is good or not is a matter of opinion; it is, at all events,
a fact, and one not generally understood or even known by persons who
make studies of Italian character. Free and constant discussion of all
manner of topics should certainly tend to widen the intelligence; but, on
the other hand, where the dialecticians are all of one race, and name,
and blood, the practice may often merely lead to an undue development of
prejudice. In Rome, particularly, where so many families take a distinct
character from the influence of a foreign mother, the opinions of a house
are associated with its mere name. Casa Borghese thinks so and so, Casa
Colonna has diametrically opposite views, while Casa Altieri may differ
wholly from both; and in connection with most subjects the mere names
Borghese, Altieri, Colonna, are associated in the minds of Romans of all
classes with distinct sets of principles and ideas, with distinct types
of character, and with distinctly different outward and visible signs of
race. Some of these conditions exist among the nobility of other
countries, but not, I believe, to the same extent. In Germany, the
aristocratic body takes a certain uniform hue, so to speak, from the
army, in which it plays so important a part, and the patriarchal system
is broken up by the long absences from the ancestral home of the
soldier-sons. In France, the main divisions of republicans, monarchists,
and imperialists have absorbed and unified the ideas and principles of
large bodies of families into bodies politic. In England, the practice of
allowing younger sons to shift for themselves, and the division of the
whole aristocracy into two main political parties, destroy the
patriarchal spirit; while it must also be remembered, that at a period
when in Italy the hand of every house was against its neighbour, and the
struggles of Guelph and Ghibelline were but an excuse for the prosecution
of private feuds, England was engaged in great wars which enlisted vast
bodies of men under a common standard for a common principle. Whether
the principle involved chanced to be that of English domination in
France, or whether men flocked to the standards of the White Rose of York
or the Red Rose of Lancaster, was of little importance; the result was
the same,--the tendency of powerful families to maintain internecine
traditional feuds was stamped out, or rather was absorbed in the
maintenance of the perpetual feud between the great principles of Tory
and Whig--of the party for the absolute monarch, and the party for the
freedom of the people.

Be the causes what they may, the Roman nobility has many characteristics
peculiar to it and to no other aristocracy. It is cosmopolitan by its
foreign marriages, renewed in every generation; it is patriarchal and
feudal by its own unbroken traditions of family life; and it is only
essentially Roman by its speech and social customs. It has undergone
great vicissitudes during twenty years; but most of these features remain
in spite of new and larger parties, new and bitter political hatreds, new
ideas of domestic life, and new fashions in dress and cookery.

In considering an account of the life of Giovanni Saracinesca from the
time when, in 1865, he was thirty years of age, down to the present day,
it is therefore just that he should be judged with a knowledge of some of
these peculiarities of his class. He is not a Roman of the people like
Giovanni Cardegna, the great tenor, and few of his ideas have any
connection with those of the singer; but he has, in common with him, that
singular simplicity of character which he derives from his Roman descent
upon the male side, and in which will be found the key to many of his
actions both good and bad--a simplicity which loves peace, but cannot
always refrain from sudden violence, which loves and hates strongly and
to some purpose.



CHAPTER II.

The hour was six o'clock, and the rooms of the Embassy were as full as
they were likely to be that day. There would doubtless have been more
people had the weather been fine; but it was raining heavily, and below,
in the vast court that formed the centre of the palace, the lamps of
fifty carriages gleamed through the water and the darkness, and the
coachmen, of all dimensions and characters, sat beneath their huge
umbrellas and growled to each other, envying the lot of the footmen who
were congregated in the ante-chamber up-stairs around the great bronze
braziers. But in the reception-rooms there was much light and warmth;
there were bright fires and softly shaded lamps; velvet-footed servants
stealing softly among the guests, with immense burdens of tea and cake;
men of more or less celebrity chatting about politics in corners; women
of more or less beauty gossiping over their tea, or flirting, or wishing
they had somebody to flirt with; people of many nations and ideas, with
a goodly leaven of Romans. They all seemed endeavouring to get away from
the men and women of their own nationality, in order to amuse themselves
with the difficulties of conversation in languages not their own. Whether
they amused themselves or not is of small importance; but as they were
all willing to find themselves together twice a-day for the five months
of the Roman season--from the first improvised dance before Christmas,
to the last set ball in the warm April weather after Easter--it may be
argued that they did not dislike each other's society. In case the
afternoon should seem dull, his Excellency had engaged the services of
Signor Strillone, the singer. From time to time he struck a few chords
upon the grand piano, and gave forth a song of his own composition in
loud and passionate tones, varied with, very sudden effects of extreme
pianissimo, which occasionally surprised some one who was trying to make
his conversation heard above the music.

There was a little knot of people standing about the door of the great
drawing-room. Some of them were watching their opportunity to slip away
unperceived; others had just arrived, and were making a survey of the
scene to ascertain the exact position of their Excellencies, and of the
persons they most desired to avoid, before coming forward. Suddenly, just
as Signor Strillone had reached a high note and was preparing to bellow
upon it before letting his voice die away to a pathetic falsetto, the
crowd at the door parted a little. A lady entered the room alone, and
stood out before the rest, pausing till the singer should have passed the
climax of his song, before she proceeded upon her way. She was a very
striking woman; every one knew who she was, every one looked towards her,
and the little murmur that went round the room was due to her entrance
rather than to Signor Strillone's high note.

The Duchessa d'Astrardente stood still, and quietly looked about her. A
minister, two secretaries, and three or four princes sprang towards her,
each with a chair in hand; but she declined each offer, nodding to one,
thanking another by name, and exchanging a few words with a third. She
would not sit down; she had not yet spoken to the ambassadress.

Two men followed her closely as she crossed the room when the song was
finished. One was a fair man of five-and-thirty, rather stout, and
elaborately dressed. He trod softly and carried his hat behind him, while
he leaned a little forward in his walk. There was something unpleasant
about his face, caused perhaps by his pale complexion and almost
colourless moustache; his blue eyes were small and near together, and had
a watery, undecided look; his thin fair hair was parted in the middle
over his low forehead; there was a scornful look about his mouth, though
half concealed by the moustache; and his chin retreated rather abruptly
from his lower lip. On the other hand, he was dressed with extreme care,
and his manner showed no small confidence in himself as he pushed
forwards, keeping as close as he could to the Duchessa. He had the air
of being thoroughly at home in his surroundings.

Ugo del Ferice was indeed rarely disconcerted, and his self-reliance was
most probably one chief cause of his success. He was a man who performed
the daily miracle of creating everything for himself out of nothing. His
father had barely been considered a member of the lower nobility,
although he always called himself "dei conti del Ferice"--of the family
of the counts of his name; but where or when the Conti del Ferice had
lived, was a question he never was able to answer satisfactorily. He had
made a little money, and had squandered most of it before he died,
leaving the small remainder to his only son, who had spent every scudo of
it in the first year. But to make up for the exiguity of his financial
resources, Ugo had from his youth obtained social success. He had begun
life by boldly calling himself "Il conte del Ferice." No one had ever
thought it worth while to dispute him the title; and as he had hitherto
not succeeded in conferring it upon any dowered damsel, the question of
his countship was left unchallenged. He had made many acquaintances in
the college where he had been educated; for his father had paid for
his schooling in the Collegio dei Nobili, and that in itself was a
passport--for as the lad grew to the young man, he zealously cultivated
the society of his old school-fellows, and by wisely avoiding all other
company, acquired a right to be considered one of themselves. He was very
civil and obliging in his youth, and had in that way acquired a certain
reputation for being indispensable, which had stood him in good stead.
No one asked whether he had paid his tailor's bill; or whether upon
certain conditions, his tailor supplied him with raiment gratis. He was
always elaborately dressed, he was always ready to take a hand at cards,
and he was always invited to every party in the season. He had cultivated
with success the science of amusing, and people asked him to dinner in
the winter, and to their country houses in the summer. He had been seen
in Paris, and was often seen at Monte Carlo; but his real home and
hunting-ground was Rome, where he knew every one and every one knew him.
He had made one or two fruitless attempts to marry young women of
American extraction and large fortune; he had not succeeded in satisfying
the paternal mind in regard to guarantees, and had consequently been
worsted in his endeavours. Last summer, however, it appeared that he had
been favoured with an increase of fortune. He gave out that an old uncle
of his, who had settled in the south of Italy, had died, leaving him a
modest competence; and while assuming a narrow band of _crêpe_ upon his
hat, he had adopted also a somewhat more luxurious mode of living.
Instead of going about on foot or in cabs, he kept a very small coupé,
with a very small horse and a diminutive coachman: the whole turn-out was
very quiet in appearance, but very serviceable withal. Ugo sometimes wore
too much jewellery; but his bad taste, if so it could be called, did not
extend to the modest equipage. People accepted the story of the deceased
uncle, and congratulated Ugo, whose pale face assumed on such occasions
a somewhat deprecating smile. "A few scudi," he would answer--"a very
small competence; but what would you have? I need so little--it is enough
for me." Nevertheless people who knew him well warned him that he was
growing stout.

The other man who followed the Duchessa d'Astrardente across the
drawing-room was of a different type. Don Giovanni Saracinesca was
neither very tall nor remarkably handsome, though in the matter of his
beauty opinion varied greatly. He was very dark--almost as dark for a
man as the Duchessa was for a woman. He was strongly built, but very
lean, and his features stood out in bold and sharp relief from the
setting of his short black hair and pointed beard. His nose was perhaps a
little large for his face, and the unusual brilliancy of his eyes gave
him an expression of restless energy; there was something noble in the
shaping of his high square forehead and in the turn of his sinewy throat.
His hands were broad and brown, but nervous and well knit, with straight
long fingers and squarely cut nails. Many women said Don Giovanni was
the handsomest man in Rome; others said he was too dark or too thin, and
that his face was hard and his features ugly. There was a great
difference of opinion in regard to his appearance. Don Giovanni was not
married, but there were few marriageable women in Rome who would not have
been overjoyed to become his wife. But hitherto he had hesitated--or, to
speak more accurately, he had not hesitated at all in his celibacy. His
conduct in refusing to marry had elicited much criticism, little of which
had reached his ears. He cared not much for what his friends said to him,
and not at all for the opinion of the world at large, in consequence of
which state of mind people often said he was selfish--a view taken
extensively by elderly princesses with unmarried daughters, and even by
Don Giovanni's father and only near relation, the old Prince Saracinesca,
who earnestly desired to see his name perpetuated. Indeed Giovanni would
have made a good husband, for he was honest and constant by nature,
courteous by disposition, and considerate by habit and experience. His
reputation for wildness rested rather upon his taste for dangerous
amusements than upon such scandalous adventures as made up the lives of
many of his contemporaries. But to all matrimonial proposals he answered
that he was barely thirty years of age, that he had plenty of time before
him, that he had not yet seen the woman whom he would be willing to
marry, and that he intended to please himself.

The Duchessa d'Astrardente made her speech to her hostess and passed on,
still followed by the two men; but they now approached her, one on each
side, and endeavoured to engage her attention. Apparently she intended to
be impartial, for she sat down in the middle one of three chairs, and
motioned to her two companions to seat themselves also, which they
immediately did, whereby they became for the moment the two most
important men in the room.

Corona d'Astrardente was a very dark woman. In all the Southern land
there were no eyes so black as hers, no cheeks of such a warm dark-olive
tint, no tresses of such raven hue. But if she was not fair, she was very
beautiful; there was a delicacy in her regular features that artists said
was matchless; her mouth, not small, but generous and nobly cut, showed
perhaps more strength, more even determination, than most men like to see
in women's faces; but in the exquisitely moulded nostrils there lurked
much sensitiveness and the expression of much courage; and the level brow
and straight-cut nose were in their clearness as an earnest of the noble
thoughts that were within, and that so often spoke from the depths of her
splendid eyes. She was not a scornful beauty, though her face could
express scorn well enough. Where another woman would have shown disdain,
she needed but to look grave, and her silence did the rest. She wielded
magnificent weapons, and wielded them nobly, as she did all things. She
needed all her strength, too, for her position from the first was not
easy. She had few troubles, but they were great ones, and she bore
them bravely.

One may well ask why Corona del Carmine had married the old man who was
her husband--the broken-down and worn-out dandy of sixty, whose career
was so well known, and whose doings had been as scandalous as his ancient
name was famous in the history of his country. Her marriage was in itself
almost a tragedy. It matters little to know how it came about; she
accepted Astrardente with his dukedom, his great wealth, and his evil
past, on the day when she left the convent where she had been educated;
she did it to save her father from ruin, almost from starvation; she
 was seventeen, years of age; she was told that the world was bad, and
she resolved to begin her life by a heroic sacrifice; she took the
step heroically, and no human being had ever heard her complain. Five
years had elapsed since then, and her father--for whom she had given all
she had, herself, her beauty, her brave heart, and her hopes of
happiness--her old father, whom she so loved, was dead, the last of his
race, saving only this beautiful but childless daughter. What she
suffered now--whether she suffered at all--no man knew. There had been a
wild burst of enthusiasm when she appeared first in society, a universal
cry that it was a sin and a shame. But the cynics who had said she would
console herself had been obliged to own their worldly wisdom at fault;
the men of all sorts who had lost their hearts to her were ignominiously
driven in course of time to find them again elsewhere. Amid all the
excitement of the first two years of her life in the world, Corona had
moved calmly upon her way, wrapped in the perfect dignity of her
character; and the old Duca d'Astrardente had smiled and played with the
curled locks of his wonderful wig, and had told every one that his wife
was the one woman in the universe who was above suspicion. People had
laughed incredulously at first; but as time wore on they held their
peace, tacitly acknowledging that the aged fop was right as usual, but
swearing in their hearts that it was the shame of shames to see the
noblest woman in their midst tied to such a wretched remnant of
dissipated humanity as the Duca d'Astrardente. Corona went everywhere,
like other people; she received in her own house a vast number of
acquaintances; there were a few friends who came and went much as they
pleased, and some of them were young; but there was never a breath of
scandal breathed about the Duchessa. She was indeed above suspicion.

She sat now between two men who were evidently anxious to please her. The
position was not new; she was, as usual, to talk to both, and yet to show
no preference for either. And yet she had a preference, and in her heart
she knew it was a strong one. It was by no means indifferent to her which
of those two men left her side and which remained. She was above
suspicion--yes, above the suspicion of any human being besides herself,
as she had been for five long years. She knew that had her husband
entered the room and passed that way, he would have nodded to Giovanni
Saracinesca as carelessly as though Giovanni had been his wife's
brother--as carelessly as he would have noticed Ugo del Ferice upon her
other side. But in her own heart she knew that there was but one face in
all Rome she loved to see, but one voice she loved, and dreaded too, for
it had the power to make her life seem unreal, till she wondered how long
it would last, and whether there would ever be any change. The difference
between Giovanni and other men had always been apparent. Others would sit
beside her and make conversation, and then occasionally would make
speeches she did not care to hear, would talk to her of love--some
praising it as the only thing worth living for, some with affected
cynicism scoffing at it as the greatest of unrealities, contradicting
themselves a moment later in some passionate declaration to herself. When
they were foolish, she laughed at them; when they went too far, she
quietly rose and left them. Such experiences had grown rare of late, for
she had earned the reputation of being cold and unmoved, and that
protected her. But Giovanni had never talked like the rest of them. He
never mentioned the old, worn subjects that the others harped upon. She
would not have found it easy to say what he talked about, for he talked
indifferently about many subjects. She was not sure whether he spent more
time with her when in society than with other women; she reflected that
he was not so brilliant as many men she knew, not so talkative as the
majority of men she met; she knew only--and it was the thing she most
bitterly reproached herself with--that she preferred his face above all
other faces, and his voice beyond all voices. It never entered her head
to think that she loved him; it was bad enough in her simple creed that
there should be any man whom she would rather see than not, and whom she
missed when he did not approach her. She was a very strong and loyal
woman, who had sacrificed herself to a man who knew the world very
thoroughly, who in the thoroughness of his knowledge was able to see that
the world is not all bad, and who, in spite of all his evil deeds, was
proud of his wife's loyalty. Astrardente had made a bargain when he
married Corona; but he was a wise man in his generation, and he knew and
valued her when he had got her. He knew the precise dangers to which she
was exposed, and he was not so cruel as to expose her to them willingly.
He had at first watched keenly the effect produced upon her by conversing
with men of all sorts in the world, and among others he had noticed
Giovanni; but he had come to the conclusion that his wife was equal to
any situation in which she might be placed. Moreover, Giovanni was not an
_habitué_ at the Palazzo Astrardente, and showed none of the usual signs
of anxiety to please the Duchessa.

From the time when Corona began to notice her own predilection for
Saracinesca, she had been angry with herself for it, and she tried to
avoid him; at all events, she gave him no idea that she liked him
especially. Her husband, who at first had delivered many lectures on the
subject of behaviour in the world, had especially warned her against
showing any marked coldness to a man she wished to shun. "Men," said he,
"are accustomed to that; they regard it as the first indication that a
woman is really interested; when you want to get rid of a man, treat him
systematically as you treat everybody, and he will be wounded at your
indifference and go away." But Giovanni did not go, and Corona began to
wonder whether she ought not to do something to break the interest she
felt in him.

At the present moment she wanted a cup of tea. She would have liked to
send Ugo del Ferice for it; she did what she thought least pleasant to
herself, and she sent Giovanni. The servants who were serving the
refreshments had all left the room, and Saracinesca went in pursuit of
them. As soon as he was gone Del Ferice spoke. His voice was soft, and
had an insinuating tone in it.

"They are saying that Don Giovanni is to be married," he remarked,
watching the Duchessa from the corners of his eyes as he indifferently
delivered himself of his news.

The Duchessa was too dark a woman to show emotion easily. Perhaps she did
not believe the story; her eyes fixed themselves on some distant object
in the room, as though she were intensely interested in something she
saw, and she paused before she answered.

"That is news indeed, if it is true. And whom is he going to marry?"

"Donna Tullia Mayer, the widow of the financier. She is immensely rich,
and is some kind of cousin of the Saracinesca."

"How strange!" exclaimed Corona. "I was just looking at her. Is not that
she over there, with the green feathers?"

"Yes," answered Del Ferice, looking in the direction the Duchessa
indicated. "That is she. One may know her at a vast distance by her
dress. But it is not all settled yet."

"Then one cannot congratulate Don Giovanni to-day?" asked the Duchessa,
facing her interlocutor rather suddenly.

"No," he answered; "it is perhaps better not to speak to him about it."

"It is as well that you warned me, for I would certainly have spoken."

"I do not imagine that Saracinesca likes to talk of his affairs of the
heart," said Del Ferice, with considerable gravity. "But here he comes. I
had hoped he would have taken even longer to get that cup of tea."

"It was long enough for you to tell your news," answered Corona quietly,
as Don Giovanni came up.

"What is the news?" asked he, as he sat down beside her.

"Only an engagement that is not yet announced," answered the Duchessa.
"Del Ferice has the secret; perhaps he will tell you."

Giovanni glanced across her at the fair pale man, whose fat face,
however, expressed nothing. Seeing he was not enlightened, Saracinesca
civilly turned the subject.

"Are you going to the meet to-morrow, Duchessa?" he asked.

"That depends upon the weather and upon the Duke," she answered. "Are you
going to follow?"

"Of course. What a pity it is that you do not ride!"

"It seems such an unnatural thing to see a woman hunting," remarked Del
Ferice, who remembered to have heard the Duchessa say something of the
kind, and was consequently sure that she would agree with him.

"You do not ride yourself," said Don Giovanni, shortly. "That is the
reason you do not approve of it for ladies."

"I am not rich enough to hunt," said Ugo, modestly. "Besides, the other
reason is a good one; for when ladies hunt I am deprived of their
society."

The Duchessa laughed slightly. She never felt less like laughing in her
life, and yet it was necessary to encourage the conversation. Giovanni
did not abandon the subject.

"It will be a beautiful meet," he said. "Many people are going out for
the first time this year. There is a man here who has brought his horses
from England. I forget his name--a rich Englishman."

"I have met him," said Del Ferice, who was proud of knowing everybody.
"He is a type--enormously rich--a lord--I cannot pronounce his name--not
married either. He will make a sensation in society. He won races in
Paris last year, and they say he will enter one of his hunters for the
steeplechases here at Easter."

"That is a great inducement to go to the meet, to see this Englishman,"
said the Duchessa rather wearily, as she leaned back in her chair.
Giovanni was silent, but showed no intention of going. Del Ferice, with
an equal determination to stay, chattered vivaciously.

"Don Giovanni is quite right," he continued. "Every one is going. There
will be two or three drags. Madame Mayer has induced Valdarno to have out
his four-in-hand, and to take her and a large party."

The Duchessa did not hear the remainder of Del Ferice's speech, for at
the mention of Donna Tullia--now commonly called Madame Mayer--she
instinctively turned and looked at Giovanni. He, too, had caught the
name, though he was not listening in the least to Ugo's chatter; and as
he met Corona's eyes he moved uneasily, as much as to say he wished the
fellow would stop talking. A moment later Del Ferice rose from his seat;
he had seen Donna Tullia passing near, and thought the opportunity
favourable for obtaining an invitation to join the party on the drag.
With a murmured excuse which Corona did not hear, he went in pursuit of
his game.

"I thought he was never going," said Giovanni, moodily. He was not in the
habit of posing as the rival of any one who happened to be talking to the
Duchessa. He had never said anything of the kind before, and Corona
experienced a new sensation, not altogether unpleasant. She looked at him
in some surprise.

"Do you not like Del Ferice?" she inquired, gravely.

"Do you like him yourself?" he asked in reply.

"What a question! Why should I like or dislike any one?" There was
perhaps the smallest shade of bitterness in her voice as she asked the
question she had so often asked herself. Why should she like Giovanni
Saracinesca, for instance?

"I do not know what the world would be like if we had no likes and
dislikes," said Giovanni, suddenly. "It would be a poor place; perhaps it
is only a poor place at best. I merely wondered whether Del Ferice amused
you as he amuses everybody."

"Well then, frankly, he has not amused me to-day," answered Corona, with
a smile.

"Then you are glad he is gone?"

"I do not regret it."

"Duchessa," said Giovanni, suddenly changing his position, "I am glad he
is gone, because I want to ask you a question. Do I know you well enough
to ask you a question?"

"It depends--" Corona felt the blood rise suddenly to her dark forehead.
Her hands burned intensely in her gloves. The anticipation of something
she had never heard made her heart beat uncontrollably in her breast.

"It is only about myself," continued Giovanni, in low tones. He had seen
the blush, so rare a sight that there was not another man in Rome who had
seen it. He had not time to think what it meant. "It is only about
myself," he went on. "My father wants me to marry; he insists that I
should marry Donna Tullia--Madame Mayer."

"Well?" asked Corona. She shivered; a moment before, she had been
oppressed with the heat. Her monosyllabic question was low and
indistinct. She wondered whether Giovanni could hear the beatings of her
heart, so slow, so loud they almost deafened her.

"Simply this. Do you advise me to marry her?"

"Why do you ask me, of all people?" asked Corona, faintly.

"I would like to have your advice," said Giovanni, twisting his brown
hands together and fixing his bright eyes upon her face.

"She is young yet. She is handsome--she is fabulously rich. Why should
you not marry her? Would she make you happy?"

"Happy? Happy with her? No indeed. Do you think life would be bearable
with such a woman?"

"I do not know. Many men would marry her if they could--"

"Then you think I should?" asked Giovanni. Corona hesitated; she could
not understand why she should care, and yet she was conscious that there
had been no such struggle in her life since the day she had blindly
resolved to sacrifice herself to her father's wishes in accepting
Astrardente. Still there could be no doubt what she should say: how could
she advise any one to marry without the prospect of the happiness she had
never had?

"Will you not give me your counsel?" repeated Saracinesca. He had grown
very pale, and spoke with such earnestness that Corona hesitated no
longer.

"I would certainly advise you to think no more about it, if you are sure
that you cannot be happy with her."

Giovanni drew a long breath, the blood returned to his face, and his
hands unlocked themselves.

"I will think no more about it," he said. "Heaven bless you for your
advice, Duchessa!"

"Heaven grant I have advised you well!" said Corona, almost inaudibly.
"How cold this house is! Will you put down my cup of tea? Let us go near
the fire; Strillone is going to sing again."

"I would like him to sing a 'Nune dimittis, Domine,' for me," murmured
Giovanni, whose eyes were filled with a strange light.

Half an hour later Corona d'Astrardente went down the steps of the
Embassy wrapped in her furs and preceded by her footman. As she reached
the bottom Giovanni Saracinesca came swiftly down and joined her as
her carriage drove up out of the dark courtyard. The footman opened the
door, but Giovanni put out his hand to help Corona to mount the step. She
laid her small gloved fingers upon the sleeve of his overcoat, and as she
sprang lightly in she thought his arm trembled.

"Good night, Duchessa; I am very grateful to you," he said.

"Good night; why should you be grateful?" she asked, almost sadly.

Giovanni did not answer, but stood hat in hand as the great carriage
rolled out under the arch. Then he buttoned his greatcoat, and went out
alone into the dark and muddy streets. The rain had ceased, but
everything was wet, and the broad pavements gleamed under the uncertain
light of the flickering gas-lamps.



CHAPTER III.


The palace of the Saracinesca is in an ancient quarter of Rome, far
removed from the broad white streets of mushroom dwelling-houses and
machine-laid macadam; far from the foreigners' region, the varnish of the
fashionable shops, the whirl of brilliant equipages, and the scream of
the newsvendor. The vast irregular buildings are built around three
courtyards, and face on all sides upon narrow streets. The first sixteen
feet, up to the heavily ironed windows of the lower storey, consist of
great blocks of stone, worn at the corners and scored along their length
by the battering of ages, by the heavy carts that from time immemorial
have found the way too narrow and have ground their iron axles against
the massive masonry. Of the three enormous arched gates that give access
to the interior from different sides, one is closed by an iron grating,
another by huge doors studded with iron bolts, and the third alone is
usually open as an entrance. A tall old porter used to stand there in a
long livery-coat and a cocked-hat; on holidays he appeared in the
traditional garb of the Parisian "Suisse," magnificent in silk stockings
and a heavily laced coat of dark green, leaning upon his tall mace--a
constant object of wonder to the small boys of the quarter. He trimmed
his white beard in imitation of his master's--broad and square--and his
words were few and to the point.

No one was ever at home in the Palazzo Saracinesca in those days; there
were no ladies in the house; it was a man's establishment, and there was
something severely masculine in the air of the gloomy courtyards
surrounded by dark archways, where not a single plant or bit of colour
relieved the ancient stone. The pavement was clean and well kept, a new
flagstone here and there showing that some care was bestowed upon
maintaining it in good repair; but for any decoration there was to be
found in the courts, the place might have been a fortress, as indeed it
once was. The owners, father and son, lived in their ancestral home in a
sort of solemn magnificence that savoured of feudal times. Giovanni was
the only son of five-and-twenty years of wedlock. His mother had been
older than his father, and had now been dead some time. She had been a
stern dark woman, and had lent no feminine touch of grace to the palace
while she lived in it, her melancholic temper rather rejoicing in the
sepulchral gloom that hung over the house. The Saracinesca had always
been a manly race, preferring strength to beauty, and the reality of
power to the amenities of comfort.

Giovanni walked home from the afternoon reception at the Embassy. His
temper seemed to crave the bleak wet air of the cold streets, and he did
not hurry himself. He intended to dine at home that evening, and he
anticipated some kind of disagreement with his father. The two men were
too much alike not to be congenial, but too combative by nature to care
for eternal peace. On the present occasion it was likely that there would
be a struggle, for Giovanni had made up his mind not to marry Madame
Mayer, and his father was equally determined that he should marry her at
once: both were singularly strong men, singularly tenacious of their
opinions.

At precisely seven o'clock father and son entered from different doors
the small sitting-room in which they generally met, and they had no
sooner entered than dinner was announced. Two words might suffice for the
description of old Prince Saracinesca--he was an elder edition of his
son. Sixty years of life had not bent his strong frame nor dimmed the
brilliancy of his eyes, but his hair and beard were snowy white. He was
broader in the shoulder and deeper in the chest than Giovanni, but of
the same height, and well proportioned still, with little tendency to
stoutness. He was to all appearance precisely what his son would be at
his age--keen and vigorous, the stern lines of his face grown deeper, and
his very dark eyes and complexion made more noticeable by the dazzling
whiteness of his hair and broad square beard--the same type in a
different stage of development.

The dinner was served with a certain old-fashioned magnificence which has
grown rare in Rome. There was old plate and old china upon the table, old
cut glass of the diamond pattern, and an old butler who moved noiselessly
about in the performance of the functions he had exercised in the same
room for forty years, and which his father had exercised there before
him. Prince Saracinesca and Don Giovanni sat on opposite sides of the
round table, now and then exchanging a few words.

"I was caught in the rain this afternoon," remarked the Prince.

"I hope you will not have a cold," replied his son, civilly. "Why do you
walk in such weather?"

"And you--why do you walk?" retorted his father. "Are you less likely to
take cold than I am? I walk because I have always walked."

"That is an excellent reason. I walk because I do not keep a carriage."

"Why do not you keep one if you wish to?" asked the Prince.

"I will do as you wish. I will buy an equipage tomorrow, lest I should
again walk in the rain and catch cold. Where did you see me on foot?"

"In the Orso, half an hour ago. Why do you talk about my wishes in that
absurd way?"

"Since you say it is absurd, I will not do so," said Giovanni, quietly.

"You are always contradicting me," said the Prince. "Some wine,
Pasquale."

"Contradicting you?" repeated Giovanni. "Nothing could be further from my
intentions."

The old Prince slowly sipped a glass of wine before he answered.

"Why do not you set up an establishment for yourself and live like a
gentleman?" he asked at length. "You are rich--why do you go about on
foot and dine in cafes?"

"Do I ever dine at a cafe when you are dining alone?"

"You have got used to living in restaurants in Paris," retorted his
father. "It is a bad habit. What was the use of your mother leaving you a
fortune, unless you will live in a proper fashion?"

"I understand you very well," answered Giovanni, his dark eyes beginning
to gleam. "You know all that is a pretence. I am the most home-staying
man of your acquaintance. It is a mere pretence. You are going to talk
about my marriage again."

"And has any one a more natural right to insist upon your marriage than I
have?" asked the elder man, hotly. "Leave the wine on the table,
Pasquale--and the fruit--here. Give Don Giovanni his cheese. I will ring
for the coffee--leave us." The butler and the footman left the room. "Has
any one a more natural right, I ask?" repeated the Prince when they were
alone.

"No one but myself, I should say," answered Giovanni, bitterly.

"Yourself--yourself indeed! What have you to say about it? This a family
matter. Would you have Saracinesca sold, to be distributed piecemeal
among a herd of dogs of starving relations you never heard of, merely
because you are such a vagabond, such a Bohemian, such a break-neck,
crazy good-for-nothing, that you will not take the trouble to accept one
of all the women who rush into your arms?"

"Your affectionate manner of speaking of your relatives is only surpassed
by your good taste in describing the probabilities of my marriage,"
remarked Giovanni, scornfully.

"And you say you never contradict me!" exclaimed the Prince, angrily.

"If this is an instance, I can safely say so. Comment is not
contradiction."

"Do you mean to say you have not repeatedly refused to marry?" inquired
old Saracinesca.

"That would be untrue. I have refused, I do refuse, and I will refuse,
just so long as it pleases me."

"That is definite, at all events. You will go on refusing until you have
broken your silly neck in imitating Englishmen, and then--good night
Saracinesca! The last of the family will have come to a noble end!"

"If the only use of my existence is to become the father of heirs to your
titles, I do not care to enjoy them myself."

"You will not enjoy them till my death, at all events. Did you ever
reflect that I might marry again?"

"If you please to do so, do not hesitate on my account. Madame Mayer will
accept you as soon as me. Marry by all means, and may you have a numerous
progeny; and may they all marry in their turn, the day they are twenty. I
wish you joy."

"You are intolerable, Giovanni. I should think you would have more
respect for Donna Tullia--"

"Than to call her Madame Mayer," interrupted Giovanni.

"Than to suggest that she cares for nothing but a title and a fortune--"

"You showed much respect to her a moment ago, when you suggested that she
was ready to rush into my arms."

"I! I never said such a thing. I said that any woman--"

"Including Madame Mayer, of course," interrupted Giovanni again.

"Can you not let me speak?" roared the Prince. Giovanni shrugged his
shoulders a little, poured out a glass of wine, and helped himself to
cheese, but said nothing. Seeing that his son said nothing, old
Saracinesca was silent too; he was so angry that he had lost the thread
of his ideas. Perhaps Giovanni regretted the quarrelsome tone he had
taken, for he presently spoke to his father in a more conciliatory tone.

"Let us be just," he said. "I will listen to you, and I shall be glad if
you will listen to me. In the first place, when I think of marriage I
represent something to myself by the term--"

"I hope so," growled the old man.

"I look upon marriage as an important step in a man's life. I am not so
old as to make my marriage an immediate necessity, nor so young as to be
able wholly to disregard it. I do not desire to be hurried; for when I
make up my mind, I intend to make a choice which, if it does not ensure
happiness, will at least ensure peace. I do not wish to marry Madame
Mayer. She is young, handsome, rich--"

"Very," ejaculated the Prince.

"Very. I also am young and rich, if not handsome."

"Certainly not handsome," said his father, who was nursing his wrath, and
meanwhile spoke calmly. "You are the image of me."

"I am proud of the likeness," said Giovanni, gravely. "But to return to
Madame Mayer. She is a widow--"

"Is that her fault?" inquired his father irrelevantly, his anger rising
again.

"I trust not," said Giovanni, with a smile. "I trust she did not murder
old Mayer. Nevertheless she is a widow. That is a strong objection. Have
any of my ancestors married widows?"

"You show your ignorance at every turn," said the old Prince, with a
scornful laugh. "Leone Saracinesca married the widow of the Elector of
Limburger-Stinkenstein in 1581."

"It is probably the German blood in our veins which gives you your
taste for argument," remarked Giovanni. "Because three hundred years
ago an ancestor married a widow, I am to marry one now. Wait--do not be
angry--there are other reasons why I do not care for Madame Mayer. She is
too gay for me--too fond of the world."

The Prince burst into aloud ironical laugh. His white hair and beard
bristled about his dark face, and he showed all his teeth, strong and
white still.

"That is magnificent!" he cried; "it is superb, splendid, a piece of
unpurchasable humour! Giovanni Saracinesca has found a woman who is too
gay for him! Heaven be praised! We know his taste at last. We will give
him a nun, a miracle of all the virtues, a little girl out of a convent,
vowed to a life of sacrifice and self-renunciation. That will please
him--he will be a model happy husband."

"I do not understand this extraordinary outburst," answered Giovanni,
with cold scorn. "Your mirth is amazing, but I fail to understand its
source."

His father ceased laughing, and looked at him curiously, his heavy brows
bending with the intenseness of his gaze. Giovanni returned the look, and
it seemed as though those two strong angry men were fencing across the
table with their fiery glances. The son was the first to speak.

"Do you mean to imply that I am not the kind of man to be allowed to
marry a young girl?" he asked, not taking his eyes from his father.

"Look you, boy," returned the Prince, "I will have no more nonsense. I
insist upon this match, as I have told you before. It is the most
suitable one that I can find for you; and instead of being grateful, you
turn upon me and refuse to do your duty. Donna Tullia is twenty-three
years of age. She is brilliant, rich. There is nothing against her. She
is a distant cousin--"

"One of the flock of vultures you so tenderly referred to," remarked
Giovanni.

"Silence!" cried old Saracinesca, striking his heavy hand upon the table
so that the glasses shook together. "I will be heard; and what is more, I
will be obeyed. Donna Tullia is a relation. The union of two such
fortunes will be of immense advantage to your children. There is
everything in favour of the match--nothing against it. You shall marry
her a month from to-day. I will give you the title of Sant' Ilario, with
the estate outright into the bargain, and the palace in the Corso to
live in, if you do not care to live here."

"And if I refuse?" asked Giovanni, choking down his anger.

"If you refuse, you shall leave my house a month from to-day," said the
Prince, savagely.

"Whereby I shall be fulfilling your previous commands, in setting up an
establishment for myself and living like a gentleman," returned Giovanni,
with a bitter laugh. "It is nothing to me--if you turn me out. I am rich,
as you justly observed."

"You will have the more leisure to lead the life you like best," retorted
the Prince; "to hang about in society, to go where you please, to make
love to--" the old man stopped a moment. His son was watching him
fiercely, his hand clenched upon the table, his face as white as death.

"To whom?" he asked with a terrible effort to be calm.

"Do you think I am afraid of you? Do you think your father is less strong
or less fierce than you? To whom?" cried the angry old man, his whole
pent-up fury bursting out as he rose suddenly to his feet. "To whom but
to Corona d'Astrardente--to whom else should you make love?--wasting your
youth and life upon a mad passion! All Rome says it--I will say it too!"

"You have said it indeed," answered Giovanni, in a very low voice. He
remained seated at the table, not moving a muscle, his face as the face
of the dead. "You have said it, and in insulting that lady you have said
a thing not worthy for one of our blood to say. God help me to remember
that you are my father," he added, trembling suddenly.

"Hold!" said the Prince, who, with all his ambition for his son, and his
hasty temper, was an honest gentleman. "I never insulted, her--she is
above suspicion. It is you who are wasting your life in a hopeless
passion for her. See, I speak calmly--"

"What does 'all Rome say'?" asked Giovanni, interrupting him. He was
still deadly pale, but his hand was unclenched, and as he spoke he rested
his head upon it, looking down at the tablecloth.

"Everybody says that you are in love with the Astrardente, and that her
husband is beginning to notice it."

"It is enough, sir," said Giovanni, in low tones. "I will consider this
marriage you propose. Give me until the spring to decide."

"That is a long time," remarked the old Prince, resuming his seat and
beginning to peel an orange, as though nothing had happened. He was far
from being calm, but his son's sudden change of manner had disarmed his
anger. He was passionate and impetuous, thoughtless in his language, and
tyrannical in his determination; but he loved Giovanni dearly for all
that.

"I do not think it long," said Giovanni, thoughtfully. "I give you my
word that I will seriously consider the marriage. If it is possible for
me to marry Donna Tullia, I will obey you, and I will give you my answer
before Easter-day. I cannot do more."

"I sincerely hope you will take my advice," answered Saracinesca, now
entirely pacified. "If you cannot make up your mind to the match, I may
be able to find something else. There is Bianca Valdarno--she will have a
quarter of the estate."

"She is so very ugly," objected Giovanni, quietly. He was still much
agitated, but he answered his father mechanically.

"That is true--they are all ugly, those Valdarni. Besides, they are of
Tuscan origin. What do you say to the little Rocca girl? She has great
_chic_; she was brought up in England. She is pretty enough."

"I am afraid she would be extravagant."

"She could spend her own money then; it will be sufficient."

"It is better to be on the safe side," said Giovanni. Suddenly he changed
his position, and again looked at his father. "I am sorry we always
quarrel about this question," he said. "I do not really want to marry,
but I wish to oblige you, and I will try. Why do we always come to words
over it?"

"I am sure I do not know," said the Prince, with a pleasant smile. "I
have such a diabolical temper, I suppose."

"And I have inherited it," answered Don Giovanni, with a laugh that was
meant to be cheerful. "But I quite see your point of view. I suppose I
ought to settle in life by this time."

"Seriously, I think so, my son. Here is to your future happiness," said
the old gentleman, touching his glass with his lips.

"And here is to our future peace," returned Giovanni, also drinking.

"We never really quarrel, Giovanni, do we?" said his father. Every trace
of anger had vanished. His strong face beamed with an affectionate smile
that was like the sun after a thunderstorm.

"No, indeed," answered his son, cordially. "We cannot afford to quarrel;
there are only two of us left."

"That is what I always say," assented the Prince, beginning to eat the
orange he had carefully peeled since he had grown calm. "If two men like
you and me, my boy, can thoroughly agree, there is nothing we cannot
accomplish; whereas if we go against each other--"

"Justitia non fit, coelum vero ruet," suggested Giovanni, in parody of
the proverb.

"I am a little rusty in my Latin, Giovanni," said the old gentleman.

"Heaven is turned upside down, but justice is not done."

"No; one is never just when one is angry. But storms clear the sky, as
they say up at Saracinesca."

"By the bye, have you heard whether that question of the timber has been
settled yet?" asked Giovanni.

"Of course--I had forgotten. I will tell you all about it," answered his
father, cheerfully. So they chatted peacefully for another half-hour; and
no one would have thought, in looking at them, that such fierce passions
had been roused, nor that one of them felt as though his death-warrant
had been signed. When they separated, Giovanni went to his own rooms, and
locked himself in.

He had assumed an air of calmness which was not real before he left his
father. In truth he was violently agitated. He was as fiery as his
father, but his passions were of greater strength and of longer duration;
for his mother had been a Spaniard, and something of the melancholy of
her country had entered into his soul, giving depth and durability to the
hot Italian character he inherited from his father. Nor did the latter
suspect the cause of his son's sudden change of tone in regard to the
marriage. It was precisely the difference in temperament which made
Giovanni incomprehensible to the old Prince.

Giovanni had realised for more than a year past that he loved Corona
d'Astrardente. Contrary to the custom of young men in his position, he
determined from the first that he would never let her know it; and herein
lay the key to all his actions. He had, as he thought, made a point of
behaving to her on all occasions as he behaved to the other women he met
in the world, and he believed that he had skilfully concealed his passion
from the world and from the woman he loved. He had acted on all occasions
with a circumspection which was not natural to him, and for which he
undeniably deserved great credit. It had been a year of constant
struggles, constant efforts at self-control, constant determination that,
if possible, he would overcome his instincts. It was true that, when
occasion offered, he had permitted himself the pleasure of talking to
Corona d'Astrardente--talking, he well knew, upon the most general
subjects, but finding at each interview some new point of sympathy.
Never, he could honestly say, had he approached in that time the subject
of love, nor even the equally dangerous topic of friendship, the
discussion of which leads to so many ruinous experiments. He had never by
look or word sought to interest the dark Duchessa in his doings nor in
himself; he had talked of books, of politics, of social questions, but
never of himself nor of herself. He had faithfully kept the promise he
had made in his heart, that since he was so unfortunate as to love the
wife of another--a woman of such nobility that even in Rome no breath had
been breathed against her--he would keep his unfortunate passion to
himself. Astrardente was old, almost decrepit, in spite of his
magnificent wig; Corona was but two-and-twenty years of age. If ever her
husband died, Giovanni would present himself before the world as her
suitor; meanwhile he would do nothing to injure her self-respect nor to
disturb her peace--he hardly flattered himself he could do that, for he
loved her truly--and above all, he would do nothing to compromise the
unsullied reputation she enjoyed. She might never love him; but he was
strong and patient, and would do her the only honour it was in his power
to do her, by waiting patiently.

But Giovanni had not considered that he was the most conspicuous man in
society; that there were many who watched his movements, in hopes he
would come their way; that when he entered a room, many had noticed
that, though he never went directly to Corona's side, he always looked
first towards her, and never omitted to speak with her in the course of
an evening. Keen observers, the jays of society who hover about the
eagle's nest, had not failed to observe a look of annoyance on Giovanni's
face when he did not succeed in being alone by Corona's side for at least
a few minutes; and Del Ferice, who was a sort of news-carrier in Rome,
had now and then hinted that Giovanni was in love. People had repeated
his hints, as he intended they should, with the illuminating wit peculiar
to tale-bearers, and the story had gone abroad accordingly. True, there
was not a man in Rome bold enough to allude to the matter in Giovanni's
presence, even if any one had seen any advantage in so doing; but such
things do not remain hidden. His own father had told him in a fit of
anger, and the blow had produced its effect.

Giovanni sat down in a deep easy-chair in his own room, and thought over
the situation. His first impulse had been to be furiously angry with his
father; but the latter having instantly explained that there was nothing
to be said against the Duchessa, Giovanni's anger against the Prince had
turned against himself. It was bitter to think that all his self-denial,
all his many and prolonged efforts to conceal his love, had been of no
avail. He cursed his folly and imprudence, while wondering how it was
possible that the story should have got abroad. He did not waver in his
determination to hide his inclinations, to destroy the impression he had
so unwillingly produced. The first means he found in his way seemed the
best. To marry Donna Tullia at once, before the story of his affection
for the Duchessa had gathered force, would, he thought, effectually shut
the mouths of the gossips. From one point of view it was a noble thought,
the determination to sacrifice himself wholly and for ever, rather than
permit his name to be mentioned ever so innocently in connection with the
woman he loved; to root out utterly his love for her by seriously
engaging his faith to another, and keeping that engagement with all the
strength of fidelity he knew himself to possess. He would save Corona
from annoyance, and her name from the scandal-mongers; and if any one
ever dared to mention the story--

Giovanni rose to his feet and mechanically took a fencing-foil from the
wall, as he often did for practice. If any one mentioned the story, he
thought, he had the means to silence them, quickly and for ever. His eyes
flashed suddenly at the idea of action--any action, even fighting, which
might be distantly connected with Corona. Then he tossed down the rapier
and threw himself into his chair, and sat quite still, staring at the
trophies of armour upon the wall opposite.

He could not do it. To wrong one woman for the sake of shielding another
was not in his power. People might laugh at him and call him Quixotic,
forsooth, because he would not do like every one else and make a marriage
of convenience--of propriety. Propriety! when his heart was breaking
within him; when every fibre of his strong frame quivered with the strain
of passion; when his aching eyes saw only one face, and his ears echoed
the words she had spoken that very afternoon! Propriety indeed! Propriety
was good enough for cold-blooded dullards. Donna Tullia had done him no
harm that he should marry her for propriety's sake, and make her life
miserable for thirty, forty, fifty years. It would be propriety rather
for him to go away, to bury himself in the ends of the earth, until he
could forget Corona d'Astrardente, her splendid eyes, and her deep sweet
voice.

He had pledged his father his word that he would consider the marriage,
and he was to give his answer before Easter. That was a long time yet. He
would consider it; and if by Eastertide he had forgotten Corona, he
would--he laughed aloud in his silent room, and the sound of his voice
startled him from his reverie.

Forget? Did such men as he forget? Other men did. What were they made of?
They did not love such women, perhaps; that was the reason they forgot.
Any one could forget poor Donna Tullia. And yet how was it possible to
forget if one loved truly?

Giovanni had never believed himself in love before. He had known one or
two women who had attracted him strongly; but he had soon found out that
he had no real sympathy with them, that though they amused him they had
no charm for him--most of all, that he could not imagine himself tied to
any one of them for life without conceiving the situation horrible in the
extreme. To his independent nature the idea of such ties was repugnant:
he knew himself too courteous to break through the civilities of life
with a wife he did not love; but he knew also that in marrying a woman
who was indifferent to him, he would be engaging to play a part for life
in the most fearful of all plays--the part of a man who strives to bear
bravely the galling of a chain he is too honourable to break.

It was four o'clock in the morning when Giovanni went to bed; and even
then he slept little, for his dreams were disturbed. Once he thought he
stood upon a green lawn with a sword in his hand, and the blood upon its
point, his opponent lying at his feet. Again, he thought he was alone in
a vast drawing-room, and a dark woman came and spoke gently to him,
saying, "Marry her for my sake." He awoke with a groan. The church clocks
were striking eight, and the meet was at eleven, five miles beyond the
Porta Pia. Giovanni started up and rang for his servant.



CHAPTER IV.


It was a beautiful day, and half Rome turned out to see the meet, not
because it was in any way different from other meets, but because it
chanced that society had a fancy to attend it. Society is very like a
fever patient in a delirium; it is rarely accountable for its actions; it
scarcely ever knows what it is saying; and occasionally, without the
least warning or premeditation, it leaps out of bed at an early hour of
the morning and rushes frantically in pursuit of its last hallucination.
The main difference is, that whereas a man in a fever has a nurse,
society has none.

On the present occasion every one had suddenly conceived the idea of
going to the meet, and the long road beyond the Porta Pia was dotted for
miles with equipages of every description, from the four-in-hand of
Prince Valdarno to the humble donkey-cart of the caterer who sells
messes of boiled beans, and bread and cheese, and salad to the grooms--an
institution not connected in the English mind with hunting. One after
another the vehicles rolled out along the road, past Sant' Agnese, down
the hill and across the Ponte Nomentana, and far up beyond to a place
where three roads met and there was a broad open stretch of wet, withered
grass. Here the carriages turned in and ranged themselves side by side,
as though they were pausing in the afternoon drive upon the Pincio,
instead of being five miles out upon the broad Campagna.

To describe the mountains to southward of Rome would be an insult to
nature; to describe a meet would be an affront to civilised readers of
the English language. The one is too familiar to everybody; the pretty
crowd of men and women, dotted with pink and set off by the neutral
colour of the winter fields; the hunters of all ages, and sizes, and
breeds, led slowly up and down by the grooms; while from time to time
some rider gets into the saddle and makes himself comfortable, assures
himself of girth and stirrup, and of the proper disposal of the
sandwich-box and sherry-flask, gives a final word of instruction to his
groom, and then moves slowly off. A Roman meet is a little less
business-like than the same thing elsewhere; there is a little more
dawdling, a little more conversation when many ladies chance to have come
to see the hounds throw off; otherwise it is not different from other
meets. As for the Roman mountains, they are so totally unlike any other
hills in the world, and so extremely beautiful in their own peculiar way,
that to describe them would be an idle and a useless task, which could
only serve to exhibit the vanity of the writer and the feebleness of his
pen.

Don Giovanni arrived early in spite of his sleepless night. He descended
from his dogcart by the roadside, instead of driving into the field, and
he took a careful survey of the carriages he saw before him. Conspicuous
in the distance he distinguished Donna Tullia Mayer standing among a
little crowd of men near Valdarno's drag. She was easily known by her
dress, as Del Ferice had remarked on the previous evening. On this
occasion she wore a costume in which the principal colours were green and
yellow, an enormous hat, with feathers in the same proportion surmounting
her head, and she carried a yellow parasol. She was a rather handsome
woman of middle height, with unnaturally blond hair, and a fairly good
complexion, which as yet she had wisely abstained from attempting to
improve by artificial means; her eyes were blue, but uncertain in their
glance--of the kind which do not inspire confidence; and her mouth was
much admired, being small and red, with full lips. She was rapid in her
movements, and she spoke in a loud voice, easily collecting people about
her wherever there were any to collect. Her conversation was not
brilliant, but it was so abundant that its noisy vivacity passed current
for cleverness; she had a remarkably keen judgment of people, and a
remarkably bad taste in her opinions of things artistic, from beauty in
nature to beauty in dress, but she maintained her point of view
obstinately, and admitted no contradiction. It was a singular
circumstance that whereas many of her attributes were distinctly vulgar,
she nevertheless had an indescribable air of good breeding, the strange
inimitable stamp of social superiority which cannot be acquired by any
known process of education. A person seeing her might be surprised at her
loud talking, amused at her eccentricities of dress, and shocked at her
bold manner, but no one would ever think of classing her anywhere save in
what calls itself "the best society."

Among the men who stood talking to Donna Tullia was the inevitable Del
Ferice, a man of whom it might be said that he was never missed, because
he was always present. Giovanni disliked Del Ferice without being able to
define his aversion. He disliked generally men whom he suspected of
duplicity; and he had no reason for supposing that truth, looking into
her mirror, would have seen there the image of Ugo's fat pale face and
colourless moustache. But if Ugo was a liar, he must have had a good
memory, for he never got himself into trouble, and he had the reputation
of being a useful member of society, an honour to which persons of
doubtful veracity rarely attain. Giovanni, however, disliked him, and
suspected him of many things; and although he had intended to go up to
Donna Tullia, the sight of Del Ferice at her side very nearly prevented
him. He strolled leisurely down the little slope, and as he neared the
crowd, spoke to one or two acquaintances, mentally determining to avoid
Madame Mayer, and to mount immediately. But he was disappointed in his
intention. As he stood for a moment beside the carriage of the Marchesa
Rocca, exchanging a few words with her, and looking with some interest at
her daughter, the little Rocca girl whom his father had proposed as a
possible wife for him, he forgot his proximity to the lady he wished to
avoid; and when, a few seconds later, he proceeded in the direction of
his horse, Madame Mayer stepped forward from the knot of her admirers and
tapped him familiarly upon the shoulder with the handle of her parasol.

"So you were not going to speak to me to-day?" she said rather roughly,
after her manner.

Giovanni turned sharply and faced her, bowing low. Donna Tullia laughed.

"Is there anything so amazingly ridiculous in my appearance?" he asked.

"_Altro_! when you make that tremendous salute--"

"It was intended to convey an apology as well as a greeting," answered
Don Giovanni, politely.

"I would like more apology and less greeting."

"I am ready to apologise--"

"Humbly, without defending yourself," said Donna Tullia, beginning to
walk slowly forward. Giovanni was obliged to follow her.

"My defence is, nevertheless, a very good one," he said.

"Well, if it is really good, I may listen to it; but you will not make me
believe that you intended to behave properly."

"I am in a very bad humour. I would not inflict my cross temper upon you;
therefore I avoided you."

Donna Tullia eyed him attentively. When she answered she drew in her
small red lips with an air of annoyance.

"You look as though you were in bad humour," she answered. "I am sorry I
disturbed you. It is better to leave sleeping dogs alone, as the proverb
says."

"I have not snapped yet," said Giovanni. "I am not dangerous, I assure
you."

"Oh, I am not in the least afraid of you," replied his companion, with a
little scorn. "Do not flatter yourself your little humours frighten me. I
suppose you intend to follow?"

"Yes," answered Saracinesca, shortly; he was beginning to weary of Donna
Tullia's manner of taking him to task.

"You had much better come with us, and leave the poor foxes alone.
Valdarno is going to drive us round by the cross-roads to the Capannelle.
We will have a picnic lunch, and be home before three o'clock."

"Thanks very much. I cannot let my horse shirk his work. I must beg you
to excuse me--"

"Again?" exclaimed Donna Tullia. "You are always making excuses." Then
she suddenly changed her tone, and looked down. "I wish you would come
with us," she said, gently. "It is not often I ask you to do anything."

Giovanni looked at her quickly. He knew that Donna Tullia wished to
marry him; he even suspected that his father had discussed the matter
with her--no uncommon occurrence when a marriage has to be arranged with
a widow. But he did not know that Donna Tullia was in love with him in
her own odd fashion. He looked at her, and he saw that as she spoke there
were tears of vexation in her bold blue eyes. He hesitated a moment, but
natural courtesy won the day.

"I will go with you," he said, quietly. A blush of pleasure rose to
Madame Mayer's pink cheeks; she felt she had made a point, but she was
not willing to show her satisfaction.

"You say it as though you were conferring a favour," she said, with a
show of annoyance, which was belied by the happy expression of her face.

"Pardon me; I myself am the favoured person," replied Giovanni,
mechanically. He had yielded because he did not know how to refuse; but
he already regretted it, and would have given much to escape from the
party.

"You do not look as though you believed it," said Donna Tullia, eyeing
him critically. "If you are going to be disagreeable, I release you." She
said this well knowing, the while, that he would not accept of his
liberty.

"If you are so ready to release me, as you call it, you do not really
want me," said her companion. Donna Tullia bit her lip, and there was a
moment's pause. "If you will excuse me a moment I will send my horse
home--I will join you at once."

"There is your horse--right before us," said Madame Mayer. Even that
short respite was not allowed him, and she waited while Don Giovanni
ordered the astonished groom to take his hunter for an hour's exercise in
a direction where he would not fall in with the hounds.

"I did not believe you would really do it," said Donna Tullia, as the two
turned and sauntered back towards the carriages. Most of the men who
meant to follow had already mounted, and the little crowd had thinned
considerably. But while they had been talking another carriage had driven
into the field, and had halted a few yards from Valdarno's drag.
Astrardente had taken it into his head to come to the meet with his wife,
and they had arrived late. Astrardente always arrived a little late, on
principle. As Giovanni and Donna Tullia came back to their drag, they
suddenly found themselves face to face with the Duchessa and her husband.
It did not surprise Corona to see Giovanni walking with the woman he did
not intend to marry, but it seemed to give the old Duke undisguised
pleasure.

"Do you see, Corona, there is no doubt of it! It is just as I told you,"
exclaimed the aged dandy, in a voice so audible that Giovanni frowned and
Donna Tullia blushed slightly. Both of them bowed as they passed the
carriage. Don Giovanni looked straight into Corona's face as he took
off his hat. He might very well have made her a little sign, the smallest
gesture, imperceptible to Donna Tullia, whereby he could have given her
the idea that his position was involuntary. But Don Giovanni was a
gentleman, and he did nothing of the kind; he bowed and looked calmly at
the woman he loved as he passed by. Astrardente watched him keenly, and
as he noticed the indifference of Saracinesca's look, he gave a curious
little snuffling snort that was peculiar to him. He could have sworn that
neither his wife nor Giovanni had shown the smallest interest in each
other. He was satisfied. His wife was above suspicion, as he always said;
but he was an old man, and had seen the world, and he knew that however
implicitly he might trust the noble woman who had sacrificed her youth to
his old age, it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that she might
become innocently interested, even unawares, in some younger man--in some
such man as Giovanni Saracinesca-and he thought it worth his while to
watch her. His little snort, however, was indicative of satisfaction.
Corona had not winced at the mention of the marriage, and had nodded with
the greatest unconcern to the man as he passed.

"Ah, Donna Tullia!" he cried, as he returned their greeting, "you are
preventing Don Giovanni from mounting; the riders will be off in a
moment."

Being thus directly addressed, there was nothing to be done but to stop
and exchange a few words. The Duchessa was on the side nearest to the
pair as they passed, and her husband rose and sat opposite her, so as to
talk more at his ease. There were renewed greetings on both sides, and
Giovanni naturally found himself talking to Corona, while her husband and
Donna Tullia conversed together.

"What man could think of hunting when he could be talking to you
instead?" said old Astrardente, whose painted face adjusted itself in a
sort of leer that had once been a winning smile. Every one knew he
painted, his teeth were a miracle of American dentistry, and his wig
had deceived a great portrait-painter. The padding in his clothes was
disposed with cunning wisdom, and in public he rarely removed the gloves
from his small hands. Donna Tullia laughed at what he said.

"You should teach Don Giovanni to make pretty speeches," she said. "He is
as surly as a wolf this morning."

"I should think a man in his position would not need much teaching in
order to be gallant to you," replied the old dandy, with a knowing look.
Then lowering his voice, he added confidentially, "I hope that before
very long I may be allowed to congrat--"

"I have prevailed upon him to give up following the hounds to-day,"
interrupted Donna Tullia, quickly. She spoke loud enough to be noticed by
Corona. "He is coming with us to picnic at the Capannelle instead."

Giovanni could not help glancing quickly at Corona. She smiled faintly,
and her face betrayed no emotion.

"I daresay it will be very pleasant," she said gently, looking far out
over the Campagna. In the next field the pack was moving away, followed
at a little distance by a score of riders in pink; one or two men who had
stayed behind in conversation, mounted hastily and rode after the hunt;
some of the carriages turned out of the field and began to follow slowly
along the road, in hopes of seeing the hounds throw off; the party who
were going with Valdarno gathered about the drag, waiting for Donna
Tullia; the grooms who were left behind congregated around the men who
sold boiled beans and salad; and in a few minutes the meet had
practically dispersed.

"Why will you not join us, Duchessa?" asked Madame Mayer. "There is lunch
enough for everybody, and the more people we are the pleasanter it will
be." Donna Tullia made her suggestion with her usual frank manner, fixing
her blue eyes upon Corona as she spoke. There was every appearance of
cordiality in the invitation; but Donna Tullia knew well enough that
there was a sting in her words, or at all events that she meant there
should be. Corona, however, glanced quietly at her husband, and then
courteously refused.

"You are most kind," she said, "but I fear we cannot join you to-day. We
are very regular people," she explained, with a slight smile, "and we are
not prepared to go to-day. Many thanks; I wish we could accept your kind
invitation."

"Well, I am sorry you will not come," said Donna Tullia, with a rather
hard laugh. "We mean to enjoy ourselves immensely."

Giovanni said nothing. There was only one thing which could have rendered
the prospect of Madame Mayer's picnic more disagreeable to him than it
already was, and that would have been the presence of the Duchessa. He
knew himself to be in a thoroughly false position in consequence of
having yielded to Donna Tullia's half-tearful request that he would join
the party. He remembered how he had spoken to Corona on the previous
evening, assuring her that he would not marry Madame Mayer. Corona knew
nothing of the change his plans had undergone during the stormy interview
he had had with his father; he longed, indeed, to be able to make the
Duchessa understand, but any attempt at explanation would be wholly
impossible. Corona would think he was inconsistent, or at least that he
was willing to flirt with the gay widow, while determined not to marry
her. He reflected that it was part of his self-condemnation that he
should appear unfavourably to the woman he loved, and whom he was
determined to renounce; but he realised for the first time how bitter it
would be to stand thus always in the appearance of weakness and
self-contradiction in the eyes of the only human being whose good opinion
he coveted, and for whose dear sake he was willing to do all things. As
he stood by her, his hand rested upon the side of the carriage, and he
stared blankly at the distant hounds and the retreating riders.

"Come, Don Giovanni, we must be going," said Donna Tullia. "What in the
world are you thinking of? You look as though you had been turned into a
statue!"

"I beg your pardon," returned Saracinesca, suddenly called back from
the absorbing train of his unpleasant thoughts. "Good-bye, Duchessa;
good-bye, Astrardente--a pleasant drive to you."

"You will always regret not having come, you know," cried Madame Mayer,
shaking hands with both the occupants of the carriage. "We shall probably
end by driving to Albano, and staying all night--just fancy! Immense
fun--not even a comb in the whole party! Good-bye. I suppose we shall all
meet to-night--that is, if we ever come back to Rome at all. Come along,
Giovanni," she said, familiarly dropping the prefix from his name. After
all, he was a sort of cousin, and people in Rome are very apt to call
each other by their Christian names. But Donna Tullia knew what she was
about; she knew that Corona d'Astrardente could never, under any
circumstances whatever, call Saracinesca plain "Giovanni." But she had
not the satisfaction of seeing that anything she said produced any change
in Corona's proud dark face; she seemed of no more importance in the
Duchessa's eyes than if she had been a fly buzzing in the sunshine.

So Giovanni and Madame Mayer joined their noisy party, and began to climb
into their places upon the drag; but before they were prepared to start,
the Astrardente carriage turned and drove rapidly out of the field. The
laughter and loud talking came to Corona's ears, growing fainter and more
distant every second, and the sound was very cruel to her; but she set
her strong brave lips together, and leaned back, adjusting the blanket
over her old husband's knees with one hand, and shading the sun from her
eyes with the parasol she held in the other.

"Thank you, my dear; you are an angel of thoughtfulness," said the old
dandy, stroking his wife's hand. "What a singularly vulgar woman Madame
Mayer is! And yet she has a certain little _chic_ of her own."

Corona did not withdraw her fingers from her husband's caress. She was
used to it. After all, he was kind to her in his way. It would have been
absurd to have been jealous of the grossly flattering speeches he made to
other women; and indeed he was as fond of turning compliments to his wife
as to any one. It was a singular relation that had grown up between the
old man and the young girl he had married. Had he been less thoroughly a
man of the world, or had Corona been less entirely honest and loyal and
self-sacrificing, there would have been small peace in their wedlock. But
Astrardente, decayed roué and worn-out dandy as he was, was in love with
his wife; and she, in all the young magnificence of her beauty, submitted
to be loved by him, because she had promised that she would do so, and
because, having sworn, she regarded the breaking of her faith by the
smallest act of unkindness as a thing beyond the bounds of possibility.
It had been a terrible blow to her to discover that she cared for Don
Giovanni even in the way she believed she did, as a man whose society she
preferred to that of other men, and whose face it gave her pleasure to
see. She, too, had spent a sleepless night; and when she had risen in the
morning, she had determined to forget Giovanni, and if she could not
forget him, she had sworn that more than ever she would be all things to
her husband.

She wondered now, as Giovanni had known she would, why he had suddenly
thrown over his day's hunting in order to spend his time with Donna
Tullia; but she would not acknowledge, even to herself, that the dull
pain she felt near her heart, and that seemed to oppress her breathing,
bore any relation to the scene she had just witnessed. She shut her lips
tightly, and arranged the blanket for her husband.

"Madame Mayer is vulgar," she answered. "I suppose she cannot help it."

"Women can always help being vulgar," returned Astrardente. "I believe
she learned it from her husband. Women are not naturally like that.
Nevertheless she is an excellent match for Giovanni Saracinesca. Rich, by
millions. Undeniably handsome, gay--well, rather too gay; but Giovanni is
so serious that the contrast will be to their mutual advantage."

Corona was silent. There was nothing the old man disliked so much as
silence.

"Why do you not answer me?" he asked, rather petulantly.

"I do not know--I was thinking," said Corona, simply. "I do not see that
it is a great match after all, for the last of the Saracinesca."

"You think she will lead him a terrible dance, I daresay," returned the
old man. "She is gay--very gay; and Giovanni is very, very solemn."

"I did not mean that she was too gay. I only think that Saracinesca might
marry, for instance, the Rocca girl. Why should he take a widow?"

"Such a young widow. Old Mayer was as decrepit as any old statue in a
museum. He was paralysed in one arm, and gouty--gouty, my dear; you do
not know how gouty he was." The old fellow grinned scornfully; he had
never had the gout. "Donna Tullia is a very young widow. Besides, think
of the fortune. It would break old Saracinesca's heart to let so much
money go out of the family. He is a miserly old wretch, Saracinesca!"

"I never heard that," said Corona.

"Oh, there are many things in Rome that one never hears, and that is one
of them. I hate avarice--it is so extremely vulgar."

Indeed Astrardente was not himself avaricious, though he had all his life
known how to protect his interests. He loved money, but he loved also to
spend it, especially in such a way as to make a great show with it. It
was not true, however, that Saracinesca was miserly. He spent a large
income without the smallest ostentation.

"Really, I should hardly call Prince Saracinesca a miser," said Corona.
"I cannot imagine, from what I know of him, why he should be so anxious
to get Madame Mayer's fortune; but I do not think it is out of mere
greediness."

"Then I do not know what you can call it," returned her husband, sharply.
"They have always had that dismal black melancholy in that family--that
detestable love of secretly piling up money, while their faces are as
grave and sour as any Jew's in the Ghetto."

Corona glanced at her husband, and smiled faintly as she looked at his
thin old features, where the lights and shadows were touched in with
delicate colour more artfully than any actress's, superficially
concealing the lines traced by years of affectation and refined egotism;
and she thought of Giovanni's strong manly face, passionate indeed, but
noble and bold. A moment later she resolutely put the comparison out of
her mind, and finding that her husband was inclined to abuse the
Saracinesca, she tried to turn the conversation.

"I suppose it will be a great ball at the Frangipani's," she said. "We
will go, of course?" she added, interrogatively.

"Of course. I would not miss it for all the world. There has not been
such a ball for years as that will be. Do I ever miss an opportunity of
enjoying myself--I mean, of letting you enjoy yourself?"

"No, you are very good," said Corona, gently. "Indeed I sometimes think
you give yourself trouble about going out on my account. Really, I am not
so greedy of society. I would often gladly stay at home if you wished
it."

"Do you think I am past enjoying the world, then?" asked the old man,
sourly.

"No indeed," replied Corona, patiently. "Why should I think that? I see
how much you like going out."

"Of course I like it. A rational man in the prime of life always likes to
see his fellow-creatures. Why should not I?"

The Duchessa did not smile. She was used to hearing her aged husband
speak of himself as young. It was a harmless fancy.

"I think it is quite natural," she said.

"What I cannot understand," said Astrardente, muffling his thin throat
more closely against the keen bright _tramontana_ wind, "is that such old
fellows as Saracinesca should still want to play a part in the world."

Saracinesca was younger than Astrardente, and his iron constitution bade
fair to outlast another generation, in spite of his white hair.

"You do not seem to be in a good humour with Saracinesca to-day,"
remarked Corona, by way of answer.

"Why do you defend him?" asked her husband, in a new fit of irritation.
"He jars on my nerves, the sour old creature!"

"I fancy all Rome will go to the Frangipani ball," began Corona again,
without heeding the old man's petulance.

"You seem to be interested in it," returned Astrardente.

Corona was silent; it was her only weapon when he became petulant. He
hated silence, and generally returned to the conversation with more
suavity. Perhaps, in his great experience, he really appreciated his
wife's wonderful patience with his moods, and it is certain that he was
exceedingly fond of her.

"You must have a new gown, my dear," he said presently, in a conciliatory
tone.

His wife passed for the best-dressed woman in Rome, as she was undeniably
the most remarkable in many other ways. She was not above taking an
interest in dress, and her old husband had an admirable taste; moreover,
he took a vast pride in her appearance, and if she had looked a whit less
superior to other women, his smiling boast that she was above suspicion
would have lost some of its force.

"I hardly think it is necessary," said Corona; "I have so many things,
and it will be a great crowd."

"My dear, be economical of your beauty, but not in your adornment of it,"
said the old man, with one of his engaging grins. "I desire that you have
a new gown for this ball which will be remembered by every one who goes
to it. You must set about it at once."

"Well, that is an easy request for any woman to grant," answered Corona,
with a little laugh; "though I do not believe my gown will be remembered
so long as you think."

"Who knows--who knows?" said Astrardente, thoughtfully. "I remember gowns
I saw"--he checked himself--"why, as many as ten years ago!" he added,
laughing in his turn, perhaps at nearly having said forty for ten.
"Gowns, my dear," he continued, "make a profound impression upon men's
minds."

"For the matter of that," said the Duchessa, "I do not care to impress
men at all nor women either." She spoke lightly, pleased that the
conversation should have taken a more pleasant turn.

"Not even to impress me, my dear?" asked old Astrardente, with a leer.

"That is different," answered Corona, quietly.

So they talked upon the subject of the gown and the ball until the
carriage rolled under the archway of the Astrardente palace. But when it
was three o'clock, and Corona was at liberty to go out upon her usual
round of visits, she was glad that she could go alone; and as she sat
among her cushions, driving from house to house and distributing cards,
she had time to think seriously of her situation. It would seem a light
thing to most wives of aged husbands to have taken a fancy to a man such
as Giovanni Saracinesca. But the more Corona thought of it, the more
certain it appeared to her that she was committing a great sin. It
weighed heavily upon her mind, and took from her the innocent pleasure
she was wont to feel in driving in the bright evening air in the Villa
Borghese. It took the colour from the sky, and the softness from the
cushions, it haunted her and made her miserably unhappy. At every turn
she expected to see Giovanni's figure and face, and the constant
recurrence of the thought seemed to add magnitude to the crime of which
she accused herself,--the crime of even thinking of any man save her
old husband--of wishing that Giovanni might not marry Donna Tullia after
all.

"I will go to Padre Filippo," she said to herself as she reached home.



CHAPTER V.


Valdarno took Donna Tullia by his side upon the front seat of the drag;
and as luck would have it, Giovanni and Del Ferice sat together behind
them. Half-a-dozen other men found seats somewhere, and among them were
the melancholy Spicca, who was a famous duellist, and a certain
Casalverde, a man of rather doubtful reputation. The others were members
of what Donna Tullia called her "corps de ballet." In those days Donna
Tullia's conduct was criticised, and she was thought to be emancipated,
as the phrase went. Old people opened their eyes at the spectacle of the
gay young widow going off into the Campagna to picnic with a party of
men; but if any intimate enemy had ventured to observe to her that she
was giving occasion for gossip, she would have raised her eyebrows,
explaining that they were all just like her brothers, and that Giovanni
was indeed a sort of cousin. She would perhaps have condescended to say
that she would not have done such a thing in Paris, but that in dear old
Rome one was in the bosom of one's family, and might do anything. At
present she sat chatting with Valdarno, a tall and fair young man, with a
weak mouth and a good-natured disposition; she had secured Giovanni, and
though he sat sullenly smoking behind her, his presence gave her
satisfaction. Del Ferice's smooth face wore an expression of ineffable
calm, and his watery blue eyes gazed languidly on the broad stretch of
brown grass which bordered the highroad.

For some time the drag bowled along, and Giovanni was left to his own
reflections, which were not of a very pleasing kind. The other men talked
of the chances of luck with the hounds; and Spicca, who had been a great
deal in England, occasionally put in a remark not very complimentary to
the Roman hunt. Del Ferice listened in silence, and Giovanni did not
listen at all, but buttoned his overcoat to the throat, half closed his
eyes, and smoked one cigarette after another, leaning back in his seat.
Suddenly Donna Tullia's laugh was heard as she turned half round to look
at Valdarno.

"Do you really think so?" she cried. "How soon? What a dance we will lead
them then!"

Del Fence pricked his ears in the direction of her voice, like a terrier
that suspects the presence of a rat. Valdarno's answer was inaudible, but
Donna Tullia ceased laughing immediately.

"They are talking politics," said Del Ferice in a low voice, leaning
towards Giovanni as he spoke. The latter shrugged his shoulders and went
on smoking. He did not care to be drawn into a conversation with Del
Ferice.

Del Ferice was a man who was suspected of revolutionary sympathies by the
authorities in Rome, but who was not feared. He was therefore allowed to
live his life much as he pleased, though he was conscious from time to
time that he was watched. Being a man, however, who under all
circumstances pursued his own interests with more attention than he
bestowed on those of any party, he did not pretend to attach any
importance to the distinction of being occasionally followed by a spy, as
a more foolish man might have done. If he was watched, he did not care to
exhibit himself to his friends as a martyr, to tell stories of the
_sbirro_ who sometimes dogged his footsteps, nor to cry aloud that he was
unjustly persecuted. He affected a character above suspicion, and rarely
allowed himself to express an opinion. He was no propagator of new
doctrines; that was too dangerous a trade for one of his temper. But he
foresaw changes to come, and he determined that he would profit by them.
He had little to lose, but he had everything to gain; and being a patient
man, he resolved to gain all he could by circumspection--in other words,
by acting according to his nature, rather than by risking himself in a
bold course of action for which he was wholly unsuited. He was too wise
to attempt wholly to deceive the authorities, knowing well that they were
not easily deceived; and he accordingly steered a middle course,
constantly speaking in favour of progress, of popular education, and of
freedom of the press, but at the same time loudly proclaiming that all
these things--that every benefit of civilisation, in fact--could be
obtained without the slightest change in the form of government. He thus
asserted his loyalty to the temporal power while affecting a belief in
the possibility of useful reforms, and the position he thus acquired
exactly suited his own ends; for he attracted to himself a certain amount
of suspicion on account of his progressist professions, and then disarmed
that suspicion by exhibiting a serene indifference to the espionage of
which he was the object. The consequence was, that at the very time when
he was most deeply implicated in much more serious matters--of which the
object was invariably his own ultimate profit--at the time when he was
receiving money for information he was able to obtain through his social
position, he was regarded by the authorities, and by most of his
acquaintances, as a harmless man, who might indeed injure himself by his
foolish doctrines of progress, but who certainly could not injure any one
else. Few guessed that his zealous attention to social duties, his
occasional bursts of enthusiasm for liberal education and a free press,
were but parts of his machinery for making money out of politics. He was
so modest, so unostentatious, that no one suspected that the mainspring
of his existence was the desire for money.

But, like many intelligent and bad men, Del Ferice had a weakness which
was gradually gaining upon him and growing in force, and which was
destined to hasten the course of the events which he had planned for
himself. It is an extraordinary peculiarity in unbelievers that they are
often more subject to petty superstitions than other men; and similarly,
it often happens that the most cynical and coldly calculating of
conspirators, who believe themselves proof against all outward
influences, yield to some feeling of nervous dislike for an individual
who has never harmed them, and are led on from dislike to hatred, until
their soberest actions take colour from what in its earliest beginnings
was nothing more than a senseless prejudice. Del Ferice's weakness was
his unaccountable detestation of Giovanni Saracinesca; and he had so far
suffered this abhorrence of the man to dominate his existence, that it
had come to be one of his chiefest delights in life to thwart Giovanni
wherever he could. How it had begun, or when, he no longer knew nor
cared. He had perhaps thought Giovanni treated him superciliously, or
even despised him; and his antagonism being roused by some fancied
slight, he had shown a petty resentment, which, again, Saracinesca
had treated with cold indifference. Little by little his fancied
grievance had acquired great proportions in his own estimation, and he
had learned to hate Giovanni more than any man living. At first it might
have seemed an easy matter to ruin his adversary, or, at all event, to
cause him great and serious injury; and but for that very indifference
which Del Ferice so resented, his attempts might have been successful.

Giovanni belonged to a family who from the earliest times had been at
swords-drawn with the Government. Their property had been more than once
confiscated by the popes, had been seized again by force of arms, and had
been ultimately left to them for the mere sake of peace. They seem to
have quarrelled with everybody on every conceivable pretext, and to have
generally got the best of the struggle. No pope had ever reckoned upon
the friendship of Casa Saracinesca. For generations they had headed the
opposition whenever there was one, and had plotted to form one when there
was none ready to their hands. It seemed to Del Ferice that in the
stirring times that followed the annexation of Naples to the Italian
crown, when all Europe was watching the growth of the new Power, it
should be an easy matter to draw a Saracinesca into any scheme for the
subversion of a Government against which so many generations of
Saracinesca had plotted and fought. To involve Giovanni in some Liberal
conspiracy, and then by betraying him to cause him to be imprisoned or
exiled from Rome, was a plan which pleased Del Ferice, and which he
desired earnestly to put into execution. He had often tried to lead his
enemy into conversation, repressing and hiding his dislike for the sake
of his end; but at the first mention of political subjects Giovanni
became impenetrable, shrugged, his shoulders, and assumed an air of the
utmost indifference. No paradox could draw him into argument, no
flattery could loose his tongue. Indeed those were times when men
hesitated to express an opinion, not only because any opinion they
might express was liable to be exaggerated and distorted by willing
enemies--a consideration which would not have greatly intimidated
Giovanni Saracinesca--but also because it was impossible for the wisest
man to form any satisfactory judgment upon the course of events. It was
clear to every one that ever since 1848 the temporal power had been
sustained by France; and though no one in 1865 foresaw the downfall of
the Second Empire, no one saw any reason for supposing that the military
protectorate of Louis Napoleon in Rome could last for ever: what would be
likely to occur if that protection were withdrawn was indeed a matter of
doubt, but was not looked upon by the Government as a legitimate matter
for speculation.

Del Ferice, however, did not desist from his attempts to make Giovanni
speak out his mind, and whenever an opportunity offered, tried to draw
him into conversation. He was destined on the present occasion to meet
with greater success than had hitherto attended his efforts. The picnic
was noisy, and Giovanni was in a bad humour; he did not care for Donna
Tullia's glances, nor for the remarks she constantly levelled at him;
still less was he amused by the shallow gaiety of her party of admirers,
tempered as their talk was by the occasional tonic of some outrageous
cynicism from the melancholy Spicca. Del Ferice smiled, and talked, and
smiled again, seeking to flatter and please Donna Tullia, as was his
wont. By-and-by the clear north wind and the bright sun dried the ground,
and Madame Mayer proposed that the party should walk a little on the road
towards Rome--a proposal of such startling originality that it was
carried by acclamation. Donna Tullia wanted to walk with Giovanni; but
on pretence of having left something upon the drag, he gave Valdarno time
to take his place. When Giovanni began to follow the rest, he found that
Del Ferice had lagged behind, and seemed to be waiting for him.

Giovanni was in a bad humour that day. He had suffered himself to be
persuaded into joining in a species of amusement for which he cared
nothing, by a mere word from a woman for whom he cared less, but whom he
had half determined to marry, and who had wholly determined to marry him.
He, who hated vacillation, had been dangling for four-and-twenty hours
like a pendulum, or, as he said to himself, like an ass between two
bundles of hay. At one moment he meant to marry Donna Tullia, and at
another he loathed the thought; now he felt that he would make any
sacrifice to rid the Duchessa d'Astrardente of himself, and now again he
felt how futile such a sacrifice would be. He was ashamed in his heart,
for he was no boy of twenty to be swayed by a woman's look or a fit of
Quixotism; he was a strong grown man who had seen the world. He had been
in the habit of supposing his impulses to be good, and of following them
naturally without much thought; it seemed desperately perplexing to be
forced into an analysis of those impulses in order to decide what he
should do. He was in a thoroughly bad humour, and Del Ferice guessed that
if Giovanni could ever be induced to speak out, it must be when his
temper was not under control. In Rome, in the club--there was only one
club in those days--in society, Ugo never got a chance to talk to his
enemy; but here upon the Appian Way, with the broad Campagna stretching
away to right and left and rear, while the remainder of the party walked
three hundred yards in front, and Giovanni showed an evident reluctance
to join them, it would go hard indeed if he could not be led into
conversation.

"I should think," Del Ferice began, "that if you had your choice, you
would walk anywhere rather than here."

"Why?" asked Giovanni, carelessly. "It is a very good road."

"I should think that our Roman Campagna would be anything but a source of
satisfaction to its possessors--like yourself," answered Del Ferice.

"It is a very good grazing ground."

"It might be something better. When one thinks that in ancient times it
was a vast series of villas--"

"The conditions were very different. We do not live in ancient times,"
returned Giovanni, drily.

"Ah, the conditions!" ejaculated Del Ferice, with a suave sigh. "Surely
the conditions depend on man--not on nature. What our proud forefathers
accomplished by law and energy, we could, we can accomplish, if we
restore law and energy in our midst."

"You are entirely mistaken," answered Saracinesca. "It would take five
times the energy of the ancient Romans to turn the Campagna into a
garden, or even into a fertile productive region. No one is five times as
energetic as the ancients. As for the laws, they do well enough."

Del Ferice was delighted. For the first time, Giovanni seemed inclined to
enter upon an argument with him.

"Why are the conditions so different? I do not see. Here is the same
undulating country, the same climate--"

"And twice as much water," interrupted Giovanni. "You forget that the
Campagna is very low, and that the rivers in it have risen very much.
There are parts of ancient Rome now laid bare which lie below the present
water-mark of the Tiber. If the city were built upon its old level, much
of it would be constantly flooded. The rivers have risen and have swamped
the country. Do you think any amount of law or energy could drain this
fever-stricken plain into the sea? I do not. Do you think that if I could
be persuaded that the land could be improved into fertility I would
hesitate, at any expenditure in my power, to reclaim the miles of desert
my father and I own here? The plain is a series of swamps and stone
quarries. In one place you find the rock a foot below the surface, and
the soil burns up in summer; a hundred yards farther you find a bog
hundreds of feet deep, which even in summer is never dry."

"But," suggested Del Ferice, who listened patiently enough, "supposing
the Government passed a law forcing all of you proprietors to plant trees
and dig ditches, it would have some effect."

"The law cannot force us to sacrifice men's lives. The Trappist monks at
the Tre Fontane are trying it, and dying by scores. Do you think I, or
any other Roman, would send peasants to such a place, or could induce
them to go?"

"Well, it is one of a great many questions which will be settled some
day," said Del Fence. "You will not deny that there is room for much
improvement in our country, and that an infusion of some progressist
ideas would be wholesome."

"Perhaps so; but you understand one thing by progress, and I understand
quite another," replied Giovanni, eyeing in the bright distance the
figures of Donna Tullia and her friends, and regulating his pace so as
not to lessen the distance which separated them from him. He preferred
talking political economy with a man he disliked, to being obliged to
make conversation for Madame Mayer.

"I mean by progress, positive improvement without revolutionary change,"
explained Del Ferice, using the phrase he had long since constructed as
his profession of faith to the world. Giovanni eyed him keenly for a
moment. He cared nothing for Ugo or his ideas, but he suspected him of
very different principles.

"You will pardon me," he said, civilly, "if I venture to doubt whether
you have frankly expressed your views. I am under the impression that you
really connect the idea of improvement with a very positive revolutionary
change."

Del Ferice did not wince, but he involuntarily cast a glance behind him.
Those were times when people were cautious of being overheard. But Del
Ferice knew his man, and he knew that the only way in which he could
continue the interview was to accept the imputation as though trusting
implicitly to the discretion of his companion.

"Will you give me a fair answer to a fair question?" he asked, very
gravely.

"Let me hear the question," returned Giovanni, indifferently. He also
knew his man, and attached no more belief to anything he said than to the
chattering of a parrot. And yet Del Ferice had not the reputation of a
liar in the world at large.

"Certainly," answered Ugo. "You are the heir of a family which from
immemorial time has opposed the popes. You cannot be supposed to feel any
kind of loyal attachment to the temporal power. I do not know whether
you individually would support it or not. But frankly, how would you
regard such a revolutionary change as you suspect me of desiring?"

"I have no objection to telling you that. I would simply make the best of
it."

Del Ferice laughed at the ambiguous answer, affecting to consider it as a
mere evasion.

"We should all try to do that," he answered; "but what I mean to ask is,
whether you would personally take up arms to fight for the temporal
power, or whether you would allow events to take their course? I fancy
that would be the ultimate test of loyalty."

"My instinct would certainly be to fight, whether fighting were of any
use or not. But the propriety of fighting in such a case is a very nice
question of judgment. So long as there is anything to fight for, no
matter how hopeless the odds, a gentleman should go to the front--but no
longer. The question must be to decide the precise point at which the
position becomes untenable. So long as France makes our quarrels hers,
every man should give his personal assistance to the cause; but it is
absurd to suppose that if we were left alone, a handful of Romans against
a great Power, we could do more, or should do more, than make a formal
show of resistance. It has been a rule in all ages that a general,
however brave, who sacrifices the lives of his soldiers in a perfectly
hopeless resistance, rather than accept the terms of an honourable
capitulation, is guilty of a military crime."

"In other words," answered Del Ferice, quietly, "if the French troops
were withdrawn, and the Italians were besieging Rome, you would at once
capitulate?"

"Certainly--after making a formal protest. It would be criminal to
sacrifice our fellow-citizens' lives in such a case."

"And then?"

"Then, as I said before, I would make the best of it--not omitting to
congratulate Del Ferice upon obtaining a post in the new Government,"
added Giovanni, with a laugh.

But Del Ferice took no notice of the jest.

"Do you not think that, aside from any question of sympathy or loyalty to
the holy Father, the change of government would be an immense advantage
to Rome?"

"No, I do not. To Italy the advantage would be inestimable; to Rome it
would be an injury. Italy would consolidate the prestige she began to
acquire when Cavour succeeded in sending a handful of troops to the
Crimea eleven years ago; she would at once take a high position as a
European Power--provided always that the smouldering republican element
should not break out in opposition to the constitutional monarchy. But
Rome would be ruined. She is no longer the geographical capital of
Italy--she is not even the largest city; but in the course of a few
years, violent efforts would be made to give her a fictitious modern
grandeur, in the place of the moral importance she now enjoys as the
headquarters of the Catholic world. Those efforts at a spurious growth
would ruin her financially, and the hatred of Romans for Italians of the
north would cause endless internal dissension. We should be subjected to
a system of taxation which would fall more heavily on us than on other
Italians, in proportion as our land is less productive. On the whole, we
should grow rapidly poorer; for prices would rise, and we should have a
paper currency instead of a metallic one. Especially we landed
proprietors would suffer terribly by the Italian land system being
suddenly thrust upon us. To be obliged to sell one's acres to any peasant
who can scrape together enough to capitalise the pittance he now pays as
rent, at five per cent, would scarcely be agreeable. Such a fellow, from
whom I have the greatest difficulty in extracting his yearly bushel of
grain, could borrow twenty bushels from a neighbour, or the value of
them, and buy me out without my consent--acquiring land worth ten times
the rent he and his father have paid for it, and his father before him.
It would produce an extraordinary state of things, I can assure you.
No--even putting aside what you call my sympathies and my loyalty to the
Pope--I do not desire any change. Nobody who owns much property does; the
revolutionary spirits are people who own nothing."

"On the other hand, those who own nothing, or next to nothing, are the
great majority."

"Even if that is true, which I doubt, I do not see why the intelligent
few should be ruled by that same ignorant majority."

"But you forget that the majority is to be educated," objected Del
Ferice.

"Education is a term few people can define," returned Giovanni. "Any good
schoolmaster knows vastly more than you or I. Would you like to be
governed by a majority of schoolmasters?"

"That is a plausible argument," laughed Del Ferice, "but it is not
sound."

"It is not sound!" repeated Giovanni, impatiently. "People are so fond of
exclaiming that what they do not like is not sound! Do you think that it
would not be a fair case to put five hundred schoolmasters against five
hundred gentlemen of average education? I think it would be very fair.
The schoolmasters would certainly have the advantage in education: do you
mean to say they would make better or wiser electors than the same number
of gentlemen who cannot name all the cities and rivers in Italy, nor
translate a page of Latin without a mistake, but who understand the
conditions of property by practical experience as no schoolmaster can
possibly understand them? I tell you it is nonsense. Education, of the
kind which is of any practical value in the government of a nation, means
the teaching of human motives, of humanising ideas, of some system
whereby the majority of electors can distinguish the qualities of honesty
and common-sense in the candidate they wish to elect. I do not pretend to
say what that system may be, but I assert that no education which does
not lead to that kind of knowledge is of any practical use to the voting
majority of a constitutionally governed country."

Del Ferice sighed rather sadly.

"I am afraid you will not discover that system in Europe," he said. He
was disappointed in Giovanni, and in his hopes of detecting in him some
signs of a revolutionary spirit. Saracinesca was a gentleman of the old
school, who evidently despised majorities and modern political science as
a whole, who for the sake of his own interests desired no change from the
Government under which he lived, and who would surely be the first to
draw the sword for the temporal power, and the last to sheathe it. His
calm judgment concerning the fallacy of holding a hopeless position would
vanish like smoke if his fiery blood were once roused. He was so honest a
man that even Del Ferice could not suspect him of parading views he did
not hold; and Ugo then and there abandoned all idea of bringing him into
political trouble and disgrace, though he by no means gave up all hope of
being able to ruin him in some other way.

"I agree with you there at least," said Saracinesca. "The only
improvements worth having are certainly not to be found in Europe. Donna
Tullia is calling us. We had better join that harmless flock of lambs,
and give over speculating on the advantages of allying ourselves with a
pack of wolves who will eat us up, house and home, bag and baggage."

So the whole party climbed again to their seats upon the drag, and
Valdarno drove them back into Borne by the Porta San Giovanni.



CHAPTER VI.


Corona d'Astrardente had been educated in a convent--that is to say, she
had been brought up in the strict practice of her religion; and during
the five years which had elapsed since she had come out into the world,
she had found no cause for forsaking the habits she had acquired in her
girlhood. Some people find religion a burden; others regard it as an
indifferently useless institution, in which they desire no share, and
concerning which they never trouble themselves; others, again, look upon
it as the mainstay of their lives.

It is natural to suppose that the mode of thought and the habits acquired
by young girls in a religious institution will not disappear without a
trace when they first go into the world, and it may even be expected that
some memory of the early disposition thus cultivated will cling to them
throughout their lives. But the multifarious interests of social
existence do much to shake that young edifice of faith. The driving
strength of stormy passions of all kinds undermines the walls of the
fabric, and when at last the bolt of adversity strikes full upon the
keystone of the arch, upon the self of man or woman, weakened and
loosened by the tempests of years, the whole palace of the soul falls in,
a hopeless wreck, wherein not even the memory of outline can be traced,
nor the faint shadow of a beauty which is destroyed for ever.

But there are some whose interests in this world are not strong enough to
shake their faith in the next; whose passions do not get the mastery, and
whose self is sheltered from danger by something more than the feeble
defence of an accomplished egotism. Corona was one of these, for her lot
had not been happy, nor her path strewn with roses.

She was a friendless woman, destined to suffer much, and her suffering
was the more intense that she seemed always upon the point of finding
friends in the world where she played so conspicuous a part. There can be
little happiness when a whole life has been placed upon a false
foundation, even though so dire a mistake may have been committed
willingly and from a sense of duty and obligation, such as drove Corona
to marry old Astrardente. Consolation is not satisfaction; and though,
when she reflected on what she had done, she knew that from her point of
view she had done her best, she knew also that she had closed upon
herself the gates of the earthly paradise, and that for her the prospect
of happiness had been removed from the now to the hereafter--the dim and
shadowy glass in which we love to see any reflection save that of our
present lives. And to her, thus living in submission to the consequences
of her choice, that faith in things better which had inspired her to
sacrifice was the chief remaining source of consolation. There was a good
man to whom she went for advice, as she had gone to him ever since she
could remember. When she found herself in trouble she never hesitated.
Padre Filippo was to her the living proof of the possibility of human
goodness, as faith is to us all the evidence of things not seen.

Corona was in trouble now--in a trouble so new that she hardly understood
it, so terrible and yet so vague that she felt her peril imminent. She
did not hesitate, therefore, nor change her mind upon the morning
following the day of the meet, but drove to the church of the Capuchins
in the Piazza Barberini, and went up the broad steps with a beating
heart, not knowing how she should tell what she meant to tell, yet
knowing that there was for her no hope of peace unless she told it
quickly, and got that advice and direction she so earnestly craved.

Padre Filippo had been a man of the world in his time--a man of great
cultivation, full of refined tastes and understanding of tastes in
others, gentle and courteous in his manners, and very kind of heart. No
one knew whence he came. He spoke Italian correctly and with a keen
scholarly use of words, but his slight accent betrayed his foreign birth.
He had been a Capuchin monk for many years, perhaps for more than half
his lifetime, and Corona could remember him from her childhood, for he
had been a friend of her father's; but he had not been consulted about
her marriage,--she even remembered that, though she had earnestly desired
to see him before the wedding-day, her father had told her that he had
left Rome for a time. For the old gentleman was in terrible earnest about
the match, so that in his heart he feared lest Corona might waver and ask
Padre Filippo's advice; and he knew the good monk too well to think that
he would give his countenance to such a sacrifice as was contemplated
in marrying the young girl to old Astrardente. Corona had known this
later, but had hardly realised the selfishness of her father, nor indeed
had desired to realise it. It was sufficient that he had died satisfied
in seeing her married to a great noble, and that she had been able, in
his last days, to relieve him from the distress of debt and embarrassment
which had doubtless contributed to shorten his life.

The proud woman who had thus once humbled herself for an object she
thought good, had never referred to her action again. She had never
spoken of her position to Padre Filippo, so that the monk wondered and
admired her steadfastness. If she suffered, it was in silence, without
comment and without complaint, and so she would have suffered to the end.
But it had been ordered otherwise. For months she had known that the
interest she felt in Giovanni Saracinesca was increasing: she had choked
it down, had done all in her power to prove herself indifferent to him;
but at last the crisis had come. When he spoke to her of his marriage,
she had felt--she knew now that it was so--that she loved him. The very
word, as she repeated it to herself, rang like an awful, almost
incomprehensible, accusation of evil in her ears. One moment she stood at
the top of the steps outside the church, looking down at the bare
straggling trees below, and upward to the grey sky, against which the
lofty eaves of the Palazzo Barberini stood out sharply defined. The
weather had changed again, and a soft southerly wind was blowing the
spray of the fountain half across the piazza. Corona paused, her graceful
figure half leaning against the stone doorpost of the church, her hand
upon the heavy leathern curtain in the act to lift it; and as she stood
there, a desperate temptation assailed her. It seemed desperate to
her--to many another woman it would have appeared only the natural course
to pursue--to turn her back upon the church, to put off the hard moment
of confession, to go down again into the city, and to say to herself that
there was no harm in seeing Don Giovanni, provided she never let him
speak of love. Why should he speak of it? Had she any reason to suppose
there was danger to her in anything he meant to say? Had he ever, by word
or deed, betrayed that interest in her which she knew in herself was love
for him? Had he ever?--ah yes! It was only the night before last that he
had asked her advice, had besought her to advise him not to marry
another, had suffered his arm to tremble when she laid her hand upon it.
In the quick remembrance that he too had shown some feeling, there was a
sudden burst of joy such as Corona had never felt, and a moment later she
knew it and was afraid. It was true, then. At the very time when she was
most oppressed with the sense of her fault in loving him, there was an
inward rejoicing in her heart at the bare thought that she loved him.
Could a woman fall lower, she asked herself--lower than to delight in
what she knew to be most bad? And yet it was such a poor little thrill of
pleasure after all; but it was the first she had ever known. To turn away
and reflect for a few days would be so easy! It would be so sweet to
think of it, even though the excuse for thinking of Giovanni should be a
good determination to root him from her life. It would be so sweet to
drive again alone among the trees that very afternoon, and to weigh the
salvation of her soul in the balance of her heart: her heart would know
how to turn the scales, surely enough. Corona stood still, holding the
curtain in her hand. She was a brave woman, but she turned pale--not
hesitating, she said to herself, but pausing. Then, suddenly, a great
scorn of herself arose in her. Was it worthy of her even to pause in
doing right? The nobility of her courage cried loudly to her to go in and
do the thing most worthy: her hand lifted the heavy leathern apron, and
she entered the church.

The air within was heavy and moist, and the grey light fell coldly
through the tall windows. Corona shuddered, and drew her furs more
closely about her as she passed up the aisle to the door of the sacristy.
She found the monk she sought, and she made her confession.

"Padre mio," she said at last, when the good man thought she had
finished--"Padre mio, I am a very miserable woman." She hid her dark face
in her ungloved hands, and one by one the crystal tears welled from her
eyes and trickled down upon her small fingers and upon the worn black
wood of the confessional.

"My daughter," said the good monk, "I will pray for you, others will pray
for you--but before all things, you must pray for yourself. And let me
advise you, my child, that as we are all led into temptation, we must
not think that because we have been in temptation we have sinned
hopelessly; nor, if we have fought against the thing that tempts us,
should we at once imagine that we have overcome it, and have done
altogether right. If there were no evil in ourselves, there could be no
temptation from without, for nothing evil could seem pleasant. But with
you I cannot find that you have done any great wrong as yet. You must
take courage. We are all in the world, and do what we may, we cannot
disregard it. The sin you see is real, but it is yet not very near you
since you so abhor it; and if you pray that you may hate it, it will go
further from you till you may hope not even to understand how it could
once have been so near. Take courage--take comfort. Do not be morbid.
Resist temptation, but do not analyse it nor yourself too closely; for
it is one of the chief signs of evil in us that when we dwell too much
upon ourselves and upon our temptations, we ourselves seem good in our
own eyes, and our temptations not unpleasant, because the very resisting
of them seems to make us appear better than we are."

But the tears still flowed from Corona's eyes in the dark corner of the
church, and she could not be comforted.

"Padre mio," she repeated, "I am very unhappy. I have not a friend in the
world to whom I can speak. I have never seen my life before as I see it
now. God forgive me, I have never loved my husband. I never knew what it
meant to love. I was a mere child, a very innocent child, when I was
married to him. I would have sought your advice, but they told me you
were away, and I thought I was doing right in obeying my father."

Padre Filippo sighed. He had long known and understood why Corona had not
been allowed to come to him at the most important moment of her life.

"My husband is very kind to me," she continued in broken tones. "He loves
me in his way, but I do not love him. That of itself is a great sin. It
seems to me as though I saw but one half of life, and saw it from the
window of a prison; and yet I am not imprisoned. I would that I were, for
I should never have seen another man. I should never have heard his
voice, nor seen his face, nor--nor loved him, as I do love him," she
sobbed.

"Hush, my daughter," said the old monk, very gently. "You told me you had
never spoken of love; that you were interested in him, indeed, but that
you did not know--"

"I know--I know now," cried Corona, losing all control as the passionate
tears flowed down. "I could not say it--it seemed so dreadful--I love him
with my whole self! I can never get it out--it burns me. O God, I am so
wretched!"

Padre Filippo was silent for a while. It was a terrible case. He could
not remember in all his experience to have known one more sad to
contemplate, though his business was with the sins and the sorrows of the
world. The beautiful woman kneeling outside his confessional was
innocent--as innocent as a child, brave and faithful. She had sacrificed
her whole life for her father, who had been little worthy of such
devotion; she had borne for years the suffering of being tied to an old
man whom she could not help despising, however honestly she tried to
conceal the fact from herself, however effectually she hid it from
others. It was a wonder the disaster had not occurred before: it showed
how loyal and true a woman she was, that, living in the very centre and
midst of the world, admired and assailed by many, she should never in
five years have so much as thought of any man beside her husband. A woman
made for love and happiness, in the glory of beauty and youth, capable
of such unfaltering determination in her loyalty, so good, so noble, so
generous,--it seemed unspeakably pathetic to hear her weeping her heart
out, and confessing that, after so many struggles and efforts and
sacrifices, she had at last met the common fate of all humanity, and
was become subject to love. What might have been her happiness was turned
to dishonour; what should have been the pride of her young life was made
a reproach.

She would not fall. The grey-haired monk believed that, in his great
knowledge of mankind. But she would suffer terribly, and it might be that
others would suffer also. It was the consequence of an irretrievable
error in the beginning, when it had seemed to the young girl just
leaving the convent that the best protection against the world of evil
into which she was to go would be the unconditional sacrifice of herself.

Padre Filippo was silent. He hoped that the passionate outburst of grief
and self-reproach would pass, though he himself could find little enough
to say. It was all too natural. What was he, he thought, that he should
explain away nature, and bid a friendless woman defy a power that has
more than once overset the reckoning of the world? He could bid her pray
for help and strength, but he found it hard to argue the case with her;
for he had to allow that his beautiful penitent was, after all, only
experiencing what it might have been foretold that she must feel, and
that, as far as he could see, she was struggling bravely against the
dangers of her situation.

Corona cried bitterly as she knelt there. It was a great relief to give
way for a time to the whole violence of what she felt. It may be that in
her tears there was a subtle instinctive knowledge that she was weeping
for her love as well as for her sin in loving, but her grief was none
the less real. She did not understand herself. She did not know, as Padre
Filippo knew, that her woman's heart was breaking for sympathy rather
than for religious counsel. She knew many women, but her noble pride
would not have let her even contemplate the possibility of confiding in
any one of them, even if she could have done so in the certainty of not
being herself betrayed and of not betraying the man she loved. She had
been accustomed to come to her confessor for counsel, and she now came to
him with her troubles and craved sympathy for them, in the knowledge that
Padre Filippo could never know the name of the man who had disturbed her
peace.

But the monk understood well enough, and his kind heart comprehended hers
and felt for her.

"My daughter," he said at last, when she seemed to have grown more calm,
"it would be an inestimable advantage if this man could go away for a
time, but that is probably not to be expected. Meanwhile, you must not
listen to him if he speaks--"

"It is not that," interrupted Corona--"it is not that. He never speaks of
love. Oh, I really believe he does not love me at all!" But in her heart
she felt that he must love her; and her hand, as it lay upon the hard
wood of the confessional, seemed still to feel his trembling arm.

"That is so much the better, my child," said the monk, quietly. "For if
he does not love you, your temptations will not grow stronger."

"And yet, perhaps--he may--" murmured Corona, feeling that it would be
wrong even to conceal her faintest suspicions at such a time.

"Let there be no perhaps," answered Padre Filippo, almost sternly. "Let
it never enter your mind that he might love you. Think that even from the
worldly point there is small dignity in a woman who exhibits love for a
man who has never mentioned love to her. You have no reason to suppose
you are loved save that you desire to be. Let there be no perhaps."

The monk's keen insight into character had given him an unexpected weapon
in Corona's defence. He knew how of all things a proud woman hates to
know that where she has placed her heart there is no response, and that
if she fails to awaken an affection akin to her own, what has been love
may be turned to loathing, or at least to indifference. The strong
character of the Duchessa d'Astrardente responded to his touch as he
expected. Her tears ceased to flow, and her scorn rose haughtily against
herself.

"It is true. I am despicable," she said, suddenly. "You have shown me
myself. There shall be no perhaps. I loathe myself for thinking of it.
Pray for me, lest I fall so low again."

A few minutes later Corona left the confessional and went and kneeled in
the body of the church to collect her thoughts. She was in a very
different frame of mind from that in which she had left home an hour ago.
She hardly knew whether she felt herself a better woman, but she was
sure that she was stronger. There was no desire left in her to meditate
sadly upon her sorrow--to go over and over in her thoughts the feelings
she experienced, the fears she felt, the half-formulated hope that
Giovanni might love her after all. There was left only a haughty
determination to have done with her folly quickly and surely, and to try
and forget it for ever. The confessor's words had produced their effect.
Henceforth she would never stoop so low again. She was ready to go out
into the world now, and she felt no fear. It was more from habit than for
the sake of saying a prayer that she knelt in the church after her
confession, for she felt very strong. She rose to her feet presently, and
moved towards the door: she had not gone half the length of the church
when she came face to face with Donna Tullia Mayer.

It was a strange coincidence. The ladies of Rome frequently go to the
church of the Capuchins, as Corona had done, to seek the aid and counsel
of Padre Filippo, but Corona had never met Donna Tullia there. Madame
Mayer did not profess to be very devout. As a matter of fact, she had not
found it convenient to go to confession during the Christmas season, and
she had been intending to make up for the deficiency for some time past;
but it is improbable that she would have decided upon fulfilling her
religious obligations before Lent if she had not chanced to see the
Duchessa d'Astrardente's carriage standing at the foot of the church
steps.

Donna Tullia had risen early because she was going to sit for her
portrait to a young artist who lived in the neighbourhood of the Piazza
Barberini, and as she passed in her brougham she caught sight of the
Duchessa's liveries. The artist could wait half an hour: the opportunity
was admirable. She was alone, and would not only do her duty in going to
confession, but would have a chance of seeing how Corona looked when she
had been at her devotions. It might also be possible to judge from Padre
Filippo's manner whether the interview had been an interesting one. The
Astrardente was so very devout that she probably had difficulty in
inventing sins to confess. One might perhaps tell from her face whether
she had felt any emotion. At all events the opportunity should not be
lost. Besides, if Donna Tullia found that she herself was really not in a
proper frame of mind for religious exercises, she could easily spend a
few moments in the church and then proceed upon her way. She stopped her
carriage and went in. She had just entered when she was aware of the tall
figure of Corona d'Astrardente coming towards her, magnificent in the
simplicity of her furs, a short veil just covering half her face, and an
unwonted colour in her dark cheeks.

Corona was surprised at meeting Madame Mayer, but she did not show it.
She nodded with a sufficiently pleasant smile, and would have passed on.
This would not have suited Donna Tullia's intentions, however, for she
meant to have a good look at her friend. It was not for nothing that she
had made up her mind to go to confession at a moment's notice. She
therefore stopped the Duchessa, and insisted upon shaking hands.

"What an extraordinary coincidence!" she exclaimed. "You must have been
to see Padre Filippo too?"

"Yes," answered Corona. "You will find him in the sacristy." She noticed
that Madame Mayer regarded her with great interest. Indeed she could
hardly be aware how unlike her usual self she appeared. There were dark
rings beneath her eyes, and her eyes themselves seemed to emit a strange
light; while an unwonted colour illuminated her olive cheeks, and her
voice had a curiously excited tone. Madame Mayer stared at her so hard
that she noticed it.

"Why do you look at me like that?" asked the Duchessa, with a smile.

"I was wondering what in the world you could find to confess," replied
Donna Tullia, sweetly. "You are so immensely good, you see; everybody
wonders at you."

Corona's eyes flashed darkly. She suspected that Madame Mayer noticed
something unusual in her appearance, and had made the awkward speech to
conceal her curiosity. She was annoyed at the meeting, still more at
being detained in conversation within the church.

"It is very kind of you to invest me with such virtues," she answered. "I
assure you I am not half so good as you suppose. Good-bye--I must be
going home."

"Stay!" exclaimed Donna Tullia; "I can go to confession another time.
Will not you come with me to Gouache's studio? I am going to sit. It is
such a bore to go alone."

"Thank you very much," said Corona, civilly. "I am afraid I cannot go. My
husband expects me at home. I wish you a good sitting."

"Well, good-bye. Oh, I forgot to tell you, we had such a charming picnic
yesterday. It was so fortunate--the only fine day this week. Giovanni was
very amusing: he was completely _en train_, and kept us laughing the
whole day. Good-bye; I do so wish you had come."

"I was very sorry," answered Corona, quietly, "but it was impossible. I
am glad you all enjoyed it so much. Good-bye."

So they parted.

"How she wishes that same husband of hers would follow the example of my
excellent old Mayer, of blessed memory, and take himself out of the world
to-day or to-morrow!" thought Donna Tullia, as she walked up the church.

She was sure something unusual had occurred, and she longed to fathom the
mystery. But she was not altogether a bad woman, and when she had
collected her thoughts she made up her mind that even by the utmost
stretch of moral indulgence, she could not consider herself in a proper
state to undertake so serious a matter as confession. She therefore
waited a few minutes, to give time for Corona to drive away, and then
turned back. She cautiously pushed aside the curtain and looked out.
The Astrardente carriage was just disappearing in the distance. Donna
Tullia descended the steps, got into her brougham, and proceeded to the
studio of Monsieur Anastase Gouache, the portrait-painter. She had not
accomplished much, save to rouse her curiosity, and that parting thrust
concerning Don Giovanni had been rather ill-timed.

She drove to the door of the studio and found Del Ferice waiting for her
as usual. If Corona had accompanied her, she would have expressed
astonishment at finding him; but, as a matter of fact, Ugo always met
her there, and helped to pass the time while she was sitting. He was very
amusing, and not altogether unsympathetic to her; and moreover, he
professed for her the most profound devotion--genuine, perhaps, and
certainly skilfully expressed. If any one had paid much attention to Del
Fence's doings, it would have been said that he was paying court to the
rich young widow. But he was never looked upon by society from the point
of view of matrimonial possibility, and no one thought of attaching any
importance to his doings. Nevertheless Ugo, who had been gradually rising
in the social scale for many years, saw no reason why he should not win
the hand of Donna Tullia as well as any one else, if only Giovanni
Saracinesca could be kept out of the way; and he devoted himself with
becoming assiduity to the service of the widow, while doing his utmost to
promote Giovanni's attachment for the Astrardente, which he had been the
first to discover. Donna Tullia would probably have laughed to scorn the
idea that Del Ferice could think of himself seriously as a suitor, but of
all her admirers she found him the most constant and the most convenient.

"What are the news this morning?" she asked, as he opened her
carriage-door for her before the studio.

"None, save that I am your faithful slave as ever," he answered.

"I have just seen the Astrardente," said Donna Tullia, still sitting in
her seat. "I will let you guess where it was that we met."

"You met in the church of the Capuchins," replied Del Ferice promptly,
with a smile of satisfaction.

"You are a sorcerer: how did you know? Did you guess it?"

"If you will look down this street from where I stand, you will perceive
that I could distinctly see any carriage which turned out of the Piazza
Barberini towards the Capuchins," replied Ugo. "She was there nearly an
hour, and you only stayed five minutes."

"How dreadful it is to be watched like this!" exclaimed Donna Tullia,
with a little laugh, half expressive of satisfaction and half of
amusement at Del Fence's devotion.

"How can I help watching you, as the earth watches the sun in its daily
course?" said Ugo, with a sentimental intonation of his soft persuasive
voice. Donna Tullia looked at his smooth face, and laughed again, half
kindly.

"The Astrardente had been confessing her sins," she remarked.

"Again? She is always confessing."

"What do you suppose she finds to say?" asked Donna Tullia.

"That her husband is hideous, and that you are beautiful," answered Del
Ferice, readily enough.

"Why?"

"Because she hates her husband and hates you."

"Why, again?"

"Because you took Giovanni Saracinesca to your picnic yesterday; because
you are always taking him away from her. For the matter of that, I hate
him as much as the Astrardente hates you," added Del Ferice, with an
agreeable smile. Donna Tullia did not despise flattery, but Ugo made her
thoughtful.

"Do you think she really cares--?" she asked.

"As surely as that he does not," replied Del Ferice.

"It would be strange," said Donna Tullia, meditatively. "I would like to
know if it is true."

"You have only to watch them."

"Surely Giovanni cares more than she does," objected Madame Mayer.
"Everybody says he loves her; nobody says she loves him."

"All the more reason. Popular report is always mistaken--except
in regard to you."

"To me?"

"Since it ascribes to you so much that is good, it cannot be wrong,"
replied Del Ferice.

Donna Tullia laughed, and took his hand to descend from her carriage.



CHAPTER VII.


Monsieur Gouache's studio was on the second floor. The narrow flight of
steps ended abruptly against a green door, perforated by a slit for the
insertion of letters, by a shabby green cord which, being pulled, rang a
feeble bell, and adorned by a visiting-card, whereon with many
superfluous flourishes and ornaments of caligraphy was inscribed the name
of the artist--ANASTASE GOUACHE.

The door being opened by a string, Donna Tullia and Del Ferice entered,
and mounting half-a-dozen more steps, found themselves in the studio, a
spacious room with a window high above the floor, half shaded by a
curtain of grey cotton. In one corner an iron stove gave out loud
cracking sounds, pleasant to hear on the damp winter's morning, and the
flame shone red through chinks of the rusty door. A dark-green carpet in
passably good condition covered the floor; three or four broad divans,
spread with oriental rugs, and two very much dilapidated carved chairs
with leathern seats, constituted the furniture; the walls were hung with
sketches of heads and figures; half-finished portraits stood upon two
easels, and others were leaning together in a corner; a couple of small
tables were covered with colour-tubes, brushes, and palette-knives;
mingled odours of paint, varnish, and cigarette-smoke pervaded the air;
and, lastly, upon a high stool before one of the easels, his sleeves
turned up to the elbow, and his feet tucked in upon a rail beneath him,
sat Anastase Gouache himself.

He was a man of not more than seven-and-twenty years, with delicate pale
features, and an abundance of glossy black hair. A small and very much
pointed moustache shaded his upper lip, and the extremities thereof rose
short and perpendicular from the corners of his well-shaped mouth. His
eyes were dark and singularly expressive, his forehead low and very
broad; his hands were sufficiently nervous and well knit, but white as a
woman's, and the fingers tapered delicately to the tips. He wore a brown
velvet coat more or less daubed with paint, and his collar was low at the
throat.

He sprang from his high stool as Donna Tullia and Del Ferice entered, his
palette and mahl-stick in his hand, and made a most ceremonious bow;
whereat Donna Tullia laughed gaily.

"Well, Gouache," she said familiarly, "what have you been doing?"

Anastase motioned to her to come before his canvas and contemplate the
portrait of herself upon which he was working. It was undeniably good--a
striking figure in full-length, life-size, and breathing with Donna
Tullia's vitality, if also with something of her coarseness.

"Ah, my friend," remarked Del Ferice, "you will never be successful until
you take my advice."

"I think it is very like," said Donna Tullia, thoughtfully.

"You are too modest," answered Del Ferice. "There is the foundation of
likeness, but it lacks yet the soul."

"Oh, but that will come," returned Madame Mayer. Then turning to the
artist, she added in a more doubtful voice, "Perhaps, as Del Ferice says,
you might give it a little more expression--what shall I say?--more
poetry."

Anastase Gouache smiled a fine smile. He was a man of immense talent;
since he had won the Prix de Rome he had made great progress, and was
already half famous with that young celebrity which young men easily
mistake for fame itself. A new comet visible only through a good glass
causes a deal of talk and speculation in the world; but unless it comes
near enough to brush the earth with its tail, it is very soon forgotten.
But Gouache seemed to understand this, and worked steadily on. When
Madame Mayer expressed a wish for a little more poetry in her portrait,
he smiled, well knowing that poetry was as far removed from her nature as
dry champagne is different in quality from small beer.

"Yes," he said; "I know--I am only too conscious of that defect." As
indeed he was--conscious of the defect of it in herself. But he had many
reasons for not wishing to quarrel with Donna Tullia, and he swallowed
his artistic convictions in a rash resolve to make her look like an
inspired prophetess rather than displease her.

"If you will sit down, I will work upon the head," he said; and moving
one of the old carved chairs into position for her, he adjusted the light
and began to work without any further words. Del Ferice installed himself
upon a divan whence he could see Donna Tullia and her portrait, and the
sitting began. It might have continued for some time in a profound
silence as far as the two men were concerned, but silence was not
bearable for long to Donna Tullia.

"What were you and Saracinesca talking about yesterday?" she asked
suddenly, looking towards Del Ferice.

"Politics," he answered, and was silent.

"Well?" inquired Madame Mayer, rather anxiously.

"I am sure you know his views as well as I," returned Del Ferice, rather
gloomily. "He is stupid and prejudiced."

"Really?" ejaculated Gouache, with innocent surprise. "A little more
towards me, Madame. Thank you--so." And he continued painting.

"You are absurd, Del Ferice!" exclaimed Donna Tullia, colouring a little.
"You think every one prejudiced and stupid who does not agree with you."

"With me? With you, with us, you should say. Giovanni is a specimen of
the furious Conservative, who hates change and has a cold chill at the
word 'republic' Do you call that intelligent?"

"Giovanni is intelligent for all that," answered Madame Mayer. "I am not
sure that he is not more intelligent than you--in some ways," she added,
after allowing her rebuke to take effect.

Del Ferice smiled blandly. It was not his business to show that he was
hurt.

"In one thing he is stupid compared with me," he replied. "He is very far
from doing justice to your charms. It must be a singular lack of
intelligence which prevents him from seeing that you are as beautiful as
you are charming. Is it not so, Gouache?"

"Does any one deny it?" asked the Frenchman, with an air of devotion.

Madame Mayer blushed with annoyance; both because she coveted Giovanni's
admiration more than that of other men, and knew that she had not won it,
and because she hated to feel that Del Ferice was able to wound her so
easily. To cover her discomfiture she returned to the subject of
politics.

"We talk a great deal of our convictions," she said; "but in the
meanwhile we must acknowledge that we have accomplished nothing at all.
What is the good of our meeting here two or three times a-week, meeting
in society, whispering together, corresponding in cipher, and doing all
manner of things, when everything goes on just the same as before?"

"Better give it up and join Don Giovanni and his party," returned Del
Ferice, with a sneer. "He says if a change comes he will make the best of
it. Of course, we could not do better."

"With us it is so easy," said Gouache, thoughtfully. "A handful of
students, a few paving-stones, 'Vive la République!' and we have a tumult
in no time."

That was not the kind of revolution in which Del Ferice proposed to have
a hand. He meditated playing a very small part in some great movement;
and when the fighting should be over, he meant to exaggerate the part he
had played, and claim a substantial reward. For a good title and twenty
thousand francs a-year he would have become as stanch for the temporal
power as any canon of St. Peter's. When he had begun talking of
revolutions to Madame Mayer and to half-a-dozen harebrained youths, of
whom Gouache the painter was one, he had not really the slightest idea of
accomplishing anything. He took advantage of the prevailing excitement
in order to draw Donna Tullia into a closer confidence than he could
otherwise have aspired to obtain. He wanted to marry her, and every new
power he could obtain over her was a step towards his goal. Neither she
nor her friends were of the stuff required for revolutionary work; but
Del Ferice had hopes that, by means of the knot of malcontents he was
gradually drawing together, he might ruin Giovanni Saracinesca, and get
the hand of Donna Tullia in marriage. He himself was indeed deeply
implicated in the plots of the Italian party; but he was only employed as
a spy, and in reality knew no more of the real intentions of those he
served than did Donna Tullia herself. But the position was sufficiently
lucrative; so much so that he had been obliged to account for his
accession of fortune by saying that an uncle of his had died and left him
money.

"If you expected Don Giovanni to join a mob of students in tearing up
paving-stones and screaming 'Vive la République!' I am not surprised that
you are disappointed in your expectations," said Donna Tullia, rather
scornfully.

"That is only Gouache's idea of a popular movement," answered Del Ferice.

"And yours," returned Anastase, lowering his mahl-stick and brushes, and
turning sharply upon the Italian--"yours would be to begin by stabbing
Cardinal Antonelli in the back."

"You mistake me, my friend," returned Del Ferice, blandly. "If you
volunteered to perform that service to Italy, I would certainly not
dissuade you. But I would certainly not offer you my assistance."

"Fie! How can you talk like that of murder!" exclaimed Donna Tullia. "Go
on with your painting, Gouache, and do not be ridiculous."

"The question of tyrannicide is marvellously interesting," answered
Anastase in a meditative tone, as he resumed his work, and glanced
critically from Madame Mayer to his canvas and back again.

"It belongs to a class of actions at which Del Ferice rejoices, but in
which he desires no part," said Donna Tullia.

"It seems to me wiser to contemplate accomplishing the good result
without any unnecessary and treacherous bloodshed," answered Del Ferice,
sententiously. Again Gouache smiled in his delicate satirical fashion,
and glanced at Madame Mayer, who burst into a laugh.

"Moral reflections never sound so especially and ridiculously moral as in
your mouth, Ugo," she said.

"Why?" he asked, in an injured tone.

"I am sure I do not know. Of course, we all would like to see Victor
Emmanuel in the Quirinal, and Rome the capital of a free Italy. Of course
we would all like to see it accomplished without murder or bloodshed; but
somehow, when you put it into words, it sounds very absurd."

In her brutal fashion Madame Mayer had hit upon a great truth, and Del
Ferice was very much annoyed. He knew himself to be a scoundrel; he knew
Madame Mayer to be a woman of very commonplace intellect; he wondered
why he was not able to deceive her more effectually. He was often able to
direct her, he sometimes elicited from her some expression of admiration
at his astuteness; but in spite of his best efforts, she saw through him
and understood him better than he liked.

"I am sorry," he said, "that what is honourable should sound ridiculous
when it comes from me. I like to think sometimes that you believe in me."

"Oh, I do," protested Donna Tullia, with a sudden change of manner. "I
was only laughing. I think you are really in earnest. Only, you know,
nowadays, it is not the fashion to utter moralities in a severe tone,
with an air of conviction. A little dash of cynicism--you know, a sort of
half sneer--is so much more _chic_; it gives a much higher idea of the
morality, because it conveys the impression that it is utterly beyond
you. Ask Gouache--"

"By all means," said the artist, squeezing a little more red from the
tube upon his palette, "one should always sneer at what one cannot reach.
The fox, you remember, called the grapes sour. He was probably right, for
he is the most intelligent of animals."

"I would like to hear what Giovanni had to say about those grapes,"
remarked Donna Tullia.

"Oh, he sneered in the most fashionable way," answered Del Ferice. "He
would have pleased you immensely. He said that he would be ruined by a
change of government, and that he thought it his duty to fight against
it. He talked a great deal about the level of the Tiber, and landed
property, and the duties of gentlemen. And he ended by saying he would
make the best of any change that happened to come about, like a
thoroughgoing egotist, as he is!"

"I would like to hear what you think of Don Giovanni Saracinesca," said
Gouache; "and then I would like to hear what he thinks of you."

"I can tell you both," answered Del Fence. "I think of him that he is a
thorough aristocrat, full of prejudices and money, unwilling to sacrifice
his convictions to his wealth or his wealth to his convictions,
intelligent in regard to his own interests and blind to those of others,
imbued with a thousand and one curious feudal notions, and overcome with
a sense of his own importance."

"And what does he think of you?" asked Anastase, working busily.

"Oh, it is very simple," returned Del Ferice, with a laugh. "He thinks I
am a great scoundrel."

"Really! How strange! I should not have said that."

"What? That Del Fence is a scoundrel?" asked Donna Tullia, laughing.

"No; I should not have said it," repeated Anastase, thoughtfully. "I
should say that our friend Del Ferice is a man of the most profound
philanthropic convictions, nobly devoting his life to the pursuit of
liberty, fraternity, and equality."

"Do you really think so?" asked Donna Tullia, with a half-comic glance at
Ugo, who looked uncommonly grave.

"Madame," returned Gouache, "I never permit myself to think otherwise of
any of my friends."

"Upon my word," remarked Del Fence, "I am delighted at the compliment, my
dear fellow; but I must infer that your judgment of your friends is
singularly limited."

"Perhaps," answered Gouache. "But the number of my friends is not large,
and I myself am very enthusiastic. I look forward to the day when
'liberty, equality, and fraternity' shall be inscribed in letters of
flame, in the most expensive Bengal lights if you please, over the _porte
cochère_ of every palace in Rome, not to mention the churches. I look
forward to that day, but I have not the slightest expectation of ever
seeing it. Moreover, if it ever comes, I will pack up my palette and
brushes and go somewhere else by the nearest route."

"Good heavens, Gouache!" exclaimed Donna Tullia; "how can you talk like
that? It is really dreadfully irreverent to jest about our most sacred
convictions, or to say that we desire to see those words written over the
doors of our churches!"

"I am not jesting. I worship Victor Hugo. I love to dream of the
universal republic--it has immense artistic attractions--the fierce
yelling crowd, the savage faces, the red caps, the terrible mænad women
urging the brawny ruffians on to shed more blood, the lurid light of
burning churches, the pale and trembling victims dragged beneath the
poised knife,--ah, it is superb, it has stupendous artistic capabilities!
But for myself--bah! I am a good Catholic--I wish nobody any harm, for
life is very gay after all."

At this remarkable exposition of Anastase Gouache's views in regard to
the utility of revolutions, Del Ferice laughed loudly; but Anastase
remained perfectly grave, for he was perfectly sincere. Del Ferice, to
whom the daily whispered talk of revolution in Donna Tullia's circle was
mere child's play, was utterly indifferent, and suffered himself to be
amused by the young artist's vagaries. But Donna Tullia, who longed to
see herself the centre of a real plot, thought that she was being
laughed, at, and pouted her red lips and frowned her displeasure.

"I believe you have no convictions!" she said angrily. "While we are
risking our lives and fortunes for the good cause, you sit here in your
studio dreaming of barricades and guillotines, merely as subjects for
pictures--you even acknowledge that in case we produce a revolution
you would go away."

"Not without finishing this portrait," returned Anastase, quite unmoved.
"It is an exceedingly good likeness; and in case you should ever
disappear--you know people sometimes do in revolutions--or if by any
unlucky accident your beautiful neck should chance beneath that
guillotine you just mentioned,--why, then, this canvas would be the most
delightful souvenir of many pleasant mornings, would it not?"

"You are incorrigible," said Donna Tullia, with a slight laugh. "You
cannot be serious for a moment."

"It is very hard to paint you when your expression changes so often,"
replied Anastase, calmly.

"I am not in a good humour for sitting to you this morning. I wish you
would amuse me, Del Ferice. You generally can."

"I thought politics amused you--"

"They interest me. But Gouache's ideas are detestable."

"Will you not give us some of your own, Madame?" inquired the painter,
stepping back from his canvas to get a better view of his work.

"Oh, mine are very simple," answered Donna Tullia. "Victor Emmanuel,
Garibaldi, and a free press."

"A combination of monarchy, republicanism, and popular education--not
very interesting," remarked Gouache, still eyeing his picture.

"No; there would be nothing for you to paint, except portraits of the
liberators--"

"There is a great deal of that done. I have seen them in every café in
the north of Italy," interrupted the artist. "I would like to paint
Garibaldi. He has a fine head."

"I will ask him to sit to you when he comes here."

"When he comes I shall be here no longer," answered Gouache. "They will
whitewash the Corso, they will make a restaurant of the Colosseum, and
they will hoist the Italian flag on the cross of St. Peter's. Then I will
go to Constantinople; there will still be some years before Turkey is
modernised."

"Artists are hopeless people," said Del Ferice. "They are utterly
illogical, and it is impossible to deal with them. If you like old
cities, why do you not like old women? Why would you not rather paint
Donna Tullia's old Countess than Donna Tullia herself?"

"That is precisely the opposite case," replied Anastase, quietly. "The
works of man are never so beautiful as when they are falling to decay;
the works of God are most beautiful when they are young. You might as
well say that because wine improves with age, therefore horses do
likewise. The faculty of comparison is lacking in your mind, my dear Del
Ferice, as it is generally lacking in the minds of true patriots. Great
reforms and great revolutions are generally brought about by people of
fierce and desperate convictions, like yours, who go to extreme lengths,
and never know when to stop. The quintessence of an artist's talent is
precisely that faculty of comparison, that gift of knowing when the thing
he is doing corresponds as nearly as he can make it with the thing he has
imagined."

There was no tinge of sarcasm in Gouache's voice as he imputed to Del
Ferice the savage enthusiasm of a revolutionist. But when Gouache, who
was by no means calm by nature, said anything in a particularly gentle
tone, there was generally a sting in it, and Del Ferice reflected upon
the mean traffic in stolen information by which he got his livelihood,
and was ashamed. Somehow, too, Donna Tullia felt that the part she
fancied herself playing was contemptible enough when compared with the
hard work, the earnest purpose, and the remarkable talent of the young
artist. But though she felt her inferiority, she would have died rather
than own it, even to Del Ferice. She knew that for months she had talked
with Del Ferice, with Valdarno, with Casalverde, even with the melancholy
and ironical Spicca, concerning conspiracies and deeds of darkness of all
kinds, and she knew that she and they might go on talking for ever in the
same strain without producing the smallest effect on events; but she
never to the very end relinquished the illusion she cherished so dearly,
that she was really and truly a conspirator, and that if any one of her
light-headed acquaintance betrayed the rest, they might all be ordered
out of Rome in four-and-twenty hours, or might even disappear into that
long range of dark buildings to the left of the colonnade of St. Peter's,
martyrs to the cause of their own self-importance and semi-theatrical
vanity. There were many knots of such self-fancied conspirators in those
days, whose wildest deed of daring was to whisper across a glass of
champagne in a ball-room, or over a tumbler of Velletri wine in a
Trasteverine cellar, the magic and awe-inspiring words, "Viva Garibaldi!
Viva Vittorio!" They accomplished nothing. The same men and women are now
grumbling and regretting the flesh-pots of the old Government, or
whispering in impotent discontent "Viva la Repubblica!" and they and
their descendants will go on whispering something to each other to the
end of time, while mightier hands than theirs are tearing down empires
and building up irresistible coalitions, and drawing red pencil-marks
through the geography of Europe.

The conspirators of those days accomplished nothing after Pius IX.
returned from Gaeta; the only men who were of any use at all were those
who, like Del Ferice, had sources of secret information, and basely sold
their scraps of news. But even they were of small importance. The moment
had not come, and all the talking and whispering and tale-bearing in the
world could not hasten events, nor change their course. But Donna Tullia
was puffed up with a sense of her importance, and Del Ferice managed to
attract just as much attention to his harmless chatter about progress as
would permit him undisturbed to carry on his lucrative traffic in secret
information.

Donna Tullia, who was not in the least artistic, and who by no means
appreciated the merits of the portrait Gouache was painting, was very far
from comprehending his definition of artistic comparison; but Del Ferice
understood it very well. Donna Tullia had much foreign blood in her
veins, like most of her class; but Del Ferice's obscure descent was in
all probability purely Italian, and he had inherited the common instinct
in matters of art which is a part of the Italian birthright. He had
recognised Gouache's wonderful talent, and had first brought Donna Tullia
to his studio--a matter of little difficulty when she had learned that
the young artist had already a reputation. It pleased her to fancy that
by telling him to paint her portrait she might pose as his patroness, and
hereafter reap the reputation of having influenced his career. For
fashion, and the desire to be the representative of fashion, led Donna
Tullia hither and thither as a lapdog is led by a string; and there
is nothing more in the fashion than to patronise a fashionable
portrait-painter.

But after Anastase Gouache had thus delivered himself of his views upon
Del Ferice and the faculty of artistic comparison, the conversation
languished, and Donna Tullia grew restless. "She had sat enough," she
said; and as her expression was not favourable to the portrait, Anastase
did not contradict her, but presently suffered her to depart in peace
with her devoted adorer at her heels. And when they were gone, Anastase
lighted a cigarette, and took a piece of charcoal and sketched a
caricature of Donna Tullia in a liberty cap, in a fine theatrical
attitude, invoking the aid of Del Ferice, who appeared as the Angel of
Death, with the guillotine in the background. Having put the finishing
touches to this work of art, Anastase locked his studio and went to
breakfast, humming an air from the "Belle Hélène."



CHAPTER VIII.


When Corona reached home she went to her own small boudoir, with the
intention of remaining there for an hour if she could do so without being
disturbed. There was a prospect of this; for on inquiry she ascertained
that her husband was not yet dressed, and his dressing took a very long
time. He had a cosmopolitan valet, who alone of living men understood the
art of fitting the artificial and the natural Astrardente together.
Corona believed this man to be an accomplished scoundrel; but she never
had any proof that he was anything worse than a very clever servant,
thoroughly unscrupulous where his master's interests or his own were
concerned. The old Duca believed in him sincerely and trusted him alone,
feeling that since he could never be a hero in his valet's eyes, he might
as well take advantage of that misfortune in order to gain a confident.

Corona found three or four letters upon her table, and sat down to read
them, letting her fur mantle drop to the floor, and putting her small
feet out towards the fire, for the pavement of the church had been cold.

She was destined to pass an eventful day, it seemed. One of the letters
was from Giovanni Saracinesca. It was the first time he had ever written
to her, and she was greatly surprised on finding his name at the foot of
the page. He wrote a strong clear handwriting, entirely without adornment
of penmanship, close and regular and straight: there was an air of
determination about it which was sympathetic, and a conciseness of
expression which startled Corona, as though she had heard the man himself
speaking to her.

"I write, dear Duchessa, because I covet your good opinion, and my motive
is therefore before all things an interested one. I would not have you
think that I had idly asked your advice about a thing so important to me
as my marriage, in order to discard your counsel at the first
opportunity. There was too much reason in the view you took of the matter
to admit of my not giving your opinion all the weight I could, even if I
had not already determined upon the very course you advised.
Circumstances have occurred, however, which have almost induced me to
change my mind. I have had an interview with my father, who has put the
matter very plainly before me. I hardly know how to tell you this, but I
feel that I owe it to you to explain myself, however much you may despise
me for what I am going to say. It is very simple, nevertheless. My father
has informed me that by my conduct I have caused my name to be coupled
in the mouth of the gossips with that of a person very dear to me, but
whom I am unfortunately prevented from marrying. He has convinced me that
I owe to this lady, who, I confess, takes no interest whatever in me, the
only reparation possible to be made--that of taking a wife, and thus
publicly demonstrating that there was never any truth in what has been
said. As a marriage will probably be forced upon me some day, it is as
well to let things take their course at once, in order that a step so
disagreeable to myself may at least distantly profit one whom I love in
removing me from the appearance of being a factor in her life. The gossip
about me has never reached your ears, but if it should, you will be the
better able to understand my position.

"Do not think, therefore, that if I do not follow your advice I am
altogether inconsistent, or that I wantonly presumed to consult you
without any intention of being guided by you. Forgive me also this
letter, which I am impelled to write from somewhat mean motives of
vanity, in the hope of not altogether forfeiting your opinion; and
especially I beg you to believe that I am at all times the most obedient
of your servants,

"GIOVANNI SARACINESCA."

Of what use was it that she had that morning determined to forget
Giovanni, since he had the power of thus bringing himself before her by
means of a scrap of paper? Corona's hand closed upon the letter
convulsively, and for a moment the room seemed to swim around her.

So there was some one whom he loved, some one for whose fair name he was
willing to sacrifice himself even to the extent of marrying against his
will. Some one, too, who not only did not love him, but took no interest
whatever in him. Those were his own words, and they must be true, for he
never lied. That accounted for his accompanying Donna Tullia to the
picnic. He was going to marry her after all. To save the woman he loved
so hopelessly from the mere suspicion of being loved by him, he was going
to tie himself for life to the first who would marry him. That would
never prevent the gossips from saying that he loved this other woman as
much as ever. It could do her no great harm, since she took no interest
whatever in him. Who could she be, this cold creature, whom even Giovanni
could not move to interest? It was absurd--the letter was absurd--the
whole thing was absurd! None but a madman would think of pursuing such a
course; and why should he think it necessary to confide his plans--his
very foolish plans--to her, Corona d'Astrardente,--why? Ah, Giovanni, how
different things might have been!

Corona rose angrily from her seat and leaned against the broad
chimney-piece, and looked at the clock--it was nearly mid-day. He might
marry whom he pleased, and be welcome--what was it to her? He might marry
and sacrifice himself if he pleased--what was it to her?

She thought of her own life. She, too, had sacrificed herself; she, too,
had tied herself for life to a man she despised in her heart, and she had
done it for an object she had thought good. She looked steadily at the
clock, for she would not give way, nor bend her head and cry bitter tears
again; but the tears were in her eyes, nevertheless.

"Giovanni, you must not do it--you must not do it!" Her lips formed the
words without speaking them, and repeated the thought again and again.
Her heart beat fast and her cheeks flushed darkly. She spread out the
crumpled letter and read it once more. As she read, the most intense
curiosity seized her to know who this woman might be whom Giovanni so
loved; and with her curiosity there was a new feeling--an utterly hateful
and hating passion--something so strong, that it suddenly dried her tears
and sent the blood from her cheeks back to her heart. Her white hand was
clenched, and her eyes were on fire. Ah, if she could only find that
woman he loved! if she could only see her dead--dead with Giovanni
Saracinesca there upon the floor before her! As she thought of it, she
stamped her foot upon the thick carpet, and her face grew paler. She did
not know what it was that she felt, but it completely overmastered her.
Padre Filippo would be pleased, she thought, for she knew how in that
moment she hated Giovanni Saracinesca.

With a sudden impulse she again sat down and opened the letter next to
her hand. It was a gossiping epistle from a friend in Paris, full of
stories of the day, exclamations upon fashion and all kinds of emptiness;
she was about to throw it down impatiently and take up the next when her
eyes caught Giovanni's name.

"Of course it is not true that Saracinesca is to marry Madame
Mayer..." were the words she read. But that was all. There chanced to
have been just room for the sentence at the foot of the page, and by the
time her friend had turned over the leaf, she had already forgotten what
she had written, and was running on with a different idea. It seemed as
though Corona were haunted by Giovanni at every turn; but she had not
reached the end yet, for one letter still remained. She tore open the
envelope, and found that the contents consisted of a few lines penned in
a small and irregular hand, without signature. There was an air of
disguise about the whole, which was unpleasant; it was written upon a
common sort of paper, and had come through the city post. It ran as
follows:--

"The Duchessa d'Astrardente reminds us of the fable of the dog in the
horse's manger, for she can neither eat herself nor let others eat. She
will not accept Don Giovanni Saracinesca's devotion, but she effectually
prevents him from fulfilling his engagements to others."

If Corona had been in her ordinary mood, she would very likely have
laughed at the anonymous communication. She had formerly received more
than one passionate declaration, not signed indeed, but accompanied
always by some clue to the identity of the writer, and she had carelessly
thrown them into the fire. But there was no such indication here whereby
she might discover who it was who had undertaken to criticise her, to
cast upon her so unjust an accusation. Moreover, she was very angry and
altogether thrown out of her usually calm humour. Her first impulse was
to go to her husband, and in the strength of her innocence to show him
the letter. Then she laughed bitterly as she thought how the selfish old
dandy would scoff at her sensitiveness, and how utterly incapable he
would be of discovering the offender or of punishing the offence. Then
again her face was grave, and she asked herself whether it was true that
she was innocent; whether she were not really to be blamed, if perhaps
she had really prevented Giovanni from marrying Donna Tullia.

But if that were true, she must herself be the woman he spoke of in his
letter. Any other woman would have suspected as much. Corona went to the
window, and for an instant there was a strange light of pleasure in her
face. Then she grew very thoughtful, and her whole mood changed. She
could not conceive it possible that Giovanni so loved her as to marry for
her sake. Besides, no one could ever have breathed a word of him in
connection with herself--until this abominable anonymous letter was
written.

The thought that she might, after all, be the "person very dear to him,"
the one who "took no interest whatever in him," had nevertheless crossed
her mind, and had given her for one moment a sense of wild and
indescribable pleasure. Then she remembered what she had felt before; how
angry, how utterly beside herself, she had been at the thought of another
woman being loved by him, and she suddenly understood that she was
jealous of her. The very thought revived in her the belief that it was
not she herself who was thus influencing the life of Giovanni
Saracinesca, but another, and she sat silent and pale.

Of course it was another! What had she done, what word had she spoken,
whereby the world might pretend to believe that she controlled this man's
actions? "Fulfilling his engagements," the letter said, too. It must have
been written by an ignorant person--by some one who had no idea of what
was passing, and who wrote at random, hoping to touch a sensitive chord,
to do some harm, to inflict some pain, in petty vengeance for a fancied
slight. But in her heart, though she crushed down the instinct, she
would have believed the anonymous jest well founded, for the sake of
believing, too, that Giovanni Saracinesca was ready to lay his life at
her feet--although in that belief she would have felt that she was
committing a mortal sin.

She went back to her interview that morning with Padre Filippo, and
thought over all she had said and all he had answered; how she had been
willing to admit the possibility of Giovanni's love, and how sternly the
confessor had ruled down the clause, and told her there should never
arise such a doubt in her mind; how she had scorned herself for being
capable of seeking love where there was none, and how she had sworn that
there should be no perhaps in the matter. It seemed very hard to do
right, but she would try to see where the right lay. In the first place,
she should burn the anonymous letter, and never condescend to think of
it; and she should also burn Giovanni's, because it would be an injustice
to him to keep it. She looked once more at the unsigned, ill-written
page, and, with a little scornful laugh, threw it from where she sat into
the fire with its envelope; then she took Giovanni's note, and would
have done the same, but her hand trembled, and the crumpled bit of paper
fell upon the hearth. She rose from her chair quickly, and took it up
again, kneeling before the fire, like some beautiful dark priestess of
old feeding the flames of a sacred altar. She smoothed the paper out once
more, and once more read the even characters, and looked long at the
signature, and back again to the writing.

"This lady, who, I confess, takes no interest whatever in me...."

"How could he say it!" she exclaimed aloud. "Oh, if I knew who she was!"
With an impatient movement she thrust the letter among the coals, and
watched the fire curl it and burn it, from white to brown and from brown
to black, till it was all gone. Then she rose to her feet and left the
room.

Her husband certainly did not guess that the Duchessa d'Astrardente had
spent so eventful a morning; and if any one had told him that his wife
had been through a dozen stages of emotion, he would have laughed, and
would have told his informant that Corona was not of the sort who
experience violent passions. That evening they went to the opera
together, and the old man was in an unusually cheerful humour. A new coat
had just arrived from Paris, and the padding had attained a higher degree
of scientific perfection than heretofore. Corona also looked more
beautiful than even her husband ever remembered to have seen her; she
wore a perfectly simple gown of black satin without the smallest relief
of colour, and upon her neck the famous Astrardente necklace of pearls,
three strings of even thickness, each jewel exquisitely white and just
lighted in its shadow by a delicate pink tinge--such a necklace as an
empress might have worn. In the raven masses of her hair there was not
the least ornament, nor did any flower enhance the rich blackness of its
silken coils. It would be impossible to imagine greater simplicity than
Corona showed in her dress, but it would be hard to conceive of any woman
who possessed by virtue of severe beauty a more indubitable right to
dispense with ornament.

The theatre was crowded. There was a performance of "Norma" for which
several celebrated artists had been engaged--an occurrence so rare in
Rome, that the theatre was absolutely full. The Astrardente box was
upon the second tier, just where the amphitheatre began to curve. There
was room in it for four or five persons to see the stage.

The Duchessa and her husband arrived in the middle of the first act, and
remained alone until it was over. Corona was extremely fond of "Norma,"
and after she was seated never took her eyes from the stage. Astrardente,
on the other hand, maintained his character as a man of no illusions, and
swept the house with his small opera-glass. The instrument itself was
like him, and would have been appropriate for a fine lady of the First
Empire; it was of mother-of-pearl, made very small and light, the
metal-work upon it heavily gilt and ornamented with turquoises. The old
man glanced from time to time at the stage, and then again settled
himself to the study of the audience, which interested him far more than
the opera.

"Every human being you ever heard of is here," he remarked at the end of
the first act. "Really I should think you would find it worth while to
look at your magnificent fellow-creatures, my dear."

Corona looked slowly round the house. She had excellent eyes, and never
used a glass. She saw the same faces she had seen for five years, the
same occasional flash of beauty, the same average number of over-dressed
women, the same paint, the same feathers, the same jewels. She saw
opposite to her Madame Mayer, with the elderly countess whom she
patronised for the sake of deafness, and found convenient as a sort of
flying chaperon. The countess could not hear much of the music, but she
was fond of the world and liked to be seen, and she could not hear at all
what Del Ferice said in an undertone to Madame Mayer. Sufficient to her
were the good things of the day; the rest was in no way her business.
There was Valdarno in the club-box, with a knot of other men of his own
stamp. There were the Rocca, mother and daughter and son--a boy of
eighteen--and a couple of men in the back of the box. Everybody was
there, as her husband had said; and as she dropped her glance toward
the stalls, she was aware of Giovanni Saracinesca's black eyes looking
anxiously up to her. A faint smile crossed her serene face, and almost
involuntarily she nodded to him and then looked away. Many men were
watching her, and bowed as she glanced at them, and she bent her head to
each; but there was no smile for any save Giovanni, and when she looked
again to where he had been standing with his back to the stage, he was
gone from his place.

"They are the same old things," said Astrardente, "but they are still
very amusing. Madame Mayer always seems to get the wrong man into her
box. She would give all those diamonds to have Giovanni Saracinesca
instead of that newsmonger fellow. If he comes here I will send him
across."

"Perhaps she likes Del Ferice," suggested Corona.

"He is a good lapdog--a very good dog," answered her husband. "He cannot
bite at all, and his bark is so soft that you would take it for the
mewing of a kitten. He fetches and carries admirably."

"Those are good points, but not interesting ones. He is very tiresome
with his eternal puns and insipid compliments, and his gossip."

"But he is so very harmless," answered Astrardente, with compassionate
scorn. "He is incapable of doing an injury. Donna Tullia is wise in
adopting him as her slave. She would not be so safe with Saracinesca, for
instance. If you feel the need of an admirer, my dear, take Del Ferice. I
have no objection to him."

"Why should I need admirers?" asked Corona, quietly.

"I was merely jesting, my love. Is not your own husband the greatest of
your admirers, and your devoted slave into the bargain?" Old
Astrardente's face twisted itself into the semblance of a smile, as he
leaned towards his young wife, lowering his cracked voice to a thin
whisper. He was genuinely in love with her, and lost no opportunity
of telling her so. She smiled a little wearily.

"You are very good to me," she said. She had often wondered how it was
that this aged creature, who had never been faithful to any attachment in
his life for five months, did really seem to love her just as he had done
for five years. It was perhaps the greatest triumph she could have
attained, though she never thought of it in that light; but though she
could not respect her husband very much, she could not think unkindly of
him--for, as she said, he was very good to her. She often reproached
herself because he wearied her; she believed that she should have taken
more pleasure in his admiration.

"I cannot help being good to you, my angel," he said. "How could I be
otherwise? Do I not love you most passionately?"

"Indeed, I think so," Corona answered. As she spoke there was a knock at
the door. Her heart leaped wildly, and she turned a little pale.

"The devil seize these visitors!" muttered old Astrardente, annoyed
beyond measure at being interrupted when making love to his wife. "I
suppose we must let them in?"

"I suppose so," assented the Duchessa, with forced calm. Her husband
opened the door, and Giovanni Saracinesca entered, hat in hand.

"Sit down," said Astrardente, rather harshly.

"I trust I am not disturbing you," replied Giovanni, still standing. He
was somewhat surprised at the old man's inhospitable tone.

"Oh no; not in the least," said the latter, quickly regaining his
composure. "Pray sit down; the act will begin in a moment."

Giovanni established himself upon the chair immediately behind the
Duchessa. He had come to talk, and he anticipated that during the second
act he would have an excellent opportunity.

"I hear you enjoyed yourselves yesterday," said Corona, turning her head
so as to speak more easily.

"Indeed!" Giovanni answered, and a shade of annoyance crossed his face.
"And who was your informant, Duchessa?"

"Donna Tullia. I met her this morning. She said you amused them all--kept
them laughing the whole day."

"What an extraordinary statement!" exclaimed Giovanni. "It shows how one
may unconsciously furnish matter for mirth. I do not recollect having
talked much to any one. It was a noisy party enough, however."

"Perhaps Donna Tullia spoke ironically," suggested Corona. "Do you like
'Norma'?"

"Oh yes; one opera is as good as another. There goes the curtain."

The act began, and for some minutes no one in the box spoke. Presently
there was a burst of orchestral music. Giovanni leaned forward so that
his face was close behind Corona. He could speak without being heard by
Astrardente.

"Did you receive my letter?" he asked. Corona made an almost
imperceptible inclination of her head, but did not speak.

"Do you understand my position?" he asked again. He could not see her
face, and for some seconds she made no sign; at last she moved her head
again, but this time to express a negative.

"It is simple enough, it seems to me," said Giovanni, bending his brows.

Corona found that by turning a little she could still look at the stage,
and at the same time speak to the man behind her.

"How can I judge?" she said. "You have not told me all. Why do you ask me
to judge whether you are right?"

"I could not do it if you thought me wrong," he answered shortly.

The Duchessa suddenly thought of that other woman for whom the man who
asked her advice was willing to sacrifice his life.

"You attach an astonishing degree of importance to my opinion," she said
very coldly, and turned her head from him.

"There is no one so well able to give an opinion," said Giovanni,
insisting.

Corona was offended. She interpreted the speech to mean that since she
had sacrificed her life to the old man on the opposite side of the box,
she was able to judge whether Giovanni would do wisely in making a
marriage of convenience, for the sake of an end which even to her mind
seemed visionary. She turned quickly upon him, and there was an angry
gleam in her eyes.

"Pray do not introduce the subject of my life," she said haughtily.

Giovanni was too much astonished to answer her at once. He had indeed not
intended the least reference to her marriage.

"You have entirely misunderstood me," he said presently.

"Then you must express yourself more clearly," she replied. She would
have felt very guilty to be thus talking to Giovanni, as she would not
have talked before her husband, had she not felt that it was upon
Giovanni's business, and that the matter discussed in no way concerned
herself. As for Saracinesca, he was in a dangerous position, and was
rapidly losing his self-control. He was too near to her, his heart was
bearing too fast, the blood was throbbing in his temples, and he was
stung by being misunderstood.

"It is not possible for me to express myself more clearly," he answered.
"I am suffering for having told you too little when I dare not tell you
all. I make no reference to your marriage when I speak to you of my own.
Forgive me; I will not refer to the matter again."

Corona felt again that strange thrill, half of pain, half of pleasure,
and the lights of the theatre seemed moving before her uncertainly, as
things look when one falls from a height. Almost unconsciously she spoke,
hardly knowing that she turned her head, and that her dark eyes rested
upon Giovanni's pale face.

"And yet there must be some reason why you tell me that little, and why
you do not tell me more." When she had spoken, she would have given all
the world to have taken back her words. It was too late. Giovanni
answered in a low thick voice that sounded as though he were choking,
his face grew white, and his teeth seemed almost to chatter as though he
were cold, but his eyes shone like black stars in the shadow of the box.

"There is every reason. You are the woman I love."

Corona did not move for several seconds, as though not comprehending what
he had said. Then she suddenly shivered, and her eyelids drooped as she
leaned back in her chair. Her fingers relaxed their tight hold upon her
fan, and the thing fell rattling upon the floor of the box.

Old Astrardente, who had taken no notice of the pair, being annoyed at
Giovanni's visit, and much interested in the proceedings of Madame Mayer
in the box opposite, heard the noise, and stooped with considerable
alacrity to pick up the fan which lay at his feet.

"You are not well, my love," he said quickly, as he observed his wife's
unusual pallor.

"It is nothing; it will pass," she murmured, with a terrible effort.
Then, as though she had not said enough, she added, "There must be a
draught here; I have a chill."

Giovanni had sat like a statue, utterly overcome by the sense of his own
folly and rashness, as well as by the shock of having so miserably failed
to keep the secret he dreaded to reveal. On hearing Corona's voice, he
rose suddenly, as from a dream.

"Forgive me," he said hurriedly, "I have just remembered a most important
engagement--"

"Do not mention it," said Astrardente, sourly. Giovanni bowed to the
Duchessa and left the box. She did not look at him as he went away.

"We had better go home, my angel," said the old man. "You have got a bad
chill."

"Oh no, I would rather stay. It is nothing, and the best part of the
opera is to come." Corona spoke quietly enough. Her strong nerves had
already recovered from the shock she had experienced, and she could
command her voice. She did not want to go home; on the contrary, the
brilliant lights and the music served for a time to soothe her. If there
had been a ball that night she would have gone to it; she would have done
anything that would take her thoughts from herself. Her husband looked at
her curiously. The suspicion crossed his mind that Don Giovanni had said
something which had either frightened or offended her, but on second
thoughts the theory seemed absurd. He regarded Saracinesca as little
more than a mere acquaintance of his wife's.

"As you please, my love," he answered, drawing his chair a little nearer
to hers. "I am glad that fellow is gone. We can talk at our ease now."

"Yes; I am glad he is gone. We can talk now," repeated Corona,
mechanically.

"I thought his excuse slightly conventional, to say the least of it,"
remarked Astrardente. "An important engagement!--just a little _banal_.
However, any excuse was good enough which took him away."

"Did he say that?" asked Corona. "I did not hear. Of course, any excuse
would do, as you say."



CHAPTER IX.


Giovanni left the theatre at once, alone, and on foot. He was very much
agitated. He had done suddenly and unawares the thing of all others he
had determined never to do; his resolutions had been broken down and
carried away as an ineffectual barrier is swept to the sea by the floods
of spring. His heart had spoken in spite of him, and in speaking had
silenced every prompting of reason. He blamed himself bitterly, as he
strode out across the deserted bridge of Sant' Angelo and into the broad
gloom beyond, where the street widens from the fortress to the entrance
of the three Borghi: he walked on and on, finding at every step fresh
reason for self-reproach, and trying to understand what he had done. He
paused at the end of the open piazza and looked down towards the black
rushing river which he could hear, but hardly see; he turned into the
silent Borgo Santo Spirito, and passed along the endless wall of the
great hospital up to the colonnades, and still wandering on, he came to
the broad steps of St. Peter's and sat down, alone in the darkness, at
the foot of the stupendous pile.

He was perhaps not so much to blame as he was willing to allow in his
just anger against himself. Corona had tempted him sorely in that last
question she had put to him. She had not known, she had not even faintly
guessed what she was doing, for her own brain was intoxicated with a new
and indescribable sensation which had left no room for reflection nor for
weighing the force of words. But Giovanni, who had been willing to give
up everything, even to his personal liberty, for the sake of concealing
his love, would not allow himself any argument in extenuation of what he
had done. He had had but very few affairs of the heart in his life, and
they had been for the most part very insignificant, and his experience
was limited. Even now it never entered his mind to imagine that Corona
would condone his offence; he felt sure that she was deeply wounded, and
that his next meeting with her would be a terrible ordeal--so terrible,
indeed, that he doubted whether he had the courage to meet her at all.
His love was so great, and its object so sacred to him, that he hesitated
to conceive himself loved in return; perhaps if he had been able to
understand that Corona loved him he would have left Rome for ever, rather
than trouble her peace by his presence.

It would have been absolutely different if he had been paying court to
Donna Tullia, for instance. The feeling that he should be justified would
have lent him courage, and the coldness in his own heart would have left
his judgment free play. He could have watched her calmly, and would have
tried to take advantage of every mood in the prosecution of his suit. He
was a very honourable man, but he did not consider marriages of propriety
and convenience as being at all contrary to the ordinary standard of
social honour, and would have thought himself justified in using every
means of persuasion in order to win a woman whom, upon mature reflection,
he had judged suitable to become his wife, even though he felt no real
love for her. That is an idea inherent in most old countries, an idea for
which Giovanni Saracinesca was certainly in no way responsible, seeing
that it had been instilled into him from his boyhood. Personally he would
have preferred to live and die unmarried, rather than to take a wife as a
matter of obligation towards his family; but seeing that he had never
seriously loved any woman, he had acquired the habit of contemplating
such a marriage as a probability, perhaps as an ultimate necessity, to
be put off as long as possible, but to which he would at last yield with
a good grace.

But the current of his life had been turned. He was certainly not a
romantic character, not a man who desired to experience the external
sensations to be obtained by voluntarily creating dramatic events. He
loved action, and he had a taste for danger, but he had sought both in
a legitimate way; he never desired to implicate himself in adventures
where the feelings were concerned, and hitherto such experiences had
not fallen in his path. As is usual with such men, when love came at
last, it came with a strength such as boys of twenty do not dream of.
The mature man of thirty years, with his strong and dominant temper,
his carelessness of danger, his high and untried ideals of what a
true affection should be, resisting the first impressions of the
master-passion with the indifference of one accustomed to believe that
love could not come near his life, and was in general a thing to be
avoided--a man, moreover, who by his individual gifts and by his
brilliant position was able to command much that smaller men would
not dream of aspiring to,--such a man, in short, as Giovanni
Saracinesca,--was not likely to experience love-sickness in a mild
degree. Proud, despotic, and fiercely unyielding by his inheritance of
temper, he was outwardly gentle and courteous by acquired habit, a man
of those whom women easily love and men very generally fear.

He did not realise his own nature, he did not suspect the extremes of
feeling of which he was eminently capable. He had at first felt Corona's
influence, and her face and voice seemed to awaken in him a memory, which
was as yet but an anticipation, and not a real remembrance. It was as the
faint perfume of the spring wafted up to a prisoner in some stern
fortress, as the first gentle sweetness that rose from the enchanted
lakes of the cisalpine country to the nostrils of the war-hardened Goths
as they descended the last snow-slopes in their southern wandering--an
anticipation that seemed already a memory, a looking forward again to
something that had been already loved in a former state. Giovanni had
laughed at himself for it at first, then he had dreaded its growing
charm, and at the last he had fallen hopelessly under the spell,
retaining only enough of his former self to make him determined that the
harm which had come upon himself should not come near this woman whom he
so adored.

And behold, at the first provocation, the very first time that by a
careless word she had fired his blood and set his brain throbbing, he had
not only been unable to hide what he felt, but had spoken such words as
he would not have believed he could speak--so bluntly, so roughly, that
she had almost fainted before his very eyes.

She must have been very angry, he thought. Perhaps, too, she was
frightened. It was so rude, so utterly contrary to all that was
chivalrous to say thus at the first opportunity, "I love you"--just that
and nothing more. Giovanni had never thought much about it, but he
supposed that men in love, very seriously in love, must take a long time
to express themselves, as is the manner in books; whereas he was
horrified at his own bluntness in having blurted out rashly such words as
could never be taken back, as could never even be explained now, he
feared, because he had put himself beyond the pale of all explanation,
perhaps beyond the reach of forgiveness.

Nobody ever yet explained away the distinct statement "I love you," upon
any pretence of a mistake. Giovanni almost laughed at the idea, and yet
he conceived that some kind of apology would be necessary, though he
could not imagine how he was to frame one. He reflected that few women
would consider a declaration, even as sudden as his had been, in the
light of an insult; but he knew how little cause Corona had given him for
speaking to her of love, and he judged from her manner that she had been
either offended or frightened, or both, and that he was to blame for it.
He was greatly disturbed, and the sweat stood in great drops upon his
forehead as he sat there upon the steps of St. Peter's in the cold night
wind. He remained nearly an hour without changing his position, and then
at last he rose and slowly retraced his steps, and went home by narrow
streets, avoiding the theatre and the crowd of carriages that stood
before it.

He had almost determined to go away for a time, and to let his absence
speak for his contrition. But he had reckoned upon his former self, and
he doubted now whether he had the strength to leave Rome. The most that
seemed possible was that he should keep out of Corona's way for a few
days, until she should have recovered from the shock of the scene in the
theatre. After that he would go to her and tell her quite simply that he
was very sorry, but that he had been unable to control himself. It would
soon be over. She would not refuse to speak to him, he argued, for fear
of attracting the attention of the gossips and making an open scandal.
She would perhaps tell him to avoid her, and her words would be few and
haughty, but she would speak to him, nevertheless.

Giovanni went to bed. The next day he gave out that he had a touch of
fever, and remained in his own apartments. His father, who was
passionately attached to him, in spite of his rough temper and hasty
speeches, came and spent most of the day with him, and in the intervals
of his kindly talk, marched up and down the room, swearing that Giovanni
was no more ill than he was himself, and that he had acquired his
accursed habit of staying in bed upon his travels. As Giovanni had never
before been known to spend twenty-four hours in bed for any reason
whatsoever, the accusation was unjust; but he only smiled and pretended
to argue the case for the sake of pleasing the old prince. He really
felt exceedingly uncomfortable, and would have been glad to be left alone
at any price; but there was nothing for it but to pretend to be ill in
body, when he was really sick at heart, and he remained obstinately in
bed the whole day. On the following morning he declared his intention of
going out of town, and by an early train he left the city. No one saw
Giovanni again until the evening of the Frangipani ball.

Meanwhile it would have surprised him greatly to know that Corona looked
for him in vain wherever she went, and that, not seeing him, she grew
silent and pale, and gave short answers to the pleasant speeches men made
her. Every one missed Giovanni. He wrote to Valdarno to say that he had
been suddenly obliged to visit Saracinesca in order to see to some
details connected with the timber question; but everybody wondered why he
should have taken himself away in the height of the season for so trivial
a matter. He had last been seen in the Astrardente box at the opera,
where he had only stayed a few minutes, as Del Ferice was able to
testify, having sat immediately opposite in the box of Madame Mayer. Del
Ferice swore secretly that he would find out what was the matter; and
Donna Tullia abused Giovanni in unmeasured terms to a circle of intimate
friends and admirers, because he had been engaged to dance with her at
the Valdarno cotillon, and had not even sent word that he could not come.
Thereupon all the men present immediately offered themselves for the
vacant dance, and Donna Tullia made them draw lots by tossing a copper
sou in the corner of the ball-room. The man who won the toss recklessly
threw over the partner he had already engaged, and almost had to fight a
duel in consequence; all of which was intensely amusing to Donna Tullia.
Nevertheless, in her heart, she was very angry at Giovanni's departure.

But Corona sought him everywhere, and at last heard that he had left
town, two days after everybody else in Rome had known it. She would
probably have been very much disturbed, if she had actually met him
within a day or two of that fatal evening, but the desire to see him was
so great, that she entirely overlooked the consequences. For the time
being, her whole life seemed to have undergone a revolution--she trembled
at the echo of the words she had heard--she spent long hours in solitude,
praying with all her strength that she might be forgiven for having
heard him speak; but the moment she left her room, and went out into the
world, the dominant desire to see him again returned. The secret longing
of her soul was to hear him speak again as he had spoken once. She would
have gone again to Padre Filippo and told him all; but when she was alone
in the solitude of her passionate prayers and self-accusation, she felt
that she must fight this fight alone, without help of any one; and when
she was in the world, she lacked courage to put altogether from her what
was so very sweet, and her eyes searched unceasingly for the dark face
she loved. But the stirring strength of the mighty passion played upon
her soul and body in spite of her, as upon an instrument of strings; and
sometimes the music was gentle and full of sweet harmony, but often there
were crashes of discord, so that she trembled and felt her heart wrung as
by torture; then she set her strong lips, and her white fingers wound
themselves together, and she could have cried aloud, but that her pride
forbade her.

The days came and went, but Giovanni did not return, and Corona's face
grew every morning more pale and her eyes every night more wistful. Her
husband did not understand, but he saw that something was the matter, as
others saw it, and in his quick suspicious humour he connected the
trouble in his wife's face with the absence of Giovanni and with the
strange chill she had felt in the theatre. But Corona d'Astrardente was a
very brave and strong woman, and she bore what seemed to her like the
agony of death renewed each day, so calmly that those who knew her
thought it was but a passing indisposition or annoyance, unusual with
her, who was never ill nor troubled, but yet insignificant. She gave
particular attention to the gown which her husband had desired she
should wear at the great ball, and the need she felt for distracting her
mind from her chief care made society necessary to her.

The evening of the Frangipani ball came, and all Rome was in a state of
excitement and expectation. The great old family had been in mourning for
years, owing to three successive deaths, and during all that time the
ancient stronghold which was called their palace had been closed to the
world. For some time, indeed, no one of the name had been in Rome--the
prince and princess preferring to pass the time of mourning in the
country and in travelling; while the eldest son, now just of age, was
finishing his academic career at an English University. But this year the
family had returned: there had been both dinners and receptions at the
palace, and the ball, which was to be a sort of festival in honour of the
coming of age of the heir, was expected as the principal event of the
year. It was rumoured that there would be nearly thirty rooms opened
besides the great hall, which was set aside for dancing, and that the
arrangements were on a scale worthy of a household which had endured in
its high position for upwards of a thousand years. It was understood that
no distinction had been made, in issuing the invitations, between parties
in politics or in society, and that there would be more people seen there
than had been collected under one roof for many years.

The Frangipani did things magnificently, and no one was disappointed. The
gardens and courts of the palace were brilliantly illuminated; vast
suites of apartments were thrown open, and lavishly decorated with rare
flowers; the grand staircase was lined with footmen in the liveries of
the house, standing motionless as the guests passed up; the supper was a
banquet such as is read of in the chronicles of medieval splendour; the
enormous conservatory in the distant south wing was softly lit by shaded
candles concealed among the tropical plants; and the ceilings and walls
of the great hall itself had been newly decorated by famous painters;
while the polished wooden floor presented an innovation upon the
old-fashioned canvas-covered brick pavement, not hitherto seen in any
Roman palace. A thousand candles, disposed in every variety of chandelier
and candelabra, shed a soft rich light from far above, and high in the
gallery at one end an orchestra of Viennese musicians played unceasingly.

As generally happens at very large balls, the dancing began late, but
numbers of persons had come early in order to survey the wonders of the
palace at their leisure. Among those who arrived soon after ten o'clock
was Giovanni Saracinesca, who was greeted loudly by all who knew him. He
looked pale and tired, if his tough nature could ever be said to seem
weary; but he was in an unusually affable mood, and exchanged words with
every one he met. Indeed he had been sad for so many days that he hardly
understood why he felt gay, unless it was in the anticipation of once
more seeing the woman he loved. He wandered through the rooms carelessly
enough, but he was in reality devoured by impatience, and his quick eyes
sought Corona's tall figure in every direction. But she was not yet
there, and Giovanni at last came and took his station in one of the outer
halls, waiting patiently for her arrival.

While he waited, leaning against one of the marble pillars of the door,
the throng increased rapidly; but he hardly noticed the swelling crowd,
until suddenly there was a lull in the unceasing talk, and the men and
women parted to allow a cardinal to pass out from the inner rooms. With
many gracious nods and winning looks, the great man moved on, his keen
eyes embracing every one and everything within the range of his vision,
his courteous smile seeming intended for each separate individual, and
yet overlooking none, nor resting long on any, his high brow serene and
unbent, his flowing robes falling back from his courtly figure, as with
his red hat in his hand he bowed his way through the bowing crowd. His
departure, which was quickly followed by that of several other cardinals
and prelates, was the signal that the dancing would soon begin; and when
he had passed out, the throng of men and women pressed more quickly in
through the door on their way to the ball-room.

But as the great cardinal's eye rested on Giovanni Saracinesca,
accompanied by that invariable smile that so many can remember well to
this day, his delicate hand made a gesture as though beckoning to the
young man to follow him. Giovanni obeyed the summons, and became for the
moment the most notable man in the room. The two passed out together, and
a moment later were standing in the outer hall. Already the torch-bearers
were standing without upon the grand staircase, and the lackeys were
mustering in long files to salute the Prime Minister. Just then the
master of the house came running breathless from within. He had not seen
that Cardinal Antonelli was taking his leave, and hastened to overtake
him, lest any breach of etiquette on his part should attract the
displeasure of the statesman.

"Your Eminence's pardon!" he exclaimed, hurriedly "I had not seen that
your Eminence was leaving us--so early too--the Princess feared--"

"Do not speak of it," answered the Cardinal, in suave tones. "I am not so
strong as I used to be. We old fellows must to bed betimes, and leave you
young ones to enjoy yourselves. No excuses--good night--a beautiful
ball--I congratulate you on the reopening of your house--good night
again. I will have a word with Giovanni here before I go down-stairs."

He extended his hand to Frangipani, who lifted it respectfully to his
lips and withdrew, seeing that he was not wanted. He and many others
speculated long upon the business which engaged his Eminence in close
conversation with Giovanni Saracinesca, keeping him for more than a
quarter of an hour in the cold ante-chamber, where the night wind blew in
unhindered from the vast staircase of the palace. As a matter of fact,
Giovanni was as much surprised as any one.

"Where have you been, my friend?" inquired the Cardinal, when they were
alone.

"To Saracinesca, your Eminence."

"And what have you been doing in Saracinesca at this time of year? I hope
you are attending to the woods there--you have not been cutting timber?"

"No one can be more anxious than we to see the woods grow thick upon our
hills," replied Giovanni. "Your Eminence need have no fear."

"Not for your estates," said the great Cardinal, his small keen black
eyes resting searchingly on Giovanni's face. "But I confess I have some
fears for yourself."

"For me, Eminence?" repeated Giovanni, in some astonishment.

"For you. I have heard with considerable anxiety that there is a question
of marrying you to Madame Mayer. Such a match would not meet with the
Holy Father's approval, nor--if I may be permitted to mention my humble
self in the same breath with our august sovereign--would it be wise in my
own estimation."

"Permit me to remark to your Eminence," answered Giovanni, proudly, "that
in my house we have never been in the habit of asking advice upon such
subjects. Donna Tullia is a good Catholic. There can therefore be no
valid objection to my asking her hand, if my father and I agree that it
is best."

"You are terrible fellows, you Saracinesca," returned the Cardinal,
blandly. "I have read your family history with immense interest, and what
you say is quite true. I cannot find an instance on record of your taking
the advice of any one--certainly not of the Holy Church. It is with the
utmost circumspection that I venture to approach the subject with you,
and I am sure that you will believe me when I say that my words are not
dictated by any officious or meddling spirit; I am addressing you by the
direct desire of the Holy Father himself."

A soft answer turneth away wrath, and if the all-powerful statesman's
answer to Giovanni seems to have been more soft than might have been
expected, it must be remembered that he was speaking to the heir of one
of the most powerful houses in the Roman State, at a time when the
personal friendship of such men as the Saracinesca was of vastly greater
importance than it is now. At that time some twenty noblemen owned a
great part of the Pontifical States, and the influence they could exert
upon their tenantry was very great, for the feudal system was not
extinct, nor the feudal spirit. Moreover, though Cardinal Antonelli was
far from popular with any party, Pius IX. was respected and beloved by a
vast majority of the gentlemen as well as of the people. Giovanni's first
impulse was to resist any interference whatsoever in his affairs; but on
receiving the Cardinal's mild answer to his own somewhat arrogant
assertion of independence, he bowed politely and professed himself
willing to listen to reason.

"But," he said, "since his Holiness has mentioned the matter, I beg that
your Eminence will inform him that, though the question of my marriage
seems to be in everybody's mouth, it is as yet merely a project in which
no active steps have been taken."

"I am glad of it, Giovanni," replied the Cardinal, familiarly taking his
arm, and beginning to pace the hall; "I am glad of it. There are reasons
why the match appears to be unworthy of you. If you will permit me,
without any offence to Madame Mayer, I will tell you what those reasons
are."

"I am at your service," said Giovanni, gravely, "provided only there is
no offence to Donna Tullia."

"None whatever. The reasons are purely political. Madame Mayer--or Donna
Tullia, since you prefer to call her so--is the centre of a sort of club
of so-called Liberals, of whom the most active and the most foolish
member is a certain Ugo del Ferice, a fellow who calls himself a count,
but whose grandfather was a coachman in the Vatican under Leo XII. He
will get himself into trouble some day. He is always in attendance upon
Donna Tullia, and probably led her into this band of foolish young people
for objects of his own. It is a very silly society; I daresay you have
heard some of their talk?"

"Very little," replied Giovanni; "I do not trouble myself about politics.
I did not even know that there was such a club as your Eminence speaks
of."

Cardinal Antonelli glanced sharply at his companion as he proceeded.

"They affect solidarity and secrecy, these young people," he said, with a
sneer, "and their solidarity betrays their secrecy, because it is
unfortunately true in our dear Rome that wherever two or three are
gathered together they are engaged in some mischief. But they may gather
in peace at the studio of Monsieur Gouache, or anywhere else they please,
for all I care. Gouache is a clever fellow; he is to paint my portrait.
Do you know him? But, to return to my sheep in wolves' clothing--my
amusing little conspirators. They can do no harm, for they know not even
what they say, and their words are not followed by any kind of action
whatsoever. But the principle of the thing is bad, Giovanni. Your brave
old ancestors used to fight us Churchmen outright, and unless the Lord is
especially merciful, their souls are in an evil case, for the devil
knoweth his own, and is a particularly bad paymaster. But they fought
outright, like gentlemen; whereas these people--_foderunt foveam ut
caperent me_--they have digged a ditch, but they will certainly not catch
me, nor any one else. Their conciliabules, as Rousseau would have called
them, meet daily and talk great nonsense and do nothing; which does not
prove their principles to be good, while it demonstrates their intellect
to be contemptible. No offence to the Signor Conte del Ferice, but I
think ignorance has marked his little party for its own, and inanity
waits on all his councils. If they believe in half the absurdities they
utter, why do they not pack up their goods and chattels and cross the
frontier? If they meant anything, they would do something."

"Evidently," replied Giovanni, half amused at his Eminence's tirade.

"Evidently. Therefore they mean nothing. Therefore our good friend Donna
Tullia is dabbling in the emptiness of political dilettanteism for the
satisfaction of a hollow vanity; no offence to her--it is the manner of
her kind."

Giovanni was silent.

"Believe me, prince," said the Cardinal, suddenly changing his tone and
speaking very seriously, "there is something better for strong men like
you and me to do, in these times, than to dabble in conspiracy and to
toss off glasses of champagne to Italian unity and Victor Emmanuel. The
condition of our lives is battle, and battle against terrible odds.
Neither you nor I should be content to waste our strength in fighting
shadows, in waging war on petty troubles of our own raising, knowing
all the while that the powers of evil are marshalled in a deadly array
against the powers of good. _Sed non praevalebunt!_"

The Cardinal's thin face assumed a strange look of determination, and his
delicate fingers grasped Giovanni's arm with a force that startled him.

"You speak bravely," answered the young man. "You are more sanguine than
we men of the world. You believe that disaster impossible which to me
seems growing daily more imminent."

Cardinal Antonelli turned his gleaming black eyes full on his companion.

"_O generatio incredula!_ If you have not faith, you have not courage,
and if you have not courage you will waste your life in the pursuit of
emptiness! It is for men like you, for men of ancient race, of broad
acres, of iron body and healthy mind, to put your hand to the good work
and help us who have struggled for many years and whose strength is
already failing. Every action of your life, every thought of your
waking hours, should be for the good end, lest we all perish together
and expiate our lukewarm indifference. _Timidi nunquam statuerunt
trapaeum_--if we would divide the spoil we must gird on the sword and use
it boldly; we must not allow the possibility of failure; we must be
vigilant; we must be united as one man. You tell me that you men of the
world already regard a disaster as imminent--to expect defeat is
nine-tenths of a defeat itself. Ah, if we could count upon such men as
you to the very death, our case would be far from desperate."

"For the matter of that, your Eminence can count upon us well enough,"
replied Giovanni, quietly.

"Upon you, Giovanni--yes, for you are a brave gentleman. But upon your
friends, even upon your class--no. Can I count upon the Valdarno, even?
You know as well as I that they are in sympathy with the Liberals--that
they have neither the courage to support us nor the audacity to renounce
us; and, what is worse, they represent a large class, of whom, I regret
to say, Donna Tullia Mayer is one of the most prominent members. With her
wealth, her youth, her effervescent spirits, and her early widowhood, she
leads men after her; they talk, they chatter, they set up an opinion and
gloat over it, while they lack the spirit to support it. They are all
alike--_non tantum ovum ovo simile_--one egg is not more like another
than they are. _Non tali auxilio_--we want no such help. We ask for
bread, not for stones; we want men, not empty-headed dandies. We have
both at present; but if the Emperor fails us, we shall have too many
dandies and too few men--too few men like you, Don Giovanni. Instead of
armed battalions we shall have polite societies for mutual assurance
against political risks,--instead of the support of the greatest military
power in Europe, we shall have to rely on a parcel of young gentlemen
whose opinions are guided by Donna Tullia Mayer."

Giovanni laughed and glanced at his Eminence, who chose to refer all the
imminent disasters of the State to the lady whom he did not wish to see
married to his companion.

"Is her influence really so great?" asked Saracinesca, incredulously.

"She is agreeable, she is pretty, she is rich--her influence is a type of
the whole influence which is abroad in Rome--a reflection of the life of
Paris. There, at least, the women play a real part--very often a great
one: here, when they have got command of a drawing-room full of fops,
they do not know where to lead them; they change their minds twenty times
a-day; they have an access of religious enthusiasm in Advent, followed by
an attack of Liberal fever in Carnival, and their season is brought to
a fitting termination by the prostration which overtakes them in Lent. By
that time all their principles are upset, and they go to Paris for the
month of May--_pour se retremper dans les idées idéalistes_, as they
express it. Do you think one could construct a party out of such
elements, especially when you reflect that this mass of uncertainty is
certain always to yield to the ultimate consideration of self-interest?
Half of them keep an Italian flag with the Papal one, ready to thrust
either of them out of the window as occasion may require. Good night,
Giovanni. I have talked enough, and all Rome will set upon you to find
out what secrets of State I have been confiding. You had better prepare
an answer, for you can hardly inform Donna Tullia and her set that I have
been calling them a parcel of--weak and ill-advised people. They might
take offence--they might even call me by bad names,--fancy how very
terribly that would afflict me! Good night, Giovanni--my greetings to
your father."

The Cardinal nodded, but did not offer his hand. He knew that Giovanni
hated to kiss his ring, and he had too much tact to press the ceremonial
etiquette upon any one whom he desired to influence. But he nodded
graciously, and receiving his cloak from the gentleman who accompanied
him and who had waited at a respectful distance, the statesman passed out
of the great doorway, where the double line of torch-bearers stood ready
to accompany him down the grand staircase to his carriage, in accordance
with the custom of those days.



CHAPTER X.


When he was alone, Giovanni retraced his steps, and again took up his
position near the entrance to the reception-rooms. He had matter for
reflection in the interview which had just ended; and, having nothing
better to do while he waited for Corona, he thought about what had
happened. He was not altogether pleased at the interest his marriage
excited in high quarters; he hated interference, and he regarded Cardinal
Antonelli's advice in such a matter as an interference of the most
unwarrantable kind. Neither he himself nor his father were men who sought
counsel from without, for independence in action was with them a family
tradition, as independence of thought was in their race a hereditary
quality. To think that if he, Giovanni Saracinesca, chose to marry any
woman whatsoever, any one, no matter how exalted in station, should dare
to express approval or disapproval was a shock to every inborn and
cultivated prejudice in his nature. He had nearly quarrelled with his own
father for seeking to influence his matrimonial projects; it was not
likely that he would suffer Cardinal Antonelli to interfere with them. If
Giovanni had really made up his mind--had firmly determined to ask the
hand of Donna Tullia--it is more than probable that the statesman's
advice would not only have failed signally in preventing the match, but
by the very opposition it would have aroused in Giovanni's heart it would
have had the effect of throwing him into the arms of a party which
already desired his adhesion, and which, under his guidance, might have
become as formidable as it was previously insignificant. But the great
Cardinal was probably well informed, and his words had not fallen upon a
barren soil. Giovanni had vacillated sadly in trying to come to a
decision. His first Quixotic impulse to marry Madame Mayer, in order to
show the world that he cared nothing for Corona d'Astrardente, had proved
itself absurd, even to his impetuous intelligence. The growing antipathy
he felt for Donna Tullia had made his marriage with her appear in the
light of a disagreeable duty, and his rashness in confessing his love for
Corona had so disturbed his previous conceptions that marriage no longer
seemed a duty at all. What had been but a few days before almost a fixed
resolution, had dwindled till it seemed an impracticable and even a
useless scheme. When he had arrived at the Palazzo Frangipani that
evening, he had very nearly forgotten Donna Tullia, and had quite
determined that whatever his father might say he would not give the
promised answer before Easter. By the time the Cardinal had left him, he
had decided that no power on earth should induce him to marry Madame
Mayer. He did not take the trouble of saying to himself that he would
marry no one else.

The Cardinal's words had struck deep, in a deep nature. Giovanni had
given Del Ferice a very fair exposition of the views he believed himself
to hold, on the day when they had walked together after Donna Tullia's
picnic. He believed himself a practical man, loyal to the temporal power
by principle rather than by any sort of enthusiastic devotion; not
desirous of any great change, because any change that might reasonably be
expected would be bad for his own vested interests; not prejudiced for
any policy save that of peace--preferring, indeed, with Cicero, the most
unjust peace to the most just war; tenacious of old customs, and not
particularly inquisitive concerning ideas of progress,--on the whole,
Giovanni thought himself what his father had been in his youth, and more
or less what he hoped his sons, if he ever had any, would be after him.

But there was more in him than all this, and at the first distant sound
of battle he felt the spirit stir within him, for his real nature was
brave and loyal, unselfish and devoted, instinctively sympathizing with
the weak and hating the lukewarm. He had told Del Ferice that he believed
he would fight as a matter of principle: as he leaned against the marble
pillar of the door in the Palazzo Frangipani, he wished the fight had
already begun.

Waiting there, and staring into the moving crowd, he was aware of a young
man with pale and delicate features and black hair, who stood quietly by
his side, and seemed like himself an idle though not uninterested
spectator of the scene. Giovanni glanced once at the young fellow, and
thought he recognised him, and glancing again, he met his earnest look,
and saw that it was Anastase Gouache, the painter. Giovanni knew him
slightly, for Gouache was regarded as a rising celebrity, and, thanks to
Donna Tullia, was invited to most of the great receptions and balls of
that season, though he was not yet anywhere on a footing of intimacy.
Gouache was proud, and would perhaps have stood aloof altogether rather
than be treated as one of the herd who are asked "with everybody," as
the phrase goes; but he was of an observing turn of mind, and it amused
him immensely to stand unnoticed, following the movements of society's
planets, comets, and satellites, and studying the many types of the
cosmopolitan Roman world.

"Good evening, Monsieur Gouache," said Giovanni.

"Good evening, prince," replied the artist, with a somewhat formal
bow--after which both men relapsed into silence, and continued to watch
the crowd.

"And what do you think of our Roman world?" asked Giovanni, presently.

"I cannot compare it to any other world," answered Gouache, simply. "I
never went into society till I came to Rome. I think it is at once
brilliant and sedate--it has a magnificent air of historical antiquity,
and it is a little paradoxical."

"Where is the paradox?" inquired Giovanni.

"'Es-tu libre? Les lois sont-elles respectées?
Crains-tu de voir ton champ pillé par le voisin?
Le maître a-t-il son toit, et l'ouvrier son pain?'"

A smile flickered over the young artist's face as he quoted Musset's
lines in answer to Giovanni's question. Giovanni himself laughed, and
looked at Anastase with somewhat increased interest.

"Do you mean that we are revelling under the sword of Damocles--dancing
on the eve of our execution?"

"Not precisely. A delicate flavour of uncertainty about to-morrow gives
zest to the appetite of to-day. It is impossible that such a large
society should be wholly unconscious of its own imminent danger--and yet
these men and women go about to-night as if they were Romans of old,
rulers of the world, only less sure of themselves than of the stability
of their empire."

"Why not?" asked Giovanni, glancing curiously at the pale young man
beside him. "In answer to your quotation, I can say that I am as free as
I care to be; that the laws are sufficiently respected; that no one has
hitherto thought it worth while to plunder my acres; that I have a modest
roof of my own; and that, as far as I am aware, there are no workmen
starving in the streets at present. You are answered, it seems to me,
Monsieur Gouache."

"Is that really your belief?" asked the artist, quietly.

"Yes. As for my freedom, I am as free as air; no one thinks of hindering
my movements. As for the laws, they are made for good citizens, and good
citizens will respect them; if bad citizens do not, that is their loss.
My acres are safe, possibly because they are not worth taking, though
they yield me a modest competence sufficient for my needs and for the
needs of those who cultivate them for me."

"And yet there is a great deal of talk in Rome about misery and injustice
and oppression--"

"There will be a great deal more talk about those evils, with much better
cause, if people who think like you succeed in bringing about a
revolution, Monsieur Gouache," answered Giovanni, coldly.

"If many people think like you, prince, a revolution is not to be thought
of. As for me I am a foreigner and I see what I can, and listen to what I
hear."

"A revolution is not to be thought of. It was tried here and failed. If
we are overcome by a great power from without, we shall have no choice
but to yield, if any of us survive--for we would fight. But we have
nothing to fear from within."

"Perhaps not," returned Gouache, thoughtfully. "I hear such opposite
opinions that I hardly know what to think."

"I hear that you are to paint Cardinal Antonelli's portrait," said
Giovanni. "Perhaps his Eminence will help you to decide."

"Yes; they say he is the cleverest man in Europe."

"In that opinion they--whoever they may be--are mistaken," replied
Giovanni. "But he is a man of immense intellect, nevertheless."

"I am not sure whether I will paint his portrait after all," said
Gouache.

"You do not wish to be persuaded?"

"No. My own ideas please me very well for the present. I would not
exchange them for those of any one else."

"May I ask what those ideas are?" inquired Giovanni, with a show of
interest.

"I am a republican," answered Gouache, quietly. "I am also a good
Catholic."

"Then you are yourself much more paradoxical than the whole of our Roman
society put together," answered Giovanni, with a dry laugh.

"Perhaps. There comes the most beautiful woman in the world."

It was nearly twelve o'clock when Corona arrived, old Astrardente
sauntering jauntily by her side, his face arranged with more than usual
care, and his glossy wig curled cunningly to represent nature. He was
said to possess a number of wigs of different lengths, which he wore in
rotation, thus sustaining the impression that his hair was cut from time
to time. In his eye a single eyeglass was adjusted, and as he walked he
swung his hat delicately in his tightly gloved fingers. He wore the
plainest of collars and the simplest of gold studs; no chain dangled
showily from his waistcoat-pocket, and his small feet were encased in
little patent-leather shoes. But for his painted face, he might have
passed for the very incarnation of fashionable simplicity. But his face
betrayed him.

As for Corona, she was dazzlingly beautiful. Not that any colour or
material she wore could greatly enhance her beauty, for all who saw her
on that memorable night remembered the wonderful light in her face, and
the strange look in her splendid eyes; but the thick soft fall of the
white velvet made as it were a pedestal for her loveliness, and the
Astrardente jewels that clasped her waist and throat and crowned her
black hair, collected the radiance of the many candles, and made the
light cling to her and follow her as she walked. Giovanni saw her enter,
and his whole adoration came upon him as a madness upon a sick man in a
fever, so that he would have sprung forward to meet her, and fallen at
her feet and worshipped her, had he not suddenly felt that he was watched
by more than one of the many who paused to see her go by. He moved from
his place and waited near the door where she would have to pass, and for
a moment his heart stood still.

He hardly knew how it was. He found himself speaking to her. He asked her
for a dance, he asked boldly for the cotillon--he never knew how he had
dared; she assented, let her eyes rest upon him for one moment with an
indescribable expression, then grew very calm and cold, and passed on.

It was all over in an instant. Giovanni moved back to his place as she
went by, and stood still like a man stunned. It was well that there were
yet nearly two hours before the preliminary dancing would be over; he
needed some time to collect himself. The air seemed full of strange
voices, and he watched the moving faces as in a dream, unable to
concentrate his attention upon anything he saw.

"He looks as though he had a stroke of paralysis," said a woman's voice
near him. It did not strike him, in his strange bewilderment, that it was
Donna Tullia who had spoken, still less that she was speaking of him
almost to him.

"Something very like it, I should say," answered Del Ferice's oily voice.
"He has probably been ill since you saw him. Saracinesca is an unhealthy
place."

Giovanni turned sharply round.

"Yes; we were speaking of you, Don Giovanni," said Donna Tullia, with
some scorn. "Does it strike you that you were exceedingly rude in not
letting me know that you were going out of town when you had promised to
dance with me at the Valdarno ball?" She curled her small lip and showed
her sharp white teeth. Giovanni was a man of the world, however, and was
equal to the occasion.

"I apologise most humbly," he said. "It was indeed very rude; but in the
urgency of the case, I forgot all other engagements. I really beg your
pardon. Will you honour me with a dance this evening?"

"I have every dance engaged," answered Madame Mayer, coldly staring at
him.

"I am very sorry," said Giovanni, inwardly thanking heaven for his good
fortune, and wishing she would go away.

"Wait a moment," said Donna Tullia, judging that she had produced the
desired effect upon him. "Let me look. I believe I have one waltz left.
Let me see. Yes, the one before the last--you can have it if you like."

"Thank you," murmured Giovanni, greatly annoyed. "I will remember."

Madame Mayer laid her hand upon Del Ferice's arm, and moved away. She was
a vain woman, and being in love with Saracinesca after her own fashion,
could not understand that he should be wholly indifferent to her. She
thought that in telling him she had no dances she had given him a little
wholesome punishment, and that in giving one after all she had conferred
a favour upon him. She also believed that she had annoyed Del Ferice,
which, always amused her. But Del Ferice was more than a match for her,
with his quiet ways and smooth tongue.

They went into the ball-room together and danced a few minutes. When the
music ceased, Ugo excused himself on the plea that he was engaged for the
quadrille that followed. He at once set out in search of the Duchessa
d'Astrardente, and did not lose sight of her again. She did not dance
before the cotillon, she said; and she sat down in a high chair in the
picture-gallery, while three or four men, among whom was Valdarno, sat
and stood near her, doing their best to amuse her. Others came, and some
went away, but Corona did not move, and sat amongst her little court,
glad to have the time pass in any way until the cotillon. When Del Ferice
had ascertained her position, he went about his business, which was
manifold--dancing frequently, and making a point of speaking to every one
in the room. At the end of an hour, he joined the group of men around the
Duchessa and took part in the conversation.

It was an easy matter to make the talk turn upon Giovanni Saracinesca.
Every one was more or less curious about the journey he had made, and
especially about the cause of his absence. Each of the men had something
to say, and each, knowing the popular report that Giovanni was in love
with Corona, said his say with as much wit as he could command. Corona
herself was interested, for she alone understood his sudden absence, and
was anxious to hear the common opinion concerning it.

The theories advanced were various. Some said he had been quarrelling
with the local authorities of Saracinesca, who interfered with his
developments and improvements upon the estate, and they gave laughable
portraits of the village sages with whom he had been engaged. Others
said he had only stopped there a day, and had been in Naples. One said he
had been boar-hunting; another, that the Saracinesca woods had been
infested by a band of robbers, who were terrorising the country.

"And what do you say, Del Ferice?" asked Corona, seeing a cunning smile
upon the man's pale fat face.

"It is very simple," said Ugo; "it is a very simple matter indeed. If the
Duchessa will permit me, I will call him, and we will ask him directly
what he has been doing. There he stands with old Cantalorgano at the
other end of the room. Public curiosity demands to be satisfied. May I
call him, Duchessa?"

"By no means," said Corona, quickly. But before she had spoken, Valdarno,
who was always sanguine and impulsive, had rapidly crossed the gallery
and was already speaking to Giovanni. The latter bowed his head as though
obeying an order, and came quietly back with the young man who had called
him. The crowd of men parted before him as he advanced to the Duchessa's
chair, and stood waiting in some surprise.

"What are your commands, Duchessa?" he asked, in somewhat formal tones.

"Valdarno is too quick," answered Corona, who was greatly annoyed. "Some
one suggested calling you to settle a dispute, and he went before I could
stop him. I fear it is very impertinent of us."

"I am entirely at your service," said Giovanni, who was delighted at
having been called, and had found time to recover from his first
excitement on seeing her. "What is the question?"

"We were all talking about you," said Valdarno.

"We were wondering where you had been," said another.

"They said you had gone boar-hunting."

"Or to Naples."

"Or even to Paris." Three or four spoke in one breath.

"I am exceedingly flattered at the interest you all show in me," said
Giovanni, quietly. "There is very little to tell. I have been in
Saracinesca upon a matter of business, spending my days in the woods with
my steward, and my nights in keeping away the cold and the ghosts. I
would have invited you all to join the festivity, had I known how much
you were interested. The beef up there is monstrously tough, and the rats
are abominably noisy, but the mountain air is said to be very healthy."

Most of the men present felt that they had not only behaved foolishly,
but had spoiled the little circle around the Duchessa by introducing a
man who had the power to interest her, whereas they could only afford her
a little amusement. Valdarno was still standing, and his chair beside
Corona was vacant. Giovanni calmly installed himself upon it, and began
to talk as though nothing had happened.

"You are not dancing, Duchessa," he remarked. "I suppose you have been in
the ball-room?"

"Yes--but I am rather tired this evening. I will wait."

"You were here at the last great ball, before the old prince died, were
you not?" asked Giovanni, remembering that he had first seen her on that
occasion.

"Yes," she answered; "and I remember that we danced together; and the
accident to the window, and the story of the ghost."

So they fell into conversation, and though one or two of the men ventured
an ineffectual remark, the little circle dropped away, and Giovanni was
left alone by the side of the Duchessa. The distant opening strains of a
waltz came floating down the gallery, but neither of the two heard, nor
cared.

"It is strange," Giovanni said. "They say it has always happened, since
the memory of man. No one has ever seen anything, but whenever there is a
great ball, there is a crash of broken glass some time in the course of
the evening. Nobody could ever explain why that window fell in, five
years ago--five years ago this month,--this very day, I believe," he
continued suddenly, in the act of recollection. "Yes--the nineteenth of
January, I remember very well--it was my mother's birthday."

"It is not so extraordinary," said Corona, "for it chances to be the
name-day of the present prince. That was probably the reason why it was
chosen this year." She spoke a little nervously, as though still ill at
ease.

"But it is very strange," said Giovanni, in a low voice. "It is strange
that we should have met here the first time, and that we should not have
met here since, until--to-day."

He looked towards her as he spoke, and their eyes met and lingered in
each other's gaze. Suddenly the blood mounted to Corona's cheeks, her
eyelids drooped, she leaned back in her seat and was silent.

Far off, at the entrance to the ball-room, Del Ferice found Donna Tullia
alone. She was very angry. The dance for which she was engaged to
Giovanni Saracinesca had begun, and was already half over, and still he
did not come. Her pink face was unusually flushed, and there was a
disagreeable look in her blue eyes.

"Ah!--I see Don Giovanni has again forgotten his engagement," said Ugo,
in smooth tones. He well knew that he himself had brought about the
omission, but none could have guessed it from his manner. "May I have the
honour of a turn before your cavalier arrives?" he asked.

"No," said Donna Tullia, angrily. "Give me your arm. We will go and find
him." She almost hissed the words through her closed teeth.

She hardly knew that Del Ferice was leading her as they moved towards the
picture-gallery, passing through the crowded rooms that lay between. She
never spoke; but her movement was impetuous, and she resented being
delayed by the hosts of men and women who filled the way. As they entered
the long apartment, where the portraits of the Frangipani lined the walls
from end to end, Del Ferice uttered a well-feigned exclamation.

"Oh, there he is!" he cried. "Do you see him?--his back is turned--he is
alone with the Astrardente."

"Come," said Donna Tullia, shortly. Del Ferice would have preferred to
have let her go alone, and to have witnessed from a distance the scene he
had brought about. But he could not refuse to accompany Madame Mayer.

Neither Corona, who was facing the pair, but was talking with Giovanni,
nor Giovanni himself, who was turned away from them, noticed their
approach until they came and stood still beside them. Saracinesca looked
up and started. The Duchessa d'Astrardente raised her black eyebrows in
surprise.

"Our dance!" exclaimed Giovanni, in considerable agitation. "It is the
one after this--"

"On the contrary," said Donna Tullia, in tones trembling with rage, "it
is already over. It is the most unparalleled insolence!"

Giovanni was profoundly disgusted at himself and Donna Tullia. He cared
not so much for the humiliation itself, which was bad enough, as for the
annoyance the scene caused Corona, who looked from one to the other in
angry astonishment, but of course could have nothing to say.

"I can only assure you that I thought--"

"You need not assure me!" cried Donna Tullia, losing all self-control.
"There is no excuse, nor pardon--it is the second time. Do not insult me
further, by inventing untruths for your apology."

"Nevertheless--" began Giovanni, who was sincerely sorry for his great
rudeness, and would gladly have attempted to explain his conduct, seeing
that Donna Tullia was so justly angry.

"There is no nevertheless!" she interrupted. "You may stay where you
are," she added, with a scornful glance at the Duchessa d'Astrardente.
Then she laid her hand upon Del Ferice's arm, and swept angrily past, so
that the train of her red silk gown brushed sharply against Corona's soft
white velvet.

Giovanni remained standing a moment, with a puzzled expression upon his
face.

"How could you do anything so rude?" asked Corona, very gravely. "She
will never forgive you, and she will be quite right."

"I do not know how I forgot," he answered, seating himself again. "It is
dreadful--unpardonable--but perhaps the consequences will be good."



CHAPTER XI.


Corona was ill at ease. In the first few moments of being alone with
Giovanni the pleasure she felt outweighed all other thoughts. But as the
minutes lengthened to a quarter of an hour, then to half an hour, she
grew nervous, and her answers came more and more shortly. She said to
herself that she should never have given him the cotillon, and she
wondered how the remainder of the time would pass. The realisation of
what had occurred came upon her, and the hot blood rose to her face and
ebbed away again, and rose once more. Yet she could not speak out what
her pride prompted her to say, because she pitied Giovanni a little, and
was willing to think for a moment that it was only compassion she felt,
lest she should feel that she must send him away.

But Giovanni sat beside her, and knew that the spell was working upon
him, and that there was no salvation. He had taken her unawares, though
he hardly knew it, when she first entered, and he asked her suddenly for
a dance. He had wondered vaguely why she had so freely consented; but, in
the wild delight of being by her side, he completely lost all hold upon
himself, and yielded to the exquisite charm of her presence, as a man who
has struggled for a moment against a powerful opiate sinks under its
influence, and involuntarily acknowledges his weakness. Strong as he was,
his strength was all gone, and he knew not where he should find it.

"You will have to make her some further apology," said Corona, as Madame
Mayer's red train disappeared through the doorway at the other end of the
room.

"Of course--I must do something about it," said Giovanni, absently.
"After all, I do not wonder--it is amazing that I should have recognised
her at all. I should forget anything to-night, except that I am to
dance with you."

The Duchessa looked away, and fanned herself slowly; but she sighed, and
checked the deep-drawn breath as by a great effort. The waltz was over,
and the dancers streamed through the intervening rooms towards the
gallery in quest of fresher air and freer space. Two and two they came,
quickly following each other and passing on, some filling the high seats
along the walls, others hastening towards the supper-rooms beyond. A few
minutes earlier Saracinesca and Corona had been almost alone in the great
apartment; now they were surrounded on all sides by a chattering crowd of
men and women, with flushed faces or unnaturally pale, according as the
effort of dancing affected each, and the indistinguishable din of
hundreds of voices so filled the air that Giovanni and the Duchessa could
hardly hear each other speak.

"This is intolerable," said Giovanni, suddenly. "You are not engaged for
the last quadrille? Shall we not go away until the cotillon begins?"

Corona hesitated a moment, and was silent. She glanced once at Giovanni,
and again surveyed the moving crowd.

"Yes," she said at last; "let us go away."

"You are very good," answered Giovanni in a low voice, as he offered her
his arm. She looked at him inquiringly, and her face grew grave, as they
slowly made their way out of the room.

At last they came to the conservatory, and went in among the great plants
and the soft lights. There was no one there, and they slowly paced the
broad walk that was left clear all round the glass-covered chamber, and
up and down the middle. The plants were disposed so thickly as to form
almost impenetrable walls of green on either side; and at one end there
was an open space where a little marble fountain played, around which
were disposed seats of carved wood. But Giovanni and Corona continued to
walk slowly along the tiled path.

"Why did you say I was good just now?" asked Corona at last. Her voice
sounded cold.

"I should not have said it, perhaps," answered Giovanni. "I say many
things which I cannot help saying. I am very sorry."

"I am very sorry too," answered the Duchessa, quietly.

"Ah! if you knew, you would forgive me. If you could guess half the
truth, you would forgive me."

"I would rather not guess it."

"Of course; but you have already--you know it all. Have I not told you?"
Giovanni spoke in despairing tones. He was utterly weak and spellbound;
he could hardly find any words at all.

"Don Giovanni," said Corona, speaking very proudly and calmly, but not
unkindly, "I have known you so long, I believe you to be so honourable a
man, that I am willing to suppose that you said--what you said--in a
moment of madness."

"Madness! It was madness; but it is more sweet to remember than all the
other doings of my life," said Saracinesca, his tongue unloosed at last.
"If it is madness to love you, I am mad past all cure. There is no
healing for me now; I shall never find my senses again, for they are lost
in you, and lost for ever. Drive me away, crush me, trample on me if you
will; you cannot kill me nor kill my madness, for I live in you and for
you, and I cannot die. That is all. I am not eloquent as other men are,
to use smooth words and twist phrases. I love you--"

"You have said too much already--too much, far too much," murmured
Corona, in broken tones. She had withdrawn her hand from his during his
passionate speech, and stood back from him against the dark wall of green
plants, her head drooping upon her breast, her fingers clasped fast
together. His short rude words were terribly sweet to hear, it was
fearful to think that she was alone with him, that one step would bring
her to his side, that with one passionate impulse she might throw her
white arms about his neck, that one faltering sigh of overwhelming love
might bring her queenly head down upon his shoulder. Ah, God! how gladly
she would let her tears flow and speak for her! how unutterably sweet it
would be rest for one instant in his arms, to love and be loved as she
longed to be!

"You are so cold," he cried, passionately. "You cannot understand. All
spoken words are not too much, are not enough to move you, to make you
see that I do really worship and adore you; you, the whole of you--your
glorious face, your sweet small hands, your queenly ways, the light of
your eyes, and the words of your lips--all of you, body and soul, I love.
I would I might die now, for you know it, even if you will not
understand--"

He moved a step nearer to her, stretching out his hands as he spoke.
Corona trembled convulsively, and her lips turned white in the torture of
temptation; she leaned far back against the green leaves, staring wildly
at Giovanni, held as in a vice by the mighty passions of love and fear.
Having yielded her ears to his words, they fascinated her horribly. He,
poor man, had long lost all control of himself. His resolutions, long
pondered in the solitude of Saracinesca, had vanished like unsubstantial
vapours before a strong fire, and his heart and soul were ablaze.

"Do not look at me so," he said almost tenderly. "Do not look at me as
though you feared me, as though you hated me. Can you not see that it is
I who fear you as well as love you, who tremble at your coldness, who
watch for your slightest kind look? Ah, Corona, you have made me so
happy!--there is no angel in all heaven but would give up his Paradise to
change for mine!"

He had taken her hand and pressed it wildly to his lips. Her eyelids
drooped, and her head fell back for one moment. They stood so very near
that his arm had almost stolen about her slender waist, he almost thought
he was supporting her.

Suddenly, without the least warning, she drew herself up to her full
height, and thrust Giovanni back to her arm's length strongly, almost
roughly.

"Never!" she said. "I am a weak woman, but not so weak as that. I am
miserable, but not so miserable as to listen to you. Giovanni
Saracinesca, you say you love me--God grant it is not true! but you say
it. Then, have you no honour, no courage, no strength? Is there nothing
of the man left in you? Is there no truth in your love, no generosity in
your heart? If you so love me as you say you do, do you care so little
what becomes of me as to tempt me to love you?"

She spoke very earnestly, not scornfully nor angrily, but in the
certainty of strength and right, and in the strong persuasion that the
headstrong man would hear and be convinced. She was weak no longer, for
one desperate moment her fate had trembled in the balance, but she had
not hesitated even then; she had struggled bravely, and her brave soul
had won the great battle. She had been weak the other day at the theatre,
in letting herself ask the question to which she knew the answer; she had
been miserably weak that very night in so abandoning herself to the
influence she loved and dreaded; but at the great moment, when heaven and
earth swam before her as in a wild and unreal mirage, with the voice of
the man she loved ringing in her ears, speaking such words as it was
an ecstasy to hear, she had been no longer weak--the reality of danger
had brought forth the sincerity of her goodness, and her heart had found
courage to do a great deed. She had overcome, and she knew it.

Giovanni stood back from her, and hung his head. In a moment the force of
his passion was checked, and from the supreme verge of unspeakable and
rapturous delight, he was cast suddenly into the depths of his own
remorse. He stood silent before her, trembling and awestruck.

"You cannot understand me," she said, "I do not understand myself. But
this I know, that you are not what you have seemed to-night--that there
is enough manliness and nobility in you to respect a woman, and that you
will hereafter prove that I am right. I pray that I may not see you any
more; but if I must see you, I will trust you thus much--say that I may
trust you," she added, her strong smooth voice sinking in a trembling
cadence, half beseeching, and yet wholly commanding.

Saracinesca bent his heavy brows, and was silent for a moment. Then he
looked up, and his eyes met hers, and seemed to gather strength from her.

"If you will let me see you sometimes, you may trust me. I would I were
as noble and good as you--I am not. I will try to be. Ah, Corona!" he
cried suddenly, "forgive me, forgive me! I hardly knew what I said."

"Hush!" said the Duchessa, gently; "you must not speak like that, nor
call me Corona. Perhaps I am wrong to forgive you wholly, but I believe
in you. I believe you will understand, and that you will be worthy of the
trust I place in you."

"Indeed, Duchessa, none shall say that they have trusted me in vain,"
answered Giovanni very proudly--"neither man nor woman--and, least of all
women, you."

"That is well," said she, with a faint shadow of a smile. "I would rather
see you proud than reckless. See that you remain so--that neither by word
nor deed you ever remind me that I have had anything to forgive. It is
the only way in which any intercourse between us can be possible after
this--this dreadful night."

Giovanni bowed his head. He was still pale, but he had regained control
of himself.

"I solemnly promise that I will not recall it to your memory, and I
implore your forgiveness, even though you cannot forget."

"I cannot forget," said Corona, almost under her breath. Giovanni's eyes
flashed for a moment. "Shall we go back to the ball-room? I will go home
soon."

As they turned to go, a loud crash, as of broken glass, with the fall of
some heavy body, startled them, and made them stand still in the middle
of the walk. The noisy concussion was followed by a complete silence.
Corona, whose nerves had been severely tried, trembled slightly.

"It is strange," she said; "they say it always happens."

There was nothing to be seen. The thick web of plants hid the cause of
the noise from view, whatever it might be. Giovanni hesitated a moment,
looking about to see how he could get behind the banks of flower-pots.
Then he left Corona without a word, and striding to the end of the walk,
disappeared into the depths of the conservatory. He had noticed that
there was a narrow entrance at the end nearest the fountain, intended
probably to admit the gardener for the purpose of watering the plants.
Corona could hear his quick steps; she thought she heard a low groan and
a voice whispering,--but she might have been mistaken, for the place was
large, and her heart was beating fast.

Giovanni had not gone far in the narrow way, which was sufficiently
lighted by the soft light of the many candles concealed in various parts
of the conservatory, when he came upon the figure of a man sitting, as he
had apparently fallen, across the small passage. The fragments of a heavy
earthenware vase lay beyond him, with a heap of earth and roots; and the
tall india-rubber plant which grew in it had fallen against the sloping
glass roof and shattered several panes. As Giovanni came suddenly upon
him, the man struggled to rise, and in the dim light Saracinesca
recognised Del Ferice. The truth flashed upon him at once. The fellow had
been listening, and had probably heard all. Giovanni instantly resolved
to conceal the fact from the Duchessa, to whom the knowledge that the
painful scene had been overheard would be a bitter mortification.
Giovanni could undertake to silence the eavesdropper.

Quick as thought his strong brown hands gripped the throat of Ugo del
Ferice, stifling his breath like a collar of iron.

"Dog!" he whispered fiercely in the wretch's ear, "if you breathe, I will
kill you now! You will find me in my own house in an hour. Be silent
now!" Giovanni whispered, with such a terrible grip on the fellow's
throat that his eyeballs seemed starting from his head. Then he turned
and went out by the way he had entered, leaving Del Ferice writhing with
pain and gasping for breath. As he joined Corona, his face betrayed no
emotion--he had been so pale before that he could not turn whiter in his
anger--but his eyes gleamed fiercely at the thought of fight. The
Duchessa stood where he had left her, still much agitated.

"It is nothing," said Giovanni, with a forced laugh, as he offered her
his arm and led her quickly away. "Imagine. A great vase with one of
Frangipani's favourite plants in it had been badly propped, and had
fallen right through the glass, outward."

"It is strange," said Corona. "I was almost sure I heard a groan."

"It was the wind. The glass was broken, and it is a stormy night."

"That was just the way that window fell in five years ago," said Corona.
"Something always happens here. I think I will go home--let us find my
husband."

No one would have guessed, from Corona's face, that anything
extraordinary had occurred in the half-hour she had spent in the
conservatory. She walked calmly by Giovanni's side, not a trace of
excitement on her pale proud face, not a sign of uneasiness in the quiet
glance of her splendid eyes. She had conquered, and she knew it, never to
be tempted again; she had conquered herself and she had overcome the man
beside her. Giovanni glanced at her in wondering admiration.

"You are the bravest woman in the world, as I am the most contemptible of
men," he said suddenly, as they entered the picture-gallery.

"I am not brave," she answered calmly, "neither are you contemptible, my
friend. We have both been very near to our destruction, but it has
pleased God to save us."

"By you," said Saracinesca, very solemnly. He knew that within six hours
he might be lying dead upon some plot of wet grass without the city, and
he grew very grave, after the manner of brave men when death is abroad.

"You have saved my soul to-night," he said earnestly. "Will you give me
your blessing and whole forgiveness? Do not laugh at me, nor think me
foolish. The blessing of such women as you should make men braver and
better."

The gallery was again deserted. The cotillon had begun, and those who
were not dancing were at supper. Corona stood still for one moment by the
very chair where they had sat so long.

"I forgive you wholly. I pray that all blessings may be upon you always,
in life and in death, for ever."

Giovanni bowed his head reverently. It seemed as though the woman he so
loved was speaking a benediction upon his death, a last _in pace_ which
should follow him for all eternity.

"In life and in death, I will honour you truly and serve you faithfully
for ever," he answered. As he raised his head, Corona saw that there were
tears in his eyes, and she felt that there were tears in her own.

"Come," she said, and they passed on in silence.

She found her husband at last in the supper-room. He was leisurely
discussing the wing of a chicken and a small glass of claret-and-water,
with a gouty ambassador whose wife had insisted upon dancing the
cotillon, and who was revenging himself upon a Strasbourg _pâté_ and a
bottle of dry champagne.

"Ah, my dear," said Astrardente, looking up from his modest fare, "you
have been dancing? You have come to supper? You are very wise. I have
danced a great deal myself, but I have not seen you--the room was so
crowded. Here--this small table will hold us all, just a quartet."

"Thanks--I am not hungry. Will you take me home when you have finished
supper? Or are you going to stay? Do not wait, Don Giovanni; I know you
are busy in the cotillon. My husband will take care of me. Good night."

Giovanni bowed, and went away, glad to be alone at last. He had to be at
home in half an hour according to his engagement, and he had to look
about him for a friend. All Rome was at the ball; but the men upon whom
he could call for such service as he required, were all dancing.
Moreover, he reflected that in such a matter it was necessary to have
some one especially trustworthy. It would not do to have the real cause
of the duel known, and the choice of a second was a very important
matter. He never doubted that Del Ferice would send some one with a
challenge at the appointed time. Del Ferice was a scoundrel, doubtless;
but he was quick with the foils, and had often appeared as second in
affairs of honour.

Giovanni stood by the door of the ball-room, looking at the many familiar
faces, and wondering how he could induce any one to leave his partner at
that hour, and go home with him. Suddenly he was aware that his father
was standing beside him and eyeing him curiously.

"What is the matter, Giovanni?" inquired the old Prince. "Why are you not
dancing?"

"The fact is--" began Giovanni, and then stopped suddenly. An idea struck
him. He went close to his father, and spoke in a low voice.

"The fact is, that I have just taken a man by the throat and otherwise
insulted him, by calling him a dog. The fellow seemed annoyed, and so I
told him he might send to our house in an hour for an explanation. I
cannot find a friend, because everybody is dancing this abominable
cotillon. Perhaps you can help me," he added, looking at his father
rather doubtfully. To his surprise and considerable relief the old Prince
burst into a hearty laugh.

"Of course," he cried. "What do you take me for? Do you think I would
desert my boy in a fight? Go and call my carriage, and wait for me while
I pick up somebody for a witness; we can talk on the way home."

The old Prince had been a duellist in his day, and he would no more have
thought of advising his son not to fight than of refusing a challenge
himself. He was, moreover, exceedingly bored at the ball, and not in the
least sleepy. The prospect of an exciting night was novel and delightful.
He knew Giovanni's extraordinary skill, and feared nothing for him. He
knew everybody in the ballroom was engaged, and he went straight to the
supper-table, expecting to find some one there. Astrardente, the
Duchessa, and the gouty ambassador were still together, as Giovanni had
left them a moment before. The Prince did not like Astrardente, but he
knew the ambassador very well. He called him aside, with an apology to
the Duchessa.

"I want a young man immediately," said old Saracinesca, stroking his
white beard with his broad brown hand. "Can you tell of any one who is
not dancing?"

"There is Astrardente," answered his Excellency, with an ironical smile.
"A duel?" he asked.

Saracinesca nodded.

"I am too old," said the diplomatist, thoughtfully; "but it would be
infinitely amusing. I cannot give you one of my secretaries either. It
always makes such a scandal. Oh, there goes the very man! Catch him
before it is too late!"

Old Saracinesca glanced in the direction the ambassador indicated, and
darted away. He was as active as a boy, in spite of his sixty years.

"Eh!" he cried. "Hi! you! Come here! Spicca! Stop! Excuse me--I am in a
great hurry!"

Count Spicca, whom he thus addressed, paused and looked round through his
single eyeglass in some surprise. He was an immensely tall and
cadaverous-looking man, with a black beard and searching grey eyes.

"I really beg your pardon," said the Prince hurriedly, in a low voice, as
he came up, "but I am in a great hurry--an affair of honour--will you be
witness? My carriage is at the door."

"With pleasure," said Count Spicca, quietly; and without further comment
he accompanied the Prince to the outer hall. Giovanni was waiting, and
the Prince's footman stood at the head of the stairs. In three minutes
the father and son and the melancholy Spicca were seated in the carriage,
on their way to the Palazzo Saracinesca.

"Now then, Giovannino," said the Prince, as he lit a cigarette in the
darkness, "tell us all about it."

"There is not much to tell," said Giovanni. "If the challenge arrives,
there is nothing to be done but to fight. I took him by the throat and
nearly strangled him."

"Whom?" asked Spicca, mournfully.

"Oh! it is Del Ferice," answered Giovanni, who had forgotten that he had
not mentioned the name of his probable antagonist. The Prince laughed.

"Del Ferice! Who would have thought it? He is a dead man. What was it all
about?"

"That is unnecessary to say here," said Giovanni, quietly. "He insulted
me grossly. I half-strangled him, and told him he was a dog. I suppose he
will fight."

"Ah yes; he will probably fight," repeated Spicca, thoughtfully. "What
are your weapons, Don Giovanni?"

"Anything he likes."

"But the choice is yours if he challenges," returned the Count.

"As you please. Arrange all that--foils, swords, or pistols."

"You do not seem to take much interest in this affair," remarked Spicca,
sadly.

"He is best with foils," said the old Prince.

"Foils or pistols, of course," said the Count. "Swords are child's play."

Satisfied that his seconds meant business, Giovanni sank back in his
corner of the carriage, and was silent.

"We had better have the meeting in my villa," said his father. "If it
rains, they can fight indoors. I will send for the surgeon at once."

In a few moments they reached the Palazzo Saracinesca. The Prince left
word at the porter's lodge that any gentlemen who arrived were to be
admitted, and all three went up-stairs. It was half-past two o'clock.

As they entered the apartments, they heard a carriage drive under the
great archway below.

"Go to your rooms, Giovanni," said the old Prince. "These fellows are
punctual. I will call you when they are gone. I suppose you mean business
seriously?"

"I care nothing about him. I will give him any satisfaction he pleases,"
answered Giovanni. "It is very kind of you to undertake the matter--I am
very grateful."

"I would not leave it to anybody else," muttered the old Prince, as he
hurried away to meet Del Fence's seconds.

Giovanni entered his own rooms, and went straight to his writing-table.
He took a pen and a sheet of paper and began writing. His face was very
grave, but his hand was steady. For more than an hour he wrote without
pausing. Then his father entered the room.

"Well?" said Giovanni, looking up.

"It is all settled," said the old gentleman, seriously. "I was afraid
they might make some objection to me as a second. You know there is an
old clause about near relations acting in such cases. But they declared
that they considered my co-operation an honour--so that is all right.
You must do your best, my boy. This rascal means to hurt you if he can.
Seven o'clock is the time. We must leave here at half-past six. You can
sleep two hours and a half. I will sit up and call you. Spicca has gone
home to change his clothes, and is coming back immediately. Now lie down.
I will see to your foils--"

"Is it foils, then?" asked Giovanni, quietly.

"Yes. They made no objection. You had better lie down."

"I will. Father, if anything should happen to me--it may, you know--you
will find my keys in this drawer, and this letter, which I beg you will
read. It is to yourself."

"Nonsense, my dear boy! Nothing will happen to you--you will just run him
through the arm and come home to breakfast."

The old Prince spoke in his rough cheerful way; but his voice trembled,
and he turned aside to hide two great tears that had fallen upon his dark
cheeks and were losing themselves in his white beard.



CHAPTER XII.


Giovanni slept soundly for two hours. He was very tired with the many
emotions of the night, and the arrangements for the meeting being
completed, it seemed as though work were over and the pressure removed.
It is said that men will sleep for hours when the trial is over and the
sentence of death has been passed; and though it was more likely that Del
Ferice would be killed than that Giovanni would be hurt, the latter felt
not unlike a man who has been tried for his life. He had suffered in a
couple of hours almost every emotion of which he was capable--his love
for Corona, long controlled and choked down, had broken bounds at last,
and found expression for itself; he had in a moment suffered the severest
humiliation and the most sincere sorrow at her reproaches; he had known
the fear of seeing her no more, and the sweetness of pardon from her own
lips; he had found himself on a sudden in a frenzy of righteous wrath
against Del Ferice, and a moment later he had been forced to hide his
anger under a calm face; and at last, when the night was far spent, he
had received the assurance that in less than four hours he would have
ample opportunity for taking vengeance upon the cowardly eavesdropper who
had so foully got possession of the one secret he held dear. Worn out
with all he had suffered, and calm in the expectation of the morning's
struggle, Giovanni lay down upon his bed and slept.

Del Ferice, on the contrary, was very wakeful. He had an unpleasant
sensation about his throat as though he had been hanged, and cut down
before he was dead; and he suffered the unutterable mortification of
knowing that, after a long and successful social career, he had been
detected by his worst enemy in a piece of disgraceful villany. In the
first place, Giovanni might kill him. Del Ferice was a very good fencer,
but Saracinesca was stronger and more active; there was certainly
considerable danger in the duel. On the other hand, if he survived,
Giovanni had him in his power for the rest of his life, and there was no
escape possible. He had been caught listening--caught in a flagrantly
dishonest trick--and he well knew that if the matter had been brought
before a jury of honour, he would have been declared incompetent
to claim any satisfaction.

It was not the first time Del Ferice had done such things, but it was the
first time he had been caught. He cursed his awkwardness in oversetting
the vase just at the moment when his game was successfully played to the
end--just when he thought that he began to see land, in having discovered
beyond all doubt that Giovanni was devoted body and soul to Corona
d'Astrardente. The information had been necessary to him, for he was
beginning seriously to press his suit with Donna Tullia, and he needed to
be sure that Giovanni was not a rival to be feared. He had long suspected
Saracinesca's devotion to the dark Duchessa, and by constantly putting
himself in his way, he had done his best to excite his jealousy and to
stimulate his passion. Giovanni never could have considered Del Ferice as
a rival; the idea would have been ridiculous. But the constant annoyance
of finding the man by Corona's side, when he desired to be alone with
her, had in some measure heightened the effect Del Ferice desired, though
it had not actually produced it. Being a good judge of character, he had
sensibly reckoned his chances against Giovanni, and he had formed so just
an opinion of the man's bold and devoted character as to be absolutely
sure that if Saracinesca loved Corona he would not seriously think of
marrying Donna Tullia. He had done all he could to strengthen the passion
when he guessed it was already growing, and at the very moment when he
had received circumstantial evidence of it which placed it beyond all
doubt, he had allowed himself to be discovered, through his own
unpardonable carelessness.

Evidently the only satisfactory way out of the difficulty was to kill
Giovanni outright, if he could do it. In that way he would rid himself
of an enemy, and at the same time of the evidence against himself.
The question was, how this could be accomplished; for Giovanni was a
man of courage, strength, and experience, and he himself--Ugo del
Ferice--possessed none of those qualities in any great degree. The result
was, that he slept not at all, but passed the night in a state of nervous
anxiety by no means conducive to steadiness of hand or calmness of the
nerves. He was less pleased than ever when he heard that Giovanni's
seconds were his own father and the melancholy Spicca, who was the most
celebrated duellist in Italy, in spite of his cadaverous long body, his
sad voice, and his expression of mournful resignation to the course of
events.

In the event of his neither killing Don Giovanni nor being himself
killed, what he most dreaded was the certainty that for the rest of his
life he must be in his enemy's power. He knew that, for Corona's sake,
Giovanni would not mention the cause of the duel, and no one could have
induced him to speak of it himself; but it would be a terrible hindrance
in his life to feel at every turn that the man he hated had the power to
expose him to the world as a scoundrel of the first water. What he had
heard gave him but small influence over Saracinesca, though it was of
great value in determining his own action. To say aloud to the world that
Giovanni loved the Duchessa d'Astrardente would be of little use. Del
Ferice could not, for very shame, tell how he had found it out; and there
was no other proof but his evidence, for he guessed that from that time
forward the open relation between the two would be even more formal than
before--and the most credulous people do not believe in a great fire
unless they can see a little smoke. He had not even the advantage of
turning the duel to account in his interest with Donna Tullia, since
Giovanni could force him to deny that she was implicated in the question,
on pain of exposing his treachery. There was palpably no satisfactory way
out of the matter unless he could kill his adversary. He would have to
leave the country for a while; but Giovanni once dead, it would be easy
to make Donna Tullia believe they had fought on her account, and to
derive all the advantage there was to be gained from posing before the
world as her defender.

But though Del Ferice's rest was disturbed by the contemplation of his
difficulties, he did not neglect any precaution which might save his
strength for the morrow. He lay down upon his bed, stretching himself at
full length, and carefully keeping his right arm free, lest, by letting
his weight fall upon it as he lay, he should benumb the muscles or
stiffen the joints; from time to time he rubbed a little strengthening
ointment upon his wrist, and he was careful that the light should not
shine in his eyes and weary them. At six o'clock his seconds appeared
with the surgeon they had engaged, and the four men were soon driving
rapidly down the Corso towards the gate.

So punctual were the two parties that they arrived simultaneously at the
gate of the villa which had been selected for the encounter. The old
Prince took a key from his pocket and himself opened the great iron gate.
The carriages drove in, and the gates were closed by the astonished
porter, who came running out as they creaked upon their hinges. The light
was already sufficient for the purpose of fencing, as the eight men
descended simultaneously before the house. The morning was cloudy, but
the ground was dry. The principals and seconds saluted each other
formally. Giovanni withdrew to a little distance on one side with his
surgeon, and Del Ferice stood aside with his.

The melancholy Spicca, who looked like the shadow of death in the dim
morning light, was the first to speak.

"Of course you know the best spot in the villa?" he said to the old
Prince.

"As there is no sun, I suggest that they fight upon the ground behind the
house. It is hard and dry."

The whole party followed old Saracinesca. Spicca had the foils in a green
bag. The place suggested by the Prince seemed in every way adapted, and
Del Ferice's seconds made no objection. There was absolutely no choice of
position upon the ground, which was an open space about twenty yards
square, hard and well rolled, preferable in every way to a grass lawn.

Without further comment, Giovanni took off his coat and waistcoat, and
Del Ferice, who looked paler and more unhealthy than usual, followed his
example. The seconds crossed sides to examine the principals' shirts,
and to assure themselves that they wore no flannel underneath the
unstarched linen. This formality being accomplished, the foils were
carefully compared, and Giovanni was offered the first choice. He took
the one nearest his hand, and the other was carried to Del Ferice. They
were simple fencing foils, the buttons being removed and the points
sharpened--there was nothing to choose between them. The seconds then
each took a sword, and stationed the combatants some seven or eight
paces apart, while they themselves stood a little aside, each upon the
right hand of his principal, and the witnesses placed themselves at
opposite corners of the ground, the surgeons remaining at the ends behind
the antagonists. There was a moment's pause. When all was ready, old
Saracinesca came close to Giovanni, while Del Ferice's second approached
his principal in like manner.

"Giovanni," said the old Prince, gravely, "as your second I am bound to
recommend you to make any advance in your power towards a friendly
understanding. Can you do so?"

"No, father, I cannot," answered Giovanni, with a slight smile. His face
was perfectly calm, and of a natural colour. Old Saracinesca crossed the
ground, and met Casalverde, the opposite second, half-way. Each formally
expressed to the other his great regret that no arrangement would be
possible, and then retired again to the right hand of his principal.

"Gentlemen," said the Prince, in a loud voice, "are you ready?" As both
men bowed their assent, he added immediately, in a sharp tone of command,
"In guard!"

Giovanni and Del Ferice each made a step forward, saluted each other with
their foils, repeated the salute to the seconds and witnesses, and then
came face to face and fell into position. Each made one thrust in tierce
at the other, in the usual fashion of compliment, each parrying in the
same way.

"Halt!" cried Saracinesca and Casalverde, in the same breath.

"In guard!" shouted the Prince again, and the duel commenced.

In a moment the difference between the two men was apparent. Del Ferice
fenced in the Neapolitan style--his arm straight before him, never
bending from the elbow, making all his play with his wrist, his back
straight, and his knees so much bent that he seemed not more than half
his height. He made his movements short and quick, and relatively few, in
evident fear of tiring himself at the start. To a casual observer his
fence was less graceful than his antagonist's, his lunges less daring,
his parries less brilliant. But as the old Prince watched him he saw that
the point of his foil advanced and retreated in a perfectly straight
line, and in parrying described the smallest circle possible, while his
cold watery blue eye was fixed steadily upon his antagonist; old
Saracinesca ground his teeth, for he saw that the man was a most
accomplished swordsman.

Giovanni fought with the air of one who defended himself, without much
thought of attack. He did not bend so low as Del Ferice, his arm doubled
a little before his lunge, and his foil occasionally made a wide circle
in the air. He seemed careless, but in strength and elasticity he was far
superior to his enemy, and could perhaps afford to trust to these
advantages, when a man like Del Ferice was obliged to employ his whole
skill and science.

They had been fencing for more than two minutes, without any apparent
result, when Giovanni seemed suddenly to change his tactics. He lowered
the point of his weapon a little, and, keeping it straight before him,
began to press more closely upon his antagonist. Del Ferice kept his arm
at full length, and broke ground for a yard or two, making clever feints
in carte at Giovanni's body, with the object of stopping his advance. But
Giovanni pressed him, and suddenly made a peculiar movement with his
foil, bringing it in contact with his enemy's along its length.

"Halt!" cried Casalverde. Both men lowered their weapons instantly, and
the seconds sprang forward and touched their swords between them.
Giovanni bit his lip angrily.

"Why 'halt'?" asked the Prince, sharply. "Neither is touched."

"My principal's shoe-string is untied," answered Casalverde, calmly. It
was true. "He might easily trip and fall," explained Del Ferice's friend,
bending down and proceeding to tie the silk ribbon. The Prince shrugged
his shoulders, and retired with Giovanni a few steps back.

"Giovanni," he said, in a voice trembling with emotion, "if you are not
more careful, he will do you a mischief. For heaven's sake run him
through the arm and let us be done with it."

"I should have disarmed him that time if his second had not stopped us,"
said Giovanni, calmly. "He is ready again," he added, "come on."

"In guard!"

Again the two men advanced, and again the foils crossed and recrossed and
rang loudly in the cold morning air. Once more Giovanni pressed upon Del
Ferice, and Del Ferice broke ground. In answer to a quick feint, Giovanni
made a round parry and a sharp short lunge in tierce.

"Halt!" yelled Casalverde. Old Saracinesca sprang in, and Giovanni
lowered his weapon. But Casalverde did not interpose his sword. A full
two seconds after the cry to halt, Del Ferice lunged right forward.
Giovanni thrust out his arm to save his body from the foul attempt--he
had not time to raise his weapon. Del Ferice's sharp rapier entered his
wrist and tore a long wound nearly to the elbow.

Giovanni said nothing, but his sword dropped from his hand and he turned
upon his father, white with rage. The blood streamed down his sleeve, and
his surgeon came running towards him.

The old man had understood at a glance the foul play that had been
practised, and going forward laid his hand upon the arm of Del Ferice's
second.

"Why did you stop them, sir? And where was your sword?" he said in great
anger. Del Ferice was leaning upon his friend; a greenish pallor had
overspread his face, but there was a smile under his colourless
moustache.

"My principal was touched," said Casalverde, pointing to a tiny scratch
upon Del Ferice's neck, from which a single drop of blood was slowly
oozing.

"Then why did you not prevent your principal from thrusting after you
cried the halt?" asked Saracinesca, severely. "You have singularly
misunderstood your duties, sir, and when these gentlemen are satisfied,
you will be answerable to me."

Casalverde was silent.

"I protest myself wholly satisfied," said Ugo, with a disagreeable smile,
as he glanced to where the surgeon was binding up Giovanni's arm.

"Sir," said old Saracinesca, fiercely addressing the second, "I am not
here to bandy words with your principal. He may express himself satisfied
through you, if he pleases. My principal, through me, expresses his
entire dissatisfaction."

"Your principal, Prince," answered Casalverde, coldly, "is unable to
proceed, seeing that his right arm is injured."

"My son, sir, fences as readily with his left hand as with his right,"
returned old Saracinesca.

Del Ferice's face fell, and his smile vanished instantly.

"In that case we are ready," returned Casalverde, unable, however, to
conceal his annoyance. He was a friend of Del Ferice's and would gladly
have seen Giovanni run through the body by the foul thrust.

There was a moment's consultation on the other side.

"I will give myself the pleasure of killing that gentleman to-morrow
morning," remarked Spicca, as he mournfully watched the surgeon's
operations.

"Unless I kill him myself to-day," returned the Prince savagely, in his
white beard. "Are you ready, Giovanni?" It never occurred to him to ask
his son if he was too badly hurt to proceed.

Giovanni never spoke, but the hot blood had mounted to his temples, and
he was dangerously angry. He took the foil they gave him, and felt the
point quietly. It was sharp as a needle. He nodded to his father's
question, and they resumed their places, the old Prince this time
standing on the left, as his son had changed hands. Del Ferice came
forward rather timidly. His courage had sustained him so far, but the
consciousness of having done a foul deed, and the sight of the angry man
before him, were beginning to make him nervous. He felt uncomfortable,
too, at the idea of fencing against a left-handed antagonist.

Giovanni made one or two lunges, and then, with a strange movement unlike
anything any one present was acquainted with, seemed to wind his blade
round Del Ferice's, and, with a violent jerk of the wrist, sent the
weapon flying across the open space. It struck a window of the house, and
crashed through the panes.

"More broken glass!" said Giovanni scornfully, as he lowered his point
and stepped back two paces. "Take another sword, sir," he said; "I will
not kill you defenceless."

"Good heavens, Giovanni!" exclaimed his father in the greatest
excitement; "where on earth did you learn that trick?"

"On my travels, father," returned Giovanni, with a smile; "where you tell
me I learned so much that was bad. He looks frightened," he added in a
low voice, as he glanced at Del Ferice's livid face.

"He has cause," returned the Prince, "if he ever had in his life!"

Casalverde and his witness advanced from the other side with a fresh pair
of foils; for the one that had gone through the window could not be
recovered at once, and was probably badly bent by the twist it had
received. The gentlemen offered Giovanni his choice.

"If there is no objection I will keep the one I have," said he to his
father. The foils were measured, and were found to be alike. The two
gentlemen retired, and Del Ferice chose a weapon.

"That is right," said Spicca, as he slowly went back to his place. "You
should never part with an old friend."

"We are ready!" was called from the opposite side.

"In guard, then!" cried the Prince. The angry flush had not subsided from
Giovanni's forehead, as he again went forward. Del Ferice came up like a
man who has suddenly made up his mind to meet death, with a look of
extraordinary determination on his pale face.

Before they had made half-a-dozen passes Ugo slipped, or pretended to
slip, and fell upon his right knee; but as he came to the ground, he made
a sharp thrust upwards under Giovanni's extended left arm.

The old Prince uttered a fearful oath, that rang and echoed along the
walls of the ancient villa. Del Ferice had executed the celebrated feint
known long ago as the "Colpo del Tancredi," "Tancred's lunge," from the
supposed name of its inventor. It is now no longer permitted in duelling.
But the deadly thrust loses half its danger against a left-handed man.
The foil grazed the flesh on Giovanni's left side, and the blood again
stained his white shirt. In the moment when Del Ferice slipped, Giovanni
had made a straight and deadly lunge at his body, and the sword, instead
of passing through Ugo's lungs, ran swift and sure through his throat,
with such force that the iron guard struck the falling man's jaw with
tremendous impetus, before the oath the old Prince had uttered was fairly
out of his mouth.

Seconds and witnesses and surgeons sprang forward hastily. Del Ferice lay
upon his side; he had fallen so heavily and suddenly as to wrench the
sword from Giovanni's grip. The old Prince gave one look, and dragged
his son away.

"He is as dead as a stone," he muttered, with a savage gleam in his eyes.

Giovanni hastily began to dress, without paying any attention to the
fresh wound he had received in the last encounter. In the general
excitement, his surgeon had joined the group about the fallen man. Before
Giovanni had got his overcoat on he came back with Spicca, who looked
crestfallen and disappointed.

"He is not dead at all," said the surgeon. "You did the thing with a
master's hand--you ran his throat through without touching the jugular
artery or the spine."

"Does he want to go on?" asked Giovanni, so savagely that the three men
stared at him.

"Do not be so bloodthirsty, Giovanni," said the old Prince,
reproachfully.

"I should be justified in going back and killing him as he lies there,"
said the younger Saracinesca, fiercely. "He nearly murdered me twice this
morning."

"That is true," said the Prince, "the dastardly brute!"

"By the bye," said Spicca, lighting a cigarette, "I am afraid I have
deprived you of the pleasure of dealing with the man who called himself
Del Ferice's second. I just took the opportunity of having a moment's
private conversation with him--we disagreed, a little."

"Oh, very well," growled the Prince; "as you please. I daresay I shall
have enough to do in taking care of Giovanni to-morrow. That is a
villanous bad scratch on his arm."

"Bah! it is nothing to mention, save for the foul way it was given," said
Giovanni between his teeth.

Once more old Saracinesca and Spicca crossed the ground. There was a word
of formality exchanged, to the effect that both combatants were
satisfied, and then Giovanni and his party moved off, Spicca carrying his
green bag of foils under his arm, and puffing clouds of smoke into the
damp morning air. They had been nearly an hour on the ground, and were
chilled with cold, and exhausted for want of sleep. They entered their
carriage and drove rapidly homewards.

"Come in and breakfast with us," said the old Prince to Spicca, as they
reached the Palazzo Saracinesca.

"Thank you, no," answered the melancholy man. "I have much to do, as I
shall go to Paris to-morrow morning by the ten o'clock train. Can I do
anything for you there? I shall be absent some months."

"I thought you were going to fight to-morrow," objected the Prince.

"Exactly. It will be convenient for me to leave the country immediately
afterwards."

The old man shuddered. With all his fierce blood and headstrong passion,
he could not comprehend the fearful calm of this strange man, whose skill
was such that he regarded his adversary's death as a matter of course
whenever he so pleased. As for Giovanni, he was still so angry that he
cared little for the issue of the second duel.

"I am sincerely grateful for your kind offices," he said, as Spicca took
leave of him.

"You shall be amply revenged of the two attempts to murder you," said
Spicca, quietly; and so, having shaken hands with all, he again entered
the carriage. It was the last they saw of him for a long time. He
faithfully fulfilled his programme. He met Casalverde on the following
morning at seven o'clock, and at precisely a quarter past, he left him
dead on the field. He breakfasted with his seconds at half-past eight,
and left Rome with them for Paris at ten o'clock. He had selected two
French officers who were about to return to their home, in order not to
inconvenience any of his friends by obliging them to leave the country;
which showed that, even in moments of great excitement, Count Spicca was
thoughtful of others.

When the surgeon had dressed Giovanni's wounds, he left the father and
son together. Giovanni lay upon a couch in his own sitting-room, eating
his breakfast as best he could with one hand. The old Prince paced the
floor, commenting from time to time upon the events of the morning.

"It is just as well that you did not kill him, Giovanni," he remarked;
"it would have been a nuisance to have been obliged to go away just now."

Giovanni did not answer.

"Of course, duelling is a great sin, and is strictly forbidden by our
religion," said the Prince suddenly. "But then--"

"Precisely," returned Giovanni. "We nevertheless cannot always help
ourselves."

"I was going to say," continued his father, "that it is, of course, very
wicked, and if one is killed in a duel, one probably goes straight into
hell. But then--it was worth something to see how you sent that fellow's
foil flying through the window!"

"It is a very simple trick. If you will take a foil, I will teach it to
you."

"Presently, presently; when you have finished your breakfast. Tell me,
why did you say, 'more broken glass'?"

Giovanni bit his lip, remembering his imprudence.

"I hardly know. I believe it suggested something to my mind. One says all
sorts of foolish things in moments of excitement."

"It struck me as a very odd remark," answered the Prince, still walking
about. "By the bye," he added, pausing before the writing-table, "here is
that letter you wrote for me. Do you want me to read it?"

"No," said Giovanni, with a laugh. "It is of no use now. It would seem
absurd, since I am alive and well. It was only a word of farewell."

The Prince laughed too, and threw the sealed letter into the fire.

"The last of the Saracinesca is not dead yet," he said. "Giovanni, what
are we to say to the gossips? All Rome will be ringing with this affair
before night. Of course, you must stay at home for a few days, or you
will catch cold, in your arm. I will go out and carry the news of our
victory."

"Better to say nothing about it--better to refer people to Del Ferice,
and tell them he challenged me. Come in!" cried Giovanni, in answer to a
knock at the door. Pasquale, the old butler, entered the room.

"The Duca d'Astrardente has sent to inquire after the health of his
Excellency Don Giovanni," said the old man, respectfully.

The elder Saracinesca paused in his walk, and broke out into a loud
laugh.

"Already! You see, Giovannino," he said. "Tell him, Pasquale, that Don
Giovanni caught a severe cold at the ball last night--or no--wait! What
shall we say, Giovannino?"

"Tell the servant," said Giovanni, sternly, "that I am much obliged for
the kind inquiry, that I am perfectly well, and that you have just seen
me eating my breakfast."

Pasquale bowed and left the room.

"I suppose you do not want her to know--" said the Prince, who had
suddenly recovered his gravity.

Giovanni bowed his head silently.

"Quite right, my boy," said the old man, gravely. "I do not want to know
anything about it either. How the devil could they have found out?"

The question was addressed more to himself than to his son, and the
latter volunteered no answer. He was grateful to his father for his
considerate silence.



CHAPTER XIII.


When Astrardente saw the elder Saracinesca's face during his short
interview with the diplomatist, his curiosity was immediately aroused. He
perceived that there was something the matter, and he proceeded to try
and ascertain the circumstances from his acquaintance. The ambassador
returned to his _pâté_ and his champagne with an air of amused interest,
but vouchsafed no information whatever.

"What a singularly amusing fellow old Saracinesca is!" remarked
Astrardente.

"When he likes to be," returned his Excellency, with his mouth full.

"On the contrary--when he least meditates it. I never knew a man better
suited for a successful caricature. Indeed he is not a bad caricature of
his own son, or his own son of him--I am not sure which."

The ambassador laughed a little and took a large mouthful.

"Ha! ha! very good," he mumbled as he ate. "He would appreciate that. He
loves his own race. He would rather feel that he is a comic
misrepresentation of the most hideous Saracinesca who ever lived, than
possess all the beauty of the Astrardente and be called by another
name."

The diplomatist paused for a second after this speech, and then bowed a
little to the Duchessa; but the hit had touched her husband in a
sensitive spot. The old dandy had been handsome once, in a certain way,
and he did his best, by artificial means, to preserve some trace of his
good looks. The Duchessa smiled faintly.

"I would wager," said Astrardente, sourly, "that his excited manner just
now was due to one of two things--either his vanity or his money is in
danger. As for the way he yelled after Spicca, it looked as though there
were a duel in the air--fancy the old fellow fighting a duel! Too
ridiculous!"

"A duel!" repeated Corona in a low voice.

"I do not see anything so very ridiculous in it," said the diplomatist,
slowly twisting his glass of champagne in his fingers, and then sipping
it. "Besides," he added deliberately, glancing at the Duchessa from the
corner of his eyes, "he has a son."

Corona started very slightly.

"Why should there be a duel?" she asked.

"It was your husband who suggested the idea," returned the diplomatist.

"But you said there was nothing ridiculous in it," objected the Duchessa.

"But I did not say there was any truth in it, either," answered his
Excellency with a reassuring smile. "What made you think of duelling?" he
asked, turning to Astrardente.

"Spicca," said the latter. "Wherever Spicca is concerned there is a duel.
He is a terrible fellow, with his death's-head and dangling bones--one of
those extraordinary phenomena--bah! it makes one shiver to think of him!"
The old fellow made the sign of the horns with his forefinger and little
finger, hiding his thumb in the palm of his hand, as though to protect
himself against the evil eye--the sinister influence invoked by the
mention of Spicca. Old Astrardente was very superstitious. The ambassador
laughed, and even Corona smiled a little.

"Yes," said the diplomatist, "Spicca is a living _memento mori_; he
occasionally reminds men of death by killing them."

"How horrible!" exclaimed Corona.

"Ah, my dear lady, the world is full of horrible things."

"That is not a reason for making jests of them."

"It is better to make light of the inevitable," said Astrardente. "Are
you ready to go home, my dear?"

"Quite--I was only waiting for you," answered Corona, who longed to be at
home and alone.

"Let me know the result of old Saracinesca's warlike undertakings," said
Astrardente, with a cunning smile on his painted face. "Of course, as he
consulted you, he will send you word in the morning."

"You seem so anxious that there should be a duel, that I should almost be
tempted to invent an account of one, lest you should be too grievously
disappointed," returned the diplomatist.

"You know very well that no invention will be necessary," said the Duca,
pressing him, for his curiosity was roused.

"Well--as you please to consider it. Good night," replied the ambassador.
It had amused him to annoy Astrardente a little, and he left him with the
pleasant consciousness of having excited the inquisitive faculty of his
friend to its highest pitch, without giving it anything to feed upon.

Men who have to do with men, rather than with things, frequently take a
profound and seemingly cruel delight in playing upon the feelings and
petty vanities of their fellow-creatures. The habit is as strong with
them as the constant practice of conjuring becomes with a juggler; even
when he is not performing, he will for hours pass coins, perform little
tricks of sleight-of-hand with cards, or toss balls in the air in
marvellously rapid succession, unable to lay aside his profession even
for a day, because it has grown to be the only natural expression of
his faculties. With men whose business it is to understand other men,
it is the same. They cannot be in a man's company for a quarter of an
hour without attempting to discover the peculiar weaknesses of his
character--his vanities, his tastes, his vices, his curiosity, his love
of money or of reputation; so that the operation of such men's minds may
be compared to the process of auscultation--for their ears are always
upon their neighbours' hearts--and their conversation to the percutations
of a physician to ascertain the seat of disease in a pair of
consumptive lungs.

But, with all his failings, Astrardente was a man of considerable
acuteness of moral vision. He had made a shrewd guess at Saracinesca's
business, and had further gathered from a remark dropped by his
diplomatic friend, that if there was to be a duel at all, it would be
fought by Giovanni. As a matter of fact, the ambassador himself knew
nothing certainly concerning the matter, or it is possible that, for the
sake of observing the effect of the news upon the Duchessa, he would have
told the whole truth; for he had of course heard the current gossip
concerning Giovanni's passion for her, and the experiment would have been
too attractive and interesting to be missed. As it was, she had started
at the mention of Saracinesca's son. The diplomatist only did what
everyone else who came near Corona attempted to do at that time, in
endeavouring to ascertain whether she herself entertained any feeling for
the man whom the gossips had set down as her most devoted admirer.

Poor Duchessa! It was no wonder that she had started at the idea that
Giovanni was in trouble. He had played a great part in her life that day,
and she could not forget him. She had hardly as yet had time to think
of what she felt, for it was only by a supreme effort that she had been
able to bear the great strain upon her strength. If she had not loved
him, it would have been different; and in the strange medley of emotions
through which she was passing, she wished that she might never have
loved--that, loving, she might be allowed wholly to forget her love, and
to return by some sudden miracle to that cold dreamy state of
indifference to all other men, and of unfailing thoughtfulness for her
husband, from which she had been so cruelly awakened. She would have
given anything to have not loved, now that the great struggle was over;
but until the supreme moment had come, she had not been willing to put
the dangerous thought from her, saving in those hours of prayer and
solitary suffering, when the whole truth rose up clearly before her in
its undisguised nakedness. So soon as she had gone into the world, she
had recklessly longed for Giovanni Saracinesca's presence.

But now it was all changed. She had not deceived herself when she had
told him that she would rather not see him any more. It was true; not
only did she wish not to see him, but she earnestly desired that the love
of him might pass from her heart. With a sudden longing, her thoughts
went back to the old convent-life of her girlhood, with its regular
occupations, its constant religious exercises, its narrowness of view,
and its unchanging simplicity. What mattered narrowness, when all beyond
that close limitation was filled with evil? Was it not better that the
lips should be busy with singing litanies than that the heart should be
tormented by temptation? Were not those simple tasks, that had seemed so
all-important then, more sweet in the performance than the manifold
duties of this complicated social existence, this vast web and woof of
life's loom, this great machinery that worked and groaned and rolled
endlessly upon its wheels without producing any more result than the
ceaseless turning of a prison treadmill? But there was no way out of life
now; there was no escape, as there was also no prospect of relief, from
care and anxiety. There was no reason why Giovanni should go away--no
reason either why Corona should ever love him less. She belonged to a
class of women, if there are enough of them to be called a class, who,
where love is concerned, can feel but one impression, which becomes in
their hearts the distinctive seal and mark of their lives, for good or
for evil. Corona was indeed so loyal and good a woman, that the strong
pressure of her love could not abase her nobility, nor put untruth where
all was so true; but the sign of her love for Giovanni was upon her for
ever. The vacant place in her heart had been filled, and filled wholly;
the bulwark she had reared against the love of man was broken down and
swept away, and the waters flowed softly over its place and remembered it
not. She would never be the same woman again, and it was bitter to her to
feel it: for ever the face of Giovanni would haunt her waking hours and
visit her dreams unbidden,--a perpetual reproach to her, a perpetual
memory of the most desperate struggle of her life, and more than a
memory--the undying present of an unchanging love.

She was quite sure of herself in future, as she also trusted sincerely in
Giovanni's promise. There should be no moment of weakness, no word should
ever fall from her lips to tempt him to a fresh outbreak of passionate
words and acts; her life should be measured in the future by the account
of the dangers past, and there should be no instant of unguarded conduct,
no hour wherein even to herself she would say it was sweet to love and to
be loved. It was indeed not sweet, but bitter as death itself, to feel
that weight at her heart, that constant toiling effort in her mind to
keep down the passion in her breast. But Corona had sacrificed much; she
would sacrifice this also; she would get strength by her prayers and
courage from her high pride, and she would smile to all the world as she
had never smiled before. She could trust herself, for she was doing the
right and trampling upon the wrong. But the suffering would be none the
less for all her pride; there was no concealing it--it would be horrible.
To meet him daily in the world, to speak to him and to hear his voice,
perhaps to touch his hand, and all the while to smile coldly, and to be
still and for ever above suspicion, while her own burning consciousness
accused her of the past, and seemed to make the dangers of mere living
yawn beside her path at every step,--all this would be terrible to bear,
but by God's help she would bear it to the end.

But now a new horror seized her, and terrified her beyond measure. This
rumour of a duel--a mere word dropped carelessly in conversation by a
thoughtless acquaintance--called up to her sudden visions of evil to
come. Surely, howsoever she might struggle against love and beat it
roughly to silence in her breast, it was not wrong to fear danger for
Giovanni,--it could not be a sin to dread the issue of peril when it was
all so very near to her. It might perhaps not be true, for people in the
world are willing to amuse their empty minds with empty tales,
acknowledging the emptiness. It could not be true; she had seen Giovanni
but a moment before--he would have given some hint, some sign.

Why--after all? Was it not the boast of such men that they could face the
world and wear an indifferent look, at times of the greatest anxiety and
danger? But, again, if Giovanni had been involved in a quarrel so serious
as to require the arbitrament of blood, some rumour of it would have
reached her. She had talked with many men that night, and with some
women--gossips all, whose tongues wagged merrily over the troubles of
friend, or foe, and who would have battened upon anything so novel as a
society duel, as a herd of jackals upon the dead body of one of their
fellows, to make their feast off it with a light heart. Some one of all
these would have told her; the quarrel would have been common property in
half an hour, for somebody must have witnessed it.

It was a consolation to Corona to reflect upon the extreme improbability
of the story; for when the diplomatist was gone, her husband dwelt upon
it--whether because he could not conceal his unsatisfied curiosity, or
from other motives, it was hard to tell.

Astrardente led his wife from the supper-table through the great rooms,
now almost deserted, and past the wide doors of the hall where the
cotillon was at its height. They paused a moment and looked in, as
Giovanni had done a quarter of an hour earlier. It was a magnificent
scene; the lights flashed back from the jewels of fair women, and surged
in the dance as starlight upon rippling waves. The air was heavy with the
odour of the countless flowers that filled the deep recesses of the
windows, and were distributed in hundreds of nosegays for the figures of
the cotillon; enchanting strains of waltz music seemed to float down from
above and inspire the crowd of men and women with harmonious motion, so
that sound was made visible by translation into graceful movement. As
Corona looked there was a pause, and the crowd parted, while a huge
tiger, the heraldic beast of the Frangipani family, was drawn into the
hall by the young prince and Bianca Valdarno. The magnificent skin had
been so artfully stuffed as to convey a startling impression of life, and
in the creature's huge jaws hung a great basket filled with tiny tigers,
which were to be distributed as badges for the dance by the leaders. A
wild burst of applause greeted this novel figure, and every one ran
forward to obtain a nearer view.

"Ah!" exclaimed old Astrardente, "I envy them that invention, my dear; it
is perfectly magnificent. You must have a tiger to take home. How
fortunate we were to be in time!" He forced his way into the crowd,
leaving his wife alone for a moment by the door; and he managed to catch
Valdarno, who was distributing the little emblems to right and left.
Madame Mayer's quick eyes had caught sight of Corona and her husband, and
from some instinct of curiosity she made towards the Duchessa. She was
still angry, as she had never been in her short life, at Giovanni's
rudeness in forgetting her dance, and she longed to inflict some wound
upon the beautiful woman who had led him into such forgetfulness. When
Astrardente left his wife's side, Donna Tullia pressed forward with her
partner in the general confusion that followed upon the entrance of the
tiger, and she managed to pass close to Corona. She looked up suddenly
with an air of surprise.

"What! not dancing, Duchessa?" she asked. "Has your partner gone home?"

With the look that accompanied the question, it was an insulting speech
enough. Had Donna Tullia seen old Astrardente close behind her, she would
not have made it. The old dandy was returning in triumph in possession of
the little tiger-badge for Corona. He heard the words, and observed with
inward pleasure his wife's calm look of indifference.

"Madam," he said, placing himself suddenly in Madame Mayer's way, "my
wife's partners do not go home while she remains."

"Oh, I see," returned Donna Tullia, flushing quickly; "the Duchessa is
dancing the cotillon with you. I beg your pardon--I had forgotten that
you still danced."

"Indeed it is long since I did myself the honour of asking you for a
quadrille, madam," answered Astrardente with a polite smile; and so
saying, he turned and presented the little tiger to his wife with a
courtly bow. There was good blood in the old _roué_.

Corona was touched by his thoughtfulness in wishing to get her the little
keepsake of the dance, and she was still more affected by his ready
defence of her. He was indeed sometimes a little ridiculous, with his
paint and his artificial smile--he was often petulant and unreasonable
in little things; but he was never unkind to her, nor discourteous. In
spite of her cold and indifferent stare at Donna Tullia, she had keenly
felt the insult, and she was grateful to the old man for taking her part.
Knowing what she knew of herself that night, she was deeply sensible to
his kindness. She took the little gift, and laid her hand upon his arm.

"Forgive me," she said, as they moved away, "if I am ever ungrateful to
you. You are so very good to me. I know no one so courteous and kind as
you are."

Her husband looked at her in delight. He loved her sincerely with all
that remained of him. There was something sad in the thought of a man
like him finding the only real passion of his life when worn out with age
and dissipation. Her little speech raised him to the seventh heaven of
joy.

"I am the happiest man in all Rome," he said, assuming his most jaunty
walk, and swinging his hat gaily between his thumb and finger. But a
current of deep thought was stirring in him as he went down the broad,
staircase by his wife's side. He was thinking what life might have been
to him had he found Corona del Carmine--how could he? she was not born
then--had he found her, or her counterpart, thirty years ago. He was
wondering what conceivable sacrifice there could be which he would not
make to regain his youth--even to have his life lived out and behind him,
if he could only have looked back to thirty years of marriage with
Corona. How differently he would have lived, how very differently he
would have thought! how his whole memory would be full of the sweet past,
and would be common with her own past life, which, to her too, would be
sweet to ponder on! He would have been such a good man--so true to her
in all those years! But they were gone, and he had not found her until
his foot was on the edge of the grave--until he could hardly count on one
year more of a pitiful artificial life, painted, bewigged, stuffed to the
semblance of a man by a clever tailor--and she in the bloom of her glory
beside him! What he would have given to have old Saracinesca's strength
and fresh vitality--old Saracinesca whom he hated! Yes, with all that
hair--it was white, but a little dye would change it. What was a little
dye compared with the profound artificiality of his own outer man? How
the old fellow's deep voice rang, loud and clear, from his broad chest!
How strong he was, with his firm step, and his broad brown hands, and his
fiery black eyes! He hated him for the greenness of his age--he hated him
for his stalwart son, another of those long-lived fierce Saracinesca, who
seemed destined to outlive time. He himself had no children, no
relations, no one to bear his name--he had only a beautiful young wife
and much wealth, with just enough strength left to affect a gay walk when
he was with her, and to totter unsteadily to his couch when he was alone,
worn out with the effort of trying to seem young.

As they sat in their carriage he thought bitterly of all these things,
and never spoke. Corona herself was weary, and glad to be silent. They
went up-stairs, and as she took his arm, she gently tried to help him
rather than be helped. He noticed it, and made an effort, but he was
very tired. He paused upon the landing, and looked at her, and a gentle
and sad smile stole over his face, such as Corona had never seen there.

"Shall we go into your boudoir for ten minutes, my love?" he said; "or
will you come into my smoking-room? I would like to smoke a little before
going to bed."

"You may smoke in my boudoir, of course," she answered kindly, though she
was surprised at the request. It was half-past three o'clock. They went
into the softly lighted little room, where the embers of the fire were
still glowing upon the hearth. Corona dropped her furs upon a chair, and
sat down upon one side of the chimney piece. Astrardente sank wearily
into a deep easy-chair opposite her, and having found a cigarette,
lighted it, and began to smoke. He seemed in a mood which Corona had
never seen. After a short silence he spoke.

"Corona," he said, "I love you." His wife looked up with a gentle smile,
and in her determination to be loyal to him she almost forgot that other
man who had said those words but two hours before, so differently.

"Yes," he said, with a sigh, "you have heard it before--it is not new to
you. I think you believe it. You are good, but you do not love me--no, do
not interrupt me, my dear; I know what you would say. How should you
love me? I am an old man--very old, older than my years." Again he
sighed, more bitterly, as he confessed what he had never owned before.
The Duchessa was too much astonished to answer him.

"Corona," he said again, "I shall not live much longer."

"Ah, do not speak like that," she cried suddenly. "I trust and pray that
you have yet many years to live." Her husband looked keenly at her.

"You are so good," he answered, "that you are really capable of uttering
such a prayer, absurd as it would seem."

"Why absurd? It is unkind of you to say it--"

"No, my dear; I know the world very well. That is all. I suppose it is
impossible for me to make you understand how I love you. It must seem
incredible to you, in the magnificence of your strength and beautiful
youth, that a man like me--an artificial man"--he laughed scornfully--"a
creature of paint and dye--let me be honest--a creature with a wig,
should be capable of a mad passion. And yet, Corona," he added, his thin
cracked voice trembling with a real emotion, "I do love you--very dearly.
There are two things that make my life bitter: the regret that I did not
meet you, that you were not born, when I was young; and worse than that,
the knowledge that I must leave you very soon--I, the exhausted dandy,
the shadow of what I was, tottering to my grave in a last vain effort to
be young for your sake--for your sake, Corona dear. Ah, it is
contemptible!" he almost moaned.

Corona hid her eyes in her hand. She was taken off her guard by his
strange speech.

"Oh, do not speak like that--do not!" she cried. "You make me very
unhappy. Do I reproach you? Do I ever make you feel that you are--older
than I? I will lead a new life; you shall never think of it again.
You are too kind--too good for me."

"No one ever said I was too good before," replied the old man with a
shade of sadness. "I am glad the one person who finds me good, should be
the only one for whose sake I ever cultivated goodness. I could have
been different, Corona, if I had had you for my wife for thirty years,
instead of five. But it is too late now. Before long I shall be dead, and
you will be free."

"What makes you say such things to me?" asked Corona. "Can you think I am
so vile, so ungrateful, so unloving, as to wish your death?"

"Not unloving; no, my dear child. But not loving, either. I do not ask
impossibilities. You will mourn for me a while--my poor soul will rest in
peace if you feel one moment of real regret for me, for your old husband,
before you take another. Do not cry, Corona, dearest; it is the way of
the world. We waste our youth in scoffing at reality, and in the
unrealness of our old age the present no longer avails us much. You know
me, perhaps you despise me. You would not have scorned me when I was
young--oh, how young I was! how strong and vain of my youth, thirty years
ago!"

"Indeed, indeed, no such thought ever crossed my mind. I give you all I
have," cried Corona, in great distress; "I will give you more--I will
devote my whole life to you--"

"You do, my dear. I am sensible of it," said Astrardente, quietly. "You
cannot do more, if you will; you cannot make me young again, nor take
away the bitterness of death--of a death that leaves you behind."

Corona leaned forward, staring into the dying embers of the fire, one
hand supporting her chin. The tears stood in her eyes and on her cheeks.
The old dandy in his genuine misery had excited her compassion.

"I would mourn you long," she said. "You may have wasted your life; you
say so. I would love you more if I could, God knows. You have always been
to me a courteous gentleman and a faithful husband."

The old man rose with difficulty from his deep chair, and came and stood
by her, and took the hand that lay idle on her knees. She looked up at
him.

"If I thought my blessing were worth anything, I would bless you for what
you say. But I would not have you waste your youth. Youth is that which,
being wasted, is like water poured out upon the ground. You must marry
again, and marry soon--do not start. You will inherit all my fortune; you
will have my title. It must descend to your children. It has come to an
unworthy end in me; it must be revived in you."

"How can you think of it? Are you ill?" asked Corona kindly, pressing
gently his thin hand in hers. "Why do you dwell on the idea of death
to-night?"

"I am ill; yes, past all cure, my dear," said the old man, gently raising
her hand to his lips, and kissing it.

"What do you mean?" asked Corona, suddenly rising to her feet and laying
her hand affectionately upon his shoulder. "Why have you never told me?"

"Why should I tell you--except that it is near, and you must be prepared?
Why should I burden you with anxiety? But you were so gentle and kind
to-night, upon the stairs," he said, with some hesitation, "that I
thought perhaps it would be a relief to you to know--to know that it is
not for long."

There was something so gentle in his tone, so infinitely pathetic in his
thought that possibly he might lighten the burden his wife bore so
bravely, there was something at last so human in the loving regret with
which he spoke, that Corona forgot all his foolish ways, his wig and his
false teeth and his petty vanities, and letting her head fall upon his
shoulder, burst into passionate tears.

"Oh no, no!" she sobbed. "It must be a long time yet; you must not die!"

"It may be a year, not more," he said gently. "God bless you for those
tears, Corona--the tears you have shed for me. Good night, my dearest."

He let her sink upon her chair, and his hand rested for one moment upon
her raven hair. Then with a last remnant of energy he quickly left the
room.



CHAPTER XIV.


Such affairs as the encounter between Giovanni and Del Ferice were very
rare in Rome. There were many duels fought; but, as a general rule, they
were not very serious, and the first slight wound decided the matter in
hand to the satisfaction of both parties. But here there had been a fight
for life and death. One of the combatants had received two such wounds as
would have been sufficient to terminate an ordinary meeting, and the
other was lying at death's door stabbed through the throat. Society was
frantic with excitement. Giovanni was visited by scores of acquaintances,
whom he allowed to be admitted, and he talked with them cheerfully, in
order to have it thoroughly known that he was not badly hurt. Del
Ferice's lodging was besieged by the same young gentlemen of leisure, who
went directly from one to the other, anxious to get all the news in their
power. But Del Ferice's door was guarded jealously from intruders by his
faithful Neapolitan servant--a fellow who knew more about his master than
all the rest of Rome together, but who had such a dazzlingly brilliant
talent for lying as to make him a safe repository for any secret
committed to his keeping. On the present occasion, however, he had small
use for duplicity. He sat all day long by the open door, for he had
removed the bell-handle, lest the ringing should disturb his master. He
had a basket into which he dropped the cards of the visitors who called,
answering each inquiry with the same unchanging words:

"He is very ill, the signorino. Do not make any noise."

"Where is he hurt?" the visitor would ask. Whereupon Temistocle pointed
to his throat.

"Will he live?" was the next question; to which the man answered by
raising his shoulders to his ears, elevating his eyebrows, and at the
same time shutting his eyes, while he spread out the palms of his hands
over his basket of cards--whereby he meant to signify that he did not
know, but doubted greatly. It being impossible to extract any further
information from him, the visitor had nothing left but to leave his card
and turn away. Within, the wounded man was watched by a Sister of Mercy.
The surgeon had pronounced his recovery probable if he had proper care:
the wound was a dangerous one, but not likely to prove mortal unless the
patient died of the fever or of exhaustion.

The young gentlemen of leisure who thus obtained the news of the two
duellists, lost no time in carrying it from house to house. Giovanni
himself sent twice in the course of the day to inquire after his
antagonist, and received by his servant the answer which was given to
everybody. By the time the early winter night was descending upon Rome,
there were two perfectly well-authenticated stories circulated in regard
to the cause of the quarrel--neither of which, of course, contained a
grain of truth. In the first place, it was confidently asserted by one
party, represented by Valdarno and his set, that Giovanni had taken
offence at Del Ferice for having proposed to call him to be examined
before the Duchessa d'Astrardente in regard to his absence from town:
that this was a palpable excuse for picking a quarrel, because it was
well known that Saracinesca loved the Astrardente, and that Del Ferice
was always in his way.

"Giovanni is a rough fellow," remarked Valdarno, "and will not stand any
opposition, so he took the first opportunity of getting the man out of
the way. Do you see? The old story--jealous of the wrong man. Can one be
jealous of Del Ferice? Bah!"

"And who would have been the right man to attack?" was asked.

"Her husband, of course," returned Valdarno with a sneer. "That angel of
beauty has the ineffably eccentric idea that she loves that old
transparency, that old magic-lantern slide of a man!"

On the other hand, there was a party of people who affirmed, as beyond
all doubt, that the duel had been brought about by Giovanni's forgetting
his dance with Donna Tullia. Del Ferice was naturally willing to put
himself forward in her defence, reckoning on the favour he would gain in
her eyes. He had spoken sharply to Giovanni about it, and told him he had
behaved in an ungentlemanly manner--whereupon Giovanni had answered
that it was none of his business; an altercation had ensued in a remote
room in the Frangipani palace, and Giovanni had lost his temper and taken
Del Ferice by the throat, and otherwise greatly insulted him. The result
had been the duel in which Del Ferice had been nearly killed. There was a
show of truth about this story, and it was told in such a manner as to
make Del Ferice appear as the injured party. Indeed, whichever tale were
true, there was no doubt that the two men had disliked each other for a
long time, and that they were both looking out for the opportunity of an
open disagreement.

Old Saracinesca appeared in the afternoon, and was surrounded by eager
questioners of all sorts. The fact of his having served his own son in
the capacity of second excited general astonishment. Such a thing had
not been heard of in the annals of Roman society, and many ancient
wisdom-mongers severely censured the course he had pursued. Could
anything be more abominably unnatural? Was it possible to conceive of the
hard-heartedness of a man who could stand quietly and see his son
risk his life? Disgraceful!

The old Prince either would not tell what he knew, or had no information
to give. The latter theory was improbable. Some one made a remark to that
effect.

"But, Prince," the man said, "would you second your own son in an affair
without knowing the cause of the quarrel?"

"Sir," returned the old man, proudly, "my son asked my assistance; I did
not sell it to him for his confidence." People knew the old man's
obstinacy, and had to be satisfied with his short answers, for he was
himself as quarrelsome as a Berserker or as one of his own irascible
ancestors.

He met Donna Tullia in the street. She stopped her carriage, and beckoned
him to come to her. She looked paler than Saracinesca had ever seen her,
and was much excited.

"How could you let them fight?" were her first words.

"It could not be helped. The quarrel was too serious. No one would more
gladly have prevented it than I; but as my son had so desperately
insulted Del Ferice, he was bound to give him satisfaction."

"Satisfaction!" cried Donna Tullia. "Do you call it satisfaction to cut a
man's throat? What was the real cause of the quarrel?"

"I do not know."

"Do not tell me that--I do not believe you," answered Donna Tullia,
angrily.

"I give you my word of honour that I do not know," returned the Prince.

"That is different. Will you get in and drive with me for a few minutes?"

"At your commands." Saracinesca opened the carriage-door and got in.

"We shall astonish the world; but I do not care," said Donna Tullia.
"Tell me, is Don Giovanni seriously hurt?"

"No--a couple of scratches that will heal in a week. Del Ferice is very
seriously wounded."

"I know," answered Donna Tullia, sadly. "It is dreadful--I am afraid it
was my fault."

"How so?" asked Saracinesca, quickly. He had not heard the story of the
forgotten waltz, and was really ignorant of the original cause of
disagreement. He guessed, however, that Donna Tullia was not so much
concerned in it as the Duchessa d'Astrardente.

"Your son was very rude to me," said Madame Mayer. "Perhaps I ought not
to tell you, but it is best you should know. He was engaged to dance with
me the last waltz but one before the cotillon. He forgot me, and I found
him with that--with a lady--talking quietly."

"With whom did you say?" asked Saracinesca, very gravely.

"With the Astrardente--if you will know," returned Donna Tullia, her
anger at the memory of the insult bringing the blood suddenly to her
face.

"My dear lady," said the old Prince, "in the name of my son I offer you
the humble apologies which he will make in person when he is well enough
to ask your forgiveness."

"I do not want apologies," answered Madame Mayer, turning her face away.

"Nevertheless they shall be offered. But, pardon my curiosity, how did
Del Ferice come to be concerned in that incident?"

"He was with me when I found Don Giovanni with the Duchessa. It is very
simple. I was very angry--I am very angry still; but I would not have had
Don Giovanni risk his life on my account for anything, nor poor Del
Ferice either. I am horribly upset about it all."

Old Saracinesca wondered whether Donna Tullia's vanity would suffer if he
told her that the duel had not been fought for anything which concerned
her. But he reflected that her supposition was very plausible, and
that he himself had no evidence. Furthermore, and in spite of his
good-natured treatment of Giovanni, he was very angry at the thought that
his son had quarrelled about the Duchessa. When Giovanni should be
recovered from his wounds he intended to speak his mind to him. But he
was sorry for Donna Tullia, for he liked her in spite of her
eccentricities, and would have been satisfied to see her married to his
son. He was a practical man, and he took a prosaic view of the world.
Donna Tullia was rich, and good-looking enough to be called handsome. She
had the talent to make herself a sort of centre in her world. She was a
little noisy; but noise was fashionable, and there was no harm in her--no
one had ever said anything against her. Besides, she was one of the few
relations still left to the Saracinesca. The daughter of a cousin of the
Prince, she would make a good wife for Giovanni, and would bring sunshine
into the house. There was a tinge of vulgarity in her manner; but, like
many elderly men of his type, Saracinesca pardoned her this fault in
consideration of her noisy good spirits and general good-nature. He was
very much annoyed at hearing that his son had offended her so grossly by
his forgetfulness; especially it was unfortunate that since she believed
herself the cause of the duel, she should have the impression that it had
been provoked by Del Ferice to obtain satisfaction for the insult
Giovanni had offered her. There would be small chance of making the match
contemplated after such an affair.

"I am sincerely sorry," said the Prince, stroking his white beard and
trying to get a sight of his companion's face, which she obstinately
turned away from him. "Perhaps it is better not to think too much of the
matter until the exact circumstances are known. Some one is sure to
tell the story one of these days."

"How coldly you speak of it! One would think it had happened in Peru,
instead of here, this very morning."

Saracinesca was at his wits' end. He wanted to smooth the matter over, or
at least to soften the unfavourable impression against Giovanni. He had
not the remotest idea how to do it. He was not a very diplomatic man.

"No, no; you misunderstand me. I am not cold. I quite appreciate your
situation. You are very justly annoyed."

"Of course I am," said Donna Tullia impatiently. She was beginning to
regret that she had made him get into her carriage.

"Precisely; of course you are. Now, so soon as Giovanni is quite
recovered, I will send him to explain his conduct to you if he can, or
to--"

"Explain it? How can he explain it? I do not want you to send him, if he
will not come of his own accord. Why should I?"

"Well, well, as you please, my dear cousin," said old Saracinesca,
smiling to cover his perplexity. "I am not a good ambassador; but you
know I am a good friend, and I really want to do something to restore
Giovanni to your graces."

"That will be difficult," answered Donna Tullia, although she knew very
well that she would receive Giovanni kindly enough when she had once had
an opportunity of speaking her mind to him.

"Do not be hard-hearted," urged the Prince. "I am sure he is very
penitent."

"Then let him say so."

"That is exactly what I ask."

"Is it? Oh, very well. If he chooses to call I will receive him, since
you desire it. Where shall I put you down?"

"Anywhere, thank you. Here, if you wish--at the corner. Good-bye. Do not
be too hard on the boy."

"We shall see," answered Donna Tullia, unwilling to show too much
indulgence. The old Prince bowed, and walked away into the gloom of the
dusky streets.

"That is over," he muttered to himself. "I wonder how the Astrardente
takes it." He would have liked to see her; but he recognized that, as he
so very rarely called upon her, it would seem strange to choose such a
time for his visit. It would not do--it would be hardly decent, seeing
that he believed her to be the cause of the catastrophe. His steps,
however, led him almost unconsciously in the direction of the Astrardente
palace; he found himself in front of the arched entrance almost before
he knew where he was. The temptation to see Corona was more than he could
resist. He asked the porter if the Duchessa was at home, and on being
answered in the affirmative, he boldly entered and ascended the marble
staircase--boldly, but with an odd sensation, like that of a schoolboy
who is getting himself into trouble.

Corona had just come home, and was sitting by the fire in her great
drawing-room, alone, with a book in her hand, which she was not reading.
She rarely remained in the reception-rooms; but to-day she had rather
capriciously taken a fancy to the broad solitude of the place, and had
accordingly installed herself there. She was very much surprised when the
doors were suddenly opened wide and the servant announced Prince
Saracinesca. For a moment she thought it must be Giovanni, for his father
rarely entered her house, and when the old man's stalwart figure advanced
towards her, she dropped her book in astonishment, and rose from her
deep chair to meet him. She was very pale, and there were dark rings
under her eyes that spoke of pain and want of sleep. She was so utterly
different from Donna Tullia, whom he had just left, that the Prince was
almost awed by her stateliness, and felt more than ever like a boy in a
bad scrape. Corona bowed rather coldly, but extended her hand, which the
old gentleman raised to his lips respectfully, in the manner of the old
school.

"I trust you are not exhausted after the ball?" he began, not knowing
what to say.

"Not in the least. We did not stay late," replied Corona, secretly
wondering why he had come.

"It was really magnificent," he answered. "There has been no such ball
for years. Very unfortunate that it should have terminated in such an
unpleasant way," he added, making a bold dash at the subject of which he
wished to speak.

"Very. You did a bad morning's work," said the Duchessa, severely. "I
wonder that you should speak of it."

"No one speaks of anything else," returned the Prince, apologetically.
"Besides, I do not see what was to be done."

"You should have stopped it," answered Corona, her dark eyes gleaming
with righteous indignation. "You should have prevented it at any price,
if not in the name of religion, which forbids it as a crime, at least in
the name of decency--as being Don Giovanni's father."

"You speak strong words, Duchessa," said the Prince, evidently annoyed at
her tone.

"If I speak strongly, it is because I think you acted shamefully in
permitting this disgraceful butchery."

Saracinesca suddenly lost his temper, as he frequently did.

"Madam," he said, "it is certainly not for you to accuse me of crime,
lack of decency, and what you are pleased to call disgraceful butchery,
seeing who was the probable cause of the honourable encounter which you
characterise in such tasteful language."

"Honourable indeed!" said Corona, very scornfully. "Let that pass. Who,
pray, is more to blame than you? Who is the probable cause?"

"Need I tell you?" asked the old man, fixing his flashing eyes upon her.

"What do you mean?" inquired Corona, turning white, and her voice
trembling between her anger and her emotion.

"I may be wrong," said the Prince, "but I believe I am right. I believe
the duel was fought on your account."

"On my account!" repeated Corona, half rising from her chair in her
indignation. Then she sank back again, and added, very coldly, "If you
have come here to insult me, Prince, I will send for my husband."

"I beg your pardon, Duchessa," said old Saracinesca. "It is very far from
my intention to insult you."

"And who has told you this abominable lie?" asked Corona, still very
angry.

"No one, upon my word."

"Then how dare you--"

"Because I have reason to believe that you are the only woman alive for
whom my son would engage in a quarrel."

"It is impossible," cried Corona. "I will never believe that Don Giovanni
could--" She checked herself.

"Don Giovanni Saracinesca is a gentleman, madam," said the old Prince,
proudly. "He keeps his own counsel. I have come by the information
without any evidence of it from his lips."

"Then I am at a loss to understand you," returned the Duchessa. "I must
beg you either to explain your extraordinary language, or else to leave
me."

Corona d'Astrardente was a match for any man when she was angry. But old
Saracinesca, though no diplomatist, was a formidable adversary, from his
boldness and determination to discover the truth at any price.

"It is precisely because, at the risk of offending you, I desired an
explanation, that I have intruded myself upon you to-day," he answered.
"Will you permit me one question before I leave you?"

"Provided it is not an insulting one, I will answer it," replied Corona.

"Do you know anything of the circumstances which led to this morning's
encounter?"

"Certainly not," Corona answered, hotly. "I assure you most solemnly,"
she continued in calmer tones, "that I am wholly ignorant of it. I
suppose you have a right to be told that."

"I, on my part, assure you, upon my word, that I know no more than you
yourself, excepting this: on some provocation, concerning which he will
not speak, my son seized Del Ferice by the throat and used strong words
to him. No one witnessed the scene. Del Ferice sent the challenge.
My son could find no one to act for him and applied to me, as was quite
right that he should. There was no apology possible--Giovanni had to give
the man satisfaction. You know as much as I know now."

"That does not help me to understand why you accuse me of having caused
the quarrel," said Corona. "What have I to do with Del Ferice, poor man?"

"This--any one can see that you are as indifferent to my son as to any
other man. Every one knows that the Duchessa d'Astrardente is above
suspicion."

Corona raised her head proudly and stared at Saracinesca.

"But, on the other hand, every one knows that my son loves you madly--can
you yourself deny it?"

"Who dares to say it?" asked Corona, her anger rising afresh.

"Who sees, dares. Can you deny it?"

"You have no right to repeat such hearsay tales to me," answered Corona.
But the blush rose to her pale dark cheeks, and she suddenly dropped her
eyes.

"Can you deny it, Duchessa?" asked the Prince a third time, insisting
roughly.

"Since you are so certain, why need you care for my denial?" inquired
Corona.

"Duchessa, you must forgive me," answered Saracinesca, his tone suddenly
softening. "I am rough, probably rude; but I love my son dearly. I cannot
bear to see him running into a dangerous and hopeless passion, from which
he may issue only to find himself grown suddenly old and bitter,
disappointed and miserable for the rest of his life. I believe you to be
a very good woman; I cannot look at you and doubt the truth of anything
you tell me. If he loves you, you have influence over him. If you have
influence, use it for his good; use it to break down this mad love of
his, to show him his own folly--to save him, in short, from his fate. Do
you understand me? Do I ask too much?"

Corona understood well enough--far too well. She knew the whole extent of
Giovanni's love for her, and, what old Saracinesca never guessed, the
strength of her own love for him, for the sake of which she would do all
that a woman could do. There was a long pause after the old Prince had
spoken. He waited patiently for an answer.

"I understand you--yes," she said at last. "If you are right in your
surmises, I should have some influence over your son. If I can advise
him, and he will take my advice, I will give him the best counsel I can.
You have placed me in a very embarrassing position, and you have shown
little courtesy in the way you have spoken to me; but I will try to do as
you request me, if the opportunity offers, for the sake of--of turning
what is very bad into something which may at last be good."

"Thank you, thank you, Duchessa!" cried the Prince. "I will never
forget--"

"Do not thank me," said Corona, coldly. "I am not in a mood to appreciate
your gratitude. There is too much blood of those honest gentlemen upon
your hands."

"Pardon me, Duchessa, I wish there were on my hands and head the blood of
that gentleman you call honest--the gentleman who twice tried to murder
my son this morning, and twice nearly succeeded."

"What!" cried Corona, in sudden terror.

"That fellow thrust at Giovanni once to kill him while they were halting
and his sword was hanging lowered in his hand; and once again he threw
himself upon his knee and tried to stab him in the body--which is a
dastardly trick not permitted in any country. Even in duelling, such
things are called murder; and it is their right name."

Corona was very pale. Giovanni's danger had been suddenly brought before
her in a very vivid light, and she was horror-struck at the thought of
it.

"Is--is Don Giovanni very badly wounded?" she asked.

"No, thank heaven; he will be wall in a week. But either one of those
attempts might have killed him; and he would have died, I think--pardon
me, no insult this time--I think, on your account. Do you see why for
him I dread this attachment to you, which leads him to risk his life at
every turn for a word about you? Do you see why I implore you to take the
matter into your serious consideration, and to use your influence to
bring him to his senses?"

"I see; but in this question of the duel you have no proof that I was
concerned."

"No,--no proof, perhaps. I will not weary you with surmises; but even if
it was not for you this time, you see that it might have been."

"Perhaps," said Corona, very sadly.

"I have to thank you, even if you will not listen to me," said the
Prince, rising. "You have understood me. It was all I asked. Good night."

"Good night," answered Corona, who did not move from her seat nor extend
her hand this time. She was too much agitated to think of formalities.
Saracinesca bowed low and left the room.

It was characteristic of him that he had come to see the Duchessa not
knowing what he should say, and that he had blurted out the whole truth,
and then lost his temper in support of it. He was a hasty man, of noble
instincts, but always inclined rather to cut a knot than to unloose
it--to do by force what another man would do by skill--angry at
opposition, and yet craving it by his combative nature.

His first impulse on leaving Corona was to go to Giovanni and tell him
what he had done; but he reflected as he went home that his son was ill
with his wounds, and that it would be bad for him to be angry, as of
course he would be if he were told of his father's doings. Moreover, as
old Saracinesca thought more seriously of the matter, he wisely concluded
that it would be better not to speak of the visit; and when he entered
the room where Giovanni was lying on his couch with a novel and a
cigarette, he had determined to conceal the whole matter.

"Well, Giovanni," he said, "we are the talk of the town, of course."

"It was to be expected. Whom have you seen?"

"In the first place, I have seen Madame Mayer. She is in a state of anger
against you which borders on madness--not because you have wounded Del
Ferice, but because you forgot to dance with her. I cannot conceive
how you could be so foolish."

"Nor I. It was idiotic in the last degree," replied Giovanni, annoyed
that his father should have learned the story.

"You must go and see her at once--as soon as you can go out. It is a
disagreeable business."

"Of course. What else did she say?"

"She thought that Del Ferice had challenged you on her account, because
you had not danced with her."

"How silly! As if I should fight duels about her."

"Since there was probably a woman in the case, she might have been the
one," remarked his father.

"There was no woman in the case, practically speaking," said Giovanni,
shortly.

"Oh, I supposed there was. However, I told Donna Tullia that I advised
her not to think anything more of the matter until the whole story came
out."

"When is that likely to occur?" asked Giovanni, laughing. "No one alive
knows the cause of the quarrel but Del Ferice and I myself. He will
certainly not tell the world, as the thing was even more disgraceful to
him than his behaviour this morning. There is no reason why I should
speak of it either."

"How reticent you are, Giovanni!" exclaimed the old gentleman.

"Believe me, if I could tell you the whole story without injuring any one
but Del Ferice, I would."

"Then there was really a woman in the case?"

"There was a woman outside the case, who caused us to be in it," returned
Giovanni.

"Always your detestable riddles," cried the old man, petulantly; and
presently, seeing that his son was obstinately silent, he left the room
to dress for dinner.



CHAPTER XV.


It may be that when Astrardente spoke so tenderly to his wife after the
Frangipani ball, he felt some warning that told him his strength was
failing. His heart was in a dangerous condition, the family doctor had
said, and it was necessary that he should take care of himself. He had
been very tired after that long evening, and perhaps some sudden sinking
had shaken his courage. He awoke from an unusually heavy sleep with a
strange sense of astonishment, as though he had not expected to awake
again in life. He felt weaker than he had felt for a long time, and even
his accustomed beverage of chocolate mixed with coffee failed to give him
the support he needed in the morning. He rose very late, and his servant
found him more than usually petulant, nor did the message brought back
from Giovanni seem to improve his temper. He met his wife at the midday
breakfast, and was strangely silent, and in the afternoon he shut himself
up in his own rooms and would see nobody. But at dinner he appeared
again, seemingly revived, and declared his intention of accompanying his
wife to a reception given at the Austrian embassy. He seemed so unlike
his usual self, that Corona did not venture to speak of the duel which
had taken place in the morning; for she feared anything which might
excite him, well knowing that excitement might prove fatal. She did what
she could to dissuade him from going out; but he grew petulant, and she
unwillingly yielded.

At the embassy he soon heard all the details, for no one talked of
anything else; but Astrardente was ashamed of not having heard it all
before, and affected a cynical indifference to the tale which the
military attaché of the embassy repeated for his benefit. He vouchsafed
some remark to the effect that fighting duels was the natural amusement
of young gentlemen, and that if one of them killed another there was at
least one fool the less in society; after which he looked about him for
some young beauty to whom he might reel off a score of compliments. He
knew all the time that he was making a great effort, that he felt
unaccountably ill, and that he wished he had taken his wife's advice and
stayed quietly at home. But at the end of the evening he chanced to
overhear a remark that Valdarno was making to Casalverde, who looked
exceedingly pale and ill at ease.

"You had better make your will, my dear fellow," said Valdarno. "Spicca
is a terrible man with the foils."

Astrardente turned quickly and looked at the speaker. But both men were
suddenly silent, and seemed absorbed in gazing at the crowd. It was
enough, however. Astrardente had gathered that Casalverde was to fight
Spicca the next day, and that the affair begun that morning had not yet
reached its termination. He determined that he would not again be guilty
of not knowing what was going on in society; and with the intention of
rising early on the following morning, he found Corona, and rather
unceremoniously told her it was time to go home.

On the next day the Duca d'Astrardente walked into the club soon after
ten o'clock. On ordinary occasions that resort of his fellows was
entirely empty until a much later hour; but Astrardente was not
disappointed to-day. Twenty or thirty men were congregated in the large
hall which served as a smoking-room, and all of them were talking
together excitedly. As the door swung on its hinges and the old dandy
entered, a sudden silence fell upon the assembly. Astrardente naturally
judged that the conversation had turned upon himself, and had been
checked by his appearance; but he affected to take no notice of the
occurrence, adjusting his single eyeglass in his eye and serenely
surveying the men in the room. He could see that, although they had been
talking loudly, the matter in hand was serious enough, for there was no
trace of mirth on any of the faces before him. He at once assumed an air
of gravity, and going up to Valdarno, who seemed to have occupied the
most prominent place in the recent discussion, he put his question in an
undertone.

"I suppose Spicca killed him?"

Valdarno nodded, and looked grave. He was a thoughtless young fellow
enough, but the news of the tragedy had sobered him. Astrardente had
anticipated the death of Casalverde, and was not surprised. But he was
not without human feeling, and showed a becoming regret at the sad end of
a man he had been accustomed to see so frequently.

"How was it?" he asked.

"A simple 'un, deux,' tierce and carte at the first bout. Spicca is as
quick as lightning. Come away from this crowd," added Valdarno, in a low
voice, "and I will tell you all about it."

In spite of his sorrow at his friend's death, Valdarno felt a certain
sense of importance at being able to tell the story to Astrardente.
Valdarno was vain in a small way, though his vanity was to that of the
old Duca as the humble violet to the full-blown cabbage-rose. Astrardente
enjoyed a considerable importance in society as the husband of Corona,
and was an object of especial interest to Valdarno, who supported the
incredible theory of Corona's devotion to the old man. Valdarno's stables
were near the club, and on pretence of showing a new horse to
Astrardente, he nodded to his friends, and left the room with the aged
dandy. It was a clear, bright winter's morning, and the two men strolled
slowly down the Corso towards Valdarno's palace.

"You know, of course, how the affair began?" asked the young man.

"The first duel? Nobody knows--certainly not I."

"Well--perhaps not," returned Valdarno, doubtfully. "At all events, you
know that Spicca flew into a passion because poor Casalverde forgot to
step in after he cried halt; and then Del Ferice ran Giovanni through the
arm."

"That was highly improper--most reprehensible," said Astrardente, putting
up his eyeglass to look at a pretty little sempstress who hurried past on
her way to her work.

"I suppose so. But Casalverde certainly meant no harm; and if Del Ferice
had not been so unlucky as to forget himself in the excitement of the
moment, no one would have thought anything of it."

"Ah yes, I suppose not," murmured Astrardente, still looking after the
girl. When he could see her face no longer, he turned sharply back to
Valdarno.

"This is exceedingly interesting," he said. "Tell me more about it."

"Well, when it was over, old Saracinesca was for killing Casalverde
himself."

"The old fire-eater! He ought to be ashamed of himself."

"However, Spicca was before him, and challenged Casalverde then and
there. As both the principals in the first duel were so badly wounded, it
had to be put off until this morning."

"They went out, and--piff, paff! Spicca ran him through," interrupted
Astrardente. "What a horrible tragedy!"

"Ah yes; and what is worse--"

"What surprises me most," interrupted the Duca again, "is that in this
delightfully peaceful and paternally governed little nest of ours, the
authorities should not have been able to prevent either of these duels.
It is perfectly amazing! I cannot remember a parallel instance. Do you
mean to say that there was not a _sbirro_ or a _gendarme_ in the
neighbourhood to-day nor yesterday?"

"That is not so surprising," answered Valdarno, with a knowing look.
"There would have been few tears in high quarters if Del Ferice had been
killed yesterday; there will be few to-day over the death of poor
Casalverde."

"Bah!" ejaculated Astrardente. "If Antonelli had heard of these affairs
he would have stopped them soon enough."

Valdarno glanced behind him, and, bending a little, whispered in
Astrardente's ear--

"They were both Liberals, you must know."

"Liberals?" repeated the old dandy, with a cynical sneer. "Nonsense, I
say! Liberals? Yes, in the way you are a Liberal, and Donna Tullia Mayer,
and Spicca himself, who has just killed that other Liberal, Casalverde.
Liberals indeed! Do you flatter yourself for a moment that Antonelli is
afraid of such Liberals as you are? Do you think the life of Del Ferice
is of any more importance to politics than the life of that dog there?"

It was Astrardente's habit to scoff mercilessly at all the petty
manifestations of political feeling he saw about him in the world. He
represented a class distinct both from the Valdarno set and from the men
represented by the Saracinesca--a class who despised everything political
as unworthy of the attention of gentlemen, who took everything for
granted, and believed that all was for the best, provided that society
moved upon rollers and so long as no one meddled with old institutions.
To question the wisdom of the municipal regulations was to attack the
Government itself; to attack the Government was to cast a slight upon his
Holiness the Pope, which was rank heresy, and very vulgar into the
bargain. Astrardente had seen a great deal of the world, but his ideas of
politics were almost childishly simple--whereas many people said that his
principles in relation to his fellows were fiendishly cynical. He was
certainly not a very good man; and if he pretended to no reputation for
devoutness, it was probable that he recognised the absurdity of his
attempting such a pose. But politically he believed in Cardinal
Antonelli's ability to defy Europe with or without the aid of France, and
laughed as loudly at Louis Napoleon's old idea of putting the sovereign
Pontiff at the head of an Italian federation, as he jeered at Cavour's
favourite phrase concerning a free Church in a free State. He had good
blood in him, and the hereditary courage often found with it. He had a
certain skill in matters worldly; but his wit in things political seemed
to belong to an earlier generation, and to be incapable of receiving new
impressions.

But Valdarno, who was vain and set great value on his opinions, was
deeply offended at the way Astrardente spoke of him and his friends. In
his eyes he was risking much for what he considered a good object, and he
resented any contemptuous mention of Liberal principles, whenever he
dared. No one cared much for Astrardente, and certainly no one feared
him; nevertheless in those times men hesitated to defend anything which
came under the general head of Liberalism, when they were likely to be
overheard, or when they could not trust the man to whom they were
speaking. If no one feared Astrardente, no one trusted him either.
Valdarno consequently judged it best to smother his annoyance at the old
man's words, and to retaliate by striking him in a weak spot.

"If you despise Del Ferice as much as you say," he remarked, "I wonder
that you tolerate him as you do."

"I tolerate him. Toleration is the very word--it delightfully expresses
my feelings towards him. He is a perfectly harmless creature, who affects
immense depth of insight into human affairs, and who cannot see an inch
before his face. Dear me! yes, I shall always tolerate Del Ferice, poor
fellow!"

"You may not be called upon to do so much longer," replied Valdarno.
"They say he is in a very dangerous condition."

"Ah!" ejaculated Astrardente, putting up his eyeglass at his companion.
"Ah, you don't say so!"

There was something so insolent in the old man's affected stare that even
the foolish and good-natured Valdarno lost his temper, being already
somewhat irritated.

"It is a pity that you should be so indifferent. It is hardly becoming.
If you had not tolerated him as you have, he might not be lying there at
the point of death."

Astrardente stared harder than ever.

"My dear young friend," he said, "your language is the most extraordinary
I ever heard. How in the world can my treatment of that unfortunate man
have had anything to do with his being wounded in a duel?"

"My dear old friend," replied Valdarno, impudently mimicking the old
man's tone, "your simplicity surpasses anything I ever knew. Is it
possible that you do not know that this duel was fought for your wife?"

Astrardente looked fixedly at Valdarno; his eyeglass dropped from his
eye, and he turned ashy pale beneath his paint. He staggered a moment,
and steadied himself against the door of a shop. They were just passing
the corner of the Piazza di Sciarra, the most crowded crossing of the
Corso.

"Valdarno," said the old man, his cracked voice dropping to a hoarser and
deeper tone, "you must explain yourself or answer for this."

"What! Another duel!" cried Valdarno, in some scorn. Then, seeing that
his companion looked ill, he took him by the arm and led him rapidly
through the crowd, across the Arco dei Carbognani. Entering the Caffè
Aragno, a new institution in those days, both men sat down at a small
marble table. The old dandy was white with emotion; Valdarno felt that he
was enjoying his revenge.

"A glass of cognac, Duke?" he said, as the waiter came up. Astrardente
nodded, and there was silence while the man brought the cordial. The Duca
lived by an invariable rule, seeking to balance the follies of his youth
by excessive care in his old age; it was long, indeed, since he had taken
a glass of brandy in the morning. He swallowed it quickly, and the
stimulant produced its effect immediately; he readjusted his eyeglass,
and faced Valdarno sternly.

"And now," he said, "that we are at our ease, may I inquire what the
devil you mean by your insinuations about my wife?"

"Oh," replied Valdarno, affecting great indifference, "I only say what
everybody says. There is no offence to the Duchessa."

"I should suppose not, indeed. Go on."

"Do you really care to hear the story?" asked the young man.

"I intend to hear it, and at once," replied Astrardente.

"You will not have to employ force to extract it from me, I can assure
you," said Valdarno, settling himself in his chair, but avoiding the
angry glance of the old man. "Everybody has been repeating it since the
day before yesterday, when it occurred. You were at the Frangipani
ball--you might have seen it all. In the first place, you must know that
there exists another of those beings to whom you extend your merciful
toleration--a certain Giovanni Saracinesca--you may have noticed him?"

"What of him?" asked Astrardente, fiercely.

"Among other things, he is the man who wounded Del Ferice, as I daresay
you have heard. Among other things concerning him, he has done himself
the honour of falling desperately, madly in love with the Duchessa
d'Astrardente, who--"

"What?" cried the old man in a cracked voice, as Valdarno paused.

"Who does you the honour of ignoring his existence on most occasions, but
who was so unfortunate as to recall him to her memory on the night of the
Frangipani ball. We were all sitting in a circle round the Duchessa's
chair that night, when the conversation chanced to turn upon this same
Giovanni Saracinesca, a fire-eating fellow with a bad temper. He had been
away for some days; indeed he was last seen at the Apollo in your box,
when they gave 'Norma'--"

"I remember," interrupted Astrardente. The mention of that evening was
but a random shot. Valdarno had been in the club-box, and had seen
Giovanni when he made his visit to the Astrardente; he had not seen him
again till the Frangipani ball.

"Well, as I was saying, we spoke of Giovanni, and every one had something
to say about his absence. The Duchessa expressed her curiosity, and Del
Ferice, who was with us, proposed calling him--he was at the other end of
the room, you see--that he might answer for himself. So I went and
brought him up. He was in a very bad humour--"

"What has all this absurd story got to do with the matter?" asked the old
man, impatiently.

"It is the matter itself. The irascible Giovanni is angry at being
questioned, treats us all like mud under his feet, sits down by the
Duchessa and forces us to go away. The Duchessa tells him the story, with
a laugh no doubt, and Giovanni's wrath overflows. He goes in search of
Del Ferice, and nearly strangles him. The result of these eccentricities
is the first duel, leading to the second."

Astrardente was very angry, and his thin gloved hands twitched nervously
at the handle of his stick.

"And this," he said, "this string of trivial ball-room incident, seems to
you a sufficient pretext for stating that the duel was about my wife?"

"Certainly," replied Valdarno, coolly. "If Saracinesca had not been for
months openly devoting himself to the Duchessa--who, I assure you, takes
no kind of notice of him--"

"You need not waste words--"

"I do not,--and if Giovanni had not thought it worth while to be jealous
of Del Ferice, there would have been no fighting."

"Have you been telling your young friends that my wife was the cause of
all this?" asked Astrardente, trembling with a genuine rage which lent a
certain momentary dignity to his feeble frame and painted face.

"Why not?"

"Have you or have you not?"

"Certainly--if you please," returned Valdarno insolently, enjoying the
old man's fury.

"Then permit me to tell you that you have taken upon yourself an
outrageous liberty, that you have lied, and that you do not deserve to be
treated like a gentleman."

Astrardente got upon his feet and left the café without further words.
Valdarno had indeed wounded him in a weak spot, and the wound was mortal.
His blood was up, and at that moment he would have faced Valdarno sword
in hand, and might have proved himself no mean adversary, so great is the
power of anger to revive in the most decrepit the energies of youth. He
believed in his wife with a rare sincerity, and his blood boiled at the
idea of her being rudely spoken of as the cause of a scandalous quarrel,
however much Valdarno insisted upon it that she was as indifferent to
Giovanni as to Del Ferice. The story was a shallow invention upon the
face of it. But though the old man told himself so again and again as he
almost ran through the narrow streets towards his house, there was one
thought suggested by Valdarno which rankled deep. It was true that
Giovanni had last been seen in the Astrardente box at the opera; but he
had not remained five minutes seated by the Duchessa before he had
suddenly invented a shallow excuse for leaving; and finally, there was no
doubt that at that very moment Corona had seemed violently agitated.
Giovanni had not reappeared till the night of the Frangipani ball, and
the duel had taken place on the very next morning. Astrardente could not
reason--his mind was too much disturbed by his anger against Valdarno;
but a vague impression that there was something wrong in it all, drove
him homewards in wild excitement. He was ill, too, and had he been in a
frame of mind to reflect upon himself, he would have noticed that his
heart was beating with ominous irregularity. He did not even think of
taking a cab, but hurried along on foot, finding, perhaps, a momentary
relief in violent exertion. The old blood rushed to his face in good
earnest, and shamed the delicately painted lights and shadows touched in
by the master-hand of Monsieur Isidore, the cosmopolitan valet.

Valdarno remained seated in the café, rather disturbed at what he had
done. He certainly had had no intention of raising such a storm; he was a
weak and good-natured fellow, whose vanity was easily wounded, but who
was not otherwise very sensitive, and was certainly not very intelligent.
Astrardente had laughed at him and his friends in a way which touched him
to the quick, and with childish petulance he had retaliated in the
easiest way which presented itself. Indeed there was more foundation for
his tale than Astrardente would allow. At least it was true that the
story was in the mouths of all the gossips that morning, and Valdarno had
only repeated what he had heard. He had meant to annoy the old man; he
had certainly not intended to make him so furiously angry. As for the
deliberate insult he had received, it was undoubtedly very shocking to be
told that one lied in such very plain terms; but on the other hand, to
demand satisfaction of such an old wreck as Astrardente would be
ridiculous in the extreme. Valdarno was incapable of very violent
passion, and was easily persuaded that he was in the wrong when any one
contradicted him flatly; not that he was altogether devoid of a certain
physical courage if hard pushed, but because he was not very strong, not
very confident of himself, not very combative, and not very truthful.
When Astrardente was gone, he waited a few minutes, and then sauntered up
the Corso again towards the club, debating in his mind how he should turn
a good story out of his morning's adventure without making himself appear
either foolish or pusillanimous. It was also necessary so to turn his
narrative that in case any one repeated it to Giovanni, the latter might
not propose to cut his throat, though it was not probable that any one
would be bold enough to desire a conversation with the younger
Saracinesca on such a subject.

When he again entered the smoking-room of the club, he was greeted by a
chorus of inquiries concerning his interview with Astrardente.

"What did he ask? What did he say? Where is he? What did you tell him?
Did he drop his eyeglass? Did he blush through his paint?"

Everybody spoke together in the same breath. Valdarno's vanity rose to
the occasion. Weak and insignificant by nature, he particularly delighted
in being the centre of general interest, if even for a moment only.

"He really dropped his eyeglass," he answered, with a gay laugh, "and he
really changed colour in spite of his paint."

"It must have been a terrible interview, then," remarked one or two of
the loungers.

"I shall be happy to offer you my services in case you wish to cut each
other's throats," said a French officer of the Papal Zouaves who stood by
the fireplace rolling a cigarette. Whereupon everybody laughed loudly.

"Thanks," answered Valdarno; "I am expecting a challenge every minute. If
he proposes a powder-puff and a box of rouge for the weapons, I accept
without hesitation. Well, it was very amusing. He wanted to know all
about it, and so I told him about the scene in Casa Frangipani. He did
not seem to understand at all. He is a very obtuse old gentleman."

"I hope you explained the connection of events," said some one.

"Indeed I did. It was delightful to witness his fury. It was then that he
dropped his eyeglass and turned as red as a boiled lobster. He swore that
his wife was above suspicion, as usual."

"That is true," said a young man who had attempted to make love to Corona
during the previous year.

"Of course it is true," echoed all the rest, with unanimity rare indeed
where a woman's reputation is concerned.

"Yes," continued Valdarno, "of course. But he goes so far as to say it is
absurd that any one should admire his wife, who is nevertheless a most
admirable woman. He stamped, he screamed, he turned red in the face, and
he went off without taking leave of me, flourishing his stick, and
swearing eternal hatred and vengeance against the entire civilised
society of the world. He was delightfully amusing. Will anybody play
baccarat? I will start a bank."

The majority were for the game, and in a few minutes were seated at a
large green table, drawing cards and betting with a good will, and
interspersing their play with stray remarks on the events of the morning.



CHAPTER XVI.


Corona was fast coming to a state of mind in which a kind of passive
expectation--a sort of blind submission to fate--was the chief feature.
She had shed tears when her husband spoke of his approaching end, because
her gentle heart was grateful to him, and by its own sacrifices had grown
used to his presence, and because she suddenly felt that she had
comprehended the depth of his love for her, as she had never understood
it before. In the five years of married life she had spent with him, she
had not allowed herself to think of his selfishness, of his small daily
egotism; for, though it was at no great expense to himself, he had been
uniformly generous and considerate to her. But she had been conscious
that if she should ever remove from her conscience the pressure of a
self-imposed censorship, so that her judgment might speak boldly, the
verdict of her heart would not have been so indulgent to her husband as
was that formal opinion of him which she forced herself to hold. Now,
however, it seemed as though the best things she had desired to believe
of him were true; and with the conviction that he was not only not
selfish, but absolutely devoted to herself, there had come upon her a
fear of desolation, a dread of being left alone--of finding herself
abandoned by this strange companion, the only person in the world with
whom she had the habit of familiarity and the bond of a common past.
Astrardente had thought, and had told her too, that the knowledge of his
impending death might lighten her burden--might make the days of
self-sacrifice that yet remained seem shorter; he had spoken kindly of
her marrying again when he should be dead, deeming perhaps, in his sudden
burst of generosity that she would be capable of looking beyond the
unhappy present to the possibilities of a more brilliant future, or at
least that the certainty of his consent to such a second union would
momentarily please her. It was hard to say why he had spoken. It had been
an impulse such as the most selfish people sometimes yield to when their
failing strength brings upon them suddenly the sense of their inability
to resist any longer the course of events. The vanity of man is so
amazing that when he is past arrogating to himself the attention which is
necessary to him as his daily bread, he is capable of so demeaning his
manhood as to excite interest in his weaknesses rather than that he
should cease to be the object of any interest whatever. The analysis of
the feelings of old and selfish persons is the most difficult of all
studies; for in proportion as the strength of the dominant passion or
passions is quenched in the bitter still waters of the harbour of
superannuation, the small influences of life grow in importance. As when,
from the breaking surge of an angry ocean, the water is dashed high among
the re-echoing rocks, leaving little pools of limpid clearness in the
hollows of the storm-beaten cliffs; and as when the anger of the tossing
waves has subsided, the hot sun shines upon the mimic seas, and the clear
waters that were so transparent grow thick and foul with the motion of a
tiny and insignificant insect-life undreamed of before in such crystal
purity: so also the clear strong sea of youth is left to dry in the
pools and puddles of old age, and in the motionless calm of the still
places where the ocean of life has washed it, it is dried up and consumed
by myriads of tiny parasites--lives within lives, passions within
passions--tiny efforts at mimic greatness,--a restless little world, the
very parody and infinitesimal reproduction of the mighty flood whence it
came, wherein great monsters have their being, and things of unspeakable
beauty grow free in the large depths of an unfathomed ocean.

To Corona d'Astrardente in the freshness of her youth the study of her
husband's strange littleness had grown to be a second nature from the
habit of her devotion to him. But she could not understand him; she could
not explain to herself the sudden confession of old age, the quiet
anticipation of death, the inexplicable generosity towards herself. She
only knew that he must be at heart a man more kindly and of better
impulse than he had generally been considered, and she resolved to do
her utmost to repay him, and to soothe the misery of his last years.

Since he had told her so plainly, it must be true. It was natural,
perhaps--for he was growing more feeble every day--but it was very sad.
Five years ago, when she had choked down her loathing for the old man to
whom she had sold herself for her father's sake, she would not have
believed that she should one day feel the tears rise fast at the thought
of his dying and leaving her free. He had said it; she would be free.
They say that men who have been long confined in a dungeon become
indifferent, and when turned out upon the world would at first gladly
return to their prison walls. Liberty is in the first place an instinct,
but it will easily grow to be a habit. Corona had renounced all thought
of freedom five years ago, and in the patient bowing of her noble nature
to the path she had chosen, she had attained to a state of renunciation
like that of a man who has buried himself for ever in an order of
Trappists, and neither dreams of the freedom of the outer world, nor
desires to dream of it. And she had grown fond of the aged dandy and his
foolish ways--ways which seemed foolish because they were those of youth
grafted upon senility. She had not known that she was fond of him, it is
true; but now that he spoke of dying, she felt that she would weep his
loss. He was her only companion, her only friend. In the loyal
determination to be faithful to him, she had so shut herself from all
intimacy with the world that she had not a friend. She kept women at a
distance from her, instinctively dreading lest in their careless talk
some hint or comment should remind her that she had married a man
ridiculous in their eyes; and with men she could have but little
intercourse, for their society was dangerous. No man save Giovanni
Saracinesca had for years put himself in the light of a mere
acquaintance, always ready to talk to her upon general subjects,
studiously avoiding himself in all discussions, and delicately
flattering her vanity by his deference to her judgment. The other men had
generally spoken of love at the second meeting, and declared themselves
devoted to her for life at the end of a week: she had quietly repulsed
them, and they had dropped back into the position of indifferent
acquaintances, going in search of other game, after the manner of young
gentlemen of leisure. Giovanni alone had sternly maintained his air of
calmness, had never offended her simple pride of loyalty to Astrardente
by word or deed; so that, although she felt and dreaded her growing
interest in him, she had actually believed that he was nothing in her
life, until at last she had been undeceived and awakened to the knowledge
of his fierce passion, and being taken unawares, had nearly been carried
off her feet by the tempest his words had roused in her own breast. But
her strength had not utterly deserted her. Years of supreme devotion to
the right, of honest and unwavering loyalty, neither deceiving her
conscience on the one hand with the morbid food of a fictitious religious
exaltation, nor, upon the other, sinking to a cynical indifference to
inevitable misery; days of quiet and constant effort; long hours of
thoughtful meditation upon the one resolution of her life,--all this had
strengthened the natural force of her character, so that, when at last
the great trial had come, she had not yielded, but had conquered once and
for ever, in the very moment of sorest temptation. And with her there
would be no return of the danger. Having found strength to resist,
she knew that there would be no more weakness; her love for Giovanni was
deep and sincere, but it had become now the chief cause of suffering in
her life; it had utterly ceased to be the chief element of joy, as it had
been for a few short days. It was one thing more to be borne, and it
outweighed all other cares.

The news of the duel had given her great distress. She believed honestly
that she was in no way concerned in it, and she had bitterly resented old
Saracinesca's imputation. In the hot words that had passed between
them, she had felt her anger rise justly against the old Prince; but when
he appealed to her on account of his son, her love for Giovanni had
vanquished her wrath against the old man. Come what might, she would do
what was best for him. If possible, she would induce him to leave Rome at
once, and thus free herself from the pain of constantly meeting him.
Perhaps she could make him marry--anything would be better than to allow
things to go on in their present course, to have to face him at every
turn, and to know that at any moment he might be quarrelling with
somebody and fighting duels on her account.

She went boldly into the world that night, not knowing whether she should
meet Giovanni or not, but resolved upon her course if he appeared. Many
people looked curiously at her, and smiled cunningly as they thought they
detected traces of care upon her proud face; but though they studied her,
and lost no opportunity of talking to her upon the one topic which
absorbed the general conversation, no one had the satisfaction of moving
her even so much as to blush a little, or to lower the gaze of her eyes
that looked them all indifferently through and through.

Giovanni, however, did not appear, and people told her he would not leave
his room for several days, so that she returned to her home without
having accomplished anything in the matter. Her husband was very silent,
but looked at her with an expression of uncertainty, as though hesitating
to speak to her upon some subject that absorbed his interest. Neither of
them referred to the strange interview of the previous night. They went
home early, as has been already recorded, seeing it was only a great and
formal reception to which the world went that night; and even the
toughest old society jades were weary from the ball of the day before,
which had not broken up until half-past six in the morning.

On the next day, at about twelve o'clock, Corona was sitting in her
boudoir writing a number of invitations which were to be distributed in
the afternoon, when the door opened and her husband entered the room.

"My dear," he cried in great excitement, "it is perfectly horrible! Have
you heard?"

"What?" asked Corona, laying down her pen.

"Spicca has killed Casalverde--the man who seconded Del Ferice
yesterday,--killed him on the spot--"

Corona uttered an exclamation of horror.

"And they say Del Ferice is dead, or just dying"--his cracked voice rose
at every word; "and they say," he almost screamed, laying his withered
hand roughly upon his wife's shoulder,--"they say that the duel was about
you--you, do you understand?"

"That is not true," said Corona, firmly. "Calm yourself--I beseech you to
be calm. Tell me connectedly what has happened--who told you this story."

"What right has any man to drag your name into a quarrel?" cried the old
man, hoarsely. "Everybody is saying it--it is outrageous, abominable--"

Corona quietly pushed her husband into a chair, and sat down beside him.

"You are excited--you will harm yourself,--remember your health," she
said, endeavouring to soothe him. "Tell me, in the first place, who told
you that it was about me."

"Valdarno told me; he told me that every one was saying it--that it was
the talk of the town."

"But why?" insisted Corona. "You allow yourself to be furious for the
sake of a piece of gossip which has no foundation whatever. What is the
story they tell?"

"Some nonsense about Giovanni Saracinesca's going away last week. Del
Ferice proposed to call him before you, and Giovanni was angry."

"That is absurd," said Corona. "Don Giovanni was not the least annoyed.
He was with me afterwards--"

"Always Giovanni! Always Giovanni! Wherever you go, it is Giovanni!"
cried the old man, in unreasonable petulance--unreasonable from his point
of view, reasonable enough had he known the truth. But he struck
unconsciously upon the key-note of all Corona's troubles, and she turned
pale to the lips.

"You say it is not true," he began again. "How do you know? How can you
tell what may have been said? How can you guess it? Giovanni Saracinesca
is about you in society more than any one. He has quarrelled about you,
and two men have lost their lives in consequence. He is in love with you,
I tell you. Can you not see it? You must be blind!"

Corona leaned back in her chair, utterly overcome by the suddenness of
the situation, unable to answer, her hands folded tightly together, her
pale lips compressed. Angry at her silence, old Astrardente continued,
his rage gradually getting the mastery of his sense, and his passion
working itself up to the pitch of madness.

"Blind--yes--positively blind!" he cried. "Do you think that I am blind
too? Do you think I will overlook all this? Do you not see that your
reputation is injured--that people associate your name with his--that no
woman can be mentioned in the same breath with Giovanni Saracinesca and
hope to maintain a fair fame? A fellow whose adventures are in
everybody's mouth, whose doings are notorious; who has but to look at a
woman to destroy her; who is a duellist, a libertine--"

"That is not true," interrupted Corona, unable to listen calmly to the
abuse thus heaped upon the man she so dearly loved. "You are mad--"

"You defend him!" screamed Astrardente, leaning far forward in his chair
and clenching his hands. "You dare to support him--you acknowledge that
you care for him! Does he not pursue you everywhere, so that the town
rings with it? You ought to long to be rid of him, to wish he were dead,
rather than allow his name to be breathed with yours; and instead, you
defend him to me--you say he is right, that you prefer his odious
devotion to your good name, to my good name! Oh, it is not to be
believed! If you loved him yourself you could not do worse!"

"If half you say were true--" said Corona, in terrible distress.

"True?" cried Astrardente, who would not brook interruption. "It is all
true--and more also. It is true that he loves you, true that all the
world says it, true--by all that is holy, from your face I would almost
believe that you do love him! Why do you not deny it? Miserable woman!"
he screamed, springing towards her and seizing her roughly by the arm, as
she hid her face in her hands. "Miserable woman! you have betrayed me--"

In the paroxysm of his rage the feeble old man became almost strong; his
grip tightened upon his wife's wrist, and he dragged her violently from
her seat.

"Betrayed! And by you!" he cried again, shaking with passion. "You whom I
have loved! This is your gratitude, your sanctified devotion, your
cunning pretence at patience! All to hide your love for such a man as
that! You hypocrite, you--"

By a sudden effort Corona shook off his grasp, and drew herself up to her
full height in magnificent anger.

"You shall hear me," she said, in deep commanding tones. "I have deserved
much, but I have not deserved this."

"Ha!" he hissed, standing back from her a step, "you can speak now--I
have touched you! You have found words. It was time!"

Corona was as white as death, and her black eyes shone like coals of
fire. Her words came slowly, every accent clear and strong with
concentrated passion.

"I have not betrayed you. I have spoken no word of love to any man alive,
and you know that I speak the truth. If any one has said to me what
should not be said, I have rebuked him to silence. You know, while you
accuse me, that I have done my best to honour and love you; you know well
that I would die by my own hand, your loyal and true wife, rather than
let my lips utter one syllable of love for any other man."

Corona possessed a supreme power over her husband. She was so true a
woman that the truth blazed visibly from her clear eyes; and what she
said was nothing but the truth. She had doubted it herself for one
dreadful moment; she knew it now beyond all doubting. In a moment the old
man's wrath broke and vanished before the strong assertion of her perfect
innocence. He turned pale under his paint, and his limbs trembled. He
made a step forward, and fell upon his knees before her, and tried to
take her hands.

"Oh, Corona, forgive me," he moaned--"forgive me! I so love you!"

Suddenly his grasp relaxed from her hands, and with a groan he fell
forward against her knees.

"God knows I forgive you!" cried Corona, the tears starting to her eyes
in sudden pity. She bent down to support him; but as she moved, he fell
prostrate upon his face before her. With a cry of terror she kneeled
beside him; with her strong arms she turned his body and raised his head
upon her knees. His face was ghastly white, save where the tinges of
paint made a hideous mockery of colour upon his livid skin. His parted
lips were faintly purple, and his hollow eyes stared wide open at his
wife's face, while the curled wig was thrust far back upon his bald and
wrinkled forehead.

Corona supported his weight upon one knee, and took his nerveless hand in
hers. An agony of terror seized her.

"Onofrio!" she cried--she rarely called him by his name--"Onofrio! speak
to me! My husband!" She clasped him wildly in her arms. "O God, have
mercy!"

Onofrio d'Astrardente was dead. The poor old dandy, in his paint and his
wig and his padding, had died at his wife's feet, protesting his love for
her to the last. The long averted blow had fallen. For years he had
guarded himself against sudden emotions, for he was warned of the disease
at his heart, and knew his danger; but his anger had killed him. He might
have lived another hour while his rage lasted; but the revulsion of
feeling, the sudden repentance for the violence he had done his wife, had
sent the blood back to its source too quickly, and with his last cry of
love upon his lips he was dead.

Corona had hardly ever seen death. She gently lowered the dead man's
weight till he lay at full length upon the floor. Then she started to her
feet, and drew back against the fireplace, and gazed at the body of her
husband.

For fully five minutes she stood motionless, scarcely daring to draw
breath, dazed and stupefied with horror, trying to realise what had
happened. There he lay, her only friend, the companion of her life since
she had known life; the man who in that very room, but two nights since,
had spoken such kind words to her that her tears had flowed--the tears
that would not flow now; the man who but a moment since was railing at
her in a paroxysm of rage--whose anger had melted at her first word of
defence, who had fallen at her feet to ask forgiveness, and to declare
once more, for the last time, that he loved her! Her friend, her
companion, her husband--had he heard her answer, that she forgave him
freely? He could not be dead--it was impossible. A moment ago he had been
speaking to her. She went forward again and kneeled beside him.

"Onofrio," she said very gently, "you are not dead--you heard me?"

She gazed down for a moment at the motionless features. Womanly
thoughtful, she moved his head a little, and straightened the wig upon
his poor forehead. Then, in an instant, she realised all, and with a wild
cry of despair fell prostrate upon his body in an agony of passionate
weeping. How long she lay, she knew not. A knock at the door did not
reach her ears, nor another and another, at short intervals; and then
some one entered. It was the butler, who had come to announce the mid-day
breakfast. He uttered an exclamation and started back, holding the handle
of the door in his hand.

Corona raised herself slowly to her knees, gazing down once more upon the
dead man's face. Then she lifted her streaming eyes and saw the servant.

"Your master is dead," she said, solemnly.

The man grew pale and trembled, hesitated, and then turned and fled down
the hall without, after the manner of Italian servants, who fear death,
and even the sight of it, as they fear nothing else in the world.

Corona rose to her feet and brushed the tears from her eyes. Then she
turned and rang the bell. No one answered the summons for some time. The
news had spread all over the house in an instant, and everything was
disorganised. At last a woman came and stood timidly at the door. She was
a lower servant, a simple strong creature from the mountains. Seeing the
others terrified and paralysed, it had struck her common-sense that her
mistress was alone. Corona understood.

"Help me to carry him," she said, quietly; and the peasant and the noble
lady stooped and lifted the dead duke, and bore him to his chamber
without a word, and laid him tenderly upon his bed.

"Send for the doctor," said Corona; "I will watch beside him."

"But, Excellency, are you not afraid?" asked the woman.

Corona's lip curled a little.

"I am not afraid," she answered. "Send at once." When the woman was gone,
she sat down by the bedside and waited. Her tears were dry now, but she
could not think. She waited motionless for an hour. Then the old
physician entered softly, while a crowd of servants stood without,
peering timidly through the open door. Corona crossed the room and
quietly shut it. The physician stood by the bedside.

"It is simple enough, Signora Duchessa," he said, gently. "He is quite
dead. It was only the day before yesterday that I warned him that the
heart disease was worse. Can you tell me how it happened?"

"Yes, exactly," answered Corona, in a low voice. She was calm enough now.
"He came into my room two hours ago, and suddenly, in conversation, he
became very angry. Then his anger subsided in a moment, and he fell at my
feet."

"It is just as I expected," answered the physician, quietly. "They always
die in this way. I entreat you to be calm--to consider that all men are
mortal--"

"I am calm now," interrupted Corona. "I am alone. Will you see that what
is necessary is done quickly? I will leave you for a moment. There are
people outside."

As she opened the door the gaping crowd of servants slunk out of her way.
With bent head she passed between them, and went out into the great
reception-rooms, and sat down alone in her grief.

It was genuine, of its kind. The poor man's soul might rest in peace, for
she felt the real sorrow at his death which he had longed for, which he
had perhaps scarcely dared to hope she would feel. Had it not been real,
in those first moments some thought would have crossed her mind--some
faint, repressed satisfaction at being free at last--free to marry
Giovanni Saracinesca. But it was not so. She did not feel free--she felt
alone, intensely alone. She longed for the familiar sound of his
querulous voice--for the expression of his thousand little wants and
interests; she remembered tenderly his harmless little vanities. She
thought of his wig, and she wept. So true it is that what is most
ridiculous in life is most sorrowfully pathetic in death. There was not
one of the small things about him she did not recall with a pang of
regret. It was all over now. His vanity was dead with him; his tender
love for her was dead too. It was the only love she had known, until that
other love--that dark and stirring passion--had been roused in her. But
that did not trouble her now. Perhaps the unconscious sense that
henceforth she was free to love whom she pleased had suddenly made
insignificant a feeling which had before borne in her mind the terrible
name of crime. The struggle for loyalty was no more, but the memory of
what she had borne for the dead man made him dearer than before. The
follies of his life had been many, but many of them had been for her, and
there was the true ring in his last words. "To be young for your sake,
Corona--for your sake!" The phrase echoed again and again in her
remembrance, and her silent tears flowed afresh. The follies of his life
had been many, but to her he had been true. The very violence of his last
moments, the tenderness of his passionate appeal for forgiveness, spoke
for the honesty of his heart, even though his heart had never been honest
before.

She needed never to think again of pleasing him, of helping him, of
foregoing for his sake any intimacy with the world which she might
desire. But the thought brought no relief. He had become so much a part
of her life that she could not conceive of living without him, and she
would miss him at every turn. The new existence before her seemed dismal
and empty beyond all expression. She wondered vaguely what she should do
with her time. For one moment a strange longing came over her to return
to the dear old convent, to lay aside for ever her coronet and state, and
in a simple garb to do simple and good things to the honour of God.

She roused herself at last, and went to her own rooms, dragging her steps
slowly as though weighed down by a heavy burden. She entered the room
where he had died, and a cold shudder passed over her. The afternoon sun
was streaming through the window upon the writing table where yet lay the
unfinished invitation she had been writing, and upon the plants and the
rich ornaments, upon the heavy carpet--the very spot where he had
breathed his last word of love and died at her feet.

Upon that spot Corona d'Astrardente knelt down reverently and
prayed,--prayed that she might be forgiven for all her shortcomings to
the dear dead man; that she might have strength to bear her sorrow and to
honour his memory; above all, that his soul might rest in peace and find
forgiveness, and that he might know that she had been truly innocent--she
prayed for that too, for she had a dreadful doubt. But surely he knew all
now: how she had striven to be loyal, and how truly--yes, how truly--she
mourned his death.

At last she rose to her feet, and lingered still a moment, her hands
clasped as they had been in her prayer. Glancing down, something
glistened on the carpet. She stooped and picked it up. It was her
husband's sealring, engraven with the ancient arms of the Astrardente.
She looked long at the jewel, and then put it upon her finger.

"God give me grace to honour his memory as he would have me honour it,"
she said, solemnly.

Truly, she had deserved the love the poor old dandy had so deeply felt
for her.



CHAPTER XVII.


That night Giovanni insisted on going out. His wounds no longer pained
him, he said; there was no danger whatever, and he was tired of staying
at home. But he would dine with his father as usual. He loved his
father's company, and when the two omitted to quarrel over trifles they
were very congenial. To tell the truth, the differences between them
arose generally from the petulant quickness of the Prince; for in his son
his own irascible character was joined with the melancholy gravity which
Giovanni inherited from his mother, and in virtue of which, being
taciturn, he was sometimes thought long-suffering.

As usual, they sat opposite each other, and the ancient butler Pasquale
served them. As the man deposited Giovanni's soup before him, he spoke. A
certain liberty was always granted to Pasquale; Italian servants are
members of the family, even in princely houses. Never assuming that
confidence implies familiarity, they enjoy the one without ever
approaching the latter. Nevertheless it was very rarely that Pasquale
spoke to his masters when they were at table.

"I beg your Excellencies' pardon--" he began, as he put down the
soup-plate.

"Well, Pasquale?" asked old Saracinesca, looking sharply at the old
servant from under his heavy brows.

"Have your Excellencies heard the news?"

"What news? No," returned the Prince.

"The Duca d'Astrardente--"

"Well, what of him?"

"Is dead."

"Dead!" repeated Giovanni in a loud voice, that echoed to the vaulted
roof of the dining-room.

"It is not true," said old Saracinesca; "I saw him in the street this
morning."

"Nevertheless, your Excellency," replied Pasquale, "it is quite true. The
gates of the palace were already draped with black before the Ave Maria
this evening; and the porter, who is a nephew of mine, had _crêpe_ upon
his hat and arm. He told me that the Duca fell down dead of a stroke in
the Signora Duchessa's room at half-past twelve to-day."

"Is that all you could learn?" asked the Prince.

"Except that the Signora Duchessa was overcome with grief," returned the
servant, gravely.

"I should think so--her husband dead of an apoplexy! It is natural," said
the Prince, looking at Giovanni. The latter was silent, and tried to eat
as though, nothing had happened--inwardly endeavouring not to rejoice too
madly at the terrible catastrophe. In his effort to control his features,
the blood rushed to his forehead, and his hand trembled violently. His
father saw it, but made no remark.

"Poor Astrardente!" he said. "He was not so bad as people thought him."

"No," replied Giovanni, with a great effort; "he was a very good man."

"I should hardly say that," returned his father, with a grim smile of
amusement. "I do not think that by the greatest stretch of indulgence he
could be called good."

"And why not?" asked the younger man, sharply snatching at any possible
discussion in order to conceal his embarrassment.

"Why not, indeed! Why, because he had a goodly share of original sin, to
which he added others of his own originating but having an equal claim to
originality."

"I say I think he was a very good man," repeated Giovanni, maintaining
his point with an air of conviction.

"If that is your conception of goodness, it is no wonder that you have
not attained to sanctity," said the old man, with a sneer.

"It pleases you to be witty," answered his son. "Astrardente did not
gamble; he had no vices of late. He was kind to his wife."

"No vices--no. He did not steal like a fraudulent bank-clerk, nor try to
do murder like Del Ferice. He did not deceive his wife, nor starve her to
death. He had therefore no vices. He was a good man."

"Let us leave poor Del Ferice alone," said Giovanni.

"I suppose you will pity him now," replied the Prince, sarcastically.
"You will talk differently if he dies and you have to leave the country
at a moment's notice, like Spicca this morning."

"I should be very sorry if Del Ferice died. I should never recover from
it. I am not a professional duellist like Spicca. And yet Casalverde
deserved his death. I can quite understand that Del Ferice might in the
excitement of the moment have lunged at me after the halt was cried, but
I cannot understand how Casalverde could be so infamous as not to cross
his sword when he himself called. It looked very much like a preconcerted
arrangement. Casalverde deserved to die, for the safety of society.
I should think that Rome had had enough of duelling for a while."

"Yes; but after all, Casalverde did not count for much. I am not sure I
ever saw the fellow before in my life. And I suppose Del Ferice will
recover. There was a story this morning that he was dead; but I went and
inquired myself, and found that he was better. People are much shocked
at this second duel. Well, it could not be helped. Poor old Astrardente!
So we shall never see his wig again at every ball and theatre and
supper-party! There was a man who enjoyed his life to the very end!"

"I should not call it enjoyment to be built up every day by one's valet,
like a card-house, merely to tumble to pieces again when the pins are
taken out," said Giovanni.

"You do not seem so enthusiastic in his defence as you were a few minutes
ago," said the Prince, with a smile.

Giovanni was so much disturbed at the surprising news that he hardly knew
what he said. He made a desperate attempt to be sensible.

"It appears to me that moral goodness and personal appearance are two
things," he said, oracularly. The Prince burst into a loud laugh.

"Most people would say that! Eat your dinner, Giovanni, and do not talk
such arrant nonsense."

"Why is it nonsense? Because you do not agree with me?"

"Because you are too much excited to talk sensibly," said his father. "Do
you think I cannot see it?"

Giovanni was silent for a time. He was angry at his father for detecting
the cause of his vagueness, but he supposed there was no help for it. At
last Pasquale left the room. Old Saracinesca gave a sigh of relief.

"And now, Giovannino," he said familiarly, "what have you got to say for
yourself?"

"I?" asked his son, in some surprise.

"You! What are you going to do?"

"I will stay at home," said Giovanni, shortly.

"That is not the question. You are wise to stay at home, because you
ought to get yourself healed of that scratch. Giovanni, the Astrardente
is now a widow."

"Seeing that her husband is dead--of course. There is vast ingenuity in
your deduction," returned the younger man, eyeing his father
suspiciously.

"Do not be an idiot, Giovannino. I mean, that as she is a widow, I have
no objection to your marrying her."

"Good God, sir!" cried Giovanni, "what do you mean?"

"What I say. She is the most beautiful woman in Rome. She is one of the
best women I know. She will have a sufficient jointure. Marry her. You
will never be happy with a silly little girl just out of a convent You
are not that sort of man. The Astrardente is not three-and-twenty, but
she has had five years of the world, and she has stood the test well. I
shall be proud to call her my daughter."

In his excitement Giovanni sprang from his seat, and rushing to his
father's side, threw his arms round his neck and embraced him. He had
never done such a thing in his life. Then he remained standing, and grew
suddenly thoughtful.

"It is heartless of us to talk in this way," he said. "The poor man is
not buried yet."

"My dear boy," said the old Prince, "Astrardente is dead. He hated me,
and was beginning to hate you, I fancy. We were neither of us his
friends, at any rate. We do not rejoice at his death; we merely regard it
in the light of an event which modifies our immediate future. He is dead,
and his wife is free. So long as he was alive, the fact of your loving
her was exceedingly unfortunate: it was injuring you and doing a wrong to
her. Now, on the contrary, the greatest good fortune that can happen to
you both is that you should marry each other."

"That is true," returned Giovanni. In the suddenness of the news, it had
not struck him that his father would ever look favourably upon the match,
although the immediate possibility of the marriage had burst upon him as
a great light suddenly rising in a thick darkness. But his nature, as
strong as his father's, was a little more delicate, a shade less rough;
and even in the midst of his great joy, it struck him as heartless to be
discussing the chances of marrying a woman whose husband was not yet
buried. No such scruple disturbed the geniality of the old Prince. He was
an honest and straightforward man--a man easily possessed by a single
idea--and he was capable of profound affections. He had loved his Spanish
wife strongly in his own fashion, and she had loved him, but there was no
one left to him now but his son, whom he delighted in, and he regarded
the rest of the world merely as pawns to be moved into position for the
honour and glory of the Saracinesca. He thought no more of a man's life
than of the end of a cigar, smoked out and fit to be thrown away.
Astrardente had been nothing to him but an obstacle. It had not struck
him that he could ever be removed; but since it had pleased Providence
to take him out of the way, there was no earthly reason for mourning his
death. All men must die--it was better that death should come to those
who stood in the way of their fellow-creatures.

"I am not at all sure that she will consent," said Giovanni, beginning to
walk up and down the room.

"Bah!" ejaculated his father. "You are the best match in Italy. Why
should any woman refuse you?"

"I am not so sure. She is not like other women. Let us not talk of it
now. It will not be possible to do anything for a year, I suppose. A year
is a long time. Meanwhile I will go to that poor man's funeral."

"Of course. So will I."

And they both went, and found themselves in a vast crowd of
acquaintances. No one had believed that Astrardente could ever die, that
the day would ever come when society should know his place no more; and
with one consent everybody sent their carriages to the funeral, and went
themselves a day or two later to the great requiem Mass in the parish
church. There was nothing to be seen but the great black catafalque, with
Corona's household of servants in deep mourning liveries kneeling behind
it. Relations she had none, and the dead man was the last of his race--
she was utterly alone.

"She need not have made it so terribly impressive," said Madame Mayer
to Valdarno when the Mass was over. Madame Mayer paused beside the
holy-water basin, and dipping one gloved finger, she presented it to
Valdarno with an engaging smile. Both crossed themselves.

"She need not have got it up so terribly impressively, after all," she
repeated.

"I daresay she will miss him at first," returned Valdarno, who was a
kind-hearted fellow enough, and was very far from realising how much he
had contributed to the sudden death of the old dandy. "She is a strange
woman. I believe she had grown fond of him."

"Oh, I know all that," said Donna Tullia, as they left the church.

"Yes," answered her companion, with a significant smile, "I presume you
do." Donna Tullia laughed harshly as she got into her carriage.

"You are detestable, Valdarno--you always misunderstand me. Are you going
to the ball tonight?"

"Of course. May I have the pleasure of the cotillon?"

"If you are very good--if you will go and ask the news of Del Ferice."

"I sent this morning. He is quite out of danger, they believe."

"Is he? Oh, I am very glad--I felt so very badly, you know. Ah, Don
Giovanni, are you recovered?" she asked coldly, as Saracinesca approached
the other side of the carriage. Valdarno retired to a distance, and
pretended to be buttoning his greatcoat; he wanted to see what would
happen.

"Thank you, yes; I was not much hurt. This is the first time I have been
out, and I am glad to find an opportunity of speaking to you. Let me say
again how profoundly I regret my forgetfulness at the ball the other
night--"

Donna Tullia was a clever woman, and though she had been very angry at
the time, she was in love with Giovanni. She therefore looked at him
suddenly with a gentle smile, and just for one moment her fingers touched
his hand as it rested upon the side of the carriage.

"Do you think it was kind?" she asked, in a low voice.

"It was abominable. I shall never forgive myself," answered Giovanni.

"I will forgive you," answered Donna Tullia, softly. She really loved
him. It was the best thing in her nature, but it was more than balanced
by the jealousy she had conceived for the Duchessa d'Astrardente.

"Was it on that account that you quarrelled with poor Del Ferice?" she
asked, after a moment's pause. "I have feared it--"

"Certainly not," answered Giovanni, quickly. "Pray set your mind at rest.
Del Ferice or any other man would have been quite justified in calling me
out for it--but it was not for that. It was not on account of you."

It would have been hard to say whether Donna Tullia's face expressed more
clearly her surprise or her disappointment at the intelligence. Perhaps
she had both really believed herself the cause of the duel, and had
been flattered at the thought that men would fight for her.

"Oh, I am very glad--it is a great relief," she said, rather coldly. "Are
you going to the ball to-night?"

"No; I cannot dance. My right arm is bound up in a sling, as you see."

"I am sorry you are not coming. Good-bye, then."

"Good-bye; I am very grateful for your forgiveness." Giovanni bowed low,
and Donna Tullia's brilliant equipage dashed away.

Giovanni was well satisfied at having made his peace so easily, but he
nevertheless apprehended danger from Donna Tullia.

The next thing which interested Roman society was Astrardente's will,
but no one was much surprised when the terms of it were known. As there
were no relations, everything was left to his wife. The palace in Rome,
the town and castle in the Sabines, the broad lands in the low
hill-country towards Ceprano, and what surprised even the family lawyer,
a goodly sum in solid English securities,--a splendid fortune in all,
according to Roman ideas. Astrardente abhorred the name of money in his
conversation--it had been one of his affectations; but he had an
excellent understanding of business, and was exceedingly methodical in
the management of his affairs. The inheritance, the lawer thought, might
be estimated at three millions of scudi.

"Is all this wealth mine, then?" asked Corona, when the solicitor had
explained the situation.

"All, Signora Duchessa. You are enormously rich."

Enormously rich! And alone in the world. Corona asked herself if she was
the same woman, the same Corona del Carmine who five years before had
suffered in the old convent the humiliation of having no pocket-money,
whose wedding-gown had been provided from the proceeds of a little sale
of the last relics of her father's once splendid collection of old china
and pictures. She had never thought of money since she had been married;
her husband was generous, but methodical; she never bought anything
without consulting him, and the bills all went through his hands. Now and
then she had rather timidly asked for a small sum for some charity; she
had lacked nothing that money could buy, but she never remembered to have
had more than a hundred francs in her purse. Astrardente had once offered
to give her an allowance, and had seemed pleased that she refused it. He
liked to manage things himself, being a man of detail.

And now she was enormously rich, and alone. It was a strange sensation.
She felt it to be so new that she innocently said so to the lawyer.

"What shall I do with it all?"

"Signora Duchessa," returned the old man, "with regard to money the
question is, not what to do with it, but how to do without it. You are
very young, Signora Duchessa."

"I shall be twenty-three in August," said Corona, simply.

"Precisely. I would beg to be allowed to observe that by the terms of the
will, and by the laws of this country, you are not the dowager-duchess,
but you are in your own right and person the sole and only feudal
mistress and holder of the title."

"Am I?"

"Certainly, with all the privileges thereto attached. It may be--I beg
pardon for being so bold as to suggest it--it may be that in years to
come, when time has soothed your sorrow, you may wish, you may consent,
to renew the marriage tie."

"I doubt it--but the thing is possible," said Corona, quietly.

"In that case, and should you prefer to contract a marriage of
inclination, you will have no difficulty in conferring your title upon
your husband, with any reservations you please. Your children will then
inherit from you, and become in their turn Dukes of Astrardente. This I
conceive to have been the purpose and spirit of the late Duke's will. The
estate, magnificent as it is, will not be too large for the foundation of
a new race. If you desire any distinctive title, you can call yourself
Duchessa del Carmine d'Astrardente--it would sound very well," remarked
the lawyer, contemplating the beautiful woman before him.

"It is of little importance what I call myself," said Corona. "At present
I shall certainly make no change. It is very unlikely that I shall ever
marry."

"I trust, Signora Duchessa, that in any case you will always command my
most humble services."

With this protestation of fidelity the lawyer left the Palazzo
Astrardente, and Corona remained in her boudoir in meditation of what it
would be like to be the feudal mistress of a great title and estate. She
was very sad, but she was growing used to her solitude. Her liberty was
strange to her, but little by little she was beginning to enjoy it. At
first she had missed the constant care of the poor man who for five years
had been her companion; she had missed his presence and the burden of
thinking for him at every turn of the day. But it was not for long. Her
memory of him was kind and tender, and for months after his death the
occasional sight of some object associated with him brought the tears to
her eyes. She often wished he could walk into the room in his old way,
and begin talking of the thousand and one bits of town gossip that
interested him. But the first feeling of desolation soon passed, for he
had not been more than a companion; she could analyse every memory she
had of him to its source and reason. There was not in her that passionate
unformulated yearning for him that comes upon a loving heart when its
fellow is taken away, and which alone is a proof that love has been real
and true. She soon grew accustomed to his absence.

To marry again--every one would say she would be right--to marry and to
be the mother of children, of brave sons and noble girls,--ah yes! that
was a new thought, a wonderful thought, one of many that were
wonderful.

Then, again, her strong nature suddenly rose in a new sense of strength,
and she paced the room slowly with a strange expression of sternness upon
her beautiful features.

"I am a power in the world," she said to herself, almost starting at the
truth of the thought, and yet taking delight in it. "I am what men call
rich and powerful; I have money, estates, castles, and palaces; I am
young, I am strong. What shall I do with it all?"

As she walked, she dreamed of raising some great institution of charity;
she knew not for what precise object, but there was room enough for
charity in Rome. The great Torlonia had built churches, and hospitals,
and asylums. She would do likewise; she would make for herself an
interest in doing good, a satisfaction in the exercise of her power to
combat evil. It would be magnificent to feel that she had done it
herself, alone and unaided; that she had built the walls from the
foundation and the corner-stone to the eaves; that she had entered
herself into the study of each detail, and herself peopled the great
institution with such as needed most help in the world--with little
children, perhaps. She would visit them every day, and herself provide
for their wants and care for their sufferings. She would give the place
her husband's name, and the good she would accomplish with his earthly
portion might perhaps profit his soul. She would go to Padre Filippo and
ask his advice. He would know what was best to be done, for he knew more
of the misery in Rome than any one, and had a greater mind to relieve it.
She had seen him since her husband's death, but she had not yet conceived
this scheme.

And Giovanni--she thought of him too; but the habit of putting him out of
her heart was strong. She dimly fancied that in the far future a day
might come when she would be justified in thinking of him if she so
pleased; but for the present, her loyalty to her dead husband seemed more
than ever a sacred duty. She would not permit herself to think of
Giovanni, even though, from a general point of view, she might
contemplate the possibility of a second marriage. She would go to Padre
Filippo and talk over everything with him; he would advise her well.

Then a wild longing seized her to leave Rome for a while, to breathe the
air of the country, to get away from the scene of all her troubles, of
all the terrible emotions that had swept over her life in the last three
weeks, to be alone in the hills or by the sea. It seemed dreadful to be
tied to her great house in the city, in her mourning, shut off suddenly
from the world, and bound down by the chain of conventionality to a fixed
method of existence. She would give anything to go away. Why not? She
suddenly realised what was so hard to understand, that she was free to go
where she pleased--if only, by accident, she could chance to meet
Giovanni Saracinesca before she left. No--the thought was unworthy. She
would leave town at once--surely she could have nothing to say to
Giovanni--she would leave to-morrow morning.



CHAPTER XVIII.


Corona found it impossible to leave town so soon as she had wished. She
had indeed sent out great cart-loads of furniture, servants, horses, and
all the paraphernalia of an establishment in the country, and she
believed herself ready to move at once, when she received an exceedingly
courteous note from Cardinal Antonelli requesting the honour of being
received by her the next day at twelve o'clock. It was impossible to
refuse, and to her great annoyance she was obliged to postpone her
departure another twenty-four hours. She guessed that the great man was
the bearer of some message from the Holy Father himself; and in her
present frame of mind, such words of comfort could not fail to be
acceptable from one whom she reverenced and loved, as all who knew
Pius IX. did sincerely revere and love him. She did not like the
Cardinal, it is true; but she did not confound the ambassador with him
who sent the embassy. The Cardinal was a most courteous and accomplished
man of the world, and Corona could not easily have explained the aversion
she felt for him. It is very likely that if she could have understood the
part he was sustaining in the great European struggle of those days, she
would have accorded him at least the admiration he deserved as a
statesman. He had his faults, and they were faults little becoming a
cardinal of the Holy Roman Church. But few are willing to consider that,
though a cardinal, he was not a priest--that he was practically a layman
who, by his own unaided genius, had attained to great power, and that
those faults which have been charged against him with such virulence
would have passed, nay, actually pass, unnoticed and uncensured in many a
great statesman of those days and of these. He was a brave man, who
fought a desperate and hopeless fight to his last breath, and who fought
almost alone--a man most bitterly hated by many, at whose death many
rejoiced loudly and few mourned; and to the shame of many be it said,
that his most obstinate adversaries, those who unsparingly heaped abuse
upon him during his lifetime, and most unseemingly exulted over his end,
were the very men among whom he should have found the most willing
supporters and the firmest friends. But in 1865 he was feared, and those
who reckoned without him in the game of politics reckoned badly.

Corona was a woman, and very young. She had not the knowledge or the
experience to understand his value, and she had taken a personal dislike
to him when she first appeared in society. He was too smooth for her; she
thought him false. She preferred a rougher type. Her husband, on the
other hand, had a boundless admiration for the cardinal-statesman; and
perhaps the way in which Astrardente constantly tried to impress his wife
with a sense of the great man's virtues, indirectly contributed to
increase her aversion. Nevertheless, when he sent word that he desired to
be received by her, she did not hesitate a moment, but expressed her
willingness at once. Punctually as the gun of Sant Angelo roared out the
news that the sun was on the meridian, Cardinal Antonelli entered
Corona's house. She received him in the great drawing-room. There was an
air of solemnity about the meeting. The room itself, divested of a
thousand trifles which had already been sent into the country, looked
desolate and formal; the heavy curtains admitted but little light; there
was no fire on the hearth; Corona stood all in black--a very incarnation
of mourning--as her visitor trod softly across the dark carpet towards
her.

The Cardinal's expressive face was softened by a look of gentle sympathy,
as he came forward and took her hand in both of his, and gazed for a
moment into her beautiful eyes.

"I am an ambassador, Duchessa," he said softly. "I come to tell you how
deeply our Holy Father sympathises in your great sorrow."

Corona bent her head respectfully, and motioned to the Cardinal to be
seated.

"I beg that your Eminence will convey to his Holiness my most sincere
gratitude for this expression of his paternal kindness to one so
unhappy."

"Indeed I will not fail to deliver your message, Duchessa," answered the
Cardinal, seating himself by her side in one of the great arm-chairs
which had been placed together in the middle of the room. "His Holiness
has promised to remember you in his august prayers; and I also, for my
own part, entreat you to believe that my poor sympathy is wholly with you
in your distress."

"Your Eminence is most kind," replied Corona, gravely.

It seemed as though there were little more to be said in such a case.
There was no friendship between the two, no bond of union or fellowship:
it was simply a formal visit of condolence, entailed as a necessity by
Corona's high position. The Pope had sent her a gift at her wedding; he
sent her a message of sympathy at her husband's death. Half-a-dozen
phrases would be exchanged, and the Cardinal would take his leave,
accompanied by a file of the Duchessa's lackeys--and so it would all be
over. But the Cardinal was a statesman, a diplomatist, and one of the
best talkers in Europe; moreover, he never allowed an opportunity of
pursuing his ends to pass unimproved.

"Ah, Duchessa!" he said, folding his hands upon his knee and looking
down, "there is but one Consoler in sorrow such as yours. It is vain for
us mortals to talk of any such thing as alleviating real mental
suffering. There are consolations--many of them--for some people, but
they are not for you. To many the accidents of wealth, of youth, of
beauty, seem to open the perspective of a brilliant future at the very
moment when all the present appears to be shrouded in darkness; but if
you will permit me, who know you so little, to say it frankly, I do not
believe that any of these things which you possess in such plentiful
abundance will lessen the measure of your grief. It is not right that
they should, I suppose. It is not fitting that noble minds should even
possess the faculty of forgetting real suffering in the unreal trifles
of a great worldly possession, which so easily restore the weak to
courage, and natter the vulgar into the forgetfulness of honourable
sorrow. I am no moraliser, no pedantic philosopher. The stoic may have
shrugged his heavy shoulders in sullen indifference to fate; the
epicurean may have found such bodily ease in his excessive refinement
of moderate enjoyment as to overlook the deepest afflictions in
anticipating the animal pleasure of the next meal. I cannot conceive of
such men as those philosophising diners; nor can I imagine by what
arguments the wisest of mankind could induce a fellow-creature in
distress to forget his sufferings. Sorrow is sorrow still to all finely
organised natures. The capacity for feeling sorrow is one of the highest
tests of nobility--a nobility of nature not found always in those of high
blood and birth, but existing in the people, wherever the people are
good."

The Cardinal's voice became even more gentle as he spoke. He was himself
of very humble origin, and spoke feelingly. Corona listened, though she
only heard half of what he said; but his soft tone soothed her almost
unconsciously.

"There is little consolation for me--I am quite alone," she said.

"You are not of those who find relief in worldly greatness," continued
the Cardinal. "But I have seen women, young, rich, and beautiful, wear
their mourning with wonderful composure. Youth is so much, wealth is so
much more, beauty is such a power in the world--all three together are
resistless. Many a young widow is not ashamed to think of marriage before
her husband has been dead a month. Indeed they do not always make bad
wives. A woman who has been married young and is early deprived of her
husband, has great experience, great knowledge of the world. Many feel
that they have no right to waste the goods given them in a life of
solitary mourning. Wealth is given to be used, and perhaps many a rich
young widow thinks she can use it more wisely in the company of a husband
young as herself. It may be; I cannot tell. These are days when power of
any sort should be used, and perhaps no one should even for a moment
think of withdrawing from the scene where such great battles are being
fought. But one may choose wisely a way of using power, or one may choose
unwisely. There is much to be done."

"How?" asked Corona, catching at his expression of an idea which pursued
her. "Here am I, rich, alone, idle--above all, very unhappy. What can I
do? I wish I knew, for I would try and do it."

"Ah! I was not speaking of you, Duchessa," answered the statesman. "You
are too noble a woman to be easily consoled. And yet, though you may not
find relief from your great sorrow, there are many things within your
reach which you might do, and feel that in your mourning you have done
honour to your departed husband as well as to yourself. You have great
estates--you can improve them, and especially you can improve the
condition of your peasants, and strengthen their loyalty to you and to
the State. You can find many a village on your lands where a school
might be established, an asylum built, a road opened--anything which
shall give employment to the poor, and which, when finished, shall
benefit their condition. Especially about Astrardente they are very poor;
I know the country well. In six months you might change many things; and
then you might return to Rome next winter. If it pleases you, you can do
anything with society. You can make your house a centre for a new
party--the oldest of all parties it is, but it would now be thought new
here. We have no centre. There is no _salon_ in the good old sense of the
word--no house where all that is intelligent, all that is powerful, all
that is influential, is irresistibly drawn. To make a centre of that kind
would be a worthy object, it seems to me. You would surround yourself
with men of genius; you would bring those together who cannot meet
elsewhere; you would give a vigorous tone to a society which is fast
falling to decay from inanition; you could become a power, a real power,
not only in Rome, but in Europe; you could make your house famous as the
point from which, in Rome, all that is good and great should radiate to
the very ends of the earth. You could do all this in your young
widowhood, and you would not dishonour the memory of him you loved so
dearly."

Corona looked earnestly at the Cardinal as he enlarged upon the
possibilities of her life. What he said seemed true and good. It opened
to her a larger field than she had dreamed of half an hour ago.
Especially the plan of working for the improvement of her estates and
people attracted her. She wanted to do something at once--something
good, and something worth doing.

"I believe you are right," she said. "I shall die if I am idle."

"I know I am right," returned the Cardinal, in a tone of conviction. "Not
that I propose all this as an unalterable plan for you. I would not have
you think I mean to lay down any system, or even to advise you at all. I
was merely thinking aloud. I am too happy if my thoughts please you--if
anything I say can even for a moment relieve your mind from the pressure
of this sudden grief. It is not consolation I offer you. I am not a
priest, but a man of action; and it is action I propose to you, not as
an anodyne for sorrow, but simply because it is right that in these days
we should all strive with a good will. Your peasants are many of them in
an evil case: you can save them and make them happy, even though you find
no happiness for yourself. Our social world here is falling to pieces,
going astray after strange gods, and especially after Madame Mayer and
her _lares_ and _penates_, young Valdarno and Del Ferice: it is in your
power to create a new life here, or at least to contribute greatly
towards reestablishing the social balance. I say, do this thing, if you
will, for it is a good thing to do. At all events, while you are building
roads--and perhaps schools--at Astrardente, you can think over the course
you will afterwards pursue. And now, my dear Duchessa, I have detained
you far too long. Forgive me if I have wearied you, for I have great
things at heart, and must sometimes speak of them though I speak feebly.
Count on me always for any assistance you may require. Bear with me if I
weary you, for I was a good friend of him we both mourn."

"Thank you--you have given me good thoughts," said Corona, simply.

So the courtly Cardinal rose and took his leave, and once more Corona was
left alone. It was a strange thing that, while he disclaimed all power to
comfort her, and denied that consolation was possible in her case, she
had nevertheless listened to him with interest, and now found herself
thinking seriously of what he had said. He seemed to have put her
thoughts into shape, and to have given direction to that sense of power
she had already begun to feel. For the first time in her life she felt
something like sympathy for the Cardinal, and she lingered for some
minutes alone in the great reception-room, wondering whether she could
accomplish any of the things he had proposed to her. At all events, there
was nothing now to hinder her departure; and she thought with something
like pleasure of the rocky Sabines, the solitude of the mountains, the
simple faces of the people about her place, and of the quiet life she
intended to lead there during the next six months.

But the Cardinal went on his way, rolling along through, the narrow
streets in his great coach. Leaning far back in his cushioned seat, he
could just catch a glimpse of the people as he passed, and his quick eyes
recognised many, both high and low. But he did not care to show himself,
for he felt himself disliked, and deep in his finely organised nature
there lay a sensitiveness which was wounded by the popular hatred. It
hurt him to see the lowering glances of the poor man, and to return the
forced bow of the rich man who feared him. He often longed to be able to
explain many things to them both, to the rich and to the poor; and then,
knowing how impossible it was that he should be understood by either,
he sighed somewhat bitterly, and hid himself still deeper in his
carriage. Few men in the midst of the world have stood so wholly alone as
Cardinal Antonelli.

To-day, however, he had an appointment which he anticipated with a sort
of interest quite new to him. Anastase Gouache was coming to begin his
portrait, and Anastase was an object of curiosity to him. It would have
surprised the young Frenchman had he guessed how carefully he was
watched, for he was a modest fellow, and did not think himself of very
much importance. He allowed Donna Tullia and her friends to come to his
studio whenever they pleased, and he listened to their shallow talk, and
joined, occasionally in the conversation, letting them believe that he
sympathised with them, simply because his own ideas were unsettled. It
was a good thing for him to paint a portrait of Donna Tullia, for it made
him the fashion, and he had small scruple in agreeing with her views so
long as he had no fixed convictions of his own. She and her set regarded
him as a harmless boy, and looked upon his little studio as a
convenience, in payment whereof they pushed him into society, and spread
abroad the rumour that he was the rising artist of the day. But the great
Cardinal had seen him more than once, and had conceived a liking for
his delicate intellectual face and unobtrusive manner. He had watched him
and caused him to be watched, and his interest had increased, and finally
he had taken a fancy to have a portrait of himself painted by the young
fellow. This was the day appointed for the first sitting; and when the
Cardinal reached his lodgings, high up in the Vatican pile, he found
Anastase Gouache waiting for him in the small ante-chamber.

The prime minister was not luxuriously lodged. Four rooms sufficed
him--to wit, the said ante-chamber, bare and uncarpeted, and furnished
with three painted wooden box benches; a comfortable study lined
throughout with shelves and lockers, furnished with half-a-dozen large
chairs and a single writing-table, whereon stood a crucifix and an
inkstand; beyond this a bedroom and a small dining-room: that was all.
The drawers of the lockers and bookcases contained a correspondence which
would have astonished Europe, and a collection of gems and precious
stones unrivalled in the world; but there was nothing in the shape of
ornament visible to the eye, unless one were to class under that head a
fairly good bust of Pius IX, which stood upon a plain marble pedestal
in one corner. Gouache followed the great man into this study. He was
surprised by the simplicity of the apartment; but he felt in sympathy
with it, and with the Cardinal himself; and with the intuitive knowledge
of a true artist, he foresaw that he was to paint a successful portrait.

The Cardinal busied himself with some papers while the painter silently
made his preparations.

"If your Eminence is ready?" suggested Gouache.

"At your service, my friend," replied the Cardinal, blandly. "How shall I
sit? The portrait must be taken in full face, I think."

"By all means. Here, I think--so; the light is very good at this hour,
but a little later we shall have the sun. If your Eminence will look at
me--a little more to the left--I think that will do. I will draw it in in
charcoal and your Eminence can judge."

"Precisely," returned the Cardinal. "You will paint the devil even
blacker than he is."

"The devil?" repeated Gouache, raising his eyebrows with a slight smile.
"I was not aware--"

"And yet you have been in Rome four years!"

"I am very careful," returned Gouache. "I never by any chance hear any
evil of those whom I am to paint."

"You have very well-bred ears, Monsieur Gouache. I fear that if I had
attended some of the meetings in your studio while Donna Tullia was
having her portrait painted, I should have heard strange things. Have
they all escaped you?"

Gouache was silent for a moment. It did not surprise him to learn that
the omniscient Cardinal was fully acquainted with the doings in his
studio, but he looked curiously at the great man before he answered. The
Cardinal's small gleaming eyes met his with the fearlessness of
superiority.

"I remember nothing but good of your Eminence," the painter replied at
last, with a laugh; and applying himself to his work, he began to draw in
the outline of the Cardinal's head. The words he had just heard, implying
as they did a thorough knowledge of the minutest details of social life,
would have terrified Madame Mayer, and would perhaps have driven Del
Ferice out of the Papal States in fear of his life. Even the good-natured
and foolish Valdarno might reasonably have been startled; but Anastase
was made of different stuff. His grandfather had helped to storm the
Bastille, his father had been among the men of 1848; there was
revolutionary blood in his veins, and he distinguished between real and
imaginary conspiracy with the unerring certainty of instinct, as the
bloodhound knows the track of man from the slot of meaner game. He
laughed at Donna Tullia, he distrusted Del Ferice, and to some extent he
understood the Cardinal. And the statesman understood him, too, and was
interested by him.

"You may as well forget their chatter. It does me no harm, and it amuses
them. It does not seem to surprise you that I should know all about it,
however. You have good nerves, Monsieur Gouache."

"Of course your Eminence can send me out of Rome tomorrow, if you
please," answered Gouache, with perfect unconcern. "But the portrait will
not be finished so soon."

"No--that would be a pity. You shall stay. But the others--what would you
advise me to do with them?" asked the Cardinal, his bright eyes twinkling
with amusement.

"If by the others your Eminence means my friends," replied Gouache,
quietly, "I can assure you that none of them will ever cause you the
slightest inconvenience."

"I believe you are right--their ability to annoy me is considerably
inferior to their inclination. Is it not so?"

"If your Eminence will allow me," said Gouache, rising suddenly and
laying down his charcoal pencil, "I will pin this curtain across the
window. The sun is beginning to come in."

He had no intention of answering any questions. If the Cardinal knew of
the meetings in the Via San Basilio, that was not Gouache's fault;
Gouache would certainly not give any further information. The statesman
had expected as much, and was not at all surprised at the young man's
silence.

"One of those young gentlemen seems to have met his match, at all
events," he remarked, presently. "I am sorry it should have come about in
that way."

"Your Eminence might easily have prevented the duel."

"I knew nothing about it," answered the Cardinal, glancing keenly at
Anastase.

"Nor I," said the artist, simply.

"You see my information is not always so good as people imagine, my
friend."

"It is a pity," remarked Gouache. "It would have been better had poor Del
Ferice been killed outright. The matter would have terminated there."

"Whereas--"

"Whereas Del Ferice will naturally seek an occasion for revenge."

"You speak as though you were a friend of Don Giovanni's," said the
Cardinal.

"No; I have a very slight acquaintance with him. I admire him, he has
such a fine head. I should be sorry if anything happened to him."

"Do you think Del Ferice is capable of murdering him?"

"Oh no! He might annoy him a great deal."

"I think not," answered the Cardinal, thoughtfully. "Del Ferice was
afraid that Don Giovanni would marry Donna Tullia and spoil his own
projects. But Giovanni will not think of that again."

"No; I suppose Don Giovanni will marry the Duchessa d'Astrardente."

"Of course," replied the Cardinal. For some minutes there was silence.
Gouache, while busy with his pencil, was wondering at the interest the
great man took in such details of the Roman social life. The Cardinal was
thinking of Corona, whom he had seen but half an hour ago, and was
revolving in his mind the advantages that might be got by allying her to
Giovanni. He had in view for her a certain Serene Highness whom he wished
to conciliate, and whose circumstances were not so splendid as to make
Corona's fortune seem insignificant to him. But on the other hand, the
Cardinal had no Serene Highness ready for Giovanni, and feared lest he
should after all marry Donna Tullia, and get into the opposite camp.

"You are from Paris, Monsieur Gouache, I believe," said the Cardinal at
last.

"Parisian of the Parisians, your Eminence."

"How can you bear to live in exile so long? You have not been to your
home these four years, I think."

"I would rather live in Rome for the present. I will go to Paris some
day. It will always be a pleasant recollection to have seen Rome in these
days. My friends write me that Paris is gay, but not pleasant."

"You think there will soon be nothing of this time left but the
recollection of it?" suggested the Cardinal.

"I do not know what to think. The times seem unsettled, and so are my
ideas. I was told that your Eminence would help me to decide what to
believe." Gouache smiled pleasantly, and looked up.

"And who told you that?"

"Don Giovanni Saracinesca."

"But I must have some clue to what your ideas are," said the Cardinal.
"When did Don Giovanni say that?"

"At Prince Frangipani's. He had been talking with your Eminence--perhaps
he had come to some conclusion in consequence," suggested Gouache.

"Perhaps so," answered the great man, with a look of considerable
satisfaction. "At all events I am flattered by the opinion he gave you of
me. Perhaps I may help you to decide. What are your opinions? or rather,
what would you like your opinions to be?"

"I am an ardent republican," said Gouache, boldly. It needed no ordinary
courage to make such a statement to the incarnate chief of reactionary
politics in those days--within the walls of the Vatican, not a hundred
yards from the private apartments of the Holy Father. But Cardinal
Antonelli smiled blandly, and seemed not in the least surprised nor
offended.

"Republicanism is an exceedingly vague term, Monsieur Gouache," he said.
"But with what other opinions do you wish to reconcile your
republicanism?"

"With those held by the Church. I am a good Catholic, and I desire to
remain one--indeed I cannot help remaining one."

"Christianity is not vague, at all events," answered the Cardinal, who,
to tell the truth, was somewhat astonished at the artist's juxtaposition
of two such principles. "In the first place, allow me to observe, my
friend, that Christianity is the purest form of a republic which the
world has ever seen, and that it therefore only depends upon your good
sense to reconcile in your own mind two ideas which from the first have
been indissolubly bound together."

It was Gouache's turn to be startled at the Cardinal's confidence.

"I am afraid I must ask your Eminence for some further explanation," he
said. "I had no idea that Christianity and republicanism were the same
thing."

"Republicanism," returned the statesman, "is a vague term, invented in an
abortive attempt to define by one word the mass of inextricable disorder
arising in our times from the fusion of socialistic ideas with ideas
purely republican. If you mean to speak of this kind of thing, you must
define precisely your position in regard to socialism, and in regard to
the pure theory of a commonwealth. If you mean to speak of a real
republic in any known form, such as the ancient Roman, the Dutch, or the
American, I understand you without further explanation."

"I certainly mean to speak of the pure republic. I believe that under a
pure republic the partition of wealth would take care of itself."

"Very good, my friend. Now, with regard to the early Christians, should
you say that their communities were monarchic, or aristocratic, or
oligarchic?"

"None of those three, I should think," said Gouache.

"There are only two systems left, then--democracy and hierarchy. You will
probably say that the government of the early Christians was of the
latter kind--that they were governed by priests, in fact. But on the
other hand, there is no doubt that both those who governed, and those who
were governed by them, had all things in common, regarded no man as
naturally superior to another, and preached a fraternity and equality at
least as sincere as those inculcated by the first French Republic. I do
not see how you can avoid calling such community a republic, seeing that
there was an equal partition of wealth; and defining it as a democratic
one, seeing that they all called each other brethren."

"But the hierarchy--what became of it?" inquired Gouache.

"The hierarchy existed within the democracy, by common consent and for
the public good, and formed a second democracy of smaller extent but
greater power. Any man might become a priest, any priest might become a
bishop, any bishop might become pope, as surely as any born citizen of
Rome could become consul, or any native of New York may be elected
President of the United States. Now in theory this was beautiful, and in
practice the democratic spirit of the hierarchy, the smaller republic,
has survived in undiminished vigour to the present day. In the original
Christian theory the whole world should now be one vast republic, in
which all Christians should call each other brothers, and support each
other in worldly as well as spiritual matters. Within this should exist
the smaller republic of the hierarchy, by common consent,--an elective
body, recruiting its numbers from the larger, as it does now; choosing
its head, the sovereign Pontiff, as it does now, to be the head of both
Church and State; eminently fitted for that position, for the very simple
reason that in a community organised and maintained upon such principles,
in which, by virtue of the real and universal love of religion, the best
men would find their way into the Church, and would ultimately find their
way to the papal throne."

"Your Eminence states the case very convincingly," answered Gouache. "But
why has the larger republic, which was to contain the smaller one, ceased
to exist? or rather, why did it never come into existence?"

"Because man has not yet fulfilled his part in the great contract. The
matter lies in a nutshell. The men who enter the Church are sufficiently
intelligent and well educated to appreciate the advantages of Christian
democracy, fellowship, solidarity, and brotherly love. The republic of
the Church has therefore survived, and will survive for ever. The men who
form the majority, on the other hand, have never had either the
intelligence or the education to understand that democracy is the
ultimate form of government: instead of forming themselves into a
federation, they have divided themselves into hostile factions, calling
themselves nations, and seeking every occasion for destroying and
plundering each other, frequently even turning against the Church
herself. The Church has committed faults in history, without doubt, but
on the whole she has nobly fulfilled her contract, and reaps the fruits
of fidelity in the vigour and unity she displays after eighteen
centuries. Man, on the other hand, has failed to do his duty, and all
races of men are consequently suffering for their misdeeds; the nations
are divided against each other, and every nation is a house divided
against itself, which sooner or later shall fall."

"But," objected Gouache, "allowing, as one easily may, that all this is
true, your Eminence is always called reactionary in politics. Does that
accord with these views?"

Gouache believed the question unanswerable, but as he put it he worked
calmly on with his pencil, labouring hard to catch something of the
Cardinal's striking expression in the rough drawing he was making.

"Nothing is easier, my friend," replied the statesman. "The republic of
the Church is driven to bay. We are on a war footing. For the sake of
strength we are obliged to hold together so firmly that for the time we
can only think of maintaining old traditions without dreaming of progress
or spending time in experiments. When we have weathered the storm we
shall have leisure for improving much that needs improvement. Do not
think that if I am alive twenty years hence I shall advise what I advise
now. We are fighting now, and we have no time to think of the arts of
peace. We shall have peace some day. We shall lose an ornament or two
from our garments in the struggle, but our body will not be injured, and
in time of peace our ornaments will be restored to us fourfold. But now
there is war and rumour of war. There is a vast difference between the
ideal republic which I was speaking of, and the real anarchy and
confusion which would be brought about by what is called republicanism."

"In other words, if the attack upon the Church were suddenly abandoned,
your Eminence would immediately abandon your reactionary policy," said
Gouache, "and adopt progressive views?"

"Immediately," replied the Cardinal.

"I see," said Gouache. "A little more towards me--just so that I can
catch that eye. Thank you--that will do."



CHAPTER XIX.


When Del Ferice was thought sufficiently recovered of his wound to hear
some of the news of the day, which was about three weeks after the duel,
he learned that Astrardente was dead, that the Duchessa had inherited
all his fortune, and that she was on the point of leaving Rome. It would
be hard to say how the information of her approaching departure had got
abroad; it might be merely a clever guess of the gossips, or it might be
the report gleaned from her maid by all the other maids in town. Be that
as it may, when Del Ferice heard it he ground his teeth as he lay upon
his bed, and swore that if it were possible to prevent the Duchessa
d'Astrardente from leaving town he would do it. In his judgment it
would be a dangerous thing to let Corona and Giovanni part, and to allow
Donna Tullia free play in her matrimonial designs. Of course Giovanni
would never marry Madame Mayer, especially as he was now at liberty to
marry the Astrardente; but Madame Mayer herself might become fatally
interested in him, as she already seemed inclined to be, and this would
be bad for Del Ferice's own prospects. It would not do to squander any of
the advantages gained by the death of the old Duca. Giovanni must be
hastened into a marriage with Corona; it would be time enough to think of
revenge upon him afterwards for the ghastly wound that took so long to
heal.

It was a pity that Del Ferice and Donna Tullia were not allies, for if
Madame Mayer hated Corona d'Astrardente, Ugo del Ferice detested Giovanni
with equal virulency, not only because he had been so terribly worsted
by him in the duel his own vile conduct had made inevitable, but because
Donna Tullia loved him and was doing her very best to marry him.
Evidently the best thing to be done was to produce a misunderstanding
between the two; but it would be dangerous to play any tricks with
Giovanni, for he held Del Ferice in his power by his knowledge of that
disagreeable scene behind the plants in the conservatory. Saracinesca was
a great man in society and celebrated for his honesty; people would
believe him rather than Del Ferice, if the story got abroad. This would
not do. The next best thing was to endeavour to draw Giovanni and Corona
together as quickly as possible, to precipitate their engagement, and
thus to clear the field of a dangerous rival. Del Ferice was a very
obstinate and a very intelligent man. He meant more than ever to marry
Donna Tullia himself, and he would not be hindered in the accomplishment
of his object by an insignificant scruple.

He was not allowed to speak much, lest the effort should retard the
healing of his throat; but in the long days and nights, when he lay
silent in his quiet lodging, he had ample time to revolve many schemes in
his brain. At last he no longer needed the care of the Sister of Mercy;
his servant took charge of him, and the surgeon came twice a-day to dress
his wound. He lay in bed one morning watching Temistocle, who moved
noiselessly about the room.

"Temistocle," he said, "you are a youth of intelligence: you must use the
gifts nature has given you."

Temistocle was at that time not more than five-and-twenty years of age.
He had a muddy complexion, a sharp hooked nose, and a cast in one eye
that gave him a singularly unpleasant expression. As his master addressed
him, he stood still and listened with a sort of distorted smile in
acknowledgment of the compliment made him.

"Temistocle, you must find out when the Duchessa d'Astrardente means to
leave Rome, and where she is going. You know somebody in the house?"

"Yes, sir--the under-cook; he stood godfather with me for the baby of a
cousin of mine--the young man who drives Prince Valdarno's private
brougham: a clever fellow, too."

"And this under-cook," said Del Ferice, who was not above entering into
details with his servant--"is he a discreet character?"

"Oh, for that, you may trust him. Only sometimes--" Temistocle grinned,
and made a gesture which signified drinking.

"And when he is drunk?" asked Del Ferice.

"When he is drunk he tells everything; but he never remembers anything he
has been told, or has said. When he is drunk he is a dictionary; but the
first draught of water washes out his memory like a slate."

"Well--give me my purse; it is under my pillow. Go. Here is a _scudo_,
Temistocle. You can make him very drunk for that."

Temistocle hesitated, and looked at the money.

"Another couple of _pauls_ would make it safer," he remarked.

"Well, there they are; but you must make him very drunk indeed. You must
find out all he knows, and you must keep sober yourself."

"Leave that to me. I will make of him a sponge; he shall be squeezed dry,
and sopped again and squeezed again. I will be his confessor."

"If you find out what I want, I will give you--" Del Ferice hesitated; he
did not mean to give too much.

"The grey trousers?" asked Temistocle, with an avaricious light in the
eye which did not wander.

"Yes," answered his master, rather regretfully; "I suppose you must have
the grey trousers at last."

"For those grey trousers I will upset heaven and earth," returned
Temistocle in great glee.

Nothing more was said on that day, but early on the following morning the
man entered and opened the shutters, and removed the little oil-light
that had burned all night. He kept one eye upon his master, who presently
turned slowly and looked inquiringly at him.

"The Duchessa goes to Astrardente in the Sabines on the day after
to-morrow," said Temistocle. "It is quite sure that she goes, because she
has already sent out two pairs of horses, and several boxes of effects,
besides the second housemaid and the butler and two grooms."

"Ah! that is very good. Temistocle, I think I will get up this morning
and sit in the next room."

"And the grey trousers?"

"Take them, and wear them in honour of the most generous master living,"
said Del Ferice, impressively. "It is not every master who gives his
servant a pair of grey trousers. Remember that."

"Heaven bless you, Signor Conte!" exclaimed Temistocle, devoutly.

Del Ferice lost no time. He was terribly weak still, and his wound
was not entirely healed yet; but he set himself resolutely to his
writing-table, and did not rise until he had written two letters. The
first was carefully written in a large round hand, such as is used by
copyists in Italy, resembling the Gothic. It was impossible to connect
the laboriously formed and conventional letters with any particular
person. It was very short, as follows:--

"It may interest you to know that the Duchessa d'Astrardente is going to
her castle in the Sabines on the day after to-morrow."

This laconic epistle Del Ferice carefully directed to Don Giovanni
Saracinesca at his palace, and fastened a stamp upon it; but he concealed
the address from Temistocle. The second letter was longer, and written in
his own small and ornate handwriting. It was to Donna Tullia Mayer.
It ran thus:--

"You would forgive my importuning you with a letter, most charming Donna
Tullia, if you could conceive of my desolation and loneliness. For more
than three weeks I have been entirely deprived of the pleasure, the
exquisite delight, of conversing with her for whom I have suffered. I
still suffer so much. Ah! if my paper were a cloth of gold, and my pen in
moving traced characters of diamond and pearl, yet any words which speak
of you would be ineffectually honoured by such transcription! In the
miserable days and nights I have passed between life and death, it is
your image which has consoled me, the echo of your delicate voice which
has soothed my pain, the remembrance of the last hours I spent with you
which has gilded the feverish dreams of my sickness. You are the
guardian angel of a most unhappy man, Donna Tullia. Do you know it? But
for you I would have wooed death as a comforter. As it is, I have
struggled desperately to keep my grasp upon life, in the hope of once
more seeing your smile and hearing your happy laugh; perhaps--I dare not
expect it--I may receive from you some slight word of sympathy, some
little half-sighed hint that you do not altogether regret having been in
these long weeks the unconscious comforter of my sorrowing spirit and
tormented body. You would hardly know me, could you see me; but saving
for your sweet spiritual presence, which has rescued me from the jaws of
death, you would never have seen me again. Is it presumption in me to
write thus? Have you ever given me a right to speak in these words? I do
not know. I do not care. Man has a right to be grateful. It is the first
and most divine right I possess, to feel and to express my gratitude. For
out of the store of your kindness shown me when I was in the world,
strong and happy in the privilege of your society, I have drawn healing
medicine in my sickness, as tormented souls in purgatory get refreshment
from the prayers of good and kind people who remember them on earth. So,
therefore, if I have said too much, forgive me, forgive the heartfelt
gratitude which prompts me; and believe still in the respectful and
undying devotion of the humblest of your servants, UGO DEL FERICE."

Del Ferice read over what he had written with considerable satisfaction,
and having addressed his letter to Donna Tullia, he lost no time in
despatching Temistocle with it, instructing him to ask if there would be
an answer. As soon as the man was out of the house, Ugo rang for his
landlady, and sent for the porter's little boy, to whom he delivered the
letter to Don Giovanni, to be dropped into the nearest post-box. Then he
lay down, exhausted with his morning's work. In the course of two hours
Temistocle returned from Donna Tullia's house with a little scented
note--too much scented, and the paper just a shade too small. She took no
notice of what he had said in his carefully penned epistle; but merely
told him she was sincerely glad that he was better, and asked him to call
as soon as he could. Ugo was not disappointed; he had expected no
compromising expression of interest in response to his own effusions; and
he was well pleased with the invitation, for it showed that what he had
written had produced the desired result.

Don Giovanni Saracinesca received the anonymous note late in the evening.
He had, of course, together with his father, deposited cards of
condolence at the Palazzo Astrardente, and he had been alone to inquire
if the Duchessa would receive him. The porter had answered that, for
the present, there were standing orders to admit no one; and as Giovanni
could boast of no especial intimacy, and had no valid excuse to give, he
was obliged to be satisfied. He had patiently waited in the Villa
Borghese and by the band-stand on the Pincio, taking it for granted that
sooner or later Corona's carriage would appear; but when at last he had
seen her brougham, she had driven rapidly past him, thickly veiled, and
he did not think she had even noticed him. He would have written to her,
but he was still unable to hold a pen; and he reflected that, after all,
it would have been a hideous farce for him to offer condolences and
sympathy, however much he might desire to hide from himself his secret
satisfaction at her husband's death. Too proud to think of obtaining
information through such base channels as Del Ferice was willing to use,
he was wholly ignorant of Corona's intentions; and it was a brilliant
proof of Ugo's astuteness that he had rightly judged Giovanni's position
with regard to her, and justly estimated the value of the news conveyed
by his anonymous note.

Saracinesca read the scrap of writing, and tossed it angrily into the
fire. He hated underhand dealings, and scorned himself for the interest
the note excited in him, wondering who could find advantage in informing
him of the Duchessa's movements. But the note took effect, nevertheless,
although he was ashamed of it, and all night he pondered upon what it
told him. The next day, at three o'clock, he went out alone, and walked
rapidly towards the Palazzo Astrardente. He was unable to bear the
suspense any longer; the thought that Corona was going away, apparently
to shut herself up in the solitude of the ancient fortress, for any
unknown number of months, and that he might not see her until the autumn,
was intolerable. He knew that by the mere use of his name he could at
least make sure that she should know he was at her door, and he
determined to make the attempt. He waited a long time, pacing slowly the
broad flagstones beneath the arch of the palace, while the porter
himself went up with his card and message. The fellow had hesitated, but
Don Giovanni Saracinesca was not a man to be refused by a servant. At
last the porter returned, and, bowing to the ground, said that the
Signora Duchessa would receive him.

In five minutes he was waiting alone in the great drawing-room. It had
cost Corona a struggle to allow him to be admitted. She hesitated long,
for it seemed like a positive wrong to her husband's memory, but the
woman in her yielded at last; she was going away on the following
morning, and she could not refuse to see him for once. She hesitated
again as she laid her hand upon the latch of the door, knowing that he
was in the room beyond; then at last she entered.

Her face was very pale and very grave. Her simple gown of close-fitting
black set off her height and figure, and flowed softly in harmony with
her stately movements as she advanced towards Giovanni, who stood almost
awestruck in the middle of the room. He could not realise that this dark
sad princess was the same woman to whom less than a month ago he had
spoken such passionate words, whom he had madly tried to take into his
arms. Proud as he was, it seemed presumptuous in him to think of love in
connection with so royal a woman; and yet he knew that he loved her
better and more truly than he had done a month before. She held out her
hand to him, and he raised it to his lips. Then they both sat down in
silence.

"I had despaired of ever seeing you again," said Giovanni at last,
speaking in a subdued voice. "I had wished for some opportunity of
telling you how sincerely I sympathise with you in your great loss." It
was a very formal speech, such as men make in such situations. It might
have been better, but he was not eloquent; even his rough old father had
a better command of language on ordinary occasions, though Giovanni could
speak well enough when he was roused. But he felt constrained in the
presence of the woman he adored. Corona herself hardly knew how to
answer.

"You are very kind," she said, simply.

"I wish it were possible to be of any service to you," he answered. "I
need not tell you that both my father and myself would hold it an honour
to assist you in any way." He mentioned his father from a feeling of
delicacy; he did not wish to put himself forward.

"You are very kind," repeated Corona, gravely. "I have not had any
annoyance. I have an excellent man of business."

There was a moment's pause. Then she seemed to understand that he was
embarrassed, and spoke again.

"I am glad to see that you are recovered," she said.

"It was nothing," answered Giovanni, with a glance at his right arm,
which was still confined in a bandage of black silk, but was no longer in
a sling.

"It was very wrong of you," returned Corona, looking seriously into his
eyes. "I do not know why you fought, but it was wrong; it is a great
sin."

Giovanni smiled a little.

"We all have to sin sometimes," he said. "Would you have me stand quietly
and see an abominable piece of baseness, and not lift a hand to punish
the offender?"

"People who do base things always come to a bad end," answered the
Duchessa.

"Perhaps. But we poor sinners are impatient to see justice done at once.
I am sorry to have done anything you consider wrong," he added, with a
shade of bitterness. "Will you permit me to change the subject? Are
you thinking of remaining in Rome, or do you mean to go away?"

"I am going up to Astrardente to-morrow," answered Corona, readily. "I
want to be alone and in the country."

Giovanni showed no surprise: his anonymous information had been accurate;
Del Ferice had not parted with the grey trousers in vain.

"I suppose you are right," he said. "But at this time of year I should
think the mountains would be very cold."

"The castle is comfortable. It has been recently fitted up, and there are
many warm rooms in it. I am fond of the old place, and I need to be alone
for a long time."

Giovanni thought the conversation was becoming oppressive. He thought of
what had passed between them at their last meeting in the conservatory of
the Palazzo Frangipani.

"I shall myself pass the summer in Saracinesca," he said, suddenly. "You
know it is not very far. May I hope that I may sometimes be permitted to
see you?"

Corona had certainly had no thought of seeing Giovanni when she had
determined to go to Astrardente; she had not been there often, and had
not realised that it was within reach of the Saracinesca estate. She
started slightly.

"Is it so near?" she asked.

"Half a day's ride over the hills," replied Giovanni.

"I did not know. Of course, if you come, you will not be denied
hospitality."

"But you would rather not see me?" asked Saracinesca, in a tone of
disappointment. He had hoped for something more encouraging. Corona
answered courageously.

"I would rather not see you. Do not think me unkind," she added, her
voice softening a little. "Why need there be any explanations? Do not try
to see me. I wish you well; I wish you more--all happiness--but do not
try to see me."

Giovanni's face grew grave and pale. He was disappointed, even
humiliated; but something told him that it was not coldness which
prompted her request.

"Your commands are my laws," he answered.

"I would rather that instead of regarding what I ask you as a command,
you should feel that it ought to be the natural prompting of your own
heart," replied Corona, somewhat coldly.

"Forgive me if my heart dictates what my obedience to you must
effectually forbid," said Giovanni. "I beseech you to be satisfied that
what you ask I will perform--blindly."

"Not blindly--you know all my reasons."

"There is that between you and me which annihilates reason," answered
Giovanni, his voice trembling a little.

"There is that in my position which should command your respect," said
Corona. She feared he was going too far, and yet this time she knew she
had not said too much, and that in bidding him avoid her, she was only
doing what was strictly necessary for her peace. "I am a widow," she
continued, very gravely; "I am a woman, and I am alone. My only
protection lies in the courtesy I have a right to expect from men like
you. You have expressed your sympathy; show it then by cheerfully
fulfilling my request. I do not speak in riddles, but very plainly. You
recall to me a moment of great pain, and your presence, the mere fact of
my receiving you, seems a disloyalty to the memory of my husband. I have
given you no reason to believe that I ever took a greater interest in you
than such as I might take in a friend. I hourly pray that this--this too
great interest you show in me, may pass quickly, and leave you what you
were before. You see I do not speak darkly, and I do not mean to speak
unkindly. Do not answer me, I beseech you, but take this as my last word.
Forget me if you can--"

"I cannot," said Giovanni, deeply moved.

"Try. If you cannot, God help you! but I am sure that if you try
faithfully, you will succeed. And now you must go," she said, in gentler
tones. "You should not have come--I should not have let you see me. But
it is best so. I am grateful for the sympathy you have expressed. I do
not doubt that you will do as I have asked you, and as you have promised.
Good-bye."

Corona rose to her feet, her hands folded before her. Giovanni had no
choice. She let her eyes rest upon him, not unkindly, but she did not
extend her hand. He stood one moment in hesitation, then bowed and left
the room without a word. Corona stood still, and her eyes followed his
retreating figure until at the door he turned once more and bent his head
and then was gone. Then she fell back into her chair and gazed listlessly
at the wall opposite.

"It is done," she said at last. "I hope it is well done and wisely."
Indeed it had been a hard thing to say; but it was better to say it at
once than to regret an ill-timed indulgence when it should be too late.
And yet it had cost her less to send him away definitely than it had
cost her to resist his passionate appeal a month ago. She seemed to have
gained strength from her sorrows. So he was gone! She gave a sigh of
relief, which was instantly followed by a sharp throb of pain, so sudden
that she hardly understood it.

Her preparations were all made. She had at the last moment realised that
it was not fitting for her, at her age, to travel alone, nor to live
wholly alone in her widowhood. She had revolved the matter in her mind,
and had decided that there was no woman of her acquaintance whom she
could ask even for a short time to stay with her. She had no friends, no
relations, none to turn to in such a need. It was not that she cared for
company in her solitude; it was merely a question of propriety. To
overcome the difficulty, she obtained permission to take with her one of
the sisters of a charitable order of nuns, a lady in middle life, but
broken down and in ill health from her untiring labours. The thing was
easily managed; and the next morning, on leaving the palace, she stopped
at the gate of the community and found Sister Gabrielle waiting with her
modest box. The nun entered the huge travelling carriage, and the two
ladies set out for Astrardente.

It was the first day of Carnival, and a memorably sad one for Giovanni
Saracinesca. He would have been capable of leaving Rome at once, but that
he had promised Corona not to attempt to see her. He would have gone to
Saracinesca for the mere sake of being nearer to her, had he not
reflected that he would be encouraging all manner of gossip by so doing.
But he determined that so soon as Lent began, he would declare his
intention of leaving the city for a year. No one ever went to
Saracinesca, and by making a circuit he could reach the ancestral
castle without creating suspicion. He might even go to Paris for a few
days, and have it supposed that he was wandering about Europe, for he
could trust his own servants implicitly; they were not of the type who
would drink wine at a tavern with Temistocle or any of his class.

The old Prince came into his son's room in the morning and found him
disconsolately looking over his guns, for the sake of an occupation.

"Well, Giovanni," he said, "you have time to reflect upon your future
conduct. What! are you going upon a shooting expedition?"

"I wish I could. I wish I could find anything to do," answered Giovanni,
laying down the breech-loader and looking out of the window. "The world
is turned inside out like a beggar's pocket, and there is nothing in it."

"So the Astrardente is gone," remarked the Prince.

"Yes; gone to live within twenty miles of Saracinesca," replied Giovanni,
with an angry intonation.

"Do not go there yet," said his father. "Leave her alone a while. Women
become frantic in solitude."

"Do you think I am an idiot?" exclaimed Giovanni. "Of course I shall stay
where I am till Carnival is over." He was not in a good humour.

"Why are you so petulant?" retorted the old man. "I merely gave you my
advice."

"Well, I am going to follow it. It is good. When Carnival is over I will
go away, and perhaps get to Saracinesca by a roundabout way, so that no
one will know where I am. Will you not come too?"

"I daresay," answered the Prince, who was always pleased when his son
expressed a desire for his company. "I wish we lived in the good old
times."

"Why?"

"We would make small scruple of besieging Astrardente and carrying off
the Duchessa for you, my boy," said the Prince, grimly.

Giovanni laughed. Perhaps the same idea had crossed his mind. He was not
quite sure whether it was respectful to Corona to think of carrying her
off in the way his father suggested; but there was a curious flavour of
possibility in the suggestion, coming as it did from a man whose
grandfather might have done such a thing, and whose great-grandfather was
said to have done it. So strong are the instincts of barbaric domination
in races where the traditions of violence exist in an unbroken chain,
that both father and son smiled at the idea as if it were quite natural,
although Giovanni had only the previous day promised that he would not
even attempt to see Corona d'Astrardente without her permission. He did
not tell his father of his promise, however, for his more delicate
instinct made him sure that though he had acted rightly, his father would
laugh at his scruples, and tell him that women liked to be wooed roughly.

Meanwhile Giovanni felt that Rome had become for him a vast solitude, and
the smile soon faded from his face at the thought that he must go out
into the world, and for Corona's sake act as though nothing had happened.



CHAPTER XX.


Poor Madame Mayer was in great anxiety of mind. She had not a great
amount of pride, but she made up for it by a plentiful endowment of
vanity, in which she suffered acutely. She was a good-natured woman
enough, and by nature she was not vindictive; but she could not help
being jealous, for she was in love. She felt how Giovanni every day
evidently cared less and less for her society, and how, on the other
hand, Del Ferice was quietly assuring his position, so that people
already began to whisper that he had a chance of becoming her husband.
She did not dislike Del Ferice; he was a convenient man of the world,
whom she always found ready to help her when she needed help. But by dint
of making use of him, she was beginning to feel in some way bound to
consider him as an element in her life, and she did not like the
position. The letter he had written her was of the kind a man might
write to the woman he loved; it bordered upon the familiar, even while
the writer expressed himself in terms of exaggerated respect. Perhaps if
Del Ferice had been well, she would have simply taken no notice of what
he had written, and would not even have sent an answer; but she had not
the heart to repulse him altogether in his present condition. There was a
phrase cunningly introduced and ambiguously worded, which seemed to mean
that he had come by his wound in her cause. He spoke of having suffered
and of still suffering so much for her,--did he mean to refer to pain of
body or of mind? It was not certain. Don Giovanni had assured her that
she was in no way concerned in the duel, and he was well known for his
honesty; nevertheless, out of delicacy, he might have desired to conceal
the truth from her. It seemed like him. She longed for an opportunity of
talking with him and eliciting some explanation of his conduct. There
had been a time when he used to visit her, and always spent some time in
her society when they met in the world--now, on the contrary, he seemed
to avoid her whenever he could; and in proportion as she noticed that
his manner cooled, her own jealousy against Corona d'Astrardente
increased in force, until at last it seemed to absorb her love for
Giovanni into itself and turn it into hate.

Love is a passion which, like certain powerful drugs, acts differently
upon each different constitution of temper; love also acts more strongly
when it is unreturned or thwarted than when it is mutual and uneventful.
If two persons love each other truly, and there is no obstacle to their
union, it is probable that, without any violent emotion, their love will
grow and become stronger by imperceptible degrees, without changing in
its natural quality; but if thwarted by untoward circumstances, the
passion, if true, attains suddenly to the dimensions which it would
otherwise need years to reach. It sometimes happens that the nature in
which this unforeseen and abnormal development takes place is unable to
bear the precocious growth; then, losing sight of its identity in the
strange inward confusion of heart and mind which ensues, it is driven to
madness, and, breaking every barrier, either attains its object at a
single bound, or is shivered and ruined in dashing itself against the
impenetrable wall of complete impossibility. But again, in the last case,
when love is wholly unreturned, it dies a natural death of atrophy, when
it has existed in a person of common and average nature; or if the man or
woman so afflicted be proud and of noble instincts, the passion becomes a
kind of religion to the heart--sacred, and worthy to be guarded from the
eyes of the world; or, finally, again, where it finds vanity the dominant
characteristic of the being in whom it has grown, it draws a poisonous
life from the unhealthy soil on which it is fed, and the tender seed of
love shoots and puts forth evil leaves and blossoms, and grows to be a
most venomous tree, which is the tree of hatred.

Donna Tullia was certainly a woman who belonged to the latter class of
individuals. She had qualities which were perhaps good because not bad;
but the mainspring of her being was an inordinate vanity; and it was in
this characteristic that she was most deeply wounded, as she found
herself gradually abandoned by Giovanni Saracinesca. She had been in the
habit of thinking of him as a probable husband; the popular talk had
fostered the idea, and occasional hints, aad smiling questions concerning
him, had made her feel that he could not long hang back. She had been in
the habit of treating him familiarly; and he, tutored by his father to
the belief that she was the best match for him, and reluctantly yielding
to the force of circumstances, which seemed driving him into matrimony,
had suffered himself to be ordered about and made use of with an
indifference which, in Madame Mayer's eyes, had passed for consent. She
had watched with growing fear and jealousy his devotion to the
Astrardente, which all the world had noticed; and at last her anger had
broken out at the affront she had received at the Frangipani ball. But
even then she loved Giovanni in her own vain way. It was not till Corona
was suddenly left a widow, that Donna Tullia began to realise the
hopelessness of her position; and when she found how determinately
Saracinesca avoided her wherever they met, the affection she had hitherto
felt for him turned into a bitter hatred, stronger even than her jealousy
against the Duchessa. There was no scene of explanation between them, no
words passed, no dramatic situation, such as Donna Tullia loved; the
change came in a few days, and was complete. She had not even the
satisfaction of receiving some share of the attention Giovanni would have
bestowed upon Corona if she had been in town. Not only had he grown
utterly indifferent to her; he openly avoided her, and thereby inflicted
upon her vanity the cruellest wound she was capable of feeling.

With Donna Tullia to hate was to injure, to long for revenge--not of the
kind which is enjoyed in secret, and known only to the person who suffers
and the person who causes the suffering. She did not care for that so
much as she desired some brilliant triumph over her enemies before the
world; some startling instance of poetic justice, which should at one
blow do a mortal injury to Corona d'Astrardente, and bring Giovanni
Saracinesca to her own feet by force, repentant and crushed, to be dealt
with as she saw fit, according to his misdeeds. But she had chosen her
adversaries ill, and her heart misgave her. She had no hold upon them,
for they were very strong people, very powerful, and very much respected
by their fellows. It was not easy to bring them into trouble; it
seemed impossible to humiliate them as she wished to do, and yet her hate
was very strong. She waited and pondered, and in the meanwhile, when she
met Giovanni, she began to treat him with haughty coldness. But Giovanni
smiled, and seemed well satisfied that she should at last give over what
was to him very like a persecution. Her anger grew hotter from its very
impotence. The world saw it, and laughed.

The days of Carnival came and passed, much as they usually pass, in a
whirl of gaiety. Giovanni went everywhere, and showed his grave face; but
he talked little, and of course every one said he was melancholy at the
departure of the Duchessa. Nevertheless he kept up an appearance of
interest in what was done, and as nobody cared to risk asking him
questions, people left him in peace. The hurrying crowd of social life
filled up the place occupied by old Astrardente and the beautiful
Duchessa, and they were soon forgotten, for they had not had many
intimate friends.

On the last night of Carnival, Del Ferice appeared once more. He had not
been able to resist the temptation of getting one glimpse of the world he
loved, before the wet blanket of Lent extinguished the lights of the
ballrooms and the jollity of the dancers. Every one was surprised to see
him, and most people were pleased; he was such a useful man, that he had
often been missed during the time of his illness. He was improved in
appearance; for though he was very pale, he had grown also extremely
thin, and his features had gained delicacy.

When Giovanni saw him, he went up to him, and the two men exchanged a
formal salutation, while every one stood still for a moment to see the
meeting. It was over in a moment, and society gave a little sigh of
relief, as though a weight were removed from its mind. Then Del Ferice
went to Donna Tullia's side. They were soon alone upon a small sofa in a
small room, whither a couple strayed now and then to remain a few minutes
before returning to the ball. A few people passed through, but for more
than an hour they were not disturbed.

"I am very glad to see you," said Donna Tullia; "but I had hoped that the
first time you went out you would have come to my house."

"This is the first time I have been out--you see I should not have found
you at home, since I have found you here."

"Are you entirely recovered? You still look ill."

"I am a little weak--but an hour with you will do me more good than all
the doctors in the world."

"Thanks," said Donna Tullia, with a little laugh. "It was strange to see
you shaking hands with Giovanni Saracinesca just now. I suppose men have
to do that sort of thing."

"You may be sure I would not have done it unless it had been necessary,"
returned Del Ferice, bitterly.

"I should think not. What an arrogant man he is!"

"You no longer like him?" asked Del Fence, innocently.

"Like him! No; I never liked him," replied Donna Tullia, quickly.

"Oh, I thought you did; I used to wonder at it." Ugo grew thoughtful.

"I was always good to him," said Donna Tullia. "But of course I can never
forgive him for what he did at the Frangipani ball."

"No; nor I," answered Del Ferice, readily. "I shall always hate him for
that too."

"I do not say that I exactly hate him."

"You have every reason. It appears to me that since my illness we have
another idea in common, another bond of sympathy." Del Ferice spoke
almost tenderly; but he laughed immediately afterwards, as though not
wishing his words to be interpreted too seriously. Donna Tullia smiled
too; she was inclined to be very kind to him.

"You are very quick to jump at conclusions," she said, playing with her
red fan and looking down.

"It is always easy to reach that pleasant conclusion--that you and I are
in sympathy," he answered, with a tender glance, "even in regard to
hating the same person. The bond would be close indeed, if it depended on
the opposite of hate. And yet I sometimes think it does. Are you not the
best friend I have in the world?"

"I do not know,--I am a good friend to you," she answered.

"Indeed you are; but do you not think it would be possible to cement our
friendship even more closely yet?"

Donna Tullia looked up sharply; she had no idea of allowing him to
propose to marry her. His face, however, was grave--unlike his usual
expression when he meant to be tender, and which she knew very well.

"I do not know," she said, with a light laugh. "How do you mean?"

"If I could do you some great service--if I could by any means satisfy
what is now your chief desire in life--would not that help to cement our
friendship, as I said?"

"Perhaps," she answered, thoughtfully. "But then you do not know--you
cannot guess even--what I most wish at this moment."

"I think I could," said Del Ferice, fixing his eyes upon her. "I am sure
I could, but I will not. I should risk offending you."

"No; I will not be angry. You may guess if you please." Donna Tullia in
her turn looked, fixedly at her companion. They seemed trying to read
each other's thoughts.

"Very well," said Ugo at last, "I will tell you. You would like to see
the Astrardente dead and Giovanni Saracinesca profoundly humiliated."

Donna Tullia started. But indeed there was nothing strange in her
companion's knowledge of her feelings. Many people, being asked what she
felt, would very likely have said the same, for the world had seen her
discomfiture and had laughed at it.

"You are a very singular man," she said, uneasily.

"In other words," replied Del Ferice, calmly, "I am perfectly right in my
surmises. I see it in your face. Of course," he added, with a laugh, "it
is mere jest. But the thing is quite possible. If I fulfilled your desire
of just and poetic vengeance, what would you give me?"

Donna Tullia laughed in her turn, to conceal the extreme interest she
felt in what he said.

"Whatever you like," she said. But even while the laugh was on her lips
her eyes sought his uneasily.

"Would you marry me, for instance, as the enchanted princess in the fairy
story marries the prince who frees her from the spell?" He seemed
immensely amused at the idea.

"Why not?" she laughed.

"It would be the only just recompense," he answered. "See how impossible
the thing appears. And yet a few pounds of dynamite would blow up the
Great Pyramid. Giovanni Saracinesca is not so strong as he looks."

"Oh, I would not have him hurt!" exclaimed Donna Tullia in alarm.

"I do not mean physically, nor morally, but socially."

"How?"

"That is my secret," returned Del Ferice, quietly.

"It sounds as though you were pretending to know more than you really
do," she answered.

"No; it is the plain truth," said Del Ferice, quietly. "If you were in
earnest I might be willing to tell you what the secret is, but for a mere
jest I cannot. It is far too serious a matter."

His tone convinced Donna Tullia that he really possessed some weapon
which he could use against Don Giovanni if he pleased. She wondered only
why, if it were true, he did not use it, seeing that he must hate
Saracinesca with all his heart. Del Ferice knew so much about people, so
many strange and forgotten stories, he had so accurate a memory and so
acute an intelligence, that it was by no means impossible that he was in
possession of some secret connected with the Saracinesca. They were,
or were thought to be, wild, unruly men, both father and son; there were
endless stories about them both; and there was nothing more likely than
that, in his numerous absences from home, Giovanni had at one time or
another figured in some romantic affair, which he would be sorry to have
had generally known. Del Ferice was wise enough to keep his own counsel;
but now that his hatred was thoroughly roused, he might very likely make
use of the knowledge he possessed. Donna Tullia's curiosity was excited
to its highest pitch, and at the same time she had pleasant visions of
the possible humiliation of the man by whom she felt herself so ill-used.
It would be worth while making the sacrifice in order to learn Del
Fence's secret.

"This need not be a mere jest," she said, after a moment's silence.

"That is as you please," returned Del Ferice, seriously. "If you are
willing to do your part, you may be sure that I will do mine."

"You cannot think I really meant what I said just now," replied Donna
Tullia. "It would be madness."

"Why? Am I halt, am I lame, am I blind? Am I repulsively ugly? Am I a
pauper, that I should care for your money? Have I not loved you--yes,
loved you long and faithfully? Am I too old? Is there anything in the
nature of things why I should not aspire to be your husband?"

It was strange. He spoke calmly, as though enumerating the advantages of
a friend. Donna Tullia looked at him for a moment, and then laughed
outright.

"No," she said; "all that is very true. You may aspire, as you call it.
The question is, whether I shall aspire too. Of course, if we happened to
agree in aspiring, we could be married to-morrow."

"Precisely," answered Del Ferice, perfectly unmoved. "I am not proposing
to marry you. I am arguing the case. There is this in the case which is
perhaps outside the argument--this, that I am devotedly attached to you.
The case is the stronger for that. I was only trying to demonstrate that
the idea of our being married is not so unutterably absurd. You
laughingly said you would marry me if I could accomplish something which
would please you very much. I laughed also; but now I seriously repeat my
proposition, because I am convinced that although at first sight it may
appear extremely humourous, on a closer inspection it will be found
exceedingly practical. In union is strength."

Donna Tullia was silent for a moment, and her face grew grave. There was
reason in what he said. She did not care for him--she had never thought
of marrying him; but she recognised the justice of what he said. It was
clear that a man of his social position, received everywhere and intimate
with all her associates, might think of marrying her. He looked
positively handsome since he was wounded; he was accomplished and
intelligent; he had sufficient means of support to prevent him from
being suspected of marrying solely for money, and he had calmly stated
that he loved her. Perhaps he did. It was flattering to Donna Tullia's
vanity to believe him, and his acts had certainly not belied his words.
He was by far the most thoughtful of all her admirers, and he affected to
treat her always with a certain respect which she had never succeeded in
obtaining from Valdarno and the rest. A woman who likes to be noisy, but
is conscious of being a little vulgar, is always flattered when a man
behaves towards her with profound reverence. It will even sometimes cure
her of her vulgarity. Donna Tullia reflected seriously upon what Del
Ferice had said.

"I never had such a proposition made to me in my life," she said. "Of
course you cannot think I regard it as a possible one, even now. You
cannot think I am so base as to sell myself for the sake of revenging an
insult once offered me. If I am to regard this as a proposal of marriage,
I must decline it with thanks. If it is merely a proposition for an
alliance, I think the terms of the treaty are unequal."

Del Ferice smiled.

"I knew you well enough to know what your answer would be," he said. "I
never insulted you by dreaming that you would accept such a proposition.
But as a subject for speculation it is very pleasant. It is delightful
to me to think of being your husband; it is equally delightful to you to
think of the humiliation of an enemy. I took the liberty of uniting the
two thoughts in one dream--a dream of unspeakable bliss for myself."

Donna Tullia's gay humour returned.

"You have certainly amused me very well for a quarter of an hour with
your dreams," she answered. "I wish you would tell me what you know of
Don Giovanni. It must be very interesting if it can really seriously
influence his life."

"I cannot tell you. The secret is too valuable."

"But if the thing you know has such power, why do you not use it
yourself? You must hate him far more than I do."

"I doubt that," answered Del Ferice, with a cunning smile. "I do not use
it, I do not choose to strike the blow, because I do not care enough for
retribution merely on my own account. I do not pretend to generosity, but
I am not interested enough in him to harm him, though I dislike him
exceedingly. We had a temporary settlement of our difficulties the other
day, and we were both wounded. Poor Casalverde lost his head and did a
foolish thing, and that cold-blooded villain Spicca killed him in
consequence. It seems to me that there has been enough blood spilled in
our quarrel. I am prepared to leave him alone so far as I am concerned.
But for you it would be different. I could do something worse than kill
him if I chose."

"For me?" said Donna Tullia. "What would you do for me?" She smiled
sweetly, willing to use all her persuasion to extract his secret.

"I could prevent Don Giovanni from marrying the Astrardente, as he
intends to do," he answered, looking straight at his companion.

"How in the world could you do that?" she asked, in great surprise.

"That, my dear friend, is my secret, as I said before. I cannot reveal it
to you at present."

"You are as dark as the Holy Office," said Donna Tullia, a little
impatiently. "What possible harm could it do if you told me?"

"What possible good either?" asked Del Ferice, in reply. "You could not
use it as I could. You would gain no advantage by knowing it. Of course,"
he added, with a laugh, "if we entered into the alliance we were jesting
about, it would be different."

"You will not tell me unless I promise to marry you?"

"Frankly, no," he answered, still laughing.

It exasperated Donna Tullia beyond measure to feel that he was in
possession of what she so coveted, and to feel that he was bargaining,
half in earnest, for her life in exchange for his secret. She was almost
tempted for one moment to assent, to say she would marry him, so great
was her curiosity; it would be easy to break her promise, and laugh at
him afterwards. But she was not a bad woman, as women of her class are
considered. She had suffered a great disappointment, and her resentment
was in proportion to her vanity. But she was not prepared to give a false
promise for the sake of vengeance; she was only bad enough to imagine
such bad faith possible.

"But you said you never seriously thought I could accept such an
engagement," she objected, not knowing what to say.

"I did," replied Del Ferice. "I might have added that I never seriously
contemplated parting with my secret."

"There is nothing to be got from you," said Donna Tullia, in a tone of
disappointment. "I think that when you have nearly driven me mad with
curiosity, you might really tell me something."

"Ah no, dear lady," answered her companion. "You may ask anything of me
but that--anything. You may ask that too, if you will sign the treaty I
propose."

"You will drive me into marrying you out of sheer curiosity," said Donna
Tullia, with an impatient laugh.

"I wish that were possible. I wish I could see my way to telling you as
it is, for the thing is so curious that it would have the most intense
interest for you. But it is quite out of the question."

"You should never have told me anything about it," replied Madame Mayer.

"Well, I will think about it," said Del Ferice at last, as though
suddenly resolving to make a sacrifice. "I will look over some papers I
have, and I will think about it. I promise you that if I feel that I can
conscientiously tell you something of the matter, you may be sure that
I will."

Donna Tullia's manner changed again, from impatience to persuasion. The
sudden hope he held out to her was delicious to contemplate. She could
not realise that Del Ferice, having once thoroughly interested her, could
play upon her moods as on the keys of an instrument. If she had been less
anxious that the story he told should be true, she might have suspected
that he was practising upon her credulity. But she seized the idea of
obtaining some secret influence over the life of Giovanni, and it
completely carried her away.

"You must tell me--I am sure you will," she said, letting her kindest
glance rest upon her companion. "Come and dine with me,--do you fast?
No--nor I. Come on Friday--will you?"

"I shall be delighted," answered Del Ferice, with a quiet smile of
triumph.

"I will have the old lady, of course, so you cannot tell me at dinner;
but she will go to sleep soon afterwards--she always does. Come at seven.
Besides, she is deaf, you know."

The old lady in question was the aged Countess whom Donna Tullia affected
as a companion in her solitary magnificence.

"And now, will you take me back to the ball-room? I have an idea that a
partner is looking for me."

Del Ferice left her dancing, and went home in his little coupé. He was
desperately fatigued, for he was still very weak, and he feared lest his
imprudence in going out so soon might bring on a relapse from his
convalescence. Nevertheless, before he went to bed he dismissed
Temistocle, and opened a shabby-looking black box which stood upon his
writing-table. It was bound with iron, and was fastened by a patent lock
which had frequently defied Temistocle's ingenuity. Prom this repository
he took a great number of papers, which were all neatly filed away and
marked in the owner's small and ornamented handwriting. Beneath many
packages of letters he found what he sought for, a long envelope
containing several folded documents.

He spread out the papers and read them carefully over.

"It is a very singular thing," he said to himself; "but there can be no
doubt about it. There it is."

He folded the papers again, returned them to their envelope, and replaced
the latter deep among the letters in his box. He then locked it, attached
the key to a chain he wore about his neck, and went to bed, worn out
with fatigue.



CHAPTER XXI.


Del Ferice had purposely excited Donna Tullia's curiosity, and he meant
before long to tell more than he had vouchsafed in his first confidence.
But he himself trembled before the magnitude of what he had suddenly
thought of doing, for the fear of Giovanni was in his heart. The
temptation to boast to Donna Tullia that he had the means of preventing
Giovanni from marrying was too strong; but when it had come to telling
her what those means were, prudence had restrained him. He desired that
if the scheme were put into execution it might be by some one else; for,
extraordinary as it was, he was not absolutely certain of its success. He
was not sure of Donna Tullia's discretion, either, until by a judicious
withholding of the secret he had given her a sufficient idea of its
importance. But on mature reflection he came to the conclusion that, even
if she possessed the information he was able to give, she would not dare
to mention it, nor even to hint at it.

The grey light of Ash-Wednesday morning broke over Rome, and stole
through the windows of Giovanni Saracinesca's bedroom. Giovanni had not
slept much, but his restlessness was due rather to his gladness at having
performed the last of his social duties than to any disturbance of mind.
All night he lay planning what he should do,--how he might reach his
place in the mountains by a circuitous route, leaving the general
impression that he was abroad--and how, when at last he had got to
Saracinesca unobserved, he would revel in the solitude and in the thought
of being within half a day's journey of Corona d'Astrardente. He was
willing to take a great deal of trouble, for he did not wish people to
know his whereabouts; he would not have it said that he had gone into
the country to be near Corona and to see her every day, as would
certainly be said if his real movements were discovered. Accordingly, he
fulfilled his programme to the letter. He left Rome on the afternoon of
Ash-Wednesday for Florence; there he visited several acquaintances who,
he knew, would write to their friends in Rome of his appearance; from
Florence he went to Paris, and gave out that he was going upon a shooting
expedition in the Arctic regions, as soon as the weather was warm enough.
As he was well known for a sportsman and a traveller, this statement
created no suspicion; and when he finally left Paris, the newspapers and
the gossips all said he had gone to Copenhagen on his way to the far
north. In due time the statement reached Rome, and it was supposed that
society had lost sight of Giovanni Saracinesca for at least eight months.
It was thought that he had acted with great delicacy in absenting
himself; he would thus allow the first months of Corona's mourning to
pass before formally presenting himself to society as her suitor.
Considering the peculiar circumstances of the case, there would be
nothing improper, from a social point of view, in his marrying Corona at
the expiration of a year after her husband's death. Of course he would
marry her; there was no doubt of that--he had been in love with her so
long, and now she was both free and rich. No one suspected that Giovanni,
instead of being in Scandinavia, was quietly established at Saracinesca,
a day's journey from Rome, busying himself with the management of the
estate, and momentarily satisfied in feeling himself so near the woman he
loved.

Donna Tullia could hardly wait until the day when Del Ferice was coming
to dinner: she was several times on the point of writing a note to ask
him to come at once. But she wisely refrained, guessing that the more she
pressed him the more difficulties he would make. At last he came, looking
pale and worn--interesting, as Donna Tullia would have expressed it. The
old Countess talked a great deal during dinner; but as she was too deaf
to hear more than a quarter of what was said by the others, the
conversation was not interesting. When the meal was over, she established
herself in a comfortable chair in the little sitting-room, and took a
book. After a few minutes, Donna Tullia suggested to Del Ferice that they
should go into the drawing-room. She had received some new waltz-music
from Vienna which she wanted to look over, and Ugo might help her. She
was not a musician, but was fond of a cheerful noise, and played upon the
piano with the average skill of a well-educated young woman of the
world. Of course the doors were left open between the drawing-room and
the boudoir, where the Countess dozed over her book and presently fell
asleep.

Donna Tullia sat at the grand piano, and made Del Ferice sit beside her.
She struck a few chords, and played a fragment of dance-music.

"Of course you have heard that Don Giovanni is gone?" she asked,
carelessly. "I suppose he is gone to Saracinesca; they say there is a
very good road between that and Astrardente."

"I should think he would have more decency than to pursue the Duchessa in
the first month of her mourning," answered Del Ferice, resting one arm
upon the piano, and supporting his pale face with his hand as he watched
Donna Tullia's fingers move upon the keys.

"Why? He does not care what people say--why should he? He will marry her
when the year is out. Why should he care?"

"He can never marry her unless I choose to allow it," said Del Ferice,
quietly.

"So you told me the other night," returned Donna Tullia. "But you will
allow him, of course. Besides, you could not stop it, after all. I do not
believe that you could." She leaned far back in her chair, her hands
resting upon the keys without striking them, and she looked at Del Ferice
with a sweet smile. There was a moment's pause.

"I have decided to tell you something," he said at last, "upon one
condition."

"Why make conditions?" asked Donna Tullia, trying to conceal her
excitement.

"Only one, that of secrecy. Will you promise never to mention what I am
going to tell you without previously consulting me? I do not mean a
common promise; I mean it to be an oath." He spoke very earnestly. "This
is a very serious matter. We are playing with fire and with life and
death. You must give me some guarantee that you will be secret."

His manner impressed Donna Tullia; she had never seen him so much in
earnest in her life.

"I will promise in any way you please," she said.

"Then say this," he answered. "Say, 'I swear and solemnly bind myself
that I will faithfully keep the secret about to be committed to me; and
that if I fail to keep it I will atone by immediately marrying Ugo del
Ferice--'"

"That is absurd!" cried Donna Tullia, starting back from him. He did not
heed her.

"'And I take to witness of this oath the blessed memory of my mother, the
hope of the salvation of my soul, and this relic of the True Cross.'" He
pointed to the locket she wore at her neck, which she had often told
him contained the relic he mentioned.

"It is impossible!" she cried again. "I cannot swear so solemnly about
such a matter. I cannot promise to marry you."

"Then it is because you cannot promise to keep my secret," he answered
calmly. He knew her very well, and he believed that she would not break
such an oath as he had dictated, under any circumstances. He did not
choose to risk anything by her indiscretion. Donna Tullia hesitated,
seeing that he was firm. She was tortured with curiosity beyond all
endurance.

"I am only promising to marry you in case I reveal the secret?" she
asked. He bowed assent. "So that I am really only promising to be silent?
Well, I cannot understand why it should be solemn; but if you wish it
so, I will do it. What are the words?"

He repeated them slowly, and she followed him. He watched her at every
word, to be sure she overlooked nothing.

"I, Tullia Mayer, swear and solemnly bind myself that I will faithfully
keep the secret about to be committed to me; and that if I fail to keep
it, I will atone by immediately marrying Ugo del Ferice"--her voice
trembled nervously: "and I take to witness of this oath the blessed
memory of my mother, the hope of the salvation of my soul, and this relic
of the True Cross." At the last words she took the locket in her fingers.

"You understand that you have promised to marry me if you reveal my
secret? You fully understand that?" asked Del Ferice.

"I understand it," she answered hurriedly, as though ashamed of what she
had done. "And now, the secret," she added eagerly, feeling that she had
undergone a certain humiliation for the sake of what she so much
coveted.

"Don Giovanni cannot marry the Duchessa d'Astrardente, because"--he
paused a moment to give full weight to his statement--"because Don
Giovanni Saracinesca is married already."

"What!" cried Donna Tullia, starting from her chair in amazement at the
astounding news.

"It is quite true," said Del Ferice, with a quiet smile. "Calm yourself;
it is quite true. I know what you are thinking of--all Rome thought he
was going to marry you."

Donna Tullia was overcome by the strangeness of the situation. She hid
her face in her hands for a moment as she leaned forward over the piano.
Then she suddenly looked up.

"What a hideous piece of villany!" she exclaimed, in a stifled voice.
Then slowly recovering from the first shock of the intelligence, she
looked at Del Ferice; she was almost as pale as he. "What proof have
you?" she asked.

"I have the attested copy of the banns published by the priest who
married them. That is evidence. Moreover, the real book of banns exists,
and Giovanni's name is upon the parish register. I have also a copy of
the certificate of the civil marriage, which is signed by Giovanni
himself."

"Tell me more," said Donna Tullia, eagerly. "How did you find it?"

"It is very simple," answered Del Ferice. "You may go and see for
yourself, if you do not mind making a short journey. Last summer I was
wandering a little for my health's sake, as I often do, and I chanced to
be in the town of Aquila--you know, the capital of Abruzzi. One day I
happened to go into the sacristy of one of the parish churches to see
some pictures which are hung there. There had been a marriage service
performed, and as the sacristan moved about explaining the pictures, he
laid his hand upon an open book which looked like a register of some
kind. I idly asked him what it was, and he showed it to me; it was
amusing to look at the names of the people, and I turned over the leaves
curiously. Suddenly my attention was arrested by a name I knew--'Giovanni
Saracinesca,' written clearly across the page, and below it, 'Felice
Baldi,'--the woman he had married. The date of the marriage was the 19th
of June 1863. You remember, perhaps, that in that summer, in fact during
the whole of that year, Don Giovanni was supposed to be absent upon
his famous shooting expedition in Canada, about which he talks so much.
It appears, then, that two years ago, instead of being in America, he was
living in Aquila, married to Felice Baldi--probably some pretty peasant
girl. I started at the sight of the names. I got permission to have an
attested copy of it made by a notary. I found the priest who had married
them, but he could not remember the couple. The man, he said, was dark,
he was sure; the woman, he thought, had been fair. He married so many
people in a year. These were not natives of Aquila; they had apparently
come there from the country--perhaps had met. The banns--yes, he had
the book of banns; he had also the register of marriages from which he
sometimes issued certified extracts. He was a good old man, and seemed
ready to oblige me; but his memory was very defective. He allowed me to
take notary's copies of the banns and the entry in the list, as well as
of the register. Then I went to the office of the Stato Civile. You know
that people do not sign the register in the church themselves; the names
are written down by the priest. I wanted to see the signatures, and the
book of civil marriages was shown to me. The handwriting was Giovanni's,
I am sure--larger, and a little less firm, but distinguishable at a
glance. I took the copies for curiosity, and never said anything about
it, but I have kept them. That is the history. Do you see how serious a
matter it is?"

"Indeed, yes," answered Donna Tullia, who had listened with intense
interest to the story. "But what could have induced him to marry that
woman?"

"One of those amiable eccentricities peculiar to his family," replied Del
Ferice, shrugging his shoulders. "The interesting thing would be to
discover what became of Felice Baldi--Donna Felice Saracinesca, as I
suppose she has a right to be called."

"Let us find her--Giovanni's wife," exclaimed Donna Tullia, eagerly.
"Where can she be?"

"Who knows?" ejaculated Del Ferice. "I would be curious to see her. The
name of her native village is given, and the names of her parents.
Giovanni described himself in the paper as 'of Naples, a landholder,' and
omitted somehow the details of his parentage. Nothing could be more
vague; everybody is a landholder, from the wretched peasant who
cultivates one acre to their high-and-mightinesses the Princes of
Saracinesca. Perhaps by going to the village mentioned some information
might be obtained. He probably left her sufficiently provided for, and,
departing on pretence of a day's journey, never returned. He is a
perfectly unscrupulous man, and thinks no more of this mad scrape than of
shooting a chamois in the Tyrol. He knows she can never find him--never
guessed who he really was."

"Perhaps she is dead," suggested Donna Tullia, her face suddenly growing
grave.

"Why? He would not have taken the trouble to kill her--a peasant girl in
the Abruzzi! He would have had no difficulty in leaving her, and she is
probably alive and well at the present moment, perhaps the mother of the
future Prince Saracinesca--who can tell?"

"But do you not see," said Donna Tullia, "that unless you have proof that
she is alive, we have no hold upon him? He may acknowledge the whole
thing, and calmly inform us that she is dead."

"That is true; but even then he must show that she came to a natural end
and was buried. Believe me, Giovanni would relinquish all intentions of
marrying the Astrardente rather than have this scandalous story
published."

"I would like to tax him with it in a point-blank question, and watch his
face," said Donna Tullia, fiercely.

"Remember your oath," said Del Ferice. "But he is gone now. You will not
meet him for some months."

"Tell me, how could you make use of this knowledge, if you really wanted
to prevent his marriage with the Astrardente?"

"I would advise you to go to her and state the case. You need mention
nobody. Any one who chooses may go to Aquila and examine the registers. I
think that you could convey the information to her with as much command
of language as would be necessary."

"I daresay I could," she answered, between her teeth. "What a strange
chance it was that brought that register under your hand!"

"Heaven sends opportunities," said Del Ferice, devoutly; "it is for man
to make good use of them. Who knows but what you may make a brilliant use
of this?"

"I cannot, since I am bound by my promise," said Donna Tullia.

"No; I am sure you will not think of doing it. But then, we might perhaps
agree that circumstances made it advisable to act. Many months must pass
before he can think of offering himself to her. It will be time enough
to consider the matter then--to consider whether we should be justified
in raising such a terrible scandal, in causing so much unhappiness to an
innocent woman like the Duchessa, and to a worthless man like Don
Giovanni. Think what a disgrace it would be to the Saracinesca to have it
made public that Giovanni was openly engaged to marry a great heiress
while already secretly married to a peasant woman!"

"It would indeed be horrible," said Donna Tullia, with a disagreeable
look in her blue eyes. "Perhaps we should not even think of it," she
added, turning over the leaves of the music upon the piano. Then suddenly
she added, "Do you know that you have put me in a dreadful position
by exacting that promise from me?"

"No," said Del Ferice, quietly. "You wanted to hear the secret. You have
heard it. You have nothing to do but to keep it to yourself."

"That is precisely--" She checked herself, and struck a loud chord upon
the instrument. She had turned from Del Ferice, and could not see the
smile upon his face, which flickered across the pale features and
vanished instantly.

"Think no more about it," he said pleasantly. "It is so easy to forget
such stories when one resolutely puts them out of one's mind."

Donna Tullia smiled bitterly, and was silent. She began playing from the
sheet before her, with indifferent accuracy, but with more than
sufficient energy. Del Ferice sat patiently by her side, turning over the
leaves, and glancing from time to time at her face, which he really
admired exceedingly. He belonged to the type of pale and somewhat
phlegmatic men who frequently fall in love with women of sanguine
complexion and robust appearance. Donna Tullia was a fine type of this
class, and was called handsome, though she did not compare well with
women of less pretension to beauty, but more delicacy and refinement. Del
Ferice admired her greatly, however; and, as has been said, he admired
her fortune even more. He saw himself gradually approaching the goal of
his intentions, and as he neared the desired end he grew more and more
cautious. He had played one of his strongest cards that night, and he was
content to wait and let matters develop quietly, without any more pushing
from him. The seed would grow, there was no fear of that, and his
position was strong. He could wait quietly for the result.

At the end of half an hour he excused himself upon the plea that he was
still only convalescent, and was unable to bear the fatigue of late
hours. Donna Tullia did not press him to stay, for she wished to be
alone; and when he was gone she sat long at the open piano, pondering
upon what she had done, and even more upon what she had escaped doing. It
was a hideous thought that if Giovanni, in all that long winter, had
asked her to be his wife, she would readily have consented; it was
fearful to think what her position would have been towards Del Ferice,
who would have been able by a mere word to annul her marriage by proving
the previous one at Aquila. People do not trifle with such accusations,
and he certainly knew what he was doing; she would have been bound hand
and foot. Or supposing that Del Ferice had died of the wound he received
in the duel, and his papers had been ransacked by his heirs, whoever
they might be--these attested documents would have become public
property. What a narrow escape Giovanni had had! And she herself, too,
how nearly had she been involved in his ruin! She liked to think that
he had almost offered himself to her; it flattered her, although she now
hated him so cordially. She could not help admiring Del Ferice's
wonderful discretion in so long concealing a piece of scandal that would
have shaken Roman society to its foundations, and she trembled when she
thought what would happen if she herself were ever tempted to reveal what
she had heard. Del Ferice was certainly a man of genius--so quiet, and
yet possessing such weapons; there was some generosity about him too, or
he would have revenged himself for his wound by destroying Giovanni's
reputation. She considered whether she could have kept her counsel so
well in his place. After all, as he had said, the moment for using the
documents had not yet come, for hitherto Giovanni had never proposed to
marry any one. Perhaps this secret wedding in Aquila explained his
celibacy; Del Ferice had perhaps misjudged him in saying that he was
unscrupulous; he had perhaps left his peasant wife, repenting of his
folly, but it was perhaps on her account that he had never proposed to
marry Donna Tullia; he had, then, only been amusing himself with Corona.
That all seemed likely enough--so likely, that it heightened the
certainty of Del Ferice's information.

A few days later, as Giovanni had intended, news began to reach Rome that
he had been in Florence, and was actually in Paris; then it was said that
he was going upon a shooting expedition somewhere in the far north
during the summer. It was like him, and in accordance with his tastes. He
hated the quiet receptions at the great houses during Lent, to which, if
he remained in Rome, he was obliged to go. He naturally escaped when he
could. But there was no escape for Donna Tullia, and after all she
managed to extract some amusement from these gatherings. She was the
acknowledged centre of the more noisy set, and wherever she went,
people who wanted to be amused, and were willing to amuse each other,
congregated around her. On one of these occasions she met old
Saracinesca. He did not go out much since his son had left; but he seemed
cheerful enough, and as he liked Madame Mayer, for some inscrutable
reason, she rather liked him. Moreover, her interest in Giovanni, though
now the very reverse of affectionate, made her anxious to know something
of his movements.

"You must be lonely since Don Giovanni has gone upon his travels again,"
she said.

"That is the reason I go out," said the Prince. "It is not very gay, but
it is better than nothing. It suggests cold meat served up after the
dessert; but when people are hungry, the order of their food is not of
much importance."

"Is there any news, Prince? I want to be amused."

"News? No. The world is at peace, and consequently given over to sin, as
it mostly is when it is resting from a fit of violence."

"You seem to be inclined to moralities this evening," said Donna Tullia,
smiling, and gently swaying the red fan she always carried.

"Am I? Then I am growing old, I suppose. It is the privilege of old age
to censure in others what it is no longer young enough to praise in
itself. It is a bad thing to grow old, but it makes people good, or makes
them think they are, which in their own eyes is precisely the same
thing."

"How delightfully cynical!"

"Doggish?" inquired the Prince, with a laugh. "I have heard it said by
scholars, that cynical means doggish in Greek. The fable of the dog in
the horse's manger was invented to define the real cynic--the man who
neither enjoys life himself nor will allow other people to enjoy it. I am
not such a man. I hope you, for instance, will enjoy everything that
comes in your way."

"Even the cold meat after the dessert which you spoke of just now?" asked
Donna Tullia. "Thank you--I will try; perhaps you can help me."

"My son despised it," said Saracinesca. "He is gone in search of fresh
pastures of sweets."

"Leaving you behind."

"Somebody once said that the wisest thing a son could do was to get rid
of his father as soon as possible--"

"Then Don Giovanni is a wise man," returned Donna Tullia.

"Perhaps. However, he asked me to accompany him."

"You refused?"

"Of course. Such expeditions are good enough for boys. I dislike
Florence, I am not especially fond of Paris, and I detest the North Pole.
I suppose you have seen from the papers that he is going in that
direction? It is like him, he hankers after originality, I suppose. Being
born in the south, he naturally goes to the extreme north."

"He will write you very interesting letters, I should think," remarked
Donna Tullia. "Is he a good correspondent?"

"Remarkably, for he never gives one any trouble. He sends his address
from time to time, and draws frequently on his banker. His letters are
not so full of interest as might be thought, as they rarely extend over
five lines; but on the other hand it does not take long to read them,
which is a blessing."

"You seem to be an affectionate parent," said Donna Tullia, with a laugh.

"If you measure affection by the cost of postage-stamps, you have a right
to be sarcastic. If you measure it in any other way, you are wrong. I
could not help loving any one so like myself as my son. It would show a
detestable lack of appreciation of my own gifts."

"I do not think Don Giovanni so very like you," said Donna Tullia,
thoughtfully.

"Perhaps you do not know him so well as I do," remarked the Prince.
"Where do you see the greatest difference?"

"I think you talk better, and I think you are more--not exactly more
honest, perhaps, but more straightforward."

"I do not agree with you," said old Saracinesca, quickly. "There is no
one alive who can say they ever knew Giovanni approach in the most
innocent way to a distortion of truth. I daresay you have discovered,
however, that he is reticent; he can hold his tongue; he is no chatterer,
no parrot, my son."

"Indeed he is not," answered Donna Tullia, and the reply pacified the old
man; but she herself was thinking what supreme reticence Giovanni had
shown in the matter of his marriage, and she wondered whether the Prince
had ever heard of it.



CHAPTER XXII.


Anastase Gouache worked hard at the Cardinal's portrait, and at the same
time did his best to satisfy Donna Tullia. The latter, indeed, was not
easily pleased, and Gouache found it hard to instil into his
representation of her the precise amount of poetry she required, without
doing violence to his own artistic sense of fitness. But the other
picture progressed rapidly. The Cardinal was a restless man, and after
the first two or three sittings, desired nothing so much as to be done
with them altogether. Anastase amused him, it is true, and the statesman
soon perceived that he had made a conquest of the young man's mind, and
that, as Giovanni Saracinesca had predicted, he had helped Gouache to
come to a decision. He was not prepared, however, for the practical turn
that decision immediately took, and he was just beginning to wish the
sittings at an end when Anastase surprised him by a very startling
announcement.

As usual, they were in the Cardinal's study; the statesman was silent and
thoughtful, and Gouache was working with all his might.

"I have made up my mind," said the latter, suddenly.

"Concerning what, my friend?" inquired the great man, rather absently.

"Concerning everything, Eminence," answered Gouache "concerning politics,
religion, life, death, and everything else which belongs to my career. I
am going to enlist with the Zouaves."

The Cardinal looked at him for a moment, and then broke into a low laugh.

"_Extremis malis extrema remedial!_" he exclaimed.

"Precisely--_aux grands maux les grands remèdes,_ as we say. I am going
to join the Church militant. I am convinced that it is the best thing an
honest man can do. I like fighting, and I like the Church--therefore I
will fight for the Church."

"Very good logic, indeed," answered the Cardinal. But he looked at
Anastase, and marking his delicate features and light frame, he almost
wondered how the lad would look in the garb of a soldier. "Very good
logic; but, my dear Monsieur Gouache, what is to become of your art?"

"I shall not be mounting guard all day, and the Zouaves are allowed to
live in their own lodgings. I will live in my studio, and paint when I am
not mounting guard."

"And my portrait?" inquired Cardinal Antonelli, much amused.

"Your Eminence will doubtless be kind enough to manage that I may have
liberty to finish it."

"You could not put off enlisting for a week, I suppose?"

Gouache looked annoyed; he hated the idea of waiting.

"I have taken too long to make up my mind already," he replied. "I must
make the plunge at once. I am convinced--your Eminence has convinced
me--that I have been very foolish."

"I certainly never intended to convince you of that," remarked the
Cardinal, with a smile.

"Very foolish," repeated Gouache, not heeding the interruption. "I have
talked great nonsense,--I scarcely know why--perhaps to try and find
where the sense really lay. I have dreamed so many dreams, so long, that
I sometimes think I am morbid. All artists are morbid, I suppose. It is
better to do anything active than to lose one's self in the slums of a
sickly imagination."

"I agree with you," answered the Cardinal; "but I do not think you
suffered from a sickly imagination,--I should rather call it abundant
than sickly. Frankly, I should be sorry to think that in following this
new idea you were in any way injuring the great career which, I am sure,
is before you; but, on the other hand, I cannot help wishing that a
greater number of young men would follow your example."

"Your Eminence approves, then?"

"Do you think you will make a good soldier?"

"Other artists have been good soldiers. There was Cellini--"

"Benvenuto Cellini said he made a good soldier; he said it himself, but
his reputation for veracity in other matters was doubtful, to say the
least. If he did not shoot the Connétable de Bourbon, it is very certain
that some one else did. Besides, a soldier in our times should be a very
different kind of man from the self-armed citizen of the time of Clement
the Ninth and the aforesaid Connétable. You will have to wear a uniform
and sleep on boards in a guard-house; you will have to be up early to
drill, and up late mounting guard, in wind and rain and cold. It is hard
work; I do not believe you have the constitution for it. Nevertheless,
the intention is good. You can try it, and if you fall ill I will see
that you have no difficulty in returning to your artist life."

"I do not mean to give it up," replied Gouache, in a tone of conviction.
"And as for my health, I am as strong as any one."

"Perhaps," said the Cardinal, doubtfully. "And when are you going to join
the corps?"

"In about an hour," said Gouache, quietly.

And he kept his word. But he had told no one, save the Cardinal, of his
intention; and for a day or two, though he passed many acquaintances in
the street, no one recognised Anastase Gouache in the handsome young
soldier with his grey Turco uniform, a red sash round his slender waist,
and a small _képi_ set jauntily upon one side.

It was one of the phenomena of those times. Foreigners swarmed in Rome,
and many of them joined the cosmopolitan corps--gentlemen, noblemen,
artists, men of the learned professions, adventurers, duellists driven
from their country in a temporary exile, enthusiasts, strolling
Irishmen, men of all sorts and conditions. But, take them all in all,
they were a fine set of fellows, who set no value whatever on their
lives, and who, as a whole, fought for an idea, in the old crusading
spirit. There were many who, like Gouache, joined solely from conviction;
and there were few instances indeed of any who, having joined, deserted.
It often happened that a stranger came to Rome for a mere visit, and at
the end of a month surprised his friends by appearing in the grey
uniform. You had met him the night before at a ball in the ordinary garb
of civilisation, covered with cotillon favours, waltzing like a madman;
the next morning he entered the Café de Rome in a braided jacket open at
the throat, and told you he was a soldier--a private soldier, who touched
his cap to every corporal of the French infantry, and was liable to be
locked up for twenty-four hours if he was late to quarters.

Donna Tullia's portrait was not quite finished, and Gouache had asked for
one or two more sittings. Three days after the artist had taken his great
resolution, Madame Mayer and Del Ferice entered his studio. He had had no
difficulty in being at liberty at the hour of the sitting, and had merely
exchanged his jacket for an old painting-coat, not taking the trouble to
divest himself of the remainder of his uniform.

"Where have you been all this time?" asked Donna Tullia, as she lifted
the curtain and entered the studio. He had kept out of her way during the
past few days.

"Good heavens, Gouache!" cried Del Ferice, starting back, as he caught
sight of the artist's grey trousers and yellow gaiters. "What is the
meaning of this comedy?"

"What?" asked Gouache, coolly. Then, glancing at his legs, he answered,
"Oh, nothing. I have turned Zouave--that is all. Will you sit down, Donna
Tullia? I was waiting for you."

"Turned Zouave!" exclaimed Madame Mayer and Del Ferice in a breath.
"Turned Zouave!"

"Well?" said Gouache, raising his eyebrows and enjoying their surprise.
"Well--why not?"

Del Ferice struck a fine attitude, and, laying one hand upon Donna
Tullia's arm, whispered hoarsely in her ear--

"_Siamo traditi_--we are betrayed!" he said. Whereupon Donna Tullia
turned a little pale.

"Betrayed!" she repeated, "and by Gouache!"

Gouache laughed, as he drew out the battered old carved chair on which
Madame Mayer was accustomed to sit when he painted.

"Calm yourself, Madame," he said. "I have not the least intention of
betraying you. I have made a counter-revolution--but I am perfectly
frank. I will not tell of the ferocious deeds I have heard discussed."

Del Ferice scowled and drew back, partly acting, partly in earnest. It
lay in his schemes to make Donna Tullia believe herself involved in a
genuine plot, and from this point of view he felt that he must pretend
the greatest horror and surprise. On the other hand, he knew that Gouache
had been painting the Cardinal's portrait, and guessed that the statesman
had acquired a strong influence over the artist's mind--an influence
which was already showing itself in a way that looked dangerous. It had
never struck him until quite lately that Anastase, a republican by
descent and conviction, could suddenly step into the reactionary camp.

"Pardon me, Donna Tullia," said Ugo, in serious tones, "pardon me--but I
think we should do well to leave Monsieur Gouache to the contemplation of
his new career. This is no place for us--the company of traitors--"

"Look here, Del Ferice," said Gouache, suddenly going up to him and
looking him in the face,--"do you seriously believe that anything you
have ever said, in this room is worth betraying? or, if you do, do you
really think that I would betray it?"

"Bah!" exclaimed Donna Tullia, interposing, "it is nonsense! Gouache is a
gentleman, of course--and besides, I mean to have my portrait, politics
or no politics."

With this round statement Donna Tullia sat down, and Del Ferice had no
choice but to follow her example. He was profoundly disgusted, but he saw
at a glance that it would be hopeless to attempt to dissuade Madame Mayer
when she had once made up her mind.

"And now you can tell us all about it," said Donna Tullia. "What, in the
name of all that is senseless, has induced you to join the Zouaves? It
really makes me very nervous to see you."

"That lends poetry to your expression," interrupted Gouache. "I wish you
were always nervous. You really want to know why I am a Zouave? It is
very simple. You must know that I always follow my impulses."

"Impulses!" ejaculated Del Ferice, moodily.

"Yes; because my impulses are always good,--whereas when I reflect much,
my judgment is always bad. I felt a strong impulse to wear the grey
uniform, so I walked into the recruiting office and wrote my name down."

"I feel a strong impulse to walk out of your studio, Monsieur Gouache,"
said Donna Tullia, with a rather nervous laugh.

"Then allow me to tell you that, whereas my impulses are good, yours are
not," replied Anastase, quietly painting. "Because I have a new dress--"

"And new convictions," interrupted Del Ferice; "you who were always
arguing about convictions!"

"I had none; that is the reason I argued about them. I have plenty
now--I argue no longer."

"You are wise," retorted Ugo. "Those you have got will never bear
discussion."

"Excuse me," answered Gouache; "if you will take the trouble to be
introduced to his Eminence Cardinal Antonelli--"

Donna Tullia held up her hands in horror.

"That horrible man! That Mephistopheles!" she cried.

"That Macchiavelli! That arch-enemy of our holy liberty!" exclaimed Del
Ferice, in theatrical tones.

"Exactly," answered Gouache. "If he could be induced to devote a quarter
of an hour of his valuable time to talking with you, he would turn your
convictions round his finger."

"This is too much!" cried Del Ferice, angrily.

"I think it is very amusing," said Donna Tullia, "What a pity that all
Liberals are not artists, whom his Eminence could engage to paint his
portrait and be converted at so much an hour!"

Gouache smiled quietly, and went on with his work.

"So he told you to go and turn Zouave," remarked Donna Tullia, after a
pause, "and you submitted like a lamb."

"So far was the Cardinal from advising me to turn soldier, that he
expressed the greatest surprise when I told him of my intention,"
returned Gouache, rather coldly.

"Indeed it is enough to take away even a cardinal's breath," answered
Madame Mayer. "I was never, never so surprised in my life!"

Gouache stood up to get a view of his work, and Donna Tullia looked at
him critically.

"_Tiens_!" she exclaimed, "it is rather becoming--what small ankles you
have, Gouache!"

Anastase laughed. It was impossible to be grave in the face of such
utterly frivolous inconsistency.

"You will allow your expression to change so often, Donna Tullia! It is
impossible to catch it."

"Like your convictions," murmured Del Ferice from his corner. Indeed Ugo
did not know what to make of the scene. He had miscalculated the strength
of Donna Tullia's fears as compared with her longing to possess a
flattering portrait of herself. Rather than leave the picture unfinished,
she exhibited a cynical indifference to danger which would have done
honour to a better man than Del Ferice. Perhaps, too, she understood
Gouache well enough to know that he might be trusted. Indeed any one
would have trusted Gouache. Even Del Ferice was less disturbed at the
possibility of the artist's repeating any of the trivial liberal talk
which he had listened to, than at the indifference to discovery shown by
Donna Tullia. To Del Ferice, the whole thing had been but a harmless
play; but he wanted Madame Mayer to believe that it had all been in
solemn earnest, and that she was really implicated in a dangerous plot;
for it gave him a stronger hold upon her for his own ends.

"So you are going to fight for Pio Nono," remarked Ugo, scornfully, after
another pause.

"I am," replied Gouache. "And, no offence to you, my friend, if I meet
you in a red shirt among the Garibaldini, I will kill you. It would be
very unpleasant, so I hope that you will not join them."

"Take care, Del Ferice," laughed Donna Tullia; "your life is in danger!
You had better join the Zouaves instead."

"I cannot paint his Eminence's portrait," returned Ugo, with a sneer, "so
there is no chance of that."

"You might assist him with wholesome advice, I should think," answered
Gouache. "I have no doubt you could tell him much that would be very
useful."

"And turn traitor to--"

"Hush! Do not be so silly, Del Ferice," interrupted Donna Tullia, who
began to fear that Del Ferice's taunts would make trouble. She had a
secret conviction that it would not be good to push the gentle Anastase
too far. He was too quiet, too determined, and too serious not to be a
little dangerous if roused.

"Do not be absurd," she repeated. "Whatever Gouache may choose to do, he
is a gentleman, and I will not have you talk of traitors like that. He
does not quarrel with you--why do you try to quarrel with him?"

"I think he has done quite enough to justify a quarrel, I am sure,"
replied Del Ferice, moodily.

"My dear sir," said Gouache, desisting from his work and turning towards
Ugo, "Madame is quite right. I not only do not quarrel, but I refuse to
be quarrelled with. You have my most solemn assurance that whatever has
previously passed here, whatever I have heard said by you, by Donna
Tullia, by Valdarno, by any of your friends, I regard as an inviolable
secret. You formerly said I had no convictions, and you were right. I had
none, and I listened to your exposition of your own with considerable
interest. My case is changed. I need not tell you what I believe, for I
wear the uniform of a Papal Zouave. When I put it on, I certainly did not
contemplate offending you; I do not wish to offend you now--I only beg
that you will refrain from offending me. For my part, I need only say
that henceforth I do not desire to take a part in your councils. If Donna
Tullia is satisfied with her portrait, there need be no further occasion
for our meeting. If, on the contrary, we are to meet again, I beg that we
may meet on a footing of courtesy and mutual respect."

It was impossible to say more; and Gouache's speech terminated the
situation so far as Del Ferice was concerned. Donna Tullia smilingly
expressed her approval.

"Quite right, Gouache," she said. "You know it would be impossible to
leave the portrait as it is now. The mouth, you know--you promised to do
something to it--just the expression, you know."

Gouache bowed his head a little, and set to work again without a word.
Del Ferice did not speak again during the sitting, but sat moodily
staring at the canvas, at Donna Tullia, and at the floor. It was not
often that he was moved from his habitual suavity of manner, but
Gouache's conduct had made him feel particularly uncomfortable.

The next time Donna Tullia came to sit, she brought her old Countess, and
Del Ferice did not appear. The portrait was ultimately finished to the
satisfaction of all parties, and was hung in Donna Tullia's drawing-room,
to be admired and criticised by all her friends. But Gouache rejoiced
when the thing was finally removed from his studio, for he had grown to
hate it, and had been almost willing to flatter it out of all likeness to
Madame Mayer, for the sake of not being eternally confronted by the cold
stare of her blue eyes. He finished the Cardinal's portrait too; and the
statesman not only paid for it with unusual liberality, but gave the
artist what he called a little memento of the long hours they had spent
together. He opened one of the lockers in his study, and from a small
drawer selected an ancient ring, in which was set a piece of crystal with
a delicate intaglio of a figure of Victory. He took Gouache's hand and
slipped the ring upon his finger. He had taken a singular liking to
Anastase.

"Wear it as a, little souvenir of me," he said kindly. "It is a Victory;
you are a soldier now, so I pray that victory may go with you; and I give
Victory herself into your hands."

"And I," said Gouache, "will pray that it may be a symbol in my hand of
the real victories you are to win."

"Only a symbol," returned the Cardinal, thoughtfully. "Nothing but a
symbol. I was not born to conquer, but to lead a forlorn-hope--to deceive
vanquished men with a hope not real, and to deceive the victors with an
unreal fear. Nevertheless, my friend," he added, grasping Gouache's hand,
and fixing upon him his small bright eyes,--"nevertheless, let us fight,
fight--fight to the very end!"

"We will fight to the end, Eminence," said Gouache. He was only a private
of Zouaves, and the man whose hand he held was great and powerful; but
the same spirit was in the hearts of both, the same courage, the same
devotion to the failing cause--and both kept their words, each in his own
way.



CHAPTER XXIII.


Astrardente was in some respects a picturesque place. The position of the
little town gave it a view in both directions from where it stood; for it
was built upon a precipitous eminence rising suddenly out of the midst of
the narrow strip of fertile land, the long and rising valley which, from
its lower extremity, conducted by many circuits to the Roman Campagna,
and which ended above in the first rough passes of the lower Abruzzi. The
base of the town extended into the vineyards and olive-orchards which
surrounded the little hill on all sides; and the summit of it was crowned
by the feudal palace-castle--an enormous building of solid stone, in the
style of the fifteenth century. Upon the same spot had formally stood a
rugged fortress, but the magnificent ideas of the Astrardente pope
had not tolerated such remains of barbarism; the ancient stronghold had
been torn down, and on its foundations rose a gigantic mansion,
consisting of a main palace, with great balconies and columned front,
overlooking the town, and of two massive wings leading back like towers
to the edge of the precipitous rock to northwards. Between these wings a
great paved court formed a sort of terrace, open upon one side, and
ornamented within with a few antique statues dug up upon the estates, and
with numerous plants, which the old duke had caused to be carefully
cultivated in vases, and which were only exposed upon the terrace during
the warm summer months. The view from the court was to the north--that is
to say, down the valley, comprehending ranges of hills that seemed to
cross and recross into the extreme distance, their outlines being each
time less clearly defined, as the masses in each succeeding range took a
softer purple hue.

Within, the palace presented a great variety of apartments. There were
suites of vaulted rooms upon the lower floor, frescoed in the good manner
of the fifteenth century; there were other suites above, hung with
ancient tapestry and furnished with old-fashioned marble tables, and
mirrors in heavily gilt frames, and one entire wing had been lately
fitted up in the modern style. In this part of the house Corona
established herself with Sister Gabrielle, and began to lead a life of
regular occupations and profound retirement, which seemed to be rather a
continuation of her existence in the convent where she had been educated
as a girl, than to form any part in the life of the superb Duchessa
d'Astrardente, who for five years had been one of the most conspicuous
persons in society. Every morning at eight o'clock the two ladies, always
clad in deep black, attended the Mass which was celebrated for them in
the palace chapel. Then Corona walked for an hour with her companion upon
the terrace, or, if it rained, beneath the covered balconies upon the
south side. The morning hours she passed in solitude, reading such books
of devotion and serious matter as most suited the sad temper of her mind;
precisely at mid-day she and Sister Gabrielle breakfasted together in a
sort of solemn state; and at three o'clock the great landau, with its
black horses and mourning liveries, stood under the inner gate. The two
ladies appeared five minutes later, and by a gesture Corona indicated
whether she would be driven up or down the valley. The dashing equipage
descended the long smooth road that wound through the town, and returned
invariably at the end of two hours, again ascended the tortuous way, and
disappeared beneath the dark entrance. At six o'clock dinner was served,
with the same solemn state as attended the morning meal; Corona and
Sister Gabrielle remained together until ten, and the day was over. There
was no more variation in the routine of their lives than if they had been
moved by a machinery connected with the great castle clock overhead,
which chimed the hours and the quarters by day and night, and regulated
the doings of the town below.

But in spite of this unchanging sequence of similar habit, the time
passed pleasantly for Corona. She had had too much of the brilliant
lights and the buzzing din of society for the last five years, too much
noise, too much idle talk, too much aimless movement; she needed rest,
too, from the constant strain of her efforts to fulfil her self-imposed
duties towards her husband--most of all, perhaps, she required a respite
from the sufferings she had undergone through her stifled love for
Giovanni Saracinesca. All this she found in the magnificent calm of
the life at Astrardente. She meditated long upon the memory of her
husband, recalling lovingly those things which had been most worthy in
him, willingly forgetting his many follies and vanities and moments of
petulance. She went over in her mind the many and varied scenes of the
past, and learned to love the sweet and silent solitude of the present by
comparison of it with all the useless and noisy activity of the world she
had for a time abandoned. She had not expected to find anything more than
a passive companion in Sister Gabrielle; but in the course of their daily
converse she discovered in her a character of extreme refinement and
quick perception, a depth of human sympathy and a breadth of experience
which amazed her, and made her own views of things seem small. The Sister
was devout and rigid in the observance of the institutions of her order,
in so far as she was able to follow out the detail of religious
regulation without interfering with the convenience of her companion;
but in her conversation she showed an intimate knowledge of character
which was a constant source of pleasure to Corona, who told the Sister
long stories of people she had known for the sake of hearing her
admirable comments upon social questions.

But besides her reading and her long hours of meditation and her talks
with Sister Gabrielle, Corona found occupation in the state of the town
below her residence. She attempted once or twice to visit the poor
cottages, in the hope of doing some good; but she found that she was
such an object of holy awe to the inmates that they were speechless in
her presence, or became so nervous in their desire to answer her
questions, that the information she was able to obtain concerning their
troubles was too vague to be of any use.

The Italian peasant is not the same in all parts of the country, as is
generally supposed; and although the Tuscan, who is constantly brought
into familiar contact with his landlord, and acquires a certain pleasant
faith in him, grows eloquent upon the conditions of his being, the same
is not true of the rougher race that labours in the valleys of the Sabine
and the Samnite hills. The peasant of the Agro Romano is indeed capable
of civilisation and he is able to understand his superiors, provided that
he is gradually accustomed to seeing them: unfortunately this occurs but
rarely. Many of the great Roman landholders spend a couple of months of
every year upon their estates: old Astrardente had in his later years
gone to considerable expense in refitting and repairing the castle, but
he had done little for the town. Men like the Saracinesca, however, were
great exceptions at that time; though they travelled much abroad, they
often remained for many months in their rugged old fortress. They knew
the inhabitants of their lands far and wide, and were themselves not only
known but loved; they spent their money in improving the condition of
their peasants, in increasing the area of their forests, and in fostering
the fertility of the soil, but they cared nothing for adorning the grey
stone walls of their ancestors' stronghold. It had done well enough for a
thousand years, it would do well enough still; it had stood firm against
fierce sieges in the dark ages of the Roman baronry, it could afford to
stand unchanged in its monumental strength against the advancing sea of
nineteenth-century civilisation. They themselves, father and son, were
content with such practical improvements as they could introduce for the
good of their people and the enriching of their land; a manly race,
despising luxury, they cared little whether their home was thought
comfortable by the few guests they occasionally invited to spend a week
with them. They saw much of the peasantry, and went daily among them,
understanding their wants, and wisely promoting in their minds the belief
that land cannot prosper unless both landlord and tenant do their share.

But Astrardente was a holding of a very different kind, and Corona, in
her first attempts at understanding the state of things, found herself
stopped by a dead wall of silence, beyond which she guessed that there
lay an undiscovered land of trouble. She knew next to nothing of the
condition of her people; she only imperfectly understood the relations in
which they actually stood to herself, the extent of her power over them,
and of their power over her. The mysteries of _emphyteusis, emphyteuma,_
and _emphyteuta_ were still hidden to her, though her steward spoke of
them with surprising loquacity and fluency. She laboured hard to
understand the system upon which her tenants held their lands from her,
and it was some time before she succeeded. It is easier to explain the
matter at once than to follow Corona in her attempts to comprehend it.

To judge from the terms employed, the system of holdings common in the
Pontifical States has descended without interruption from the time of the
Romans to the present day. As in old Roman law, _emphyteusis_, now spelt
_emfiteuse_, means the possession of rights over another person's land,
capable of transmission by inheritance; and to-day, as under the Romans,
the holder of such rights is called the _emphyteuta_, or _emfiteuta_. How
the Romans came to use Greek words in their tenant-law does not belong to
the matter in hand; these words are the only ones now in use in this part
of Italy, and they are used precisely as they were in remote times.

A tenant may acquire rights of _emfiteuse_ directly from the owner
of the land, like an ordinary lease; or he may acquire them by
settlement--"squatting," as the popular term is. Wherever land is lying
waste, any one may establish himself upon it and cultivate it, on
condition of paying to the owner a certain proportion of the yield of the
land--generally one quarter--either in kind or in money. The landlord
may, indeed, refuse the right of settlement in the first instance, which
would very rarely occur, since most people who own barren tracts of rock
and heath are only too glad to promote any kind of cultivation. But when
the landlord has once allowed the right, the right itself is constituted
thereby into a possession of which the peasant may dispose as he pleases,
even by selling it to another. The law provides, however, that in case of
transfers by sale, the landlord shall receive one year's rent in kind or
in money in addition to the rent due, and this bonus is paid jointly by
the buyer and the seller according to agreement. Such holdings are
inherited from father to son for many generations, and are considered to
be perpetual leases. The landlord cannot expel a tenant except for
non-payment of rent during three consecutive years. In actual fact, the
right of the _emfiteuta_ in the soil is far more important than that of
the landlord; for the tenant can cheat his landlord as much as he
pleases, whereas the injustice of the law provides that under no
circumstances whatsoever shall the landlord cheat the tenant. In actual
fact, also, the rents are universally paid in kind, and the peasant eats
what remains of the produce, so that very little cash is seen in the
land.

Corona discovered that the income she enjoyed from the lands of
Astrardente was collected by the basketful from the threshing-floors, and
by the barrel from the vineyards of some two hundred tenants. It was a
serious matter to gather from two hundred threshing-floors precisely a
quarter of the grain threshed, and from fifty or sixty vineyards
precisely a quarter of the wine made in each. The peasants all made their
wine at the same time, and all threshed their grain in the same week. If
the agent was not on the spot during the threshing and the vintage, the
peasant had no difficulty whatever in hiding a large quantity of his
produce. As the rent was never fixed, but depended solely on the yield of
the year, it was preeminently to the advantage of the tenant to throw
dust in the eyes of the landlord whenever he got a chance. The landlord
found the business of watching his tenants tedious and unprofitable, and
naturally resorted to the crowning evil of agricultural evils--the
employment of a rent-farmer. The latter, at all events, was willing to
pay a fixed sum yearly; and if the sum paid was generally considerably
below the real value of the rents, the arrangement at least assured a
fixed income to the landlord, with the certainty of getting it without
trouble to himself. The middleman then proceeded to grind the tenants at
his leisure and discretion in order to make the best of his bargain. The
result was, that while the tenant starved and the landlord got less than
his due in consideration of being saved from annoyance, the middleman
gradually accumulated money.

Upon this system nine-tenths of the land in the Pontifical States was
held, and much of the same land is so held to-day, in spite of the modern
tenant-law, for reasons which will be clearly explained in another part
of this history. Corona saw and understood that the evil was very great.
She discussed the matter with her steward, or _ministro_ as he was
called, who was none other than the aforesaid middleman; and the more she
discussed the question, the more hopeless the question appeared. The
steward held a contract from her dead husband for a number of years. He
had regularly paid the yearly sums agreed upon, and it would be
impossible to remove him for several years to come. He, of course, was
strenuously opposed to any change, and did his best to make himself
appear as an angel of mercy and justice, presiding over a happy family of
rejoicing peasants in the heart of a terrestrial paradise. Unfortunately
for himself, however, he had not at first understood the motive which
prompted Corona's inquiries. He supposed in the beginning that she was
not satisfied with the amount of rent he paid, and that at the expiration
of his contract she intended to raise the sum; so that, on the first
occasion when she sent for him, he had drawn a piteous picture of the
peasant's condition, and had expatiated with eloquence on his own
poverty, and on the extreme difficulty of collecting any rents at all. It
was not until he discovered that Corona's chief preoccupation was for the
welfare of her tenants that he changed his tactics, and endeavoured to
prove that all was for the best upon the best of all possible estates.

Then, to his great astonishment, Corona informed him that his contract
would not be renewed, and that at the expiration of his term she would
collect her rents herself. It had taken her long to understand the
situation, but when she had comprehended it, she made up her mind that
something must be done. If her fortune had depended solely upon the
income she received from the Astrardente lands, she would have made up
her mind to reduce herself to penury rather than allow things to go in
the way they were going. Fortunately she was rich, and if she had not all
the experience necessary to deal with such matters, she had plenty of
goodwill, plenty of generosity, and plenty of money. In her simple
theory of agrarian economy the best way to improve an estate seemed to be
to spend the income arising from it directly upon its improvement, until
she could take the whole management of it into her own hands. The
trouble, as she thought, was that there was too little money among the
peasants; the best way to help them was to put money within their reach.
The only question was how to do this without demoralising them, and
without increasing their liabilities towards the _ministro_ or middleman.

Then she sent for the curate. From him she learned that the people did
well enough in the summer, but that the winter was dreaded. She asked
why. He answered that they were not provident; that the land system was
bad; and that even if they saved anything the _ministro_ would take it
from them. She inquired whether he thought it possible to induce them to
be more thrifty. He thought it might be done in ten years, but not in
one.

"In that case," said Corona, "the only way to improve their condition is
to give them work in the winter. I will make roads through the estate,
and build large dwelling-houses in the town. There shall be work enough
for everybody."

It was a simple plan, but it was destined to be carried into execution,
and to change the face of the Astrardente domain in a few years. Corona
sent to Rome for an engineer who was also a good architect, and she set
herself to study the possibilities of the place, giving the man
sufficient scope, and only insisting that there should be no labour and
no material imported from beyond the limits of her lands. This provided
her with an occupation whereby the time passed quickly enough.

The Lenten season ended, and Eastertide ran swiftly on to Pentecost. The
early fruit-trees blossomed white, and the flowers fell in a snow-shower
to the ground, to give place to the cherries and the almonds and the
pears. The brown bramble-hedges turned leafy, and were alive with little
birds; and the great green lizards shot across the woodland paths upon
the hillside, and caught the flies that buzzed noisily in the spring
sunshine. The dried-up vines put forth tiny leaves, and the maize shot
suddenly up to the sun out of the rich furrows, like myriads of brilliant
green poignards piercing the brown skin of the earth. By the roadside the
grass grew high, and the broad shallow brooks shrank to narrow rivulets,
and disappeared in the overgrowing rushes before the increasing heat of
the climbing sun.

Corona's daily round of life never changed, but as the months wore on, a
stealing thought came often and often again--shy, as though fearing to be
driven away; silent at first, as a shadow in a dream, but taking form and
reality from familiarity with its own self, and speaking intelligible
words, saying at last plainly, "Will he keep his promise? Will he never
come?"

But he came not as the fresh colours of spring deepened with the rich
maturity of summer; and Corona, gazing down the valley, saw the change
that came over the fair earth, and half guessed the change that was
coming over her own life. She had sought solitude instinctively, but
she had not known what it would bring her. She had desired to honour her
dead husband by withdrawing from the world for a time and thinking of him
and remembering him. She had done so, but the youth in her rebelled at
last against the constant memory of old age--of an old age, too, which
had passed away from her and was dead for ever.

It was right to dwell for a time upon the thought of her widowhood, but
the voice said it would not be always right. The calm and noiseless tide
of the old man's ceasing life had ebbed slowly and reluctantly from her
shore, and she had followed the sad sea in her sorrow to the furthest
verge of its retreat; but as she stood upon the edge of the stagnant
waters, gazing far out and trying to follow even further the slow
subsiding ooze, the tide had turned upon her unawares, the fresh seaward
breeze sprang up and broke the dead calm with the fresh motion of crisp
ripples that once more flowed gladly over the dreary sand, and the waters
of life plashed again and laughed gladly together around her feet.

The thought of Giovanni--the one thought that again and again kept
recurring in her mind--grew very sweet,--as sweet as it had once been
bitter. There was nothing to stop its growth now, and she let it have its
way. What did it matter, so long as he did not come near her--for the
present? Some day he would come; she wondered when, and how long he would
keep his promise. But meanwhile she was not unhappy, and she went about
her occupations as before; only sometimes she would go alone at evening
to the balcony that faced the higher mountains, and there she would stand
for half an hour gazing southward towards the precipitous rocks that
caught the red glare of the sinking sun, and she asked herself if he were
there, or whether, as report had told her, he were in the far north.
It was but half a day's ride over the hills, he had said. But strain her
sight as she would, she could not pierce the heavy crags nor see into the
wooded dells beyond. He had said he would pass the summer there; had he
changed his mind?

But she was not unhappy. There was that in her which forbade unhappiness,
which would have broken out into great joy if she would have let it; but
yet she would not. It was too soon yet to say aloud what she said in her
heart daily, that she loved Giovanni with a great love, and that she knew
she was free to love him. In that thought there was enough of joy. But he
might come if he would; her anger would not be great if he broke his
promise now, he had kept it so long--six whole months. But by-and-by,
as the days passed, the first note of happiness was marred by the
discordant ring of a distant fear. What if she had too effectually
forbidden him to see her? What if he had gone out disappointed of all
hope, and was really in distant Scandinavia, as the papers said, risking
his life in mad adventures?

But after all, that was not what she feared. He was strong, young,
brave--he had survived a thousand dangers, he would survive these also.
There arose between her and the thought of him an evil shadow, the image
of a woman, and it took the shape of Donna Tullia so vividly that she
could see the red lips move and almost hear the noisy laugh. She was
angry with herself at the idea, but it recurred continually and gave her
pain, and the pain grew to an intolerable fear. She began to feel that
she must know where he was, at any cost, or she could have no peace. She
was restless and nervous, and began to be absent-minded in her
conversation with Sister Gabrielle. The good woman saw it, and advised a
little change--anything, an excursion of a day for instance. Corona, she
said, was too young to lead this life.

Her mind leaped at the idea. It was but half a day's ride, he had said;
she would climb those hills and look down upon Saracinesca--only once.
She might perhaps meet some peasant, and by a careless inquiry she would
learn whether he was there--or would be there in the summer. No one would
know; and besides, Sister Gabrielle had said that an excursion would do
Corona good. Sister Gabrielle had probably never heard that Saracinesca
was so near, and she certainly would not guess that the Duchessa had any
interest in its lord. She announced her intention, and the Sister
approved--she herself, she said, was too weak to undergo the fatigue.

On the following morning, Corona alone entered her carriage and was
driven many miles up the southward hills, till the road was joined by a
broad bridle-path that led eastwards towards the Abruzzi. Here she was
met by a party of horsemen, her own _guardiani_, or forest-keepers, as
they are called, in rough dark-blue coats and leathern gaiters. Each man
wore upon his breast a round plate of chiselled silver, bearing the arms
of the Astrardente; each had a long rifle slung behind him, and carried a
holster at the bow of his huge saddle. A couple of sturdy black-browed
peasants held a mule by the bridle, heavily caparisoned in the old
fashion, under a great red velvet Spanish saddle, with long tarnished
trappings that had once been embroidered with silver. A little knot of
peasants and ragged boys stood all around watching the preparations
with interest, and commenting audibly upon the beauty of the great lady.

Corona mounted from a stone by the wayside, and the young men led her
beast up the path. She smiled to herself, for she had never done such a
thing before, but she was not uneasy in the company of her rough-looking
escort. She knew well enough that she was as safe with them as in her own
house.

As the bridle-path wound up from the road, the country grew more rugged,
the vegetation more scanty, and the stones more plentiful. It was a
wilderness of rocky desolation; as far as one could see there was no sign
of humanity, not a soul upon the solitary road, not a living thing upon
the desolate hills that rose on either side in jagged points to the sky.
Corona talked a little with the head-keeper who rode beside her with a
slack rein, letting his small mountain horse pick its own way over the
rough path. He told her that few people ever passed that way. It was the
short road to Saracinesca. The princes sometimes sent their carriage
round by the longer way and rode over the hills; and in the vintage-time
there was some traffic, as many of the smaller peasants carried grapes
across the pass to the larger wine-presses, and sold them outright. It
was not a dangerous road, for the very reason that it was so
unfrequented. The Duchessa explained that she only wanted to see the
valley beyond from the summit of the pass, and would then return. It was
past mid-day when the party reached the highest point,--a depression
between the crags just wide enough to admit one loaded mule. The keeper
said she could see Saracinesca from the end of the narrow way, before the
descent began. She uttered an exclamation of surprise as she reached the
spot.

Scarcely a quarter of a mile to the right, at the extremity of a broad
hill-road, she saw the huge towers of Saracinesca, grey and storm-beaten,
rising out of a thick wood. The whole intervening space--and indeed the
whole deep valley as far as she could see--was an unbroken forest of
chestnut-trees. Here and there below the castle the houses of the town
showed their tiled gables, but the mass of the buildings was hidden
completely from sight. Corona had had no idea that she should find
herself so near to the place, and she was seized with a sudden fear lest
Giovanni should appear upon the long straight path that led into the
trees. She drew back a little among her followers.

"Are the princes there now?" she asked of the head-keeper.

He did not know; but a moment later a peasant, riding astride of a bag of
corn upon his donkey's back, passed along the straight road by the
entrance to the bridle-path. The keeper hailed him, and put the question.
Seeing Corona upon her mule, surrounded by armed men in livery, the man
halted, and pulled off his soft black-cloth hat.

Both the princes were in Saracinesca, he said. The young prince had been
there ever since Easter. They were busy building an aqueduct which was to
supply the whole town with water; it was to pass above, up there among
the woods. The princes went almost every day to visit the works. Her
Excellency might, perhaps, find them there now, or if not, they were at
the castle.

But her Excellency had no intention of finding them. She gave the fellow
a coin, and beat a somewhat hasty retreat. Her followers were silent men,
accustomed to obey, and they followed her down the steep path without
even exchanging a word among themselves. Beneath the shade of an
overhanging rock she halted, and, dismounting from her mule, was served
with the lunch that had been brought. She ate little, and then sat
thoughtfully contemplating the bare stones, while the men at a little
distance hastily disposed of the remains of her meal. She had experienced
an extraordinary emotion on finding herself suddenly so near to Giovanni;
it was almost as though she had seen him, and her heart beat fast, while
a dark flush rose from time to time to her cheek. It would have been so
natural that he should pass that way, just as she was halting at the
entrance to the bridle-path. How unspeakably dreadful it would have been
to be discovered thus spying out his dwelling-place when she had so
strictly forbidden him to attempt to see her! The blush burned upon her
cheeks--she had done a thing so undignified, so ill befitting her
magnificent superiority. For a moment she was desperately ashamed. But
for all that, she could not repress the glad delight she felt at
knowing that he was there after all; that, if he had kept his word, in
avoiding her, he had, nevertheless, also fulfilled his intention of
spending the summer in Saracinesca. He had even been there since Easter,
and the story of his going to the North had been a mere invention of the
newspapers. She could not understand his conduct, nor why he had gone to
Paris--a fact attested by people who knew him. It had probably been for
some matter of business--that excuse which, in a woman's mind, explains
almost any sudden journey a man may undertake. But he was there in the
castle now, and her heart was satisfied.

The men packed the things in the basket, and Corona was helped upon her
mule. Slowly the party descended the steep path that grew broader and
more practicable as they neared the bottom; there the carriage awaited
her, and soon she was bowling along the smooth road towards home, leaving
far behind her the mounted guards, the peasants, and her slow-paced mule.
The sun was low when the carriage rolled under the archway of
Astrardente. Sister Gabrielle said Corona looked much the better for her
excursion, and she added that she must be very strong to bear such
fatigue so well. And the next day--and for many days--the Sister noticed
the change in her hostess's manner, and promised herself that if the
Duchessa became uneasy again she would advise another day among the
hills, so wonderful was the effect of a slight change from the ordinary
routine of her life.

That night old Saracinesca and his son sat at dinner in a wide hall of
their castle. The faithful Pasquale served them as solemnly as he was
used to do in Rome. This evening he spoke again. He had ventured no
remark since he had informed them of the Duca d'Astrardente's death.

"I beg your Excellencies' pardon," he began, adopting his usual formula
of apologetic address.

"Well, Pasquale, what is it?" asked old Saracinesca.

"I did not know whether your Excellency was aware that the Duchessa
d'Astrardente had been here to-day."

"What?" roared the Prince.

"You must be mad, Pasquale?" exclaimed Giovanni in a low voice.

"I beg your Excellencies' pardon if I am wrong, but this is how I know.
Gigi Secchi, the peasant from Aquaviva in the lower forest, brought a bag
of corn to the mill to-day, and he told the miller, and the miller told
Ettore, and Ettore told Nino, and Nino told--"

"What the devil did he tell him?" interrupted old Saracinesca.

"Nino told the cook's boy," continued Pasquale unmoved, "and the cook's
boy told me, your Excellency, that Gigi was passing along the road to
Serveti coming here, when he was stopped by a number of _guardiani_ who
accompanied a beautiful dark lady in black, who rode upon a mule, and the
_guardiani_ asked him if your Excellencies were at Saracinesca; and when
he said you were, the lady gave him a coin, and turned at once and rode
down the bridle-path towards Astrardente, and he said the _guardiani_
were those of the Astrardente, because he remembered to have seen one of
them, who has a scar over his left eye, at the great fair at Genazzano
last year. And that is how I heard."

"That is a remarkable narrative, Pasquale," answered the Prince, laughing
loudly, "but it seems very credible. Go and send for Gigi Secchi if he is
still in the neighbourhood, and bring him here, and let us have the story
from his own lips."

When they were alone the two men looked at each other for a moment, and
then old Saracinesca laughed again; but Giovanni looked very grave, and
his face was pale. Presently his father became serious again.

"If this thing is true," he said, "I would advise you, Giovanni, to pay a
visit to the other side of the hills. It is time."

Giovanni was silent for a moment. He was intensely interested in the
situation, but he could not tell his father that he had promised Corona
not to see her, and he had not yet explained to himself her sudden
appearance so near Saracinesca.

"I think it would be better for you to go first," he said to his father.
"But I am not at all sure this story is true."

"I? Oh, I will go when you please," returned the old man, with another
laugh. He was always ready for anything active.

But Gigi Secchi could not be found. He had returned to Aquaviva at once,
and it was not easy to send a message. Two days later, however, Giovanni
took the trouble of going to the man's home. He was not altogether
surprised when Gigi confirmed Pasquale's tale in every particular.
Corona had actually been at Saracinesca to find out if Giovanni was there
or not; and on hearing that he was at the castle, she had fled
precipitately. Giovanni was naturally grave and of a melancholy temper;
but during the last few months he had been more than usually taciturn,
occupying himself with dogged obstinacy in the construction of his
aqueduct, visiting the works in the day and spending hours in the evening
over the plans. He was waiting. He believed that Corona cared for him,
and he knew that he loved her, but for the present he must wait
patiently, both for the sake of his promise and for the sake of a decent
respect of her widowhood. In order to wait he felt the necessity of
constant occupation, and to that end he had set himself resolutely to
work with his father, whose ideal dream was to make Saracinesea the most
complete and prosperous community in that part of the mountains.

"I think if you would go over," he said, at the end of a week, "it would
be much better. I do not want to intrude myself upon her at present, and
you could easily find out whether she would like to see me. After all,
she may have been merely making an excursion for her amusement, and
may have chanced upon us by accident. I have often noticed how suddenly
one comes in view of the castle from that bridle-path."

"On the other hand," returned the Prince with a smile, "any one would
tell her that the path leads nowhere except to Saracinesca. But I will go
to-morrow," he added. "I will set your mind at rest in twenty-four
hours."

"Thank you," said Giovanni.



CHAPTER XXIV.


Old Saracinesca kept his word, and on the following morning, eight days
after Corona's excursion upon the hills, he rode down to Astrardente,
reaching the palace at about mid-day. He sent in his card, and stood
waiting beneath the great gate, beating the dust from his boots with his
heavy whip. His face looked darker than ever, from constant exposure to
the sun, and his close-cropped hair and short square beard had turned
even whiter than before in the last six months, but his strong form was
erect, and his step firm and elastic. He was a remarkable old man; many a
boy of twenty might have envied his strength and energetic vitality.

Corona was at her mid-day breakfast with Sister Gabrielle, when the old
Prince's card was brought. She started at the sight of the name; and
though upon the bit of pasteboard she read plainly enough, "_Il Principe
di Saracinesca_," she hesitated, and asked the butler if it was really
the Prince. He said it was.

"Would you mind seeing him?" she asked of Sister Gabrielle. "He is an old
gentleman," she added, in explanation--"a near neighbour here in the
mountains."

Sister Gabrielle had no objection. She even remarked that it would do the
Duchessa good to see some one.

"Ask the Prince to come in, and put another place at the table," said
Corona.

A moment later the old man entered, and Corona rose to receive him. There
was something refreshing in the ring of his deep voice and the clank of
his spurs as he crossed the marble floor.

"Signora Duchessa, you are very good to receive me. I did not know that
this was your breakfast-hour. Ah!" he exclaimed, glancing at Sister
Gabrielle, who had also risen to her feet, "good day, my Sister."

"Sister Gabrielle," said Corona, as an introduction; "she is good enough
to be my companion in solitude."

To tell the truth, Corona felt uneasy; but the sensation was somehow
rather pleasurable, although it crossed her mind that the Prince might
have heard of her excursion, and had possibly come to find out why she
had been so near to his place. She boldly faced the situation.

"I nearly came upon you the other day as unexpectedly as you have visited
me," she said with a smile. "I had a fancy to look over into your valley,
and when I reached the top of the hill I found I was almost in your
house."

"I wish you had quite been there," returned the Prince. "Of course I
heard that you had been seen, and we guessed you had stumbled upon us in
some mountain excursion. My son rode all the way to Aquaviva to see the
man who had spoken with you."

Saracinesca said this as though it were perfectly natural, helping
himself to the dish the servant offered him. But when he looked up he saw
that Corona blushed beneath her dark skin.

"It is such a very sudden view at that point," she said, nervously, "that
I was startled."

"I wish you had preserved your equanimity to the extent of going a little
further. Saracinesca has rarely been honoured with the visit of a
Duchessa d'Astrardente. But since you have explained your visit--or the
visit which you did not make--I ought to explain mine. You must know, in
the first place, that I am not here by accident, but by intention,
preconceived, well pondered, and finally executed to my own complete
satisfaction. I came, not to get a glimpse of your valley nor a distant
view of your palace, but to see you, yourself. Your hospitality in
receiving me has therefore crowned and complimented the desire I had of
seeing you."

Corona laughed a little.

"That is a very pretty speech," she said.

"Which you would have lost if you had not received me," he answered,
gaily. "I have not done yet. I have many pretty speeches for you. The
sight of you induces beauty in language as the sun in May makes the
flowers open."

"That is another," laughed Corona. "Do you spend your days in studying
the poets at Saracinesca? Does Don Giovanni study with you?"

"Giovanni is a fact," returned the Prince; "I am a fable. Old men are
always fables, for they represent, in a harmless form, the follies of all
mankind; their end is always in itself a moral, and young people can
learn much by studying them."

"Your comparison is witty," said Corona, who was much amused at old
Saracinesca's conversation; "but I doubt whether you are so harmless as
you represent. You are certainly not foolish, and I am not sure whether,
as a study for the young--" she hesitated, and laughed.

"Whether extremely young persons would have the wit to comprehend virtue
by the concealment of it--to say, as that witty old Roman said, that the
images of Cassius and Brutus were more remarkable than those of any one
else, for the very reason that they were nowhere to be seen--like my
virtues? Giovanni, for instance, is the very reverse of me in that,
though he has shown such singularly bad taste in resembling my outward
man."

"One should never conceal virtues," said Sister Gabrielle, gently. "One
should not hide one's light under a basket, you know."

"My Sister," replied the old Prince, his black eyes twinkling merrily,
"if I had in my whole composition as much light as would enable you to
read half-a-dozen words in your breviary, it should be at your disposal.
I would set it in the midst of Piazza Colonna, and call it the most
wonderful illumination on record. Unfortunately my light, like the
lantern of a solitary miner, is only perceptible to myself, and dimly at
that."

"You must not depreciate yourself so very much," said Corona.

"No; that is true. You will either believe I am speaking the truth, or
you will not. I do not know which would be the worse fate. I will change
the subject. My son Giovanni, Duchessa, desires to be remembered in your
good graces."

"Thanks. How is he?"

"He is well, but the temper of him is marvellously melancholy. He is
building an aqueduct, and so am I. The thing is accomplished by his
working perpetually while I smoke cigarettes and read novels."

"The division of labour is to your advantage, I should say," remarked
Corona.

"Immensely, I assure you. He promotes the natural advantages of my lands,
and I encourage the traffic in tobacco and literature. He works from
morning till night, is his own engineer, contractor, overseer, and
master-mason. He does everything, and does it well. If we were less
barbarous in our bachelor establishment I would ask you to come and see
us--in earnest this time--and visit the work we are doing. It is well
worth while. Perhaps you would consent as it is. We will vacate the
castle for your benefit, and mount guard outside the gates all night."

Again Corona blushed. She would have given anything to go, but she felt
that it was impossible.

"I would like to go," she said. "If one could come back the same day."

"You did before," remarked Saracinesca, bluntly.

"But it was late when I reached home, and I spent no time at all there."

"I know you did not," laughed the old man. "You gave Gigi Secchi some
money, and then fled precipitately."

"Indeed I was afraid you would suddenly come upon me, and I ran away,"
answered Corona, laughing in her turn, as the dark blood rose to her
olive cheeks.

"As my amiable ancestors did in the same place when anybody passed with a
full purse," suggested Saracinesca. "But we have improved a little since
then. We would have asked you to breakfast. Will you come?"

"I do not like to go alone; I cannot, you see. Sister Gabrielle could
never ride up that hill on a mule."

"There is a road for carriages," said the Prince. "I will propose
something in the way of a compromise. I will bring Giovanni down with me
and our team of mountain horses. Those great beasts of yours cannot do
this kind of work. We will take you and Sister Gabrielle up almost as
fast as you could go by the bridle-path." "And back on the same day?"
asked Corona.

"No; on the next day."

"But I do not see where the compromise is," she replied. "Sister
Gabrielle is at once the compromise and the cause that you will not be
compromised. I beg her pardon--"

Both ladies laughed.

"I will be very glad to go," said the Sister. "I do not see that there is
anything extraordinary in the Prince's proposal."

"My Sister," returned Saracinesca, "you are on the way to saintship; you
already enjoy the beatific vision; you see with a heavenly perspicuity."

"It is a charming proposition," said Corona; "but in that case you will
have to come down the day before." She was a little embarrassed.

"We will not invade the cloister," answered the Prince. "Giovanni and I
will spend the night in concocting pretty speeches, and will appear armed
with them at dawn before your gates."

"There is room in Astrardente," replied Corona. "You shall not lack
hospitality for a night. When will you come?"

"To-morrow evening, if you please. A good thing should be done quickly,
in order not to delay doing it again."

"Do you think I would go again?"

Saracinesca fixed his black eyes on Corona's, and gazed at her some
seconds before he answered.

"Madam," he said at last, very gravely, "I trust you will come again and
stay longer."

"You are very good," returned Corona, quietly. "At All events, I will go
this first time."

"We will endeavour to show our gratitude by making you comfortable,"
answered the Prince, resuming his former tone. "You shall have a mass in
the morning and a litany in the evening. We are godless fellows up
there, but we have a priest."

"You seem to associate our comfort entirely with religious services,"
laughed Corona. "But you are very considerate."

"I see the most charming evidence of devotion at your side," he replied;
"Sister Gabrielle is both the evidence of your piety and is in herself
an exposition of the benefits of religion. There shall be other
attractions, however, besides masses and litanies."

Breakfast being ended, Sister Gabrielle left the two together. They went
from the dining-room to the great vaulted hall of the inner building. It
was cool there, and there were great old arm-chairs ranged along the
walls. The closed blinds admitted a soft green light from the hot noonday
without. Corona loved to walk upon the cool marble floor; she was a very
strong and active woman, delighting in mere motion--not restless, but
almost incapable of weariness; her movements not rapid, but full of grace
and ease. Saracinesca walked by her side, smoking thoughtfully for some
minutes.

"Duchessa," he said at last, glancing at her beautiful face, "things are
greatly changed since we met last. You were angry with me then. I do not
know whether you were so justly, but you were very angry for a few
moments. I am going to return to the subject now; I trust you will not be
offended with me."

Corona trembled for a moment, and was silent. She would have prevented
him from going on, but before she could find the words she sought he
continued.

"Things are much changed, in some respects; in others, not at all. It is
but natural to suppose that in the course of time you will think of the
possibility of marrying again. My son, Duchessa, loves you very truly.
Pardon me, it is no disrespect to you, now, that he should have told me
so. I am his father, and I have no one else to care for. He is too honest
a gentleman to have spoken of his affection for you at an eailier period,
but he has told me of it now."

Corona stood still in the midst of the great hall, and faced the old
Prince. She had grown pale while he was speaking. Still she was silent.

"I have nothing more to say--that is all," said Saracinesca, gazing
earnestly into the depths of her eyes. "I have nothing more to say."

"Do you then mean to repeat the warning you once gave me?" asked Corona,
growing whiter still. "Do you mean to imply that there is danger to your
son?"

"There is danger--great danger for him, unless you will avert it."

"And how?" asked Corona, in a low voice.

"Madam, by becoming his wife."

Corona started and turned away in great agitation. Saracinesca stood
still while she slowly walked a few steps from him. She could not speak.

"I could say a great deal more, Duchessa," he said, as she came back
towards him. "I could say that the marriage is not only fitting in every
other way, but is also advantageous from a worldly point of view. You
are sole mistress of Astrardente; my son will before long be sole master
of Saracinesca. Our lands are near together--that is a great advantage,
that question of fortune. Again, I would observe that, with your
magnificent position, you could not condescend to accept a man of lower
birth than the highest in the country. There is none higher than the
Saracinesca--pardon my arrogance,--and among princes there is no braver,
truer gentleman than my son Giovanni. I ask no pardon for saying that; I
will maintain it against all comers. I forego all questions of advantage,
and base my argument upon that. He is the best man I know, and he loves
you devotedly."

"Is he aware that you are here for this purpose?" asked Corona, suddenly.
She spoke with a great effort.

"No. He knows that I am here, and was glad that I came. He desired me to
ascertain if you would see him. He would certainly not have thought of
addressing you at present. I am an old man, and I feel that I must do
things quickly. That is my excuse."

Corona was again silent. She was too truthful to give an evasive answer,
and yet she hesitated to speak. The position was an embarrassing one; she
was taken unawares, and was terrified at the emotion she felt. It had
never entered her mind that the old Prince could appear on his son's
behalf, and she did not know how to meet him.

"I have perhaps been too abrupt," said Saracinesca. "I love my son very
dearly, and his happiness is more to me than what remains of my own. If
from the first you regard my proposition as an impossible one, I would
spare him the pain of a humiliation,--I fear I could not save him from
the rest, from a suffering that might drive him mad. It is for this
reason that I implore you, if you are able, to give me some answer, not
that I may convey it to him, but in order that I may be guided in future.
He cannot forget you; but he has not seen you for six months. To see you
again if he must leave you for ever, would only inflict a fresh wound."
He paused, while Corona slowly walked by his side.

"I do not see why I should conceal the truth, from you," she said at
last. "I cannot conceal it from myself. I am not a child that I should
be ashamed of it. There is nothing wrong in it--no reason why it should
not be. You are honest, too--why should we try to deceive ourselves? I
trust to your honour to be silent, and I own that I--that I love your
son."

Corona stood still and turned her face away, as the burning blush rose to
her cheeks. The answer she had given was characteristic of her,
straightforward and honest. She was not ashamed of it, and yet the words
were so new, so strange in their sound, and so strong in their meaning,
that she blushed as she uttered them. Saracinesca was greatly surprised,
too, for he had expected some evasive turn, some hint that he might bring
Giovanni. But his delight had no bounds.

"Duchessa," he said, "the happiest day I can remember was when I brought
home my wife to Saracinesca. My proudest day will be that on which my son
enters the same gates with you by his side."

He took her hand and raised it to his lips, with a courteous gesture.

"It will be long before that--it must be very long," answered Corona.

"It shall be when you please, Madam, provided it is at last. Meanwhile we
will come down to-morrow, and take you to our tower. Do you understand
now why I said that I hoped you would come again and stay longer? I
trust you have not changed your mind in regard to the excursion."

"No. We will expect you to-morrow night. Remember, I have been honest
with you--I trust to you to be silent."

"You have my word. And now, with your permission, I will return to
Saracinesca. Believe me, the news that you expect us will be good enough
to tell Giovanni."

"You may greet him from me. But will you not rest awhile before you ride
back? You must be tired."

"No fear of that!" answered the Prince. "You have put a new man into an
old one. I shall never tire of bearing the news of your greetings."

So the old man left her, and mounted his horse and rode up the pass. But
Corona remained for hours in the vaulted hall, pacing up and down. It had
come too soon--far too soon. And yet, how she had longed for it!
how she had wondered whether it would ever come at all!

The situation was sufficiently strange, too. Giovanni had once told her
of his love, and she had silenced him. He was to tell her again, and she
was to accept what he said. He was to ask her to marry him, and her
answer was a foregone conclusion. It seemed as though this greatest event
of her life were planned to the very smallest details beforehand; as
though she were to act a part which she had studied, and which was yet no
comedy because it was the expression of her life's truth. The future had
been, as it were, prophesied and completely foretold to her, and held no
surprises; and yet it was more sweet to think of than all the past
together. She wondered how he would say it, what his words would be, how
he would look, whether he would again be as strangely violent as he
had been that night at the Palazzo Frangipani. She wondered, most of all,
how she would answer him. But it would be long yet. There would be many
meetings, many happy days before that happiest day of all.

Sister Gabrielle saw a wonderful change in Corona's face that afternoon
when they drove up the valley together, and she remarked what wonderful
effect a little variety had upon her companion's spirits--she could not
say upon her health, for Corona seemed made of velvet and steel, so
smooth and dark, and yet so supple and strong. Corona smiled brightly as
she looked far up at the beetling crags behind which Saracinesca was
hidden.

"We shall be up there the day after to-morrow," she said. "How strange it
will seem!" And leaning back, her deep eyes flashed, and she laughed
happily.

On the following evening, again, they drove along the road that led up
the valley. But they had not gone far when they saw in the distance a
cloud of dust, from which in a few moments emerged a vehicle drawn by
three strong horses, and driven by Giovanni Saracinesca himself. His
father sat beside him in front, and a man in livery was seated at the
back, with a long rifle between his knees. The vehicle was a kind of
double cart, capable of holding four persons, and two servants at the
back.

In a moment the two carriages met and stopped side by side. Giovanni
sprang from his seat, throwing the reins to his father, who stood up hat
in hand, and bowed from where he was. Corona held out her hand to
Giovanni as he stood bareheaded in the road beside her. One long look
told all the tale; there could be no words there before the Sister and
the old Prince, but their eyes told all--the pain of past separation, the
joy of two loving hearts that met at last without hindrance.

"Let your servant drive, and get in with us," said Corona, who could
hardly speak in her excitement. Then she started slightly, and smiled in
her embarrassment. She had continued to hold Giovanni's hand,
unconsciously leaving her fingers in his.

The Prince's groom climbed into the front seat, and old Saracinesca got
down and entered the landau. It was a strangely silent meeting, long
expected by the two who so loved each other--long looked for, but hardly
realised now that it had come. The Prince was the first to speak,
as usual.

"You expected to meet us, Duchessa?" he said; "we expected to meet you.
An expectation fulfilled is better than a surprise. Everything at
Saracinesca is prepared for your reception. Don Angelo, our priest, has
been warned of your coming, and the boy who serves mass has been washed.
You may imagine that a great festivity is expected. Giovanni has turned
the castle inside out, and had a room hung entirely with tapestries of my
great-grandmother's own working. He says that since the place is so old,
its antiquity should be carried into the smallest details."

Corona laughed gaily--she would have laughed at anything that day--and
the old Prince's tone was fresh and sparkling and merry. He had relieved
the first embarrassment of the situation.

"There have been preparations at Astrardente for your reception, too,"
answered the Duchessa. "There was a difficulty of choice, as there are
about a hundred vacant rooms in the house. The butler proposed to give
you a suite of sixteen to pass the night in, but I selected an airy
little nook in one of the wings, where you need only go through ten to
get to your bedroom."

"There is nothing like space," said the Prince; "it enlarges the ideas."

"I cannot imagine what my father would do if his ideas were extended,"
remarked Giovanni. "Everything he imagines is colossal already. He talks
about tunnelling the mountains for my aqueduct, as though it were no more
trouble than to run a stick through a piece of paper."

"Your aqueduct, indeed!" exclaimed his father. "I would like to know
whose idea it was?"

"I hear you are working like an engineer yourself, Don Giovanni," said
Corona. "I have a man at work at Astrardente on some plans of roads.
Perhaps some day you could give us your advice."

Some day! How sweet the words sounded to Giovanni as he sat opposite the
woman he loved, bowling along through the rich vine lands in the cool of
the summer evening!



CHAPTER XXV.


The opportunity which Giovanni sought of being alone with Corona was long
in coming. Sister Gabrielle retired immediately after dinner, and the
Duchessa was left alone with the two men. Old Saracinesca would gladly
have left his son with the hostess, but the thing was evidently
impossible. The manners of the time would not allow it, and the result
was that the Prince spent the evening in making conversation for two
rather indifferent listeners. He tried to pick a friendly quarrel with
Giovanni, but the latter was too absent-minded even to be annoyed; he
tried to excite the Duchessa's interest, but she only smiled gently,
making a remark from time to time which was conspicuous for its
irrelevancy. But old Saracinesca was in a good humour, and he bore up
bravely until ten o'clock, when Corona gave the signal for retiring. They
were to start very early in the morning, she said, and she must have
rest.

When the two men were alone, the Prince turned upon his son in semi-comic
anger, and upbraided him with his obstinate dulness during the evening.
Giovanni only smiled calmly, and shrugged his shoulders. There was
nothing more to be said.

But on the following morning, soon after six o'clock, Giovanni had
the supreme satisfaction of installing Corona beside him upon the
driving-seat of his cart, while his father and Sister Gabrielle sat
together behind him. The sun was not yet above the hills, and the
mountain air was keen and fresh; the stamping of the horses sounded crisp
and sharp, and their bells rang merrily as they shook their sturdy necks
and pricked their short ears to catch Giovanni's voice.

"Have you forgotten nothing, Duchessa?" asked Giovanni, gathering the
reins in his hand.

"Nothing, thanks. I have sent our things on mules--by the bridle-path."
She smiled involuntarily as she recalled her adventure, and half turned
her face away.

"Ah, yes--the bridle-path," repeated Giovanni, as he nodded to the groom
to stand clear of the horses' heads. In a moment they were briskly
descending the winding road through the town of Astrardente: the streets
were quiet and cool, for the peasants had all gone to their occupations
two hours before, and the children were not yet turned loose.

"I never hoped to have the honour of myself driving you to Saracinesca,"
said Giovanni. "It is a wild place enough, in its way. You will be able
to fancy yourself in Switzerland."

"I would rather be in Italy," answered Corona. "I do not care for the
Alps. Our own mountains are as beautiful, and are not infested by
tourists."

"You are a tourist to-day," said Giovanni. "And it has pleased Heaven to
make me your guide."

"I will listen to your explanations of the sights with interest."

"It is a reversal of the situation, is it not? When we last met, it was
you who guided me, and I humbly followed your instructions. I did
precisely as you told me."

"Had I doubted that you would do as I asked, I would not have spoken,"
answered Corona.

"There was one thing you advised me to do which I have not even
attempted."

"What was that?"

"You told me to forget you. I have spent six months in constantly
remembering you, and in looking forward to this moment. Was I wrong?"

"Of course," replied the Duchessa, with a little laugh. "You should by
this time have forgotten my existence. They said you were gone to the
North Pole--why did you change your mind?"

"I followed my load-star. It led me from Rome to Saracinesca by the way
of Paris. I should have remained at Saracinesca--but you also changed
your mind. I began to think you never would."

"How long do you think of staying up there?" asked Corona, to turn the
conversation.

"Just so long as you stay at Astrardente," he answered. "You will not
forbid me to follow you to Rome?"

"How can I prevent you if you choose to do it?"

"By a word, as you did before."

"Do you think I would speak that word?" she asked.

"I trust not. Why should you cause me needless pain and suffering? It
was right then, it is not right now. Besides, you know me too well to
think that I would annoy you or thrust myself upon you. But I will do as
you wish."

"Thank you," she said quietly. But she turned her dark face toward him,
and looked at him for a moment very gently, almost lovingly. Where was
the use of trying to conceal what would not be hidden? Every word he
spoke told of his unchanged love, although the phrases were short and
simple. Why should she conceal what she felt? She knew it was a foregone
conclusion. They loved each other, and she would certainly marry him in
the course of a year. The long pent up forces of her nature were
beginning to assert themselves; she had conquered and fought down her
natural being in the effort to be all things to her old husband, to
quench her growing interest in Giovanni, to resist his declared love, to
drive him from her in her widowhood; but now it seemed as though all
obstacles were suddenly removed. She saw clearly how well she loved him,
and it seemed folly to try and conceal it. As she sat by his side she
was unboundedly happy, as she had never been in her life before: the cool
morning breeze fanned her cheeks, and the music of his low voice soothed
her, while the delicious sense of rapid motion lent a thrill of pleasure
to every breath she drew. It was no matter what she said; it was as
though she spoke unconsciously. All seemed predestined and foreplanned
from all time, to be acted out to the end. The past vanished slowly as a
retreating landscape. The weary traveller, exhausted with the heat of the
scorching Campagna, slowly climbs the ascent towards Tivoli, the haven of
cool waters, and pausing now and then upon the path, looks back and sees
how the dreary waste of undulating hillocks beneath him seems gradually
to subside into a dim flat plain, while, in the far distance, the mighty
domes and towers of Rome dwindle to an unreal mirage in the warm haze of
the western sky; then advancing again, he feels the breath of the
mountains upon him, and hears the fresh plunge of the cold cataract, till
at last, when his strength is almost failing, it is renewed within him,
and the dust and the heat of the day's journey are forgotten in the
fulness of refreshment. So Corona d'Astrardente, wearied though not
broken by the fatigues and the troubles and the temptations of the past
five years, seemed suddenly to be taken up and borne swiftly through the
gardens of an earthly paradise, where there was neither care nor
temptation, and where, in the cool air of a new life, the one voice she
loved was ever murmuring gentle things to her willing ear.

As the road began to ascend, sweeping round the base of the mountain and
upwards by even gradations upon its southern flank, the sun rose higher
in the heavens, and the locusts broke into their summer song among the
hedges with that even, long-drawn, humming note, so sweet to southern
ears. But Corona did not feel the heat, nor notice the dust upon the way;
she was in a new state, wherein such things could not trouble her. The
first embarrassment of a renewed intimacy was fast disappearing, and she
talked easily to Giovanni of many things, reviewing past scenes and
speaking of mutual acquaintances, turning the conversation when it
concerned Giovanni or herself too directly, yet ever and again coming
back to that sweet ground which was no longer dangerous now. At last, at
a turn in the road, the grim towers of ancient Saracinesca loomed in the
distance, and the carriage entered a vast forest of chestnut trees, shady
and cool after the sunny ascent. So they reached the castle, and the
sturdy horses sprang wildly forward up the last incline till their hoofs
struck noisily upon the flagstones of the bridge, and with a rush and a
plunge they dashed under the black archway, and halted in the broad court
beyond.

Corona was surprised at the size of the old fortress. It seemed an
endless irregular mass of towers and buildings, all of rough grey stone,
surrounded by battlements and ramparts, kept in perfect repair, but
destitute of any kind of ornament whatever. It might have been even now a
military stronghold, and it was evident that there were traditions of
precision and obedience within its walls which would have done credit to
any barracks. The dominant temper of the master made itself felt at every
turn, and the servants moved quickly and silently about their duties.
There was something intensely attractive to Corona in the air of strength
that pervaded the place, and Giovanni had never seemed to her so manly
and so much in his element as under the grey walls of his ancestral home.
The place, too, was associated in history with so many events,--the two
men, Leone and Giovanni Saracinesca, stood there beside her, where their
ancestors of the same names had stood nearly a thousand years before,
their strong dark faces having the same characteristics that for
centuries had marked their race, features familiar to Romans by countless
statues and pictures, as the stones of Rome themselves--but for a detail
of dress, it seemed to Corona as though she had been suddenly transported
back to the thirteenth century. The idea fascinated her. The two men led
her up the broad stone staircase, and ushered her and Sister Gabrielle
into the apartments of state which had been prepared for them.

"We have done our best," said the Prince, "but it is long since we have
entertained ladies at Saracinesca."

"It is magnificent!" exclaimed Corona, as she entered the ante-chamber.
The walls were hung from end to end with priceless tapestries, and the
stone floor was covered with long eastern carpets. Corona paused.

"You must show us all over the castle by-and-by," she said.

"Giovanni will show you everything," answered the Prince. "If it pleases
you, we will breakfast in half-an-hour." He turned away with his son, and
left the two ladies to refresh themselves before the mid-day meal.

Giovanni kept his word, and spared his guests no detail of the vast
stronghold, until at last poor Sister Gabrielle could go no farther.
Giovanni had anticipated that she would be tired, and with the
heartlessness of a lover seeking his opportunity, he had secretly longed
for the moment when she should, be obliged to stop.

"You have not yet seen the view from the great tower," he said. "It is
superb, and this is the very best hour for it. Are you tired, Duchessa?"

"No--I am never tired," answered Corona.

"Why not go with Giovanni?" suggested the Prince. "I will stay with
Sister Gabrielle, who has nearly exhausted herself with seeing our
sights."

Corona hesitated. The idea of being alone with Giovanni for a quarter of
an hour was delightful, but somehow it did not seem altogether fitting
for her to be wandering over the castle with him. On the other hand, to
refuse would seem almost an affectation: she was not in Rome, where her
every movement was a subject for remark; moreover, she was not only a
married woman, but a widow, and she had known Giovanni for years--it
would be ridiculous to refuse.

"Very well," said she. "Let us see the view before it is too late."

Sister Gabrielle and old Saracinesea sat down on a stone seat upon the
rampart to wait, and the Duchessa disappeared with Giovanni through the
low door that led into the great tower.

"What a wonderful woman you are!" exclaimed Giovanni, as they reached the
top of the winding stair, which was indeed broader than the staircase of
many great houses in Rome. "You seem to be never tired."

"No--I am very strong," answered Corona, with a smile. She was not even
out of breath. "What a wonderful view!" she exclaimed, as they emerged
upon the stone platform at the top of the tower. Giovanni was silent for
a moment. The two stood together and looked far out at the purple
mountains to eastward that caught the last rays of the sun high up above
the shadows of the valley; and then looking down, they saw the Prince and
the Sister a hundred feet below them upon the rampart.

Both were thinking of the same thing: three days ago, their meeting had
seemed infinitely far off, a thing dreamed of and hoped for--and now they
were standing alone upon the topmost turret of Giovanni's house, familiar
with each other by a long day's conversation, feeling as though they had
never been parted, feeling also that most certainly they would not be
parted again.

"It is very strange," said Giovanni, "how things happen in this world,
and how little we ever know of what is before us. Last week I wondered
whether I should ever see you--now I cannot imagine not seeing you. Is
it not strange?"

"Yes," answered Corona, in a low voice.

"That, yesterday, we should have seemed parted by an insurmountable
barrier, and that to-day--" he stopped. "Oh, if to-day could only last
for ever!" he exclaimed, suddenly.

Corona gazed out upon the purple hills in silence, but her face caught
some of the radiance of the distant glow, and her dark eyes had strange
lights in them. She could not have prevented him from speaking; she had
loosed the bonds that had held her life so long; the anchor was up, and
the breath of love fanned the sails, and gently bore the craft in which
she trusted out to seaward over the fair water. In seeing him she had
resigned herself to him, and she could not again get the mastery if she
would. It had come too soon, but it was sweet.

"And why not?" he said, very softly. "Why should it not remain so for
ever--till our last breath? Why will you not let it last?"

Still she was silent; but the tears gathered slowly in her eyes, and
welled over and lay upon her velvet cheek like dewdrops on the leaves of
a soft dark tulip. Giovanni saw them, and knew that they were the jewels
which crowned his life.

"You will," he said, his broad brown hand gently covering her small
fingers and taking them in his. "You will--I know that you will."

She said nothing, and though she at first made a slight movement--not of
resistance, but of timid reluctance, utterly unlike herself--she suffered
him to hold her hand. He drew closer to her, himself more diffident in
the moment of success than he had ever been when he anticipated failure;
she was so unlike any woman he had ever known before. Very gently he put
his arm about her, and drew her to him.

"My beloved--at last," he whispered, as her head sank upon his shoulder.

Then with a sudden movement she sprang to her height, and for one instant
gazed upon him. Her whole being was transfigured in the might of her
passion: her dark face was luminously pale, her lips almost white, and
from her eyes there seemed to flash a blazing fire. For one instant she
gazed upon him, and then her arms went round his neck, and she clasped
him fiercely to her breast.

"Ah, Giovanni," she cried, passionately, "you do not know what love
means!"

A moment later her arms dropped from him; she turned and buried her face
in her hands, leaning against the high stone parapet of the tower. She
was not weeping, but her face was white, and her bosom heaved with
quick and strong-drawn breath.

Giovanni went to her side and took her strongly in his right arm, and
again her head rested upon his shoulder.

"It is too soon--too soon," she murmured. "But how can I help it? I love
you so that there is no counting of time. It seems years since we met
last night, and I thought it would be years before I told you. Oh,
Giovanni, I am so happy! Is it possible that you love me as I love you?"

It is a marvellous thing to see how soon two people who love each other
learn the gentle confidence that only love can bring. A few moments later
Giovanni and Corona were slowly pacing the platform, and his arm was
about her waist and her hand in his.

"Do you know," she was saying, "I used to wonder whether you would keep
your word, and never try to see me. The days were so long at
Astrardente."

"Not half so long as at Saracinesca," he answered. "I was going to call
my aqueduct the Bridge of Sighs; I will christen it now the Spring of
Love."

"I must go and see it to-morrow," said she.

"Or the next day--"

"The next day!" she exclaimed, with a happy laugh. "Do you think I am
going to stay--"

"For ever," interrupted Giovanni. "We have a priest here, you know,--he
can marry us to-morrow, and then you need never go away."

Corona's face grew grave.

"We must not talk of that yet," she said, gently, "even in jest."

"No; you are right. Forgive me," he answered; "I forget many things--it
seems to me I have forgotten everything, except that I love you."

"Giovanni,"--she lingered on the name,--"Giovanni, we must tell your
father at once."

"Are you willing I should?" he asked, eagerly.

"Of course--he ought to know; and Sister Gabrielle too. But no one else
must be told. There must be no talk of this in Rome until--until next
year."

"We will stay in the country until then, shall we not?" asked Giovanni,
anxiously. "It seems to me so much better. We can meet here, and nobody
will talk. I will go and live in the town at Astrardente, and play the
engineer, and build your roads for you."

"I hardly know," said Corona, with a doubtful smile. "You could not do
that. But you may come and spend the day once--in a week, perhaps."

"We will arrange all that," answered Giovanni, laughing. "If you think I
can exist by only seeing you once a week--well, you do not know me."

"We shall see," returned Corona, laughing too. "By the bye, how long have
we been here?"

"I do not know," said Giovanni; "but the view is magnificent, is it not?"

"Enchanting," she replied, looking into his eyes. Then suddenly the blood
mounted to her cheeks. "Oh, Giovanni," she said, "how could I do it?"

"I should have died if you had not," he answered, and clasped her once
more in his arms.

"Come," said she, "let us be going down. It is growing late."

When they reached the foot of the tower, they found the Prince walking
the rampart alone. Sister Gabrielle was afraid of the evening air, and
had retired into the house. Old Saracinesca faced them suddenly. He
looked like an old lion, his thick white hair and beard bristling about
his dark features.

"My father," said Giovanni, coming forward, "the Duchessa d'Astrardente
has consented to be my wife. I crave your blessing."

The old man started, and then stood stock-still. His son had fairly taken
his breath away, for he had not expected the news for three or four
months to come. Then he advanced and took Corona's hand, and kissed it.

"Madam," he said, "you have done my son an honour which extends to myself
and to every Saracinesca, dead, living, and to come."

Then he laid Corona's hand in Giovanni's, and held his own upon them
both.

"God bless you," he said, solemnly; and as Corona bent her proud head, he
touched her forehead with his lips. Then he embraced Giovanni, and his
joy broke out in wild enthusiasm.

"Ha, my children," he cried, "there has not been such a couple as you are
for generations--there has not been such good news told in these old
walls since they have stood here. We will illuminate the castle, the
whole town, in your honour--we will ring the bells and have a Te Deum
sung--we will have such a festival as was never seen before--we will go
to Rome to-morrow and celebrate the espousal--we will--"

"Softly, _padre mio_," interrupted Giovanni. "No one must know as yet.
You must consider--"

"Consider what? consider the marriage? Of course we will consider it, as
soon as you please. You shall have such a wedding as was never heard of--
you shall be married by the Cardinal Archpriest of Saint Peter's, by the
Holy Father himself. The whole country shall ring with it."

It was with difficulty Giovanni succeeded in calming his father's
excitement, and in recalling to his mind the circumstances which made it
necessary to conceal the engagement for the present. But at last the old
man reluctantly consented, and returned to a quieter humour. For some
time the three continued to pace the stone rampart.

"This is a case of arrant cruelty to a man of my temper," said the
Prince. "To be expected to behave like an ordinary creature, with grins
and smiles and decent paces, when I have just heard what I have longed to
hear for years. But I will revenge myself by making a noise about
it by-and-by. I will concoct schemes for your wedding, and dream of
nothing but illuminations and decorations. You shall be Prince of Sant'
Ilario, Giovanni, as I was before my father died; and I will give you
that estate outright, and the palace in the Corso to live in."

"Perhaps we might live in my palace," suggested Corona. It seemed strange
to her to be discussing her own marriage, but it was necessary to humour
the old Prince. "Of course," he said. "I forgot all about it. You have
places enough to live in. One forgets that you will in the end be the
richest couple in Italy. Ha!" he cried, in sudden enthusiasm, "the
Saracinesca are not dead yet! They are greater than ever--and our lands
here so near together, too. We will build a new road to Astrardente,
and when you are married you shall be the first to drive over it from
Astrardente here. We will do all kinds of things--we will tunnel the
mountain!"

"I am sure you will do that in the end," said Giovanni, laughing.

"Well--let us go to dinner," answered his father. "It has grown quite
dark since we have been talking, and we shall be falling over the edge if
we are not careful."

"I will go and tell Sister Gabrielle before dinner," said Corona to
Giovanni.

So they left her at the door of her apartment, and she went in. She found
the Sister in an inner room, with a book of devotions in her hand.

"Pray for me, my Sister," she said, quietly. "I have resolved upon a
great step. I am going to be married again."

Sister Gabrielle looked up, and a quiet smile stole over her thin face.

"It is soon, my friend," she said. "It is soon to think of that. But
perhaps you are right--is it the young Prince?"

"Yes," answered Corona, and sank into a deep tapestried chair. "It is
soon I know well. But it has been long--have struggled hard--I love him
very much--so much, you do not know!"

The Sister sighed faintly, and came and took her hand.

"It is right that you should marry," she said, gently. "You are too
young, too famously beautiful, too richly endowed, to lead the life you
have led at Astrardente these many months."

"It is not that," said Corona, an expression of strange beauty
illuminating her lovely face. "Not that I am young, beautiful as you say,
if it is so, or endowed with riches--those reasons are nothing. It is
this that tells me," she whispered, pressing her left hand to her heart.
"When one loves as I love, it is right."

"Indeed it is," assented the good Sister. "And I think you have chosen
wisely. When will you be married?"

"Hardly before next summer--I can hardly think connectedly yet--it has
been very sudden. I knew I should marry him in the end, but I never
thought I could consent so soon. Oh, Sister Gabrielle, you are so
good--were you never in love?"

The Sister was silent, and looked away.

"No--of course you cannot tell me," continued Corona; "but it is such a
wonderful thing. It makes days seem like hundreds of years, or makes them
pass in a flash of light, in a second. It oversets every idea of time,
and plays with one's resolutions as the wind with a feather. If once it
gets the mastery of one, it crowds a lifetime of pain and pleasure into
one day; it never leaves one for a moment. I cannot explain love--it is a
wonderful thing."

"My dear friend," said the Sister, "the explanation of love is life."

"But the end of it is not death. It cannot be," continued Corona,
earnestly. "It must last for ever and ever. It must grow better and purer
and stronger, until it is perfect in heaven at last: but where is the use
of trying to express such things?"

"I think it is enough to feel them," said Sister Gabrielle.



CHAPTER XXVI.


The summer season ripened into autumn, and autumn again turned to winter,
and Rome was once more full. The talk of society turned frequently upon
the probability of the match between the Duchessa d'Astrardente and
Giovanni Saracinesca; and when at last, three weeks before Lent, the
engagement was made known, there was a general murmur of approbation. It
seemed as though the momentous question of Corona's life, which had for
years agitated the gossips, were at last to be settled: every one had
been accustomed to regard her marriage with old Astrardente as a
temporary affair, seeing that he certainly could not live long, and
speculation in regard to her future had been nearly as common during his
lifetime as it was after his death. One of the duties most congenial
to society, and one which it never fails to perform conscientiously, is
that judicial astrology, whereby it forecasts the issue of its
neighbour's doings. Everybody's social horoscope must be cast by the
circle of five-o'clock-tea-drinking astro-sociologists, and, generally
speaking, their predictions are not far short of the truth, for society
knoweth its own bitterness, and is uncommonly quick in the diagnosis of
its own state of health.

When it was announced that Corona was to marry Giovanni after Easter,
society looked and saw that the arrangement was good. There was not one
dissenting voice heard in the universal applause. Corona had behaved with
exemplary decency during the year of her mourning--had lived a life of
religious retirement upon her estates in the sole company of a Sister of
Charity, had given no cause for scandal in any way. Everybody aspired
to like her--that is to say, to be noticed by her; but with one
exception, she had caused no jealousy nor ill-feeling by her
indifference, for no one had ever heard her say an unkind word concerning
anybody she knew. Donna Tullia had her own reasons for hating Corona, and
perhaps the world suspected them; but people did not connect the noisy
Donna Tullia, full of animal spirits and gay silly talk, with the idea of
serious hatred, much less with the execution of any scheme of revenge.

Indeed Madame Mayer had not spent the summer and autumn in nursing her
wrath against Corona. She had travelled with the old Countess, her
companion, and several times Ugo del Ferice had appeared suddenly at the
watering-places which she had selected for her temporary residence. From
time to time he gave her news of mutual friends, which she repaid
conscientiously with interesting accounts of the latest scandals. They
were a congenial pair, and Ugo felt that by his constant attention to her
wishes, and by her never-varying willingness to accept his service, he
had obtained a hold upon her intimacy which, in the ensuing winter, would
give him a decided advantage over all competitors in the field. She
believed that she might have married half-a-dozen times, and that with
her fortune she could easily have made a very brilliant match; she even
thought that she could have married Valdarno, who was very good-natured:
but her attachment to Giovanni, and the expectations she had so long
entertained in regard to him, had prevented her from showing any marked
preference for others; and while she was hesitating, Del Ferice, by his
superior skill, had succeeded in making himself indispensable to her--a
success the more remarkable that, in spite of his gifts and the curious
popularity he enjoyed, he was by far the least desirable man of her
acquaintance from the matrimonial point of view.

But when Donna Tullia again met Giovanni in the world, the remembrance of
her wrongs revived her anger against him, and the news of his engagement
to the Astrardente brought matters to a climax. In the excitement of the
moment, both her jealousy and her anger were illuminated by the light of
a righteous wrath. She knew, or thought she knew, that Don Giovanni was
already married. She had no proof that the peasant wife mentioned in the
certificate was alive, but there was nothing either to show that she was
dead. Even in the latter ease it was a scandalous thing that he should
marry again without informing Corona of the circumstances of his past
life, and Donna Tullia felt an inner conviction that he had told the
Duchessa nothing of the matter. The latter was such a proud woman, that
she would be horrified at the idea of uniting herself to a man who had
been the husband of a peasant.

Madame Mayer remembered her solemn promise to Del Ferice, and feared to
act without his consent. An hour after she had heard the news of the
engagement, she sent for him to come to her immediately. To her
astonishment and dismay, her servant brought back word that he had
suddenly gone to Naples upon urgent business. This news made her pause;
but while the messenger had been gone to Del Ferice's house, Donna Tullia
had been anticipating and going over in her mind the scene which would
ensue when she told Corona the secret. Donna Tullia was a very sanguine
woman, and the idea of at last being revenged for all the slights she had
received worked suddenly upon her brain, so that as she paced her
drawing-room in expectation of the arrival of Del Ferice, she entirely
acted out in her imagination the circumstances of the approaching crisis,
the blood beat hotly in her temples, and she lost all sense of prudence
in the delicious anticipation of violent words. Del Ferice had cruelly
calculated upon her temperament, and he had hoped that in the excitement
of the moment she would lose her head, and irrevocably commit herself to
him by the betrayal of the secret. This was precisely what occurred. On
being told that he was out of town, she could no longer contain herself,
and with a sudden determination to risk anything blindly, rather than to
forego the pleasure and the excitement she had been meditating, she
ordered her carriage and drove to the Palazzo Astrardente.

Corona was surprised at the unexpected visit. She was herself on the
point of going out, and was standing in her boudoir, drawing on her black
gloves before the fire, while her furs lay upon a chair at her side. She
wondered why Donna Tullia called, and it was in part her curiosity which
induced her to receive her visit. Donna Tullia, armed to the teeth with
the terrible news she was about to disclose, entered the room quickly,
and remained standing before the Duchessa with a semi-tragic air that
astonished Corona.

"How do you do, Donna Tullia?" said the latter, putting out her hand.

"I have come to speak to you upon a very serious matter," answered her
visitor, without noticing the greeting.

Corona stared at her for a moment, but not being easily disconcerted, she
quietly motioned to Donna Tullia to sit down, and installed herself in a
chair opposite to her.

"I have just heard the news that you are to marry Don Giovanni
Saracinesca," said Madame Mayer. "You will pardon me the interest I take
in you; but is it true?"

"It is quite true," answered Corona.

"It is in connection with your marriage that I wish to speak, Duchessa. I
implore you to reconsider your decision."

"And why, if you please?" asked Corona, raising her black eyebrows, and
fixing her haughty gaze upon her visitor.

"I could tell you--I would rather not," answered Donna Tullia, unabashed,
for her blood was up. "I could tell you--but I beseech you not to ask me.
Only consider the matter again, I beg you. It is very serious. Nothing
but the great interest I feel in you, and my conviction--"

"Donna Tullia, your conduct is so extraordinary," interrupted Corona,
looking at her curiously, "that I am tempted to believe you are mad. I
must beg you to explain what you mean by your words."

"Ah, no," answered Madame Mayer. "You do me injustice. I am not mad, but
I would save you from the most horrible danger."

"Again I say, what do you mean? I will not be trifled with in this way,"
said the Duchessa, who would have been more angry if she had been less
astonished, but whose temper was rapidly rising.

"I am not trifling with you," returned Donna Tullia. "I am imploring you
to think before you act, before you marry Don Giovanni. You cannot think
that I would venture to intrude upon you without the strongest reasons.
I am in earnest."

"Then, in heaven's name, speak out!" cried Corona, losing all patience.
"I presume that if this is a warning, you have some grounds, you have
some accusation to make against Don Giovanni. Have the goodness to state
what you have to say, and be brief."

"I will," said Donna Tullia, and she paused a moment, her face growing
red with excitement, and her blue eyes sparkling disagreeably. "You
cannot marry Don Giovanni," she said at length, "because there is an
insurmountable impediment in the way."

"What is it?" asked Corona, controlling her anger.

"He is already married!" hissed Donna Tullia.

Corona turned a little pale, and started back. But in an instant her
colour returned, and she broke into a low laugh.

"You are certainly insane," she said, eyeing Madame Mayer suspiciously.
It was not an easy matter to shake her faith in the man she loved. Donna
Tullia was disappointed at the effect she had produced. She was a clever
woman in her way, but she did not understand how to make the best of the
situation. She saw that she was simply an object of curiosity, and that
Corona seriously believed her mind deranged. She was frightened, and,
in order to help herself, she plunged deeper.

"You may call me mad, if you please," she replied, angrily. "I tell you
it is true. Don Giovanni was married on the 19th of June 1863, at Aquila,
in the Abruzzi, to a woman called Felice Baldi--whoever she may have
been. The register is extant, and the duplicate of the marriage
certificate. I have seen the copies attested by a notary. I tell you it
is true," she continued, her voice rising to a harsh treble; "you are
engaged to marry a man who has a wife--a peasant woman--somewhere in the
mountains."

Corona rose from her seat and put out her hand to ring the bell. She was
pale, but not excited. She believed Donna Tullia to be insane, perhaps
dangerous, and she calmly proceeded to protect herself by calling for
assistance.

"Either you are mad, or you mean what you say," she said, keeping her
eyes upon the angry woman before her. "You will not leave this house
except in charge of my physician, if you are mad; and if you mean what
you say, you shall not go until you have repeated your words to
Don Giovanni Saracinesca himself,--no, do not start or try to escape--it
is of no use. I am very sudden and violent--beware!"

Donna Tullia bit her red lip. She was beginning to realise that she had
got herself into trouble, and that it might be hard to get out of it. But
she felt herself strong, and she wished she had with her those proofs
which would make her case good. She was so sanguine by nature that she
was willing to carry the fight to the end, and to take her chance for the
result.

"You may send for Don Giovanni if you please," she said. "I have spoken
the truth--if he denies it I can prove it. If I were you I would spare
him the humiliation--"

A servant entered the room in answer to the bell, and Corona interrupted
Donna Tullia's speech by giving the man her orders.

"Go at once to the Palazzo Saracinesca, and beg Don Giovanni to come here
instantly with his father the Prince. Take the carriage--it is waiting
below."

The man disappeared, and Corona quietly resumed her seat. Donna Tullia
was silent for a few moments, attempting to control her anger in an
assumption of dignity; but soon she broke out afresh, being rendered very
nervous and uncomfortable by the Duchessa's calm manner and apparent
indifference to consequences.

"I cannot see why you should expose yourself to such a scene," said
Madame Mayer presently. "I honestly wished to save you from a terrible
danger. It seems to me it would be quite sufficient if I proved the fact
to you beyond dispute. I should think that instead of being angry, you
would show some gratitude."

"I am not angry," answered Corona, quietly. "I am merely giving you an
immediate opportunity of proving your assertion and your sanity."

"My sanity!" exclaimed Donna Tullia, angrily. "Do you seriously
believe--"

"Nothing that you say," said Corona, completing the sentence.

Unable to bear the situation, Madame Mayer rose suddenly from her seat,
and began to pace the small room with short, angry steps.

"You shall see," she said, fiercely--"you shall see that it is all true.
You shall see this man's face when I accuse him--you shall see him
humiliated, overthrown, exposed in his villany--the wretch! You shall see
how--"

Corona's strong voice interrupted her enemy's invective in ringing tones.

"Be silent!" she cried. "In twenty minutes he will be here. But if you
say one word against him before he comes, I will lock you into this room
and leave you. I certainly will not hear you."

Donna Tullia reflected that the Duchessa was in her own house, and
moreover that she was not a woman to be trifled with. She threw herself
into a chair, and taking up a book that lay upon the table, she pretended
to read.

Corona remained seated by the fireplace, glancing at her from time to
time. She was strangely inclined to laugh at the whole situation, which
seemed to her absurd in the extreme--for it never crossed her mind to
believe that there was a word of truth in the accusation against
Giovanni. Nevertheless she was puzzled to account for Donna Tullia's
assurance, and especially for her readiness to face the man she so
calumniated. A quarter of an hour elapsed in this armed silence--the two
women glancing at each other from time to time, until the distant sound
of wheels rolling under the great gate announced that the messenger had
returned from the Palazzo Saracinesca, probably conveying Don Giovanni
and his father.

"Then you have made up your mind to the humiliation of the man you love?"
asked Donna Tullia, looking up from her book with a sneer on her face.

Corona vouchsafed no answer, but her eyes turned towards the door in
expectation. Presently there were steps heard without. The servant
entered, and announced Prince Saracinesca and Don Giovanni. Corona
rose. The old man came in first, followed by his son.

"An unexpected pleasure," he said, gaily. "Such good luck! We were both
at home. Ah, Donna Tullia," he cried, seeing Madame Mayer, "how are you?"
Then seeing her face, he added, suddenly, "Is anything the matter?"

Meanwhile Giovanni had entered, and stood by Corona's side near the
fireplace. He saw at once that something was wrong, and he looked
anxiously from the Duchessa to Donna Tullia. Corona spoke at once.

"Donna Tullia," she said, quietly, "I have the honour to offer you an
opportunity of explaining yourself."

Madame Mayer remained seated by the table, her face red with anger. She
leaned back in her seat, and half closing her eyes with a disagreeable
look of contempt, she addressed Giovanni.

"I am sorry to cause you such profound humiliation," she began, "but in
the interest of the Duchessa d'Astrardente I feel bound to speak. Don
Giovanni, do you remember Aquila?"

"Certainly," he replied, coolly--"I have often been there. What of it?"

Old Saracinesca stared from one to the other.

"What is this comedy?" he asked of Corona. But she nodded to him to be
silent.

"Then you doubtless remember Felice Baldi--poor Felice Baldi," continued
Donna Tullia, still gazing scornfully up at Giovanni from where she sat.

"I never heard the name, that I can remember," answered Giovanni, as
though trying to recall some memory of the past. He could not imagine
what she was leading to, but he was willing to answer her questions.

"You do not remember that you were married to her at Aquila on the 19th
of June--"

"I--married?" cried Giovanni, in blank astonishment.

"Signora Duchessa," said the Prince, bending his heavy brows, "what is
the meaning of all this?"

"I will tell you the meaning of it," said Donna Tullia, in low hissing
tones, and rising suddenly to her feet she assumed a somewhat theatrical
attitude as she pointed to Giovanni. "I will tell what it means. It means
that Don Giovanni Saracinesca was married in the church of San
Bernardino, at Aquila, on the 19th of June 1863, to the woman Felice
Baldi--who is his lawful wife to-day, and for aught we know the mother of
his children, while he is here in Rome attempting to marry the Duchessa
d'Astrardente--can he deny it? Can he deny that his own signature is
there, there in the office of the State Civile at Aquila, to testify
against him? Can he--?"

"Silence!" roared the Prince. "Silence, woman, or by God in heaven I will
stop your talking for ever!" He made a step towards her, and there was a
murderous red light in his black eyes. But Giovanni sprang forward and
seized his father by the wrist.

"You cannot silence me," screamed Donna Tullia. "I will be heard, and by
all Rome. I will cry it upon the housetops to all the world--"

"Then you will precipitate your confinement in the asylum of Santo
Spirito," said Giovanni, in cold, calm tones. "You are clearly mad."

"So I said," assented Corona, who was nevertheless pale, and trembling
with excitement.

"Allow me to speak with her," said Giovanni, who, like most dangerous
men, seemed to grow cold as others grew hot. Donna Tullia leaned upon the
table, breathing hard between her closed teeth, her face scarlet.

"Madame," said Giovanni, advancing a step and confronting her, "you say
that I am married, and that I am contemplating a monstrous crime. Upon
what do you base your extraordinary assertions?"

"Upon attested copies of your marriage certificate, of the civil register
where your handwriting has been seen and recognised. What more would you
have?"

"It is monstrous!" cried the Prince, advancing again. "It is the most
abominable lie ever concocted! My son married without my knowledge, and
to a peasant! Absurd!"

But Giovanni waved his father back, and kept his place before Donna
Tullia.

"I give you the alternative of producing instantly those proofs you refer
to," he said, "and which you certainly cannot produce, or of waiting in
this house until a competent physician has decided whether you are
sufficiently sane to be allowed to go home alone."

Donna Tullia hesitated. She was in a terrible position, for Del Ferice
had left Rome suddenly, and though the papers were somewhere in his
house, she knew not where, nor how to get at them. It was impossible to
imagine a situation more desperate, and she felt it as she looked
round and saw the pale dark faces of the three resolute persons whose
anger she had thus roused. She believed that Giovanni was capable of
anything, but she was astonished at his extraordinary calmness. She
hesitated for a moment.

"That is perfectly just," said Corona. "If you have proofs, you can
produce them. If you have none, you are insane."

"I have them, and I will produce them before this hour to-morrow,"
answered Donna Tullia, not knowing how she should get the papers, but
knowing that she was lost if she failed to obtain them.

"Why not to-day--at once?" asked Giovanni, with some scorn.

"It will take twenty-four hours to forge them," growled his father.

"You have no right to insult me so grossly," cried Donna Tullia. "But
beware--I have you in my power. By this time to-morrow you shall see with
your own eyes that I speak the truth. Let me go," she cried, as the old
Prince placed himself between her and the door.

"I will," said he. "But before you go, I beg you to observe that if
between now and the time you show us these documents you breathe abroad
one word of your accusations, I will have you arrested as a dangerous
lunatic, and lodged in Santo Spirito; and if these papers are not
authentic, you will be arrested to-morrow afternoon on a charge of
forgery. You quite understand me?" He stood aside to let her pass. She
laughed scornfully in his face, and went out.

When she was gone the three looked at each other, as though trying to
comprehend what had happened. Indeed, it was beyond their comprehension.
Corona leaned against the chimneypiece, and her eyes rested lovingly upon
Giovanni. No doubt had ever crossed her mind of his perfect honesty. Old
Saracinesca looked from one to the other for a moment, and then, striking
the palms of his hands together, turned and began to walk up and down the
room.

"In the first place," said Giovanni, "at the time she mentions I was in
Canada, upon a shooting expedition, with a party of Englishmen. It is
easy to prove that, as they are all alive and well now, so far as I have
heard. Donna Tullia is clearly out of her mind."

"The news of your engagement has driven her mad," said the old Prince,
with a grim laugh. "It is a very interesting and romantic case."

Corona blushed a little, and her eyes sought Giovanni's, but her face was
very grave. It was a terrible thing to see a person she had known so long
becoming insane, and for the sake of the man she herself so loved. And
yet she had not a doubt of Donna Tullia's madness. It was very sad.

"I wonder who could have put this idea into her head," said Giovanni,
thoughtfully. "It does not look like a creation of her own brain. I
wonder, too, what absurdities she will produce in the way of documents.
Of course they must be forged."

"She will not bring them," returned his father, in a tone of certainty.
"We shall hear to-morrow that she is raving in the delirium of a
brain-fever."

"Poor thing!" exclaimed Corona. "It is dreadful to think of it."

"It is dreadful to think that she should have caused you all this trouble
and annoyance," said Giovanni, warmly. "You must have had a terrible
scene with her before we came. What did she say?"

"Just what she said to you. Then she began to rail against you; and I
sent for you, and told her that unless she could be silent I would lock
her up alone until you arrived. So she sat down in that chair, and
pretended to read. But it was an immense relief when you came!"

"You did not once believe what she said might possibly be true?" asked
Giovanni, with a loving look.

"I? How could you ever think it!" exclaimed Corona. Then she laughed, and
added, "But of course you knew that I would not."

"Indeed, yes," he answered. "It never entered my head."

"By-the-bye," said old Saracinesca, glancing at the Duchessa's black
bonnet and gloved hands, "you must have been just ready to go out when
she came--we must not keep you. I suppose that when she said she would
bring her proofs to-morrow at this hour, she meant she would bring them
here. Shall we come to-morrow then?"

"Yes--by all means," she answered. "Come to breakfast at one o'clock. I
am alone, you know, for Sister Gabrielle has insisted upon going back to
her community. But what does it matter now?"

"What does it matter?" echoed the Prince. "You are to be married so soon.
I really think we can do as we please." He generally did as he pleased.

The two men left her, and a few minutes later she descended the steps of
the palace and entered her carriage, as though nothing had happened.

Six months had passed since she had given her troth to Giovanni upon the
tower of Saracinesca, and she knew that she loved him better now than
then. Little had happened of interest in the interval of time, and the
days had seemed long. But until after Christmas she had remained at
Astrardente, busying herself constantly with the improvements she had
already begun, and aided by the counsels of Giovanni. He had taken a
cottage of hers in the lower part of her village, and had fitted it up
with the few comforts he judged necessary. In this lodging he had
generally spent half the week, going daily to the palace upon the hill
and remaining for long hours in Corona's society, studying her plans and
visiting with her the works which grew beneath their joint direction. She
had grown to know him as she had not known him before, and to understand
more fully his manly character. He was a very resolute man, and very much
in earnest when he chanced to be doing anything; but the strain of
melancholy which he inherited from his mother made him often inclined to
a sort of contemplative idleness, during which his mind seemed
preoccupied with absorbing thoughts. Many people called his fits of
silence an affectation, or part of his system for rendering himself
interesting; but Corona soon saw how real was his abstraction, and she
saw also that she alone was able to attract his attention and interest
him when the fit was upon him. Slowly, by a gradual study of him, she
learned what few had ever guessed, namely, that beneath the experienced
man of the world, under his modest manner and his gentle ways, there
lay a powerful mainspring of ambition, a mine of strength, which would
one day exert itself and make itself felt upon his surroundings. He had
developed slowly, feeding upon many experiences of the world in many
countries, his quick Italian intelligence comprehending often more than
it seemed to do, while the quiet dignity he got from his Spanish blood
made him appear often very cold. But now and again, when under the
influence of some large idea, his tongue was loosed in the charm of
Corona's presence, and he spoke to her, as he had never spoken to any
one, of projects and plans which should make the world move. She did not
always understand him wholly, but she knew that the man she loved was
something more than the world at large believed him to be, and there was
a thrill of pride in the thought which delighted her inmost soul. She,
too, was ambitious, but her ambition was all for him. She felt that there
was little room for common aspirations in his position or in her own. All
that high birth, and wealth, and personal consideration could give, they
both had abundantly, beyond their utmost wishes; anything they could
desire beyond that must lie in a larger sphere of action than mere
society, in the world of political power. She herself had had dreams, and
entertained them still, of founding some great institution of charity, of
doing something for her poorer fellows. But she learned by degrees that
Giovanni looked further than to such ordinary means of employing power,
and that there was in him a great ambition to bring great forces to bear
upon great questions for the accomplishment of great results. The six
months of her engagement to him had not only strengthened her love for
him, already deep and strong, but had implanted in her an unchanging
determination to second him in all his life, to omit nothing in her power
which could assist him in the career he should choose for himself, and
which she regarded as the ultimate field for his extraordinary powers. It
was strange that, while granting him everything else, people had never
thought of calling him a man of remarkable intelligence. But no one knew
him as Corona knew him; no one suspected that there was in him anything
more than the traditional temper of the Saracinesca, with sufficient mind
to make him as fair a representative of his race as his father was.

There was more than mere love and devotion in the complete security she
felt when she saw him attacked by Donna Tullia; there was already the
certainty that he was born to be above small things, and to create a
sphere of his own in which he would move as other men could not.



CHAPTER XXVII.


When Donna Tullia quitted the Palazzo Astrardente her head swam. She had
utterly failed to do what she had expected; and from being the accuser,
she felt that she was suddenly thrust into the position of the accused.
Instead of inspiring terror in Corona, and causing Giovanni the terrible
humiliation she had supposed he would feel at the exposure of his
previous marriage, she had been coldly told that she was mad, and that
her pretended proofs were forgeries. Though she herself felt no doubt
whatever concerning the authenticity of the documents, it was very
disappointing to find that the first mention of them produced no
startling effect upon any one, least of all upon Giovanni himself. The
man, she thought, was a most accomplished villain; since he was capable
of showing such hardened indifference to her accusation, he was capable
also of thwarting her in her demonstration of their truth--and she
trembled at the thought of what she saw. Old Saracinesca was not a man to
be trifled with, nor his son either: they were powerful, and would be
revenged for the insult. But in the meanwhile she had promised to produce
her proofs; and when she regained enough composure to consider the matter
from all its points, she came to the conclusion that after all her game
was not lost, seeing that attested documents are evidence not easily
refuted, even by powerful men like Leone and Giovanni Saracinesca. She
gradually convinced herself that their indifference was a pretence, and
that they were accomplices in the matter, their object being to gain
Corona with all her fortune for Giovanni's wife. But, at the same time,
Donna Tullia felt in the depths of her heart a misgiving: she was clever
enough to recognise, even in spite of herself, the difference between a
liar and an honest man.

She must get possession of these papers--and immediately too; there must
be no delay in showing them to Corona, and in convincing her that this
was no mere fable, but an assertion founded upon very substantial
evidence. Del Ferice was suddenly gone to Naples: obviously the only
way to get at the papers was to bribe his servant to deliver them up. Ugo
had once or twice mentioned Temistocle to her, and she judged from the
few words he had let fall that the fellow was a scoundrel, who would
sell his soul for money. Madame Mayer drove home, and put on the only
dark-coloured gown she possessed, wound a thick veil about her head,
provided herself with a number of bank-notes, which she thrust between
the palm of her hand and her glove, left the house on foot, and took a
cab. There was nothing to be done but to go herself, for she could trust
no one. Her heart beat fast as she ascended the narrow stone steps of
Del Ferice's lodging, and stopped upon the landing before the small green
door, whereon she read his name. She pulled the bell, and Temistocle
appeared in his shirt-sleeves.

"Does Count Del Ferice live here?" asked Donna Tullia, peering over the
man's shoulder into the dark and narrow passage within.

"He lives here, but he is gone to Naples," answered Temistocle, promptly.

"When will he be back?" she inquired. The man raised his shoulders to his
ears, and spread out the palms of his hands to signify that he did not
know. Donna Tullia hesitated. She had never attempted to bribe anybody
in her life, and hardly knew how to go about it. She thought that the
sight of the money might produce an impression, and she withdrew a
bank-note from the hollow of her hand, spreading it out between her
fingers. Temistocle eyed it greedily.

"There are twenty-five scudi," she said. "If you will help me to find a
piece of paper in your master's room, you shall have them."

Temistocle drew himself up with an air of mock pride. Madame Mayer looked
at him.

"Impossible, signora," he said. Then she drew out another. Temistocle
eyed the glove curiously to see if it contained more.

"Signora," he repeated, "it is impossible. My master would kill me. I
cannot think of it." But his tone seemed to yield a little. Donna Tullia
found another bank-note; there were now seventy-five scudi in her hand.
She thought she saw Temistocle tremble with excitement. But still he
hesitated.

"Signora, my conscience," he said, in a low voice of protestation.

"Come," said Madame Mayer, impatiently, "there is another--there are a
hundred scudi--that is all I have got," she added, turning down her empty
glove.

Suddenly Temistocle put out his hand and grasped the bank-notes eagerly.
But instead of retiring to allow her to enter, he pushed roughly past
her.

"You may go in," he said in a hoarse whisper, and turning quickly, fled
precipitately down the narrow steps, in his shirt-sleeves as he was.
Madame Mayer stood for a moment looking after him in surprise, even when
he had already disappeared.

Then she turned and entered the door rather timidly; but before she had
gone two steps in the dark passage, she uttered a cry of horror. Del
Ferice stood in her way, wrapped in a loose dressing-gown, a curious
expression upon his pale face, which from its whiteness was clearly
distinguishable in the gloom. Temistocle had cheated her, had lied in
telling her that his master was absent, had taken her bribe and had fled.
He would easily find an excuse for having allowed her to enter; and with
his quick valet's instinct, he guessed that she would not confess to
Del Ferice that she had bribed him. Ugo came forward a step and instantly
recognised Madame Mayer.

"Donna Tullia!" he cried, "what are you doing? You must not be seen
here."

A less clever man than Ugo would have pretended to be overjoyed at her
coming. Del Fence's fine instincts told him that for whatever cause she
had come--and he guessed the cause well enough--he would get a firmer
hold upon her consideration by appearing to be shocked at her imprudence.
Donna Tullia was nearly fainting with fright, and stood leaning against
the wall of the passage.

"I thought--I--I must see you at once," she stammered.

"Not here," he answered, quickly. "Go home at once; I will join you in
five minutes. It will ruin you to have it known that you have been here."

Madame Mayer took courage at his tone.

"You must bring them--those papers," she said, hurriedly. "Something
dreadful has happened. Promise me to come at once!"

"I will come at once, my dear lady," he said, gently pushing her towards
the door. "I cannot even go downstairs with you--forgive me. You have
your carriage of course?"

"I have a cab," replied Donna Tullia, faintly, submitting to be put
out of the door. He seized her hand and kissed it passionately, or
with a magnificent semblance of passion. With a startled look, Donna
Tullia turned and went rapidly down the steps. Del Ferice smiled
softly to himself when she was gone, and went in again to exchange his
dressing-gown for a coat. He had her in his power at last. He had guessed
that she would betray the secret--that after the engagement became known,
she would not be able to refrain from communicating it to Corona
d'Astrardente; and so soon as he heard the news, he had shut himself up
in his lodging, pretending a sudden journey to Naples, determined not to
set foot out of the house until he heard that Donna Tullia had committed
herself. He knew that when she had once spoken she would make a desperate
attempt to obtain the papers, for he knew that such an assertion as hers
would need to be immediately proved, at the risk of her position in
society. His plot had succeeded so far. His only anxiety was to know
whether she had mentioned his name in connection with the subject, but he
guessed, from his knowledge of her character, that she would not do so:
she would respect her oath enough to conceal his name, even while
breaking her promise; she would enjoy taking the sole credit of the
discovery upon herself, and she would shun an avowal which would prove
her to have discussed with any one else the means of preventing the
marriage, because it would be a confession of jealousy, and consequently
of personal interest in Don Giovanni. Del Ferice was a very clever
fellow.

He put on his coat, and in five minutes was seated in a cab on his way to
Donna Tullia's house, with a large envelope full of papers in his pocket.
He found her as she had left him, her face still wrapped in a veil,
walking up and down her drawing-room in great excitement. He advanced
and saluted her courteously, maintaining a dignified gravity of bearing
which he judged fitting for the occasion.

"And now, my dear lady," he said, gently, "will you tell me exactly what
you have done?"

"This morning," answered Madame Mayer, in a stifled voice, "I heard of
the Astrardente's engagement to Don Giovanni. It seemed such a terrible
thing!"

"Terrible, indeed," said Del Ferice, solemnly.

"I sent for you at once, to know what to do: they said you were gone to
Naples. I thought, of course, that you would approve if you were here,
because we ought to prevent such a dreadful crime--of course." She waited
for some sign of assent, but Del Ferice's pale face expressed nothing but
a sort of grave reproach.

"And then," she continued, "as I could not find you, I thought it was
best to act at once, and so I went to see the Astrardente, feeling that
you would entirely support me. There was a terrific scene. She sent for
the two Saracinesca, and I--waited till they came, because I was
determined to see justice done. I am sure I was right,--was I not?"

"What did they say?" asked Del Ferice, quietly watching her face.

"If you will believe it, that monster of villany, Don Giovanni, was as
cold as stone, and denied the whole matter from beginning to end; but his
father was very angry. Of course they demanded the proofs. I never saw
anything like the brazen assurance of Don Giovanni."

"Did you mention me?" inquired Del Ferice.

"No, I had not seen you: of course I did not want to implicate you. I
said I would show them the papers tomorrow at the same hour."

"And then you came to see me," said Del Ferice. "That was very rash. You
might have seriously compromised yourself. I would have come if you had
sent for me."

"But they said you had gone to Naples. Your servant," continued Donna
Tullia, blushing scarlet at the remembrance of her interview with
Temistocle,--"your servant assured me in person that you had gone to
Naples--"

"I see," replied Del Ferice, quietly. He did not wish to press her to a
confession of having tried to get the papers in his absence. His object
was to put her at her ease.

"My dear lady," he continued, gently, "you have done an exceedingly rash
thing; but I will support you in every way, by putting the documents in
your possession at once. It is unfortunate that you should have acted so
suddenly, for we do not know what has become of this Felice Baldi, nor
have we any immediate means of finding out. It might have taken weeks to
find her. Why were you so rash? You could have waited till I returned,
and we could have discussed the matter carefully, and decided whether it
were really wise to make use of my information."

"You do not doubt that I did right?" asked Donna Tullia, turning a little
pale.

"I think you acted precipitately in speaking without consulting me. All
may yet be well. But in the first place, as you did not ask my opinion,
you will see the propriety of not mentioning my name, since you have
not done so already. It can do no good, for the papers speak for
themselves, and whatever value they may have is inherent in them. Do you
see?"

"Of course there is no need of mentioning you, unless you wish to have a
share in the exposure of this abominable wickedness."

"I am satisfied with my share," replied Del Ferice, with a quiet smile.

"It is not an important one," returned Donna Tullia, nervously.

"It is the lion's share," he answered. "Most adorable of women, you have
not, I am sure, forgotten the terms of our agreement--terms so dear to
me, that every word of them is engraven for ever upon the tablet of my
heart."

Madame Mayer started slightly. She had not realised that her promise to
marry Ugo was now due--she did not believe that he would press it; he had
exacted it to frighten her, and besides, she had so persuaded herself
that he would approve of her conduct, that she had not felt as though she
were betraying his secret.

"You will not--you cannot hold me to that; you approve of telling the
Astrardente, on the whole,--it is the same as though I had consulted
you--"

"Pardon me, my dear lady; you did not consult me," answered Del Ferice,
soothingly. He sat near her by the fire, his hat upon his knee, no longer
watching her, but gazing contemplatively at the burning logs. There was a
delicacy about his pale face since the wound he had received a year
before which was rather attractive: from having been a little inclined to
stoutness, he had grown slender and more graceful, partly because his
health had really been affected by his illness, and partly because he had
determined never again to risk being too fat.

"I tried to consult you," objected Donna Tullia. "It is the same thing."

"It is not the same thing to me," he answered, "although you have not
involved me in the affair. I would have most distinctly advised you to
say nothing about it at present. You have acted rashly, have put yourself
in a most painful situation; and you have broken your promise to me--a
very solemn promise, Donna Tullia, sworn upon the memory of your mother
and upon a holy relic. One cannot make light of such promises as
that."

"You made me give it in order to frighten me. The Church does not bind us
to oaths sworn under compulsion," she argued.

"Excuse me; there was no compulsion whatever. You wanted to know my
secret, and for the sake of knowing it you bound yourself. That is not
compulsion. I cannot compel you. I could not think of presuming to compel
you to marry me now. But I can say to you that I am devotedly attached to
you, that to marry you is the aim and object of my life, and if you
refuse, I will tell you that you are doing a great wrong, repudiating a
solemn contract--"

"If I refuse--well--but you would give me the papers?" asked Donna
Tullia, who was beginning to tremble for the result of the interview. She
had a vague suspicion that, for the sake of obtaining them, she would
even be willing to promise to marry Del Ferice. It would be very wrong,
perhaps; but it would be for the sake of accomplishing good, by
preventing Corona from falling into the trap--Corona, whom she hated!
Still, it would be a generous act to save her. The minds of women like
Madame Mayer are apt to be a little tortuous when they find themselves
hemmed in between their own jealousies, hatreds, and personal interests.

"If you refused--no; if you refused, I am afraid I could not give you the
papers," replied Del Ferice, musing as he gazed at the fire. "I love you
too much to lose that chance of winning you, even for the sake of saving
the Duchessa d'Astrardente from her fate. Why do you refuse? why do you
bargain?" he asked, suddenly turning towards her. "Does all my devotion
count for nothing--all my love, all my years of patient waiting? Oh, you
cannot be so cruel as to snatch the cup from my very lips! It is not for
the sake of these miserable documents: what is it to me whether Don
Giovanni appears as the criminal in a case of bigamy--whether he is
ruined now, as by his evil deeds he will be hereafter, or whether he goes
on unharmed and unthwarted upon his career of wickedness? He is nothing
to me, nor his pale-faced bride either. It is for you that I care, for
you that I will do anything, bad or good, to win you that I would risk my
life and my soul. Can you not see it? Have I not been faithful for very
long? Take pity on me--forget this whole business, forget that you have
promised anything, forget all except that I am here at your feet, a
miserable man, unless you speak the word, and turn all my wretchedness
into joy!"

He slipped from his seat and knelt upon one knee before her, clasping one
of her hands passionately between both his own. The scene was well
planned and well executed; his voice had a ring of emotion that sounded
pleasantly in Donna Tullia's ears, and his hands trembled with
excitement. She did not repulse him, being a vain woman and willing to
believe in the reality of the passion so well simulated. Perhaps, too, it
was not wholly put on, for she was a handsome, dashing woman, in the
prime of youth, and Del Ferice was a man who had always been susceptible
to charms of that kind. Donna Tullia hesitated, wondering what more he
could say. But he, on his part, knew the danger of trusting too much to
eloquence when not backed by a greater strength than his, and he pressed
her for an answer.

"Be generous--trust me," he cried. "Believe that your happiness is
everything to me; believe that I will take no unfair advantage of a hasty
promise. Tell me that, of your own free will, you will be my wife, arid
command me anything, that I may prove my devotion. It is so true, so
honest,--Tullia, I adore you, I live only for you! Speak the word, and
make me the happiest of men!"

He really looked handsome as he knelt before her, and she felt the light,
nervous pressure of his hand at every word he spoke. After all, what did
it matter? She might accept him, and then--well, if she did not like the
idea, she could throw him over. It would only cost her a violent scene,
and a few moments of discomfort. Meanwhile she would get the papers.

"But you would give me the papers, would you not, and leave me to decide
whether--Really, Del Ferice," she said, interrupting herself with a
nervous laugh, "this is very absurd."

"I implore you not to speak of the papers--it is not absurd. It may seem
so to you, but it is life or death to me: death if you refuse me--life if
you will speak the word and be mine!"

Donna Tullia made up her mind. He would evidently not give her what she
wanted, except in return for a promise of marriage. She had grown used to
him, almost fond of him, in the last year.

"Well, I do not know whether I am right," she said, "but I am really very
fond of you; and if you will do all I say--"

"Everything, my dear lady; everything in the world I will do, if you will
make me so supremely happy," cried Del Ferice, ardently.

"Then--yes; I will marry you. Only get up and sit upon your chair like a
reasonable being. No; you really must be reasonable, or you must go
away." Ugo was madly kissing her hands. He was really a good actor, if
it was all acting. She could not but be moved by his pale delicate face
and passionate words. With a quick movement he sprang to his feet and
stood before her, clasping his hands together and gazing into her face.

"Oh, I am the happiest man alive to-day!" he exclaimed, and the sense of
triumph that he felt lent energy to his voice.

"Do sit down," said Donna Tullia, gaily, "and let us talk it all over. In
the first place, what am I to do first?"

Del Ferice found it convenient to let his excitement subside, and as a
preliminary he walked twice the length of the room.

"It is so hard to be calm!" he exclaimed; but nevertheless he presently
sat down in his former seat, and seemed to collect his faculties with
wonderful ease.

"What is to be done first?" asked Donna Tullia again.

"In the first place," answered Del Ferice, "here are those precious
papers. As they are notary's copies themselves, and not the originals, it
is of no importance whether Don Giovanni tears them up or not. It is easy
to get others if he does. I have noted down all the names and dates. I
wish we had some information about Felice Baldi. It is very unfortunate
that we have not, but it would perhaps take a month to find her."

"I must act at once," said Donna Tullia, firmly; for she remembered old
Saracinesca's threats, and was in a hurry.

"Of course. These documents speak for themselves. They bear the address
of the notary who made the copies in Aquila. If the Saracinesca choose,
they can themselves go there and see the originals."

"Could they not destroy those too?" asked Donna Tullia, nervously.

"No; they can only see one at a time, and the person who will show them
will watch them. Besides, it is easy to write to the curate of the church
of San Bernardino to be on his guard. We will do that in any case. The
matter is perfectly plain. Your best course is to meet the Astrardente
to-morrow at the appointed time, and simply present these papers for
inspection. No one can deny their authenticity, for they bear the
Government stamp and the notary's seal, as you see, here and here. If
they ask you, as they certainly will, how you came by them, you can
afford to answer, that, since you have them, it is not necessary to know
whence they came; that they may go and verify the originals; and that in
warning them of the fact, you have fulfilled a duty to society, and have
done a service to the Astrardente, if not to Giovanni Saracinesca. You
have them in your power, and you can afford to take the high hand in the
matter. They must believe the evidence of their senses; and they must
either allow that Giovanni's first wife is alive, or they must account
for her death, and prove it. There is no denial possible in the face of
these proofs."

Donna Tullia drew a long breath, for the case seemed perfectly clear; and
the anticipation of her triumph already atoned for the sacrifice she had
made.

"You are a wonderful man, Del Ferice!" she exclaimed. "I do not know
whether I am wise in promising to marry you, but I have the greatest
admiration for your intellect."

Del Ferice glanced at her and smiled. Then he made as though he would
return the papers to his pocket. She sprang towards him, and seized him
by the wrist.

"Do not be afraid!" she cried, "I will keep my promise."

"Solemnly?" he asked, still smiling, and holding the envelope firmly in
his hand.

"Solemnly," she answered; and then added, with a quick laugh, "but you
are so abominably clever, that I believe you could make me marry you
against my will."

"Never!" said Del Ferice, earnestly; "I love you far too much." He had
wonderfully clear instincts. "And now," he continued, "we have settled
that matter; when shall the happy day be?"

"Oh, there is time enough to think of that," answered Donna Tullia, with
a blush that might have passed for the result of a coy shyness, but which
was in reality caused by a certain annoyance at being pressed.

"No," objected Del Ferice, "we must announce our engagement at once.
There is no reason for delay--to-day is better than to-morrow."

"To-day?" repeated Donna Tullia, in some alarm.

"Why not? Why not, my dear lady, since you and I are both in earnest?"

"I think it would be much better to let this affair pass first."

"On the contrary," he argued, "from the moment we are publicly engaged I
become your natural protector. If any one offers you any insult in this
matter, I shall then have an acknowledged right to avenge you--a right
I dearly covet. Do you think I would dread to meet Don Giovanni again? He
wounded me, it is true, but he has the marks of my sword upon his body
also. Give me at once the privilege of appearing as your champion,
and you will not regret it. But if you delay doing so, all sorts of
circumstances may arise, all sorts of unpleasantness--who could protect
you? Of course, even in that case I would; but you know the tongues of
the gossips in Rome--it would do you harm instead of good."

"That is true, and you are very brave and very kind. But it seems almost
too soon," objected Donna Tullia, who, however, was fast learning to
yield to his judgment.

"Those things cannot be done too soon. It gives us liberty, and it gives
the world satisfaction; it protects you, and it will be an inestimable
pleasure to me. Why delay the inevitable? Let us appear at once as
engaged to be married, and you put a sword in my hand to defend you and
to enforce your position in this unfortunate affair with the
Astrardente."

"Well, you may announce it if you please," she answered, reluctantly.

"Thank you, my dear lady," said Del Ferice. "And here are the papers.
Make the best use of them you can--any use that you make of them will be
good, I know. How could it be otherwise?"

Donna Tullia's fingers closed upon the large envelope with a grasping
grip, as though she would never relinquish that for which she had paid so
dear a price. She had, indeed, at one time almost despaired of getting
possession of them, and she had passed a terrible hour, besides having
abased herself to the fruitless bribery she had practised upon
Temistocle. But she had gained her end, even at the expense of permitting
Del Ferice to publish her engagement to marry him. She felt that she
could break it off if she decided at last that the union was too
distasteful to her; but she foresaw that, from the point of worldly
ambition, she would be no great loser by marrying a man of such cunning
wit, who possessed such weapons against his enemies, and who, on the
whole, as she believed, entirely sympathised with her view of life. She
recognised that her chances of making a great match were diminishing
rapidly; she could not tell precisely why, but she felt, to her
mortification, that she had not made a good use of her rich widowhood:
people did not respect her much, and as this touched her vanity, she was
susceptible to their lack of deference. She had done no harm, but she
knew that every one thought her an irresponsible woman, and the thrifty
Romans feared her extravagance, though some of them perhaps courted her
fortune: many had admired her, and had to some extent expressed their
devotion, but no scion of all the great families had asked her to be his
wife. The nearest approach to a proposal had been the doubtful attention
she had received from Giovanni Saracinesca during the time when his
headstrong father had almost persuaded him to marry her, and she thought
of her disappointed hopes with much bitterness. To destroy Giovanni by
the revelations she now proposed to make, to marry Del Ferice, and then
to develop her position by means of the large fortune she had inherited
from her first husband, seemed on the whole a wise plan. Del Ferice's
title was not much, to be sure, but, on the other hand, he was intimate
with every one she knew, and for a few thousand scudi she could buy some
small estate with a good title attached to it. She would then change
her mode of life, and assume the pose of a social power, which as a young
widow she could not do. It was not so bad, after all, especially if she
could celebrate the first day of her engagement by destroying the
reputation of Giovanni Saracinesca, root and branch, and dealing a blow
at Corona's happiness from which it would not recover.

As for Del Ferice, he regarded his triumph as complete. He cared little
what became of Giovanni--whether he was able to refute the evidence
brought against him or not. There had been nothing in the matter which
was dishonest, and properly made out marriage-certificates are not easy
things to annul. Giovanni might swim or sink--it was nothing to Ugo del
Ferice, now that he had gained the great object of his life, and was at
liberty to publish his engagement to Donna Tullia Mayer. He lost no time
in telling his friends the good news, and before the evening was over a
hundred people had congratulated him. Donna Tullia, too, appeared in more
than usually gay attire, and smilingly received the expressions of good
wishes which were showered upon her. She was not inclined to question the
sincerity of those who spoke, for in her present mood the stimulus of a
little popular noise was soothing to her nerves, which had been badly
strained by the excitement of the day. When she closed her eyes she had
evil visions of Temistocle retreating at full speed down the stairs with
his unearned bribe, or of Del Ferice's calm, pale face, as he had sat in
her house that afternoon grasping the precious documents in his hand
until she promised to pay the price he asked, which was herself. But
she smiled at each new congratulation readily enough, and said in her
heart that she would yet become a great power in society, and make her
house the centre of all attractions. And meanwhile she pondered on the
title she should buy for her husband: she came of high blood herself, and
she knew how such dignities as a "principe" or a "duca" were regarded
when bought. There was nothing for it but to find some snug little
marquisate--"marchese" sounded very well, though one could not be called
"eccellenza" by one's servants; still, as the daughter of a prince, she
might manage even that. "Marchese"--yes, that would do. What a pity there
were only four "canopy" marquises--"marchesi del baldacchino"--in Rome
with the rank of princes! That was exactly the combination of dignities
Donna Tullia required for her husband. But once a "marchese," if she was
very charitable, and did something in the way of a public work, the Holy
Father might condescend to make Del Ferice a "duca" in the ordinary
course as a step in the nobility. Donna Tullia dreamed many things that
night, and she afterwards accomplished most of them, to the surprise of
everybody, and, if the truth were told, to her own considerable
astonishment.



CHAPTER XXVIII.


"Giovanni, you are the victim of some outrageous plot," said old
Saracinesca, entering his son's room on the following morning. "I have
thought it all out in the night, and I am convinced of it."

Giovanni was extended upon a sofa, with a book in his hand and a cigar
between his lips. He looked up quietly from his reading.

"I am not the victim yet, nor ever will be," he answered; "but it is
evident that there is something at the bottom of this besides Madame
Mayer's imagination. I will find out."

"What pleases me especially," remarked the old Prince, "is the wonderful
originality of the idea. It would have been commonplace to make out that
you had poisoned half-a-dozen wives, and buried their bodies in the
vaults of Saracinesca; it would have been _banal_ to say that you were
not yourself, but some one else; or to assert that you were a
revolutionary agent in disguise, and that the real Giovanni had been
murdered by you, who had taken his place without my discovering it,--very
commonplace all that. But to say that you actually have a living wife,
and to try to prove it by documents, is an idea worthy of a great mind.
It takes one's breath away."

Giovanni laughed.

"It will end in our having to go to Aquila in search of my supposed
better half," he said. "Aquila, of all places! If she had said Paris--or
even Florence--but why, in the name of geography, Aquila?"

"She probably looked for some out-of-the-way place upon an alphabetical
list," laughed the Prince. "Aquila stood first. We shall know in two
hours--come along. It is time to be going."

They found Corona in her boudoir. She had passed an uneasy hour on the
previous afternoon after they had left her, but her equanimity was now
entirely restored. She had made up her mind that, however ingenious the
concocted evidence might turn out to be, it was absolutely impossible to
harm Giovanni by means of it. His position was beyond attack, as, in her
mind, his character was above slander. Far from experiencing any
sensation of anxiety as to the result of Donna Tullia's visit, what she
most felt was curiosity to see what these fancied proofs would be like.
She still believed that Madame Mayer was mad.

"I have been remarking to Giovanni upon Donna Tullia's originality," said
old Saracinesca. "It is charming; it shows a talent for fiction which the
world has been long in realising, which we have not even suspected--an
amazing and transcendent genius for invention."

"It is pure insanity," answered Corona, in a tone of conviction. "The
woman is mad."

"Mad as an Englishman," asseverated the Prince, using the most powerful
simile in the Italian language. "We will have her in Santo Spirito before
night, and she will puzzle the doctors."

"She is not mad," said Giovanni, quietly. "I do not even believe we shall
find that her documents are forgeries."

"What?" cried his father. Corona looked quickly at Giovanni.

"You yourself," said the latter, turning to old Saracinesca, "were
assuring me half an hour ago that I was the victim of a plot. Now, if
anything of the kind is seriously attempted, you may be sure it will be
well done. She has a good ally in the man to whom she is engaged. Del
Ferice is no fool, and he hates me."

"Del Ferice!" exclaimed Corona, in surprise. As she went nowhere as yet,
she had, of course, not heard the news which had been published on the
previous evening. "You do not mean to say that she is going to marry Del
Ferice?"

"Yes, indeed," said Giovanni. "They both appeared last night and
announced the fact, and received everybody's congratulations. It is a
most appropriate match."

"I agree with you--a beautiful triangular alliteration of wit, wealth,
and wickedness," observed the Prince. "He has brains, she has money, and
they are both as bad as possible."

"I thought you used to like Donna Tullia," said Corona, suppressing a
smile.

"I did," said old Saracinesea, stoutly. "I wanted Giovanni to marry her.
It has pleased Providence to avert that awful catastrophe. I liked Madame
Mayer because she was rich and noisy and good-looking, and I thought
that, as Giovanni's wife, she would make the house gay. We are such a
pair of solemn bears together, that it seemed appropriate that somebody
should make us dance. It was a foolish idea, I confess, though I thought
it very beautiful at the time. It merely shows how liable we are to make
mistakes. Imagine Giovanni married to a lunatic!"

"I repeat that she is not mad," said Giovanni. "I cannot tell how they
have managed it, but I am sure it has been managed well, and will give us
trouble. You will see."

"I do not understand at all how there can be any trouble about it," said
Corona, proudly. "It is perfectly simple for us to tell the truth, and to
show that what they say is a lie. You can prove easily enough that you
were in Canada at the time. I wish it were time for her to come. Let us
go to breakfast in the meanwhile."

The views taken by the three were characteristic of their various
natures. The old Prince, who was violent of temper, and inclined always
to despise an enemy in any shape, scoffed at the idea that there was
anything to show; and though his natural wit suggested from time to time
that there was a plot against his son, his general opinion was, that it
was a singular case of madness. He hardly believed Donna Tullia would
appear at all; and if she did, he expected some extraordinary outburst,
some pitiable exhibition of insanity. Corona, on the other hand,
maintained a proud indifference, scorning to suppose that anything could
possibly injure Giovanni in any way, loving him too entirely to admit
that he was vulnerable at all, still less that he could possibly have
done anything to give colour to the accusation brought against him.
Giovanni alone of all the three foresaw that there would be trouble, and
dimly guessed how the thing had been done; for he did not fall into his
father's error of despising an enemy, and he had seen too much of the
world not to understand that danger is often greatest when the appearance
of it is least.

Breakfast was hardly over when Donna Tullia was announced. All rose to
meet her, and all looked at her with equal interest. She was calmer than
on the previous day, and she carried a package of papers in her hand.
Her red lips were compressed, and her eyes looked defiantly round upon
all present. Whatever might be her faults, she was not a coward when
brought face to face with danger. She was determined to carry the matter
through, both because she knew that she had no other alternative, and
because she believed herself to be doing a righteous act, which, at the
same time, fully satisfied her desire for vengeance. She came forward
boldly and stood beside the table in the midst of the room. Corona was
upon one side of the fireplace, and the two Saracinesea upon the other.
All three held their breath in expectation of what Donna Tullia was about
to say; the sense of her importance impressed her, and her love of
dramatic situations being satisfied, she assumed something of the air of
a theatrical avenging angel, and her utterance was rhetorical.

"I come here," she said, "at your invitation, to exhibit to your eyes the
evidence of what I yesterday asserted--the evidence of the monstrous
crime of which I accuse that man." Here she raised her finger with a
gesture of scorn, and extending her whole arm, pointed towards Giovanni.

"Madam," interrupted the old Prince, "I will trouble you to select your
epithets and expressions with more care. Pray be brief, and show what you
have brought."

"I will show it, indeed," replied Donna Tullia, "and you shall tremble at
what you see. When you have evidence of the truth of what I say, you may
choose any language you please to define the action of your son. These
documents," she said, holding up the package, "are attested copies made
from the originals--the first two in the possession of the curate of the
church of San Bernardino da Siena, at Aquila, the other in the office of
the Stato Civile in the same city. As they are only copies, you need not
think that you will gain anything by destroying them."

"Spare your comments upon our probable conduct," interrupted the Prince,
roughly. Donna Tullia eyed him with a scornful glance, and her face began
to grow red.

"You may destroy them if you please," she repeated; "but I advise you to
observe that they bear the Government stamp and the notarial seal of
Gianbattista Caldani, notary public in the city of Aquila, and that they
are, consequently, beyond all doubt genuine copies of genuine documents."

Donna Tullia proceeded to open the envelope and withdraw the three papers
it contained. Spreading them out, she took up the first, which contained
the extract from the curate's book of banns. It set forth that upon the
three Sundays preceding the 19th of June 1863, the said curate had
published, in the parish church of San Bernardino da Siena, the banns of
marriage between Giovanni Saracinesca and Felice Baldi. Donna Tullia read
it aloud.

Giovanni could hardly suppress a laugh, it sounded so strangely. Corona
herself turned pale, though she firmly believed the whole thing to be an
imposture of some kind.

"Permit me, madam," said old Saracinesca, stepping forward and taking the
paper from her hand. He carefully examined the seal and stamp. "It is
very cleverly done," he said with a sneer; "but there should be only
one letter _r_ in the name Saracinesca--here it is spelt with two! Very
clever, but a slight mistake! Observe," he said, showing the place to
Donna Tullia.

"It is a mistake of the copyist," she said, scornfully. "The name is
properly spelt in the other papers. Here is the copy of the marriage
register. Shall I read it also?"

"Spare me the humiliation," said Giovanni, in quiet contempt. "Spare me
the unutterable mortification of discovering that there is another
Giovanni Saracinesca in the world!"

"I could not have believed that any one could be so hardened," said Donna
Tullia. "But whether you are humiliated or not by the evidence of your
misdeeds, I will spare you nothing. Here it is in full, and you may
notice that your name is spelt properly too."

She held up the document and then read it out--the copy of the curate's
register, stating that on the 19th of June 1863 Giovanni Saracinesca and
Felice Baldi were united in holy matrimony in the church of San
Bernardino da Siena. She handed the paper to the Prince, and then read
the extract from the register of the Civil marriage and the notary's
attestation to the signatures. She gave this also to old Saracinesca, and
then folding her arms in a fine attitude, confronted the three.

"Are you satisfied that I spoke the truth?" she asked, defiantly.

"The thing is certainly remarkably well done," answered the old Prince,
who scrutinised the papers with a puzzled air. Though he knew perfectly
well that his son had been in Canada at the time of this pretended
marriage, he confessed to himself that if such evidence had been brought
against any other man, he would have believed it.

"It is a shameful fraud!" exclaimed Corona, looking at the papers over
the old man's shoulder.

"That is a lie!" cried Donna Tullia, growing scarlet with anger.

"Do not forget your manners, or you will get into trouble," said
Giovanni, sternly. "I see through the whole thing. There has been no
fraud, and yet the deductions are entirely untrue. In the first place,
Donna Tullia, how do you make the statements here given to coincide with
the fact that during the whole summer of 1863 and during the early part
of 1864 I was in Canada with a party of gentlemen, who are all alive to
testify to the fact?"

"I do not believe it," answered Madame Mayer, contemptuously. "I would
not believe your friends if they were here and swore to it. You will very
likely produce witnesses to prove that you were in the arctic regions
last summer, as the newspapers said, whereas every one knows now that you
were at Saracinesca. You are exceedingly clever at concealing your
movements, as we all know."

Giovanni did not lose his temper, but calmly proceeded to demonstrate his
theory.

"You will find that the courts of law will accept the evidence of
gentlemen upon oath," he replied, quietly. "Moreover, as a further
evidence, and a piece of very singular proof, I can probably produce
Giovanni Saracinesca and Felice Baldi themselves to witness against you.
And I apprehend that the said Giovanni Saracinesca will vehemently
protest that the said Felice Baldi is his wife, and not mine."

"You speak in wonderful riddles, but you will not deceive me. Money will
doubtless do much, but it will not do what you expect."

"Certainly not," returned Giovanni, unmoved by her reply. "Money will
certainly not create out of nothing a second Giovanni Saracinesca, nor
his circle of acquaintances, nor the police registers concerning him
which are kept throughout the kingdom of Italy, very much as they are
kept here in the Pontifical States. Money will do none of these things."

While he was speaking, his father and the Duchessa listened with intense
interest.

"Donna Tullia," continued Giovanni, "I am willing to believe from your
manner that you are really sure that I am the man mentioned in your
papers; but permit me to inform you that you have been made the victim of
a shallow trick, probably by the person who gave those same papers into
your hands, and suggested to you the use you have made of them."

"I? I, the victim of a trick?" repeated Donna Tullia, frightened at last
by his obstinately calm manner.

"Yes," he replied. "I know Aquila and the Abruzzi very well. It
chances that although we, the Saracinesca of Rome, are not numerous,
the name is not uncommon in that part of the country. It is the same
with all our great names. There are Colonna, Orsini, Caetani all over the
country--there are even many families bearing the name of the Medici, who
are extinct. You know it as well as I, or you should know it, for I
believe your mother was my father's cousin. Has it not struck you that
this same Giovanni Saracinesca herein mentioned, is simply some low-born
namesake of mine?"

Donna Tullia had grown very pale, and she leaned upon the table as though
she were faint. The others listened breathlessly.

"I do not believe it," said Madame Mayer, in a low and broken voice.

"Now I will tell you what I will do," continued Giovanni. "I will go to
Aquila at once, and I daresay my father will accompany me--"

"Of course I will," broke in the old Prince.

"We will go, and in a fortnight's time we will produce the whole history
of this Giovanni Saracinesca, together with his wife and himself in his
own person, if they are both alive; we will bring them here, and they
will assure you that you have been egregiously deceived, played upon and
put in a false position by--by the person who furnished you with these
documents. I wonder that any Roman of common-sense should not have seen
at once the cause of this mistake."

"I cannot believe it," murmured Donna Tullia. Then raising her voice, she
added, "Whatever may be the result of your inquiry, I cannot but feel
that I have done my duty in this affair. I do not believe in your theory,
nor in you, and I shall not, until you produce this other man. I have
done my duty--"

"An exceedingly painful one, no doubt," remarked old Saracinesca. Then he
broke into a loud peal of laughter.

"And if you do not succeed in your search, it will be my duty, in the
interests of society, to put the matter in the hands of the police. Since
you have the effrontery to say that those papers are of no use, I demand
them back."

"Not at all, madam," replied the Prince, whose laughter subsided at the
renewed boldness of her tone. "I will not give them back to you. I intend
to compare them with the originals. If there are no originals, they will
serve very well to commit the notary whose seal is on them, and yourself,
upon a well-founded indictment for forgery, wilful calumniation, and a
whole list of crimes sufficient to send you to the galleys for life. If,
on the other hand, the originals exist, they can be of no possible value
to you, as you can send to Aquila and have fresh copies made whenever you
please, as you yourself informed me."

Things were taking a bad turn for Donna Tullia. She believed the papers
to be genuine, but a fearful doubt crossed her mind that Del Ferice might
possibly have deceived her by having them manufactured. Anybody
could buy Government paper, and it would be but a simple matter to have a
notary's seal engraved. She was terrified at the idea, but there was no
possibility of getting the documents back from the old Prince, who held
them firmly in his broad brown hand. There was nothing to be done but to
face the situation out to the end and go.

"As you please," she said. "It is natural that you should insult me, a
defenceless woman trying to do what is right. It is worthy of your race
and reputation. I will leave you to the consideration of the course you
intend to follow, and I advise you to omit nothing which can help to
prove the innocence of your son."

Donna Tullia bestowed one more glance of contemptuous defiance upon the
group, and brushed angrily out of the room.

"So much for her madness!" exclaimed Giovanni, when she was gone. "I
think I have got to the bottom of that affair."

"It seems so simple, and yet I never thought of it," said Corona. "How
clever you are, Giovanni!"

"There was not much cleverness needed to see through so shallow a trick,"
replied Giovanni. "I suspected it this morning; and when I saw that the
documents were genuine and all in order, I was convinced of it. This
thing has been done by Del Ferice, I suppose in order to revenge himself
upon me for nearly killing him in fair fight. It was a noble plan. With a
little more intelligence and a little more pains, he could have given me
great trouble. Certificates like those he produced, if they had come from
a remote French village in Canada, would have given us occupation for
some time."

"I wish Donna Tullia joy of her husband," remarked the Prince. "He will
spend her money in a year or two, and then leave her to the contemplation
of his past extravagance. I wonder how he induced her to consent."

"Many people like Del Ferice," said Giovanni. "He is popular, and has
attractions."

"How can you say that!" exclaimed Corona, indignantly. "You should have a
better opinion of women than to think any woman could find attractions in
such a man."

"Nevertheless, Donna Tullia is going to marry him," returned Giovanni.
"She must find him to her taste. I used to think she might have married
Valdarno--he is so good-natured, you know!"

Giovanni spoke in a tone of reflection; the other two laughed.

"And now, Giovannino," said his father, "we must set out for Aquila, and
find your namesake."

"You will not really go?" asked Corona, with a look of disappointment.
She could not bear the thought of being separated even for a day from the
man she loved.

"I do not see that we can do anything else," returned the Prince. "I must
satisfy myself whether those papers are forgeries or not. If they are,
that woman must go to prison for them."

"But she is our cousin--you cannot do that," objected Giovanni.

"Indeed I will. I am angry. Do not try to stop me. Do you suppose I care
anything for the relationship in comparison with repaying her for all
this trouble? You are not going to turn merciful, Giovanni? I should not
recognise you."

There was a sort of mournful reproach about the old Prince's tone, as
though he were reproving his son for having fallen from the paths of
virtue. Corona laughed; she was not hard-hearted, but she was not so
angelic of nature as to be beyond feeling deep and lasting resentment
for injuries received. At that moment the idea of bringing Donna Tullia
to justice was pleasant.

"Well," said Giovanni, "no human being can boast of having ever prevented
you from doing whatever you were determined to do. The best thing that
can happen will be, that you should find the papers genuine, and my
namesake alive. I wish Aquila were Florence or Naples," he added, turning
to Corona; "you might manage to go at the same time."

"That is impossible," she answered, sadly. "How long will you be gone, do
you think?"

Giovanni did not believe that, if the papers were genuine, and if they
had to search for the man mentioned in them, they could return in less
than a fortnight.

"Why not send a detective--a _sbirro_?" suggested Corona.

"He could not accomplish anything," replied the Prince.

"He would be at a great disadvantage there; we must go ourselves."

"Both?" asked Corona, regretfully, gazing at Giovanni's face.

"It is my business," replied the latter. "I can hardly ask my father to
go alone."

"Absurd!" exclaimed the old Prince, resenting the idea that he needed any
help to accomplish his mission. "Do you think I need some one to take
care of me, like a baby in arms? I will go alone; you shall not come even
if you wish it. Absurd, to talk of my needing anybody with me! I will
show you what your father can do when his blood is up."

Protestations were useless after that. The old man grew angry at the
opposition, and, regardless of all propriety, seized his hat and left the
room, growling that he was as good as anybody, and a great deal better.

Corona and Giovanni looked at each other when he was gone, and smiled.

"I believe my father is the best man alive," said Giovanni. "He would go
in a moment if I would let him. I will go after him and bring him back--I
suppose I ought."

"I suppose so," answered Corona; but as they stood side by side, she
passed her hand under his arm affectionately, and looked into his eyes.
It was a very tender look, very loving and gentle--such a look as none
but Giovanni had ever seen upon her face. He put his arm about her waist
and drew her to him, and kissed her dark cheek.

"I cannot bear to go away and leave you, even for a day," he said,
pressing her to his side.

"Why should you?" she murmured, looking up to him. "Why should he go,
after all? This has been such a silly affair. I wonder if that woman
thought that anything could ever come between you and me? That was what
made me think she was really mad."

"And an excellent reason," he answered. "Anybody must be insane who
dreams of parting us two. It seems as though a year ago I had not loved
you at all."

"I am so glad," said Corona. "Do you remember, last summer, on the tower
at Saracinesca, I told you that you did not know what love was?"

"It was true, Corona--I did not know. But I thought I did. I never
imagined what the happiness of love was, nor how great it was, nor how it
could enter into every thought."

"Into every thought? Into your great thoughts too?"

"If any thoughts of mine are great, they are so because you are the
mainspring of them," he answered.

"Will it always be so?" she asked. "You will be a very great man some
day, Giovanni; will you always feel that I am something to you?"

"Always--more than anything to me, more than all of me together."

"I sometimes wonder," said Corona. "I think I understand you better than
I used to do. I like to think that you feel how I understand you when you
tell me anything. Of course I am not clever like you, but I love you so
much that just while you are talking I seem to understand everything. It
is like a flash of light in a dark room."

Giovanni kissed her again.

"What makes you think that I shall be great, Corona? Nobody ever thinks I
am even clever. My father would laugh at you, and say it is quite enough
greatness to be born a Saracinesca. What makes you think it?"

Corona stood up beside him and laid her delicate hand upon his thick,
close-cut black hair, and gazed into his eyes.

"I know it," she said. "I know it, because I love you so. A man like you
must be great. There is something in you that nobody guesses but I, that
will amaze people some day--I know it."

"I wonder if you could tell me what it is? I wonder if it is really there
at all?" said Giovanni.

"It is ambition," said Corona, gravely. "You are the most ambitious man I
ever knew, and nobody has found it out."

"I believe it is true, Corona," said Giovanni, turning away and leaning
upon the chimneypiece, his head supported on one hand. "I believe you are
right. I am ambitious: if I only had the brains that some men have I
would do great things."

"You are wrong, Giovanni. It is neither brains nor ambition nor strength
that you lack--it is opportunity."

"They say that a man who has anything in him creates opportunities for
himself," answered Giovanni, rather sadly. "I fear it is because I really
have nothing in me that I can do nothing. It sometimes makes me very
unhappy to think so. I suppose that is because my vanity is wounded."

"Do not talk like that," said Corona. "You have vanity, of course, but it
is of the large kind, and I call it ambition. It is not only because I
love you better than any man was ever loved before that I say that. It is
that I know it instinctively I have heard you say that these are
unsettled times. Wait; your opportunity will come, as it came often to
your forefathers in other centuries."

"I hardly think that their example is a good one," replied Giovanni, with
a smile.

"They generally did something remarkable in remarkable times," said
Corona. "You will do the same. Your father, for instance, would not."

"He is far more clever than I," objected Giovanni.

"Clever! It passes for cleverness. He is quick, active, a good talker, a
man with a ready wit and a sharp answer--kind-hearted when the fancy
takes him, cruel when he is so disposed--but not a man of great
convictions or of great actions. You are very different from him."

"Will you draw my portrait, Corona?" asked Giovanni.

"As far as I know you. You are a man quick to think and slow to make a
decision. You are not brilliant in conversation--you see I do not flatter
you; I am just. You have the very remarkable quality of growing cold
when others grow hot, and of keeping the full use of your faculties in
any situation. When you have made a decision, you cannot be moved from
it; but you are open to conviction in argument. You have a great repose
of manner, which conceals a very restless brain. All your passions are
very strong. You never forgive, never forget, and scarcely ever repent.
Beneath all, you have an untamable ambition which has not yet found its
proper field. Those are your qualities--and I love them all, and you
more than them all."

Corona finished her speech by throwing her arms round his neck, and
breaking into a happy laugh as she buried her face upon his shoulder. No
one who saw her in the world would have believed her capable of those
sudden and violent demonstrations--she was thought so very cold.

When Giovanni reached home, he was informed that his father had left Rome
an hour earlier by the train for Terni, leaving word that he had gone to
Aquila.



CHAPTER XXIX.


In those days the railroad did not extend beyond Terni in the direction
of Aquila, and it was necessary to perform the journey of forty miles
between those towns by diligence. It was late in the afternoon of the
next day before the cumbrous coach rolled up to the door of the Locanda
del Sole in Aquila, and Prince Saracinesca found himself at his
destination. The red evening sun gilded the snow of the Gran Sasso
d'Italia, the huge domed mountain that towers above the city of
Frederick. The city itself had long been in the shade, and the spring
air was sharp and biting. Saracinesca deposited his slender luggage with
the portly landlord, said he would return for supper in half an hour, and
inquired the way to the church of San Bernardino da Siena. There was
no difficulty in finding it, at the end of the Corso--the inevitable
"Corso" of every Italian town. The old gentleman walked briskly along the
broad, clean street, and reached the door of the church just as the
sacristan was hoisting the heavy leathern curtain, preparatory to locking
up for the night.

"Where can I find the Padre Curato?" inquired the Prince. The man looked
at him but made no answer, and proceeded to close the doors with great
care. He was an old man in a shabby cassock, with four days' beard on
his face, and he appeared to have taken snuff recently.

"Where is the Curator?" repeated the Prince, plucking him by the sleeve.
But the man shook his head, and began turning the ponderous key in the
lock. Two little ragged boys were playing a game upon the church steps,
piling five chestnuts in a heap and then knocking them down with a small
stone. One of them having upset the heap, desisted and came near the
Prince.

"That one is deaf," he said, pointing to the sacristan. Then running
behind, him he stood on tiptoe and screamed in his ear--"_Brutta
bestia_!"

The sacristan did not hear, but caught sight of the urchin and made a
lunge at him. He missed him, however, and nearly fell over.

"What education!--_che educazione_!" cried the old man, angrily.

Meanwhile the little boy took refuge behind Saracinesca, and pulling his
coat asked for a _soldo_. The sacristan calmly withdrew the key from the
lock, and went away without vouchsafing a look to the Prince.

"He is deaf," screamed the little boy, who was now joined by his
companion, and both in great excitement danced round the fine gentleman.

"Give me a _soldo_," they yelled together.

"Show me the house of the Padre Curato," answered the Prince, "then I
will give you each a _soldo. Lesti!_ Quick!"

Whereupon both the boys began turning cart-wheels on their feet and hands
with marvellous dexterity. At last they subsided into a natural position,
and led the way to the curate's house, not twenty yards from the church,
in a narrow alley. The Prince pulled the bell by the long chain which
hung beside the open street door, and gave the boys the promised coppers.
They did not leave him, however, but stood by to see what would happen.
An old woman looked out of an upper window, and after surveying the
Prince with care, called down to him--

"What do you want?"

"Is the Padre Curato at home?"

"Of course he is at home," screamed the old woman, "At this hour!" she
added, contemptuously.

"_Ebbene_--can I see him?"

"What! is the door shut?" returned the hag.

"No."

"Then why don't you come up without asking?" The old woman's head
disappeared, and the window was shut with a clattering noise.

"She is a woman without education," remarked one of the ragged boys,
making a face towards the closed window.

The Prince entered the door and stumbled up the dark stairs, and after
some further palaver obtained admittance to the curate's lodging. The
curate sat in a room which appeared to serve as dining-room, living-room,
and study. A small table was spread with a clean cloth, upon which were
arranged a plate, a loaf of bread, a battered spoon, a knife, and a small
measure of thin-looking wine. A brass lamp with three wicks, one of which
only was burning, shed a feeble light through the poor apartment. Against
the wall stood a rough table with an inkstand and three or four mouldy
books. Above this hung a little black cross bearing a brass Christ, and
above this again a coloured print of San Bernardino of Siena. The walls
were whitewashed, and perfectly clean,--as indeed was everything
else in the room,--and there was a sweet smell of flowers from a huge pot
of pinks which had been taken in for the night, and stood upon the stone
sill within the closed window.

The curate was a tall old man, with a singularly gentle face and soft
brown eyes. He wore a threadbare cassock, carefully brushed; and from
beneath his three-cornered black cap his thin hair hung in a straight
grey fringe. As the Prince entered the room, the old woman called
over his shoulder to the priest an uncertain formula of introduction.

"Don Paolo, _c'è uno_--there is one." Then she retired, grumbling
audibly.

The priest removed his cap, and bowing politely, offered one of the two
chairs to his visitor. With an apology, he replaced his cap upon his
head, and seated himself opposite the Prince. There was much courteous
simplicity in his manner.

"In what way can I serve you, Signore?" he asked.

"These papers," answered the Prince, drawing the famous envelope from his
breast-pocket, "are copies of certain documents in your keeping, relating
to the supposed marriage of one Giovanni Saracinesca. With your very kind
permission, I desire to see the originals."

The old curate bowed, as though giving his assent, and looked steadily at
his visitor for a moment before he answered.

"There is nothing simpler, my good sir. You will pardon me, however, if I
venture to inquire your name, and to ask you for what purpose you desire
to consult the documents?"

"I am Leone Saracinesca of Rome--"

The priest started uneasily.

"A relation of Giovanni Saracinesca?" he inquired. Then he added
immediately, "Will you kindly excuse me for one moment?" and left the
room abruptly. The Prince was considerably astonished, but he held his
papers firmly in his hand, and did not move from his seat. The curate
returned in a few seconds, bringing with him a little painted porcelain
basket, much chipped and the worse for age, and which contained a
collection of visiting-cards. There were not more than a score of them,
turning brown with accumulated dust. The priest found one which was
rather newer than the rest, and after carefully adjusting a pair of huge
spectacles upon his nose, he went over to the lamp and examined it.

"'Il Conte del Ferice,'" he read slowly. "Do you happen to know that
gentleman, my good sir?" he inquired, turning to the Prince, and looking
keenly at him over his glasses.

"Certainly," answered Saracinesca, beginning to understand the situation.
"I know him very well."

"Ah, that is good!" said the priest. "He was here two years ago,
and had those same entries concerning Giovanni Saracinesca copied.
Probably--certainly, indeed--the papers you have there are the very ones
he took away with him. When he came to see me about it, he gave me this
card."

"I wonder he did," answered Saracinesca.

"Indeed," replied the curate, after a moment's thought, "I remember that
he came the next day--yes--and asked to have his card returned. But I
could not find it for him. There was a hole in one of my pockets--it had
slipped down. Carmela, my old servant, found it a day or two later in the
lining of my cassock. I thought it strange that he should have asked for
it."

"It was very natural. He wished you to forget his existence."

"He asked me many questions about Giovanni," said the priest, "but I
could not answer him at that time."

"You could answer now?" inquired the Prince, eagerly.

"Excuse me, my good sir; what relation are you to Giovanni? You say you
are from Rome?"

"Let us understand each other, Signor Curato," said Saracinesca. "I
see I had better explain the position. I am Leone Saracinesca, the prince
of that name, and the head of the family." The priest bowed respectfully
at this intelligence. "My only son lives with me in Rome--he is now
there--and his name is Giovanni Saracinesca. He is engaged to be married.
When the engagement became known, an enemy of the family attempted to
prove, by means of these papers, that he was married already to a certain
Felice Baldi. Now I wish to know who this Giovanni Saracinesca is, where
he is, and how he comes to have my son's name. I wish a certificate or
some proof that he is not my son,--that he is alive, or that he is dead
and buried."

The old priest burst into a genial laugh, and rubbed his hands together
in delight.

"My dear sir--your Excellency, I mean--I baptised Felice Baldi's second
baby a fortnight ago! There is nothing simpler--"

"I knew it!" cried the Prince, springing from his chair in great
excitement; "I knew it! Where is that baby? Send and get the baby at
once--the mother--the father--everybody!"

"_Subito!_ At once--or come with me. I will show you the whole family
together," said the curate, in innocent delight. "Splendid children they
are, too. Carmela, my cloak--_sbrigati_, be quick!"

"One moment," objected Saracinesca, as though suddenly recollecting
something. "One moment, Sign or Curato; who goes slowly goes safely.
Where does this man come from, and how does he come by his name? I would
like to know something about him before I see him."

"True," answered the priest, resuming his seat. "I had forgotten. Well,
it is not a long story. Giovanni Saracinesca is from Naples. You know
there was once a branch of your family in the Neapolitan kingdom--at
least so Giovanni says, and he is an honest fellow. Their title was
Marchese di San Giacinto; and if Giovanni liked to claim it, he has a
right to the title still."

"But those Saracinesca were extinct fifty years ago," objected the
Prince, who knew his family history very well.

"Giovanni says they were not. They were believed to be. The last Marchese
di San Giacinto fought under Napoleon. He lost all he possessed--lands,
money, everything--by confiscation, when Ferdinand was restored in 1815.
He was a rough man; he dropped his title, married a peasant's only
daughter, became a peasant himself, and died obscurely in a village near
Salerno. He left a son who worked on the farm and inherited it from his
mother, married a woman of the village of some education, and died of the
cholera, leaving his son, the present Giovanni Saracinesca. This Giovanni
received a better education than his father had before him, improved his
farm, began to sell wine and oil for exportation, travelled as far as
Aquila, and met Felice Baldi, the daughter of a man of some wealth, who
has since established an inn here. Giovanni loved her. I married them. He
went back to Naples, sold his farm for a good price last year, and
returned to Aquila. He manages his father-in-law's inn, which is the
second largest here, and drives a good business, having put his own
capital into the enterprise. They have two children, the second one of
which was born three weeks ago, and they are perfectly happy."

Saracinesca looked thoughtfully at Don Paolo, the old curate.

"Has this man any papers to prove the truth of this very singular story?"
he inquired at last.

"_Altro!_ That was all his grandfather left--a heap of parchments. They
seem to be in order--he showed them to me when I married him."

"Why does he make no claim to have the attainder of his grandfather
reversed?"

The curate shrugged his shoulders and spread out the palms of his hands,
smiling incredulously.

"The lands, he says, have fallen into the hands of certain patriots.
There is no chance of getting them back. It is of little use to be a
Marchese without property. What he possesses is a modest competence; it
is wealth, even, in his present position. For a nobleman it would be
nothing. Besides, he is half a peasant by blood and tradition."

"He is not the only nobleman in that position," laughed Saracinesca. "But
are you aware--"

He stopped short. He was going to say that if he himself and his son both
died, the innkeeper of Aquila would become Prince Saracinesca. The idea
shocked him, and he kept it to himself.

"After all," he continued, "the man is of my blood by direct descent. I
would like to see him."

"Nothing easier. If you will come with me, I will present him to your
Excellency," said the priest. "Do you still wish to see the documents?"

"It is useless. The mystery is solved. Let us go and see this new-found
relation of mine."

Don Paolo wrapped his cloak around him, and ushering his guest from the
room, led the way down-stairs. He carried a bit of wax taper, which he
held low to the steps, frequently stopping and warning the Prince to be
careful. It was night when they went out. The air was sharp and cold, and
Saracinesca buttoned his greatcoat to his throat as he strode by the side
of the old priest. The two walked on in silence for ten minutes, keeping
straight down the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele. At last the curate stopped
before a clean, new house, from the windows of which the bright light
streamed into the street. Don Paolo motioned to the Prince to enter, and
followed him in. A man in a white apron, with his arms full of plates,
who was probably servant, butler, boots, and factotum to the
establishment, came out of the dining-room, which was to the left of the
entrance, and which, to judge by the noise, seemed to be full of people.
He looked at the curate, and then at the Prince.

"Sorry to disappoint you, Don Paolo _mio_," he said, supposing the priest
had brought a customer--"very sorry; there is not a bed in the house."

"That is no matter, Giacchino," answered the curate. "We want to see Sor
Giovanni for a moment." The man disappeared, and a moment later Sor
Giovanni himself came down the passage.

"_Favorisca_, dear Don Paolo, come in." And he bowed to the Prince as he
opened the door which led into a small sitting-room reserved for the
innkeeper's family.

When they had entered, Saracinesca looked at his son's namesake. He saw
before him a man whose face and figure he long remembered with an
instinctive dislike. Giovanni the innkeeper was of a powerful build. Two
generations of peasant blood had given renewed strength to the old race.
He was large, with large bones, vast breadth of shoulder, and massive
joints; lean withal, and brown of face, his high cheek-bones making his
cheeks look hollow; clean shaved, his hair straight and black and neatly
combed; piercing black eyes near together, the heavy eyebrows joining
together in the midst of his forehead; thin and cruel lips, now parted in
a smile and showing a formidable set of short, white, even teeth; a
prominent square jaw, and a broad, strong nose, rather unnaturally
pointed,--altogether a striking face, one that would be noticed in a
crowd for its strength, but strangely cunning in expression, and not
without ferocity. Years afterwards Saracinesca remembered his first
meeting with Giovanni the innkeeper, and did not wonder that his first
impulse had been to dislike the man. At present, however, he looked at
him with considerable curiosity, and if he disliked him at first sight,
he told himself that it was beneath him to show antipathy for an
innkeeper.

"Sor Giovanni," said the curate, "this gentleman is desirous of making
your acquaintance."

Giovanni, whose manners were above his station, bowed politely, and
looked inquiringly at his visitor.

"Signor Saracinesca," said the Prince, "I am Leone Saracinesca of Rome. I
have just heard of your existence. We have long believed your family to
be extinct--I am delighted to find it still represented, and by one who
seems likely to perpetuate the name."

The innkeeper fixed his piercing eyes on the speaker's face, and looked
long before he answered.

"So you are Prince Saracinesca," he said, gravely.

"And you are the Marchese di San Giacinto," said the Prince, in the same
tone, holding out his hand frankly.

"Pardon me,--I am Giovanni Saracinesca, the innkeeper of Aquila,"
returned the other. But he took the Prince's hand. Then they all sat
down.

"As you please," said the Prince. "The title is none the less yours. If
you had signed yourself with it when you married, you would have saved me
a vast deal of trouble; but on the other hand, I should not have been
so fortunate as to meet you."

"I do not understand," said Giovanni.

The Prince told his story in as few words as possible.

"Amazing! extraordinary! what a chance!" ejaculated the curate, nodding
his old head from time to time while the Prince spoke, as though he had
not heard it all before. The innkeeper said nothing until old Saracinesca
had finished.

"I see how it was managed," he said at last. "When that gentleman was
making inquiries, I was away. I had taken my wife back to Salerno, and my
wife's father had not yet established himself in Aquila. Signor Del--what
is his name?"

"Del Ferice."

"Del Ferice, exactly. He thought we had disappeared, and were not likely
to come back. Or else he is a fool."

"He is not a fool," said Saracinesca. "He thought he was safe. It is all
very clear now. Well, Signor Marchese, or Signor Saracinesca, I am very
glad to have made your acquaintance. You have cleared up a very important
question by returning to Aquila. It will always give me the greatest
pleasure to serve you in any way I can."

"A thousand thanks. Anything I can do for you during your stay--"

"You are very kind. I will hire horses and return to Terni to-night. My
business in Rome is urgent. There is some suspense there in my absence."

"You will drink a glass before going?" asked Giovanni; and without
waiting for an answer, he strode from the room.

"And what does your Excellency think of your relation?" asked the curate,
when he was alone with the Prince.

"A terrible-looking fellow! But--" The Prince made a face and a gesture
indicating a question in regard to the innkeeper's character.

"Oh, do not be afraid," answered the priest. "He is the most honest man
alive."

"Of course," returned the Prince, politely, "you have had many occasions
of ascertaining that."

Giovanni, the innkeeper, returned with a bottle of wine and three
glasses, which he placed upon the table, and proceeded to fill.

"By the by," said the Prince, "in the excitement I forgot to inquire for
your Signora. She is well, I hope?"

"Thank you--she is very well," replied Giovanni, shortly.

"A boy, I have no doubt?"

"A splendid boy," answered the curate. "Sor Giovanni has a little girl,
too. He is a very happy man."

"Your health," said the innkeeper, holding up his glass to the light.

"And yours," returned the Prince.

"And of all the Saracinesca family," said the curate, sipping his wine
slowly. He rarely got a glass of old Lacrima, and he enjoyed it
thoroughly.

"And now," said the Prince, "I must be off. Many thanks for your
hospitality. I shall always remember with pleasure the day when I met an
unknown relation."

"The Albergo di Napoli will not forget that Prince Saracinesca has been
its guest," replied Giovanni politely, a smile upon his thin lips. He
shook hands with both his guests, and ushered them out to the door with a
courteous bow. Before they had gone twenty yards in the street, the
Prince looked back and caught a last glimpse of Giovanni's towering
figure, standing upon the steps with the bright light falling upon it
from within. He remembered that impression long.

At the door of his own inn he took leave of the good curate with many
expressions of thanks, and with many invitations to the Palazzo
Saracinesca, in case the old man ever visited Home.

"I have never seen Rome, your Excellency," answered the priest, rather
sadly. "I am an old man--I shall never see it now."

So they parted, and the Prince had a solitary supper of pigeons and salad
in the great dusky hall of the Locanda del Sole, while his horses were
being got ready for the long night-journey.

The meeting and the whole clearing up of the curious difficulty had
produced a profound impression upon the old Prince. He had not the
slightest doubt but that the story of the curate was perfectly accurate.
It was all so very probable, too. In the wild times between 1806 and
1815 the last of the Neapolitan branch of the Saracinesca had
disappeared, and the rich and powerful Roman princes of the name had been
quite willing to believe the Marchesi di San Giacinto extinct. They had
not even troubled themselves to claim the title, for they possessed more
than fifty of their own, and there was no chance of recovering the San
Giacinto estate, already mortgaged, and more than half squandered at the
time of the confiscation. That the rough soldier of fortune should have
hidden himself in his native country after the return of Ferdinand, his
lawful king, against whom he had fought, was natural enough; as it was
also natural that, with his rough nature, he should accommodate himself
to a peasant's life, and marry a peasant's only daughter, with her
broad acres of orange and olive and vine land; for peasants in the far
south were often rich, and their daughters were generally beautiful--a
very different race from the starved tenants of the Roman Campagna.

The Prince decided that the story was perfectly true, and he reflected
somewhat bitterly that unless his son had heirs after him, this herculean
innkeeper of Aquila was the lawful successor to his own title, and to all
the Saracinesca lands. He determined that Giovanni's marriage should not
be delayed another day, and with his usual impetuosity he hastened back
to Rome, hardly remembering that he had spent the previous night and all
that day upon the road, and that he had another twenty-four hours of
travel before him.

At dawn his carriage stopped at a little town not far from the papal
frontier. Just as the vehicle was starting, a large man, muffled in a
huge cloak, from the folds of which protruded the long brown barrel of a
rifle, put his head into the window. The Prince started and grasped his
revolver, which lay beside him on the seat.

"Good morning, Prince," said the man. "I hope you have slept well."

"Sor Giovanni!" exclaimed the old gentleman. "Where did you drop from?"

"The roads are not very safe," returned the innkeeper. "So I thought it
best to accompany you. Good-bye--_buon viaggio_!"

Before the Prince could answer, the carriage rolled off, the horses
springing forward at a gallop. Saracinesca put his head out of the
window, but his namesake had disappeared, and he rolled on towards Terni,
wondering at the innkeeper's anxiety for his safety.



CHAPTER XXX.


Even old Saracinesca's iron strength was in need of rest when, at the end
of forty-eight hours, he again entered his son's rooms, and threw himself
upon the great divan.

"How is Corona?" was his first question.

"She is very anxious about you," returned Giovanni, who was himself
considerably disturbed.

"We will go and set her mind at rest as soon as I have had something to
eat," said his father.

"It is all right, then? It was just as I said--a namesake?"

"Precisely. Only the namesake happens to be a cousin--the last of the San
Giacinto, who keeps an inn in Aquila. I saw him, and shook hands with
him."

"Impossible!" exclaimed Giovanni. "They are all extinct--"

"There has been a resurrection," returned the Prince. He told the whole
story of his journey, graphically and quickly.

"That is a very extraordinary tale," remarked Giovanni, thoughtfully.
"So, if I die without children the innkeeper will be prince."

"Precisely. And now, Giovanni, you must be married next week."

"As soon as you please--to-morrow if you like."

"What shall we do with Del Ferice?" asked the old prince.

"Ask him to the wedding," answered Giovanni, magnanimously.

"The wedding will have to be a very quiet one, I suppose," remarked his
father, thoughtfully. "The year is hardly over--"

"The more quiet the better, provided it is done quickly. Of course we
must consult Corona at once."

"Do you suppose I am going to fix the wedding-day without consulting
her?" asked the old man. "For heaven's sake order dinner, and let us be
quick about it."

The Prince was evidently in a hurry, and moreover, he was tired and
very hungry. An hour later, as both the men sat over the coffee in the
dining-room, his mood was mellower. A dinner at home has a wonderful
effect upon the temper of a man who has travelled and fared badly for
eight-and-forty hours.

"Giovannino," said old Saracinesca, "have you any idea what the Cardinal
thinks of your marriage?"

"No; and I do not care," answered the younger man. "He once advised me
not to marry Donna Tullia. He has not seen me often since then."

"I have an idea that it will please him immensely," said the Prince.

"It would be very much the same if it displeased him."

"Very much the same. Have you seen Corona today?"

"Yes--of course," answered Giovanni.

"What is the use of my going with you this evening?" asked his father,
suddenly. "I should think you could manage your own affairs without my
help."

"I thought that as you have taken so much trouble, you would enjoy
telling her the story yourself."

"Do you think I am a vain fool, sir, to be amused by a woman's praise?
Nonsense! Go yourself."

"By all means," answered Giovanni. He was used to his father's habit of
being quarrelsome over trifles, and he was much too happy to take any
notice of it now.

"You are tired," he continued. "I am sure you have a right to be. You
must want to go to bed."

"To bed indeed!" growled the old man. "Tired! You think I am good for
nothing; I know you do. You look upon me as a doting old cripple. I tell
you, boy, I can--"

"For heaven's sake, _padre mio_, do precisely as you are inclined. I
never said--"

"Never said what? Why are you always quarrelling with me?" roared his
father, who had not lost his temper for two days, and missed his
favourite exercise.

"What day shall we fix upon?" asked Giovanni, unmoved.

"Day! Any day. What do I care? Oh!--well, since you speak of it, you
might say a week from Sunday. To-day is Friday. But I do not care in the
least."

"Very well--if Corona can get ready."

"She shall be ready--she must be ready!" answered the old gentleman, in a
tone of conviction. "Why should she not be ready, I would like to know?"

"No reason whatever," said Giovanni, with unusual mildness.

"Of course not. There is never any reason in anything you say, you
unreasonable boy."

"Never, of course." Giovanni rose to go, biting his lips to keep down a
laugh.

"What the devil do you mean by always agreeing with me, you impertinent
scapegrace? And you are laughing, too--laughing at me, sir, as I live!
Upon my word!"

Giovanni turned his back and lighted a cigar. Then, without looking
round, he walked towards the door.

"Giovannino," called the Prince.

"Well?"

"I feel better now. I wanted to abuse somebody. Look here--wait a
moment." He rose quickly, and left the room.

Giovanni sat down and smoked rather impatiently, looking at his watch
from time to time. In five minutes his father returned, bringing in his
hand an old red morocco case.

"Give it to her with my compliments, my boy," he said. "They are some of
your mother's diamonds--just a few of them. She shall have the rest on
the wedding-day."

"Thank you," said Giovanni, and pressed his father's hand.

"And give her my love, and say I will call to-morrow at two o'clock,"
added the Prince, now perfectly serene.

With the diamonds under his arm, Giovanni went out. The sky was clear and
frosty, and the stars shone brightly, high up between the tall houses of
the narrow street. Giovanni had not ordered a carriage, and seeing how
fine the night was, he decided to walk to his destination. It was not
eight o'clock, and Corona would have scarcely finished dinner at that
hour. He walked slowly. As he emerged into the Piazza di Venezia some
one overtook him.

"Good evening, Prince." Giovanni turned, and recognised Anastase Gouache,
the Zouave.

"Ah, Gouache--how are you?"

"I am going to pay you a visit," answered the Frenchman.

"I am very sorry--I have just left home," returned Giovanni, in some
surprise.

"Not at your house," continued Anastase. "My company is ordered to the
mountains. We leave tomorrow morning for Subiaco, and some of us are to
be quartered at Saracinesca."

"I hope you will be among the number," said Giovanni. "I shall probably
be married next week, and the Duchessa wishes to go at once to the
mountains. We shall be delighted to see you."

"Thank you very much. I will not fail to do myself the honour. My homage
to Madame la Duchesse. I must turn here. Good night."

"_Au revoir_," said Giovanni, and went on his way.

He found Corona in an inner sitting-room, reading beside a great
wood-fire. There were soft shades of lilac mingled with the black of her
dress. The year of mourning was past, and so soon as she could she
modified her widow's weeds into something less solemnly; black. It
was impossible to wear funeral robes on the eve of her second marriage;
and the world had declared that she had shown an extraordinary degree of
virtue in mourning so long for a death which every one considered so
highly appropriate. Corona, however, felt differently. To her, her dead
husband and the man she now so wholly loved belonged to two totally
distinct classes of men. Her love, her marriage with Giovanni, seemed so
natural a consequence of her being left alone--so absolutely removed
from her former life--that, on the eve of her wedding, she could almost
wish that poor old Astrardente were alive to look as her friend upon her
new-found happiness.

She welcomed Giovanni with a bright smile. She had not expected him that
evening, for he had been with her all the afternoon. She sprang to her
feet and came quickly to meet him. She almost unconsciously took the
morocco case from his hands, not looking at it, and hardly noticing what
she did.

"My father has come back. It is all settled!" cried Giovanni.

"So soon! He must have flown!" said she, making him sit down.

"Yes, he has never rested, and he has found out all about it. It is a
most extraordinary story. By the by, he sends you affectionate messages,
and begs you to accept these diamonds. They were my mother's," he added,
his voice softening and changing. Corona understood his tone, and perhaps
realised, too, how very short the time now was. She opened the case
carefully.

"They are very beautiful; your mother wore them, Giovanni?" She looked
lovingly at him, and then bending down kissed the splendid coronet as
though in reverence of the dead Spanish woman who had borne the man
she loved. Whereat Giovanni stole to her side, and kissed her own dark
hair very tenderly.

"I was to tell you that there are a great many more," he said, "which my
father will offer you on the wedding--day." Then he kneeled down beside
her, and raising the crown from its case, set it with both his hands upon
her diadem of braids.

"My princess!" he exclaimed. "How beautiful you are!" He took the great
necklace, and clasped it about her white throat. "Of course," he said,
"you have such splendid jewels of your own, perhaps you hardly care for
these and the rest. But I like to see you with them--it makes me feel
that you are really mine."

Corona smiled happily, and gently took the coronet from her head,
returning it to its case. She let the necklace remain about her throat.

"You have not told me about your father's discovery," she said, suddenly.

"Yes--I will tell you."

In a few minutes he communicated to her the details of the journey. She
listened with profound interest.

"It is very strange," she said. "And yet it is so very natural."

"You see it is all Del Ferice's doing," said Giovanni. "I suppose it was
really an accident in the first place; but he managed to make a great
deal of it. It is certainly very amusing to find that the last of the
other branch is an innkeeper in the Abruzzi. However, I daresay we
shall never hear of him again. He does not seem inclined to claim his
title. Corona _mia_, I have something much more serious to say to you
to-night."

"What is it?" she asked, turning her great dark eyes rather wonderingly
to his face.

"There is no reason why we should not be married, now--"

"Do you think I ever believed there was?" she asked, reproachfully.

"No, dear. Only--would you mind its being very soon?"

The dark blood rose slowly to her cheek, but she answered without any
hesitation. She was too proud to hesitate.

"Whenever you please, Giovanni. Only it must be very quiet, and we will
go straight to Saracinesca. If you agree to those two things, it shall be
as soon as you please."

"Next week? A week from Sunday?" asked Giovanni, eagerly.

"Yes--a week from Sunday. I would rather not go through the ordeal of a
long engagement. I cannot bear to have every one here, congratulating me
from morning till night, as they insist upon doing."

"I will send the people out to Saracinesca to-morrow," said Giovanni, in
great delight. "They have been at work all winter, making the place
respectable."

"Not changing, I hope?" exclaimed Corona, who dearly loved the old grey
walls.

"Only repairing the state apartments. By the by, I met Gouache this
evening. He is going out with a company of Zouaves to hunt the brigands,
if there really are any."

"I hope he will not come near us," answered Corona. "I want to be all
alone with you, Giovanni, for ever so long. Would you not rather be
alone for a little while?" she asked, looking up suddenly with a timid
smile. "Should I bore you very much?"

It is unnecessary to record Giovanni's answer. If Corona longed to be
alone with him in the hills, Giovanni himself desired such a retreat
still more. To be out of the world, even for a month, seemed to him the
most delightful of prospects, for he was weary of the city, of society,
of everything save the woman he was about to marry. Of her he could never
tire; he could not imagine that in her company the days would ever seem
long, even in old Saracinesca, among the grey rocks of the Sabines. The
average man is gregarious, perhaps; but in strong minds there is often a
great desire for solitude, or at least for retirement, in the society of
one sympathetic soul. The instinct which bids such people leave the world
for a time is never permanent, unless they become morbid. It is a natural
feeling; and a strong brain gathers strength from communing with itself
or with its natural mate. There are few great men who have not at one
time or another withdrawn into solitude, and their retreat has generally
been succeeded by a period of extraordinary activity. Strong minds are
often, at some time or another, exposed to doubt and uncertainty
incomprehensible to a smaller intellect--due, indeed, to that very
breadth of view which contemplates the same idea from a vast number of
sides. To a man so endowed, the casting-vote of some one whom he loves,
and with whom he almost unconsciously sympathises, is sometimes necessary
to produce action, to direct the faculties, to guide the overflowing
flood of his thought into the mill-race of life's work. Without a certain
amount of prejudice to determine the resultant of its forces, many a
fine intellect would expend its power in burrowing among its own
labyrinths, unrecognised, misunderstood, unheard by the working-day world
without. For the working-day world never lacks prejudice to direct its
working.

For some time Giovanni and Corona talked of their plans for the spring
and summer. They would read, they would work together at the schemes for
uniting and improving their estates; they would build that new road from
Astrardente to Saracinesca, concerning which there had been so much
discussion during the last year; they would visit every part of their
lands together, and inquire into the condition of every peasant; they
would especially devote their attention to extending the forest
enclosures, in which Giovanni foresaw a source of wealth for his
children; above all, they would talk to their hearts' content, and feel,
as each day dawned upon their happiness, that they were free to go where
they would, without being confronted at every turn by the troublesome
duties of an exigent society.

At last the conversation turned again upon recent events, and especially
upon the part Del Ferice and Donna Tullia had played in attempting to
prevent the marriage. Corona asked what Giovanni intended to do about the
matter.

"I do not see that there is much to be done," he answered. "I will go to
Donna Tullia to-morrow, and explain that there has been a curious
mistake--that I am exceedingly obliged to her for calling my attention to
the existence of a distant relative, but that I trust she will not in
future interfere in my affairs."

"Do you think she will marry Del Ferice after all?" asked Corona.

"Why not? Of course he gave her the papers. Very possibly he thought they
really proved my former marriage. She will perhaps blame him for her
failure, but he will defend himself, never fear; he will make her
marry him."

"I wish they would marry and go away," said Corona to whom the very name
of Del Ferice was abhorrent, and who detested Donna Tullia almost as
heartily. Corona was a very good and noble woman, but she was very far
from that saintly superiority which forgets to resent injuries. Her
passions were eminently human, and very strong. She had struggled bravely
against her overwhelming love for Giovanni; and she had so far got the
mastery of herself, that she would have endured to the end if her
husband's death had not set her at liberty. Perhaps, too, while she felt
the necessity of fighting against that love, she attained for a time to
an elevation of character which would have made such personal injuries
as Donna Tullia could inflict seem insignificant in comparison with the
great struggle she sustained against an even greater evil. But in the
realisation of her freedom, in suddenly giving the rein to her nature, so
long controlled by her resolute will, all passion seemed to break out at
once with renewed force; and the conviction that her anger against her
two enemies was perfectly just and righteous, added fuel to the fire. Her
eyes gleamed fiercely as she spoke of Del Ferice and his bride, and no
punishment seemed too severe for those who had so treacherously tried to
dash the cup of her happiness from her very lips.

"I wish they would marry," she repeated, "and I wish the Cardinal would
turn them out of Rome the next day."

"That might be done," said Giovanni, who had himself revolved more than
one scheme of vengeance against the evil-doers. "The trouble is, that the
Cardinal despises Del Ferice and his political dilettanteism. He does not
care a fig whether the fellow remains in Rome or goes away. I confess it
would be a great satisfaction to wring the villain's neck."

"You must not fight him again, Giovanni," said Corona, in sudden alarm.
"You must not risk your life now--you know it is mine now." She laid her
hand tenderly on his, and it trembled.

"No, dearest--I certainly will not. But my father is very angry. I think
we may safely leave the treatment of Del Fence in his hands. My father is
a very sudden and violent man."

"I know," replied Corona. "He is magnificent when he is angry. I have no
doubt he will settle Del Ferice's affairs satisfactorily." She laughed
almost fiercely. Giovanni looked at her anxiously, yet not without pride,
as he recognised in her strong anger something akin to himself.

"How fierce you are!" he said, with a smile.

"Have I not cause to be? Have I not cause to wish these people an
evil end? Have they not nearly separated us? Nothing is bad enough for
them--what is the use of pretending not to feel? You are calm, Giovanni?
Perhaps you are much stronger than I am. I do not think you realise what
they meant to do--to separate us--_us!_ As if any torture were bad enough
for them!"

Giovanni had never seen her so thoroughly roused. He was angry himself,
and more than angry, for his cheek paled, and his stern features grew
more hard, while his voice dropped to a hoarser tone.

"Do not mistake me, Corona," he said. "Do not think I am indifferent
because I am quiet. Del Ferice shall expiate all some day, and bitterly
too."

"Indeed I hope so," answered Corona between her teeth. Had Giovanni
foreseen the long and bitter struggle he would one day have to endure
before that expiation was complete, he would very likely have renounced
his vengeance then and there, for his wife's sake. But we mortals see but
in a glass; and when the mirror is darkened by the master-passion of
hate, we see not at all. Corona and Giovanni, united, rich and powerful,
might indeed appear formidable to a wretch like Del Ferice, dependent
upon a system of daily treachery for the very bread he ate. But in those
days the wheel of fortune was beginning to turn, and far-sighted men
prophesied that many an obscure individual would one day be playing the
part of a great personage. Years would still elapse before the change,
but the change would surely come at last.

Giovanni was very thoughtful as he walked home that night. He was happy,
and he had cause to be, for the long-desired day was at hand. He had
nearly attained the object of his life, and there was now no longer any
obstacle to be overcome. The relief he felt at his father's return was
very great; for although he had known that the impediment raised would be
soon removed, any impediment whatever was exasperating, and he could not
calculate the trouble that might be caused by the further machinations of
Donna Tullia and her affianced husband. All difficulties had, however,
been overcome by his father's energetic action, and at once Giovanni felt
as though a load had fallen from his shoulders, and a veil from his eyes.
He saw himself wedded to Corona in less than a fortnight, removed from
the sphere of society and of all his troubles, living for a space alone
with her in his ancestral home, calling her, at last, his wife.
Nevertheless he was thoughtful, and his expression was not one of
unmingled gladness, as he threaded the streets on his way home; for his
mind reverted to Del Ferice and to Donna Tullia, and Corona's fierce look
was still before him. He reflected that she had been nearly as much
injured as himself, that her wrath was legitimate, and that it was his
duty to visit her sufferings as well as his own upon the offenders. His
melancholic nature easily fell to brooding over any evil which was strong
enough to break the barrier of his indifference; and the annoyances which
had sprung originally from so small a cause had grown to gigantic
proportions, and had struck at the very roots of his happiness.

He had begun by disliking Del Ferice in an indifferent way whenever he
chanced to cross his path. Del Ferice had resented this haughty
indifference as a personal insult, and had set about injuring Giovanni,
attempting to thwart him whenever he could. Giovanni had caught Del
Ferice in a dastardly trick, and had been so far roused as to take
summary vengeance upon him in the duel which tools place after the
Frangipani ball. The wound had entered into Ugo's soul, and his hatred
had grown the faster that he found no opportunity of revenge. Then, at
last, when Giovanni's happiness had seemed complete, his enemy had put
forward his pretended proof of a former marriage; knowing well enough
that his weapons were not invincible--were indeed very weak--but unable
to resist any longer the desire for vengeance. Once more Giovanni had
triumphed easily, but with victory came the feeling that it was his turn
to punish his adversary. And now there was a new and powerful motive
added to Giovanni's just resentment, in the anger his future wife felt
and had a good right to feel, at the treachery which had been practised
upon both. It had taken two years to rouse Giovanni to energetic action
against one whom he had in turn regarded with indifference, then
despised, then honestly disliked, and finally hated. But his hatred had
been doubled each time by a greater injury, and was not likely to be
easily satisfied. Nothing short of Del Fence's destruction would be
enough, and his destruction must be brought about by legal means.

Giovanni had not far to seek for his weapons. He had long suspected Del
Ferice of treasonable practices; he did not doubt that with small
exertion he could find evidence to convict him. He would, then, allow him
to marry Donna Tullia; and on the day after the wedding, Del Ferice
should be arrested and lodged in the prison of the Holy Office as a
political delinquent of the meanest and most dangerous kind--as a
political spy. The determination was soon reached. It did not seem cruel
to Giovanni, for he was in a relentless mood; it would not have seemed
cruel to Corona,--Del Ferice had deserved all that, and more also.

So Giovanni went home and slept the sleep of a man who has made up his
mind upon an important matter. And in the morning he rose early and
communicated his ideas to his father. The result was that they determined
for the present to avoid an interview with Donna Tullia, and to
communicate to her by letter the result of old Saracinesca's rapid
journey to Aquila.



CHAPTER XXXI.


When Donna Tullia received Saracinesca's note, explaining the existence
of a second Giovanni, his pedigree and present circumstances, she almost
fainted with disappointment. It seemed to her that she had compromised
herself before the world, that all Rome knew the ridiculous part she had
played in Del Ferice's comedy, and that her shame would never be
forgotten. Suddenly she saw how she had been led away by her hatred of
Giovanni into believing blindly in a foolish tale which ought not to have
deceived a child. So soon as she learned the existence of a second
Giovanni Saracinesca, it seemed to her that she must have been mad not to
foresee such an explanation from the first. She had been duped, she had
been made a cat's-paw, she had been abominably deceived by Del Ferice,
who had made use of this worthless bribe in order to extort from her a
promise of marriage. She felt very ill, as very vain people often do
when they feel that they have been made ridiculous. She lay upon the
sofa in her little boudoir, where everything was in the worst possible
taste--from the gaudy velvet carpet and satin furniture to the gilt clock
on the chimney-piece--and she turned red and pale and red again, and
wished she were dead, or in Paris, or anywhere save in Rome. If she went
out she might meet one of the Saracinesca at any turn of the street, or
even Corona herself. How they would bow and smile sweetly at her,
enjoying her discomfiture with the polite superiority of people who
cannot be hurt!

And she herself--she could not tell what she should do. She had announced
her engagement to Del Ferice, but she could not marry him. She had been
entrapped into making him a promise, into swearing a terrible oath;
but the Church did not consider such oaths binding. She would go to Padre
Filippo and ask his advice.

But then, if she went to Padre Filippo, she would have to confess all she
had done, and she was not prepared to do that. A few weeks would pass,
and that time would be sufficient to mellow and smooth the remembrance of
her revengeful projects into a less questionable shape. No--she could not
confess all that just yet. Surely such an oath was not binding; at all
events, she could not marry Del Fence, whether she broke her promise or
not. In the first place, she would send for him and vent her anger upon
him while it was hot.

Accordingly, in the space of three-quarters of an hour, Ugo appeared,
smiling, smooth and persuasive as usual. Donna Tullia assumed a fine
attitude of disdain as she heard his step outside the door. She intended
to impress him with a full and sudden view of her just anger. He did not
seem much moved, and came forward as usual to take her hand and kiss it.
But she folded her arms and stared at him with all the contempt she could
concentrate in the gaze of her blue eyes. It was a good comedy. Del
Ferice, who had noticed as soon as he entered the room that something was
wrong, and had already half guessed the cause, affected to spring back in
horror when she refused to give her hand. His pale face expressed
sufficiently well a mixture of indignation and sorrow at the harsh
treatment he received. Still Donna Tullia's cold eye rested upon him in a
fixed stare.

"What is this? What have I done?" asked Del Ferice in low tones.

"Can you ask? Wretch! Read that, and understand what you have done,"
answered Donna Tullia, making a step forward and thrusting Saracinesca's
letter in his face.

Del Ferice had already seen the handwriting, and knew what the contents
were likely to be. He took the letter in one hand, and without looking at
it, still faced the angry woman. His brows contracted into a heavy frown,
and his half-closed eyes gazed menacingly at her.

"It will be an evil day for any man who comes between you and me," he
said, in tragic tones.

Donna Tullia laughed harshly, and again drew herself up, watching his
face, and expecting to witness his utter confusion. But she was no match
for the actor whom she had promised to marry. Del Ferice began to read,
and as he read, his frown relaxed; gradually an ugly smile, intended to
represent fiendish cunning, stole over his features, and when he had
finished, he uttered a cry of triumph.

"Ha!" he said, "I guessed it! I hoped it--and it is true! He is found at
last! The very man--the real Saracinesca! It is only a matter of time--"

Donna Tullia now stared in unfeigned surprise. Instead of crushing him to
the ground as she had expected, the letter seemed to fill him with
boundless delight. He paced the room in wild excitement, chattering like
a madman. In spite of herself, however, her own spirits rose, and her
anger against Del Ferice softened. All was perhaps not lost--who could
fathom the intricacy of his great schemes? Surely he was not the man to
fall a victim to his own machinations.

"Will you please explain your extraordinary satisfaction at this news?"
said Madame Mayer. Between her late anger, her revived hopes, and her
newly roused curiosity, she was in a terrible state of suspense.

"Explain?" he cried. "Explain what, most adorable of women? Does it not
explain itself? Have we not found the Marchese di San Giacinto, the real
Saracinesca? Is not that enough?"

"I do not understand--"

Del Ferice was now by her side. He seemed hardly able to control himself
for joy. As a matter of fact he was acting, and acting a desperate part
too, suggested on the spur of the moment by the risk he ran of losing
this woman and her fortune on the very eve of marriage. Now he seized her
hand, and drawing her arm through his, led her quickly backwards and
forwards, talking fast and earnestly. It would not do to hesitate, for by
a moment's appearance of uncertainty all would be lost.

"No; of course you cannot understand the vast importance of this
discovery. I must explain. I must enter into historic details, and I am
so much overcome by this extraordinary turn of fortune that I can hardly
speak. Remove all doubt from your mind, my dear lady, for we have already
triumphed. This innkeeper, this Giovanni Saracinesca, this Marchese di
San Giacinto, is the lawful and right Prince Saracinesca, the head of the
house--"

"What!" screamed Donna Tullia, stopping short, and gripping his arm as in
a vice.

"Indeed he is. I suspected it when I first found the signature at Aquila;
but the man was gone, with his newly married wife, no one knew whither;
and I could not find him, search as I might. He is now returned, and
what is more, as this letter says, with all his papers proving his
identity. This is how the matter lies. Listen, Tullia _mia_. The old
Leone Saracinesca who last bore the title of Marquis--"

"The one mentioned here?" asked Donna Tullia, breathlessly.

"Yes--the one who took service under Murat, under Napoleon. Well, it is
perfectly well known that he laid claim to the Roman title, and with
perfect justice. Two generations before that, there had been an amicable
arrangement--amicable, but totally illegal--whereby the elder brother,
who was an unmarried invalid, transferred the Roman estates to his
younger brother, who was married and had children, and, in exchange, took
the Neapolitan estates and title, which had just fallen back to the main
branch by the death of a childless Marchese di San Giacinto. Late in life
this old recluse invalid married, contrary to all expectation--certainly
contrary to his own previous intentions. However, a child was born--a
boy. The old man found himself deprived by his own act of his
principality, and the succession turned from his son to the son of his
younger brother. He began a negotiation for again obtaining possession of
the Roman title--at least so the family tradition goes--but his brother,
who was firmly established in Rome, refused to listen to his demands. At
this juncture the old man died, being legally, observe, still the head of
the family of Saracinesca; his son should have succeeded him. But his
wife, the young daughter of an obscure Neapolitan nobleman, was not more
than eighteen years of age, and the child was only six months old. People
married young in those days. She entered some kind of protest, which,
however, was of no avail; and the boy grew up to be called the Marchese
di San Griacinto. He learned the story of his birth from his mother, and
protested in his turn. He ruined himself in trying to push his suit in
the Neapolitan courts; and finally, in the days of Napoleon's success, he
took service under Murat, receiving the solemn promise of the Emperor
that he should be reinstated in his title. But the Emperor forgot his
promise, or did not find it convenient to keep it, having perhaps reasons
of his own for not quarrelling with Pius the Seventh, who protected the
Roman Saracinesea Then came 1815, the downfall of the Empire, the
restoration of Ferdinand IV. in Naples, the confiscation of property from
all who had joined the Emperor, and the consequent complete ruin of San
Giacinto's hopes. He was supposed to have been killed, or to have made
away with himself. Saracinesea himself acknowledges that his grandson is
alive, and possesses all the family papers. Saracinesca himself has
discovered, seen, and conversed with the lawful head of his race, who, by
the blessing of heaven and the assistance of the courts, will before long
turn him out of house and home, and reign in his stead in all the glories
of the Palazzo Saracinesca, Prince of Rome, of the Holy Roman Empire,
grandee of Spain of the first class, and all the rest of it. Do you
wonder I rejoice, now that I am sure of putting an innkeeper over my
enemy's head? Fancy the humiliation of old Saracinesca, of Giovanni, who
will have to take his wife's title for the sake of respectability, of the
Astrardente herself, when she finds she has married the penniless son of
a penniless pretender!"

Del Ferice knew enough of the Saracinesca's family history to know that
something like what he had so fluently detailed to Donna Tullia had
actually occurred, and he knew well enough that she would not remember
every detail of his rapidly told tale. Hating the family as he did, he
had diligently sought out all information about them which he could
obtain without gaining access to their private archives. His ready wit
helped him to string the whole into a singularly plausible story. So
plausible, indeed, that it entirely upset all Donna Tullia's
determination to be angry at Del Ferice, and filled her with something of
the enthusiasm he showed. For himself he hoped that there was enough in
his story to do some palpable injury to the Saracinesca; but his more
immediate object was not to lose Donna Tullia by letting her feel any
disappointment at the discovery recently made by the old Prince. Donna
Tullia listened with breathless interest until he had finished.

"What a man you are, Ugo! How you turn defeat into victory! Is it all
really true? Do you think we can do it?"

"If I were to die this instant," Del Ferice asseverated, solemnly raising
his hand, "it is all perfectly true, so help me God!"

He hoped, for many reasons, that he was not perjuring himself.

"What shall we do, then?" asked Madame Mayer.

"Let them marry first, and then we shall be sure of humiliating them
both," he answered. Unconsciously he repeated the very determination
which Giovanni had formed against him the night before. "Meanwhile,
you and I can consult the lawyers and see how this thing can best be
accomplished quickly and surely," he added.

"You will have to send for the innkeeper--"

"I will go and see him. It will not be hard to persuade him to claim his
lawful rights."

Del Ferice remained some time in conversation with Donna Tullia. The
magnitude of the scheme fascinated her, and instead of thinking of
breaking her promise to Ugo as she had intended doing, she so far fell
under his influence as to name the wedding-day,--Easter Monday, they
agreed, would exactly suit them and their plans. Indeed the idea of
refusing to fulfil her engagement had been but the result of a transitory
fit of anger; if she had had any fear of making a misalliance in marrying
Del Ferice, the way in which the world received the news of the
engagement removed all such apprehension from her mind. Del Ferice was
already treated with increased respect--the very servants began to call
him "Eccellenza," a distinction to which he neither had, nor could ever
have, any kind of claim, but which pleased Donna Tullia's vain soul. The
position which Ugo had obtained for himself by an assiduous attention to
the social claims and prejudices of social lights and oracles, was
suddenly assured to him, and rendered tenfold more brilliant by the news
of his alliance with Donna Tullia. He excited no jealousies either; for
Donna Tullia's peculiarities were of a kind which seemed to have
interfered from the first with her matrimonial projects. As a young girl,
a relation of the Saracinesca, whom she now so bitterly hated, she should
have been regarded as marriageable by any of the young Roman nobles, from
Valdarno down. But she had only a small dowry, and she was said to be
extravagant--two objections then not so easily overcome as now. Moreover,
she was considered to be somewhat flighty; and the social jury decided
that when she was married, she would be excellent company, but would make
a very poor wife. Almost before they had finished discussing her,
however, she had found a husband, in the shape of the wealthy foreign
contractor, Mayer, who wanted a wife from a good Roman house, and cared
not at all for money. She treated him very well, but was speedily
delivered from all her cares by his untimely death. Then, of all her
fellow-citizens, none was found save the eccentric old Saracinesca,
who believed that she would do for his son; wherein it appeared that
Giovanni's father was the man of all others who least understood
Giovanni's inclinations. But this match fell to the ground, owing to
Giovanni's attachment to Corona, and Madame Mayer was left with the
prospect of remaining a widow for the rest of her life, or of marrying
a poor man. She chose the latter alternative, and fate threw into her way
the cleverest poor man in Rome, as though desiring to compensate her for
not having married one of the greatest nobles, in the person of Giovanni.
Though she was always a centre of attraction, no one of those she most
attracted wanted to marry her, and all expressed their unqualified
approval of her ultimate choice. One said she was very generous to marry
a penniless gentleman; another remarked that she showed wisdom in
choosing a man who was in the way of making himself a good position under
the Italian Government; a third observed that he was delighted, because
he could enjoy her society without being suspected of wanting to marry
her; and all agreed in praising her, and in treating Del Ferice with the
respect due to a man highly favored by fortune.

Donna Tullia named the wedding-day, and her affianced husband departed in
high spirits with himself, with her, and with his scheme. He felt still a
little excited, and wanted to be alone. He hardly realised the magnitude
of the plot he had undertaken, and needed time to reflect upon it; but
with the true instinct of an intriguing genius he recognised at once that
his new plan was the thing he had sought for long and ardently, and that
it was worth all his other plans put together. Accordingly he went home,
and proceeded to devote himself to the study of the question, sending a
note to a friend of his--a young lawyer of doubtful reputation, but of
brilliant parts, whom he at once selected as his chief counsellor in the
important affair he had undertaken.

Before long he beard that the marriage of Don Giovanni Saracinesca to the
Duchessa d'Astrardente was to take place the next week, in the chapel of
the Palazzo Saracinesca. At least popular report said that the ceremony
was to take place there; and that it was to be performed with great
privacy was sufficiently evident from the fact that no invitations
appeared to have been issued. Society did not fail to comment upon such
exclusiveness, and it commented unfavourably, for it felt that it was
being deprived of a long-anticipated spectacle. This state of things
lasted for two days, when, upon the Sunday morning precisely a week
before the wedding, all Rome was surprised by receiving an imposing
invitation, setting forth that the marriage would be solemnised in the
Basilica of the Santi Apostoli, and that it would be followed by a state
reception at the Palazzo Saracinesca. It was soon known that the ceremony
would be performed by the Cardinal Archpriest of St Peter's, that the
united choirs of St Peter's and of the Sixtine Chapel would sing the High
Mass, and that the whole occasion would be one of unprecedented solemnity
and magnificence. This was the programme published by the 'Osservatore
Romano,' and that newspaper proceeded to pronounce a eulogy of some
length and considerable eloquence upon the happy pair. Rome was fairly
taken off its feet; and although some malcontents were found, who said it
was improper that Corona's marriage should be celebrated with such pomp
so soon after her husband's death, the general verdict was that the whole
proceeding was eminently proper and becoming to so important an event. So
soon as every one had been invited, no one seemed to think it remarkable
that the invitations should have been issued so late. It was not
generally known that in the short time which elapsed between the naming
of the day and the issuing of the cards, there had been several
interviews between old Saracinesca and Cardinal Antonelli; that the
former had explained Corona's natural wish that the marriage should be
private, and that the latter had urged many reasons why so great an event
ought to be public; that Saracinesca had said he did not care at all,
and was only expressing the views of his son and of the bride; that the
Cardinal had repeatedly asseverated that he wished to please everybody;
that Corona had refused to be pleased by a public ceremony; and that,
finally, the Cardinal, seeing himself hard pressed, had persuaded his
Holiness himself to express a wish that the marriage should take place in
the most solemn and public manner; wherefore Corona had reluctantly
yielded the point, and the matter was arranged. The fact was that the
Cardinal wished to make a sort of demonstration of the solidarity of the
Roman nobility: it suited his aims to enter into every detail which could
add to the importance of the Roman Court, and which could help to impress
upon the foreign Ministers the belief that in all matters the Romans as
one man would stand by each other and by the Vatican. No one knew better
than he how the spectacle of a religious solemnity, at which the whole
nobility would attend in a body, must strike the mind of a stranger in
Rome; for in Roman ceremonies of that day there was a pomp and
magnificence surpassing that found in any other Court of Europe. The
whole marriage would become an event of which he could make an impressive
use, and he was determined not to forego any advantages which might arise
from it; for he was a man who of all men well understood the value of
details in maintaining prestige.

But to the two principal actors in the day's doings the affair was an
unmitigated annoyance, and even their own great and true happiness could
not lighten the excessive fatigue of the pompous ceremony and of the
still more pompous reception which followed it. To describe that day
would be to make out a catalogue of gorgeous equipages, gorgeous
costumes, gorgeous decorations. Many pages would not suffice to enumerate
the cardinals, the dignitaries, the ambassadors, the great nobles, whose
magnificent coaches drove up in long file through the Piazza dei Santi
Apostoli to the door of the Basilica. The columns of the 'Osservatore
Romano' were full of it for a week afterwards. There was no end to the
descriptions of the costumes, from the white satin and diamonds of
the bride to the festal uniforms of the Cardinal Arch-priest's retinue.
Not a personage of importance was overlooked in the newspaper account,
not a diplomatist, not an officer of Zouaves. And society read the praise
of itself, and found it much more interesting than the praise of the
bride and bridegroom; and only one or two people were offended because
the paper had made a mistake in naming the colours of the hammer-cloths
upon their coaches: so that the affair was a great success.

But when at last the sun was low and the guests had departed from the
Palazzo Saracinesca, Corona and Giovanni got into their travelling
carriage under the great dark archway, and sighed a sigh of infinite
relief. The old Prince put his arms tenderly around his new daughter and
kissed her; and for the second time in the course of this history, it is
to be recorded that two tears stole silently down his brown cheeks to his
grey beard. Then he embraced Giovanni, whose face was pale and earnest.

"This is not the end of our living together, _padre mio,_" he said. "We
shall expect you before long at Saracinesca."

"Yes, my boy," returned the old man; "I will come and see you after
Easter. But do not stay if it is too cold; I have a little business to
attend to in Rome before I join you," he added, with a grim smile.

"I know," replied Giovanni, a savage light in his black eyes. "If you
need help, send to me, or come yourself."

"No fear of that, Giovannino; I have got a terrible helper. Now, be off.
The guards are growing impatient."

"Good-bye. God bless you, _padre mio!_"

"God bless you both!" So they drove off, and left old Saracinesca
standing bareheaded and alone under the dim archway of his ancestral
palace. The great carriage rolled out, and the guard of mounted
gendarmes, which the Cardinal had insisted upon sending with the young
couple, half out of compliment, half for safety, fell in behind, and
trotted down the narrow street, with a deafening clatter of hoofs and
clang of scabbards.

But Giovanni held Corona's hand in his, and both were silent for a time.
Then they rolled under the low vault of the Porta San Lorenzo and out
into the evening sunlight of the Campagna beyond.

"God be praised that it has come at last!" said Giovanni.

"Yes, it has come," answered Corona, her strong white fingers closing
upon his brown hand almost convulsively; "and, come what may, you are
mine, Giovanni, until we die!"

There was something fierce in the way those two loved each other; for
they had fought many fights before they were united, and had overcome
themselves, each alone, before they had overcome other obstacles
together.

Relays of horses awaited them on their way, and relays of mounted guards.
Late that night they reached Saracinesca, all ablaze with torches and
lanterns; and the young men took the horses from the coach and yoked
themselves to it with ropes, and dragged the cumbrous carriage up the
last hill with furious speed, shouting and singing like madmen in the
cool mountain air. Up the steep they rushed, and under the grand old
gateway, made as bright as day with flaming torches; and then there
went up a shout that struck the old vaults like a wild chord of fierce
music, and Corona knew that her journey was ended.

So it was that Giovanni Saracinesca brought home his bride.



CHAPTER XXXII.


The old Prince was left alone, as he had often been left before, when
Giovanni was gone to the ends of the earth in pursuit of his amusements.
On such occasions old Saracinesca frequently packed up his traps and
followed his son's example; but he rarely went further than Paris, where
he had many friends, and where he generally succeeded in finding
consolation for his solitude.

Now, however, he felt more than usually lonely. Giovanni had not gone
far, it is true, for with good horses it was scarcely more than eight
hours to the castle; but, for the first time in his life, old Saracinesca
felt that if he had suddenly determined to follow his son, he would not
be welcome. The boy was married at last, and must be left in peace for a
few days with his bride. With the contrariety natural to him, old
Saracinesca no sooner felt that his son was gone than he experienced the
most ardent desire to be with him. He had often seen Giovanni leave the
house at twenty-four hours' notice on his way to some distant capital,
and had not cared to accompany him, simply because he knew he might do so
if he pleased; but now he felt that some one else had taken his place,
and that, for a time at least, he was forcibly excluded from Giovanni's
society. It is very likely that but for the business which detained him
in Rome he would have astonished the happy pair by riding into the
gateway of the old castle on the day after the wedding: that business,
however, was urgent, secret, and, moreover, very congenial to the old
man's present temper.

He had discussed the matter fully with Giovanni, and they had agreed upon
the course to be pursued. There was, nevertheless, much to be done before
the end they both so earnestly desired could be attained. It seemed a
simple plan to go to Cardinal Antonelli and to demand the arrest of Del
Ferice for his misdeeds; but as yet those misdeeds were undefined, and it
was necessary to define them. The Cardinal rarely resorted to such
measures except when the case was urgent, and Saracinesca knew perfectly
well that it would be hard to prove anything more serious against Del
Ferice than the crime of joining in the silly talk of Valdarno and his
set. Giovanni had told his father plainly that he was sure Del Ferice
derived his living from some illicit source, but he was wholly unable to
show what that source was. Most people believed the story that Del Ferice
had inherited money from an obscure relative; most people thought he was
clever and astute, but were so far deceived by his frank and unaffected
manner as to feel sure that he always said everything that came into his
head; most people are so much delighted when an unusually clever man
deigns to talk to them, that they cannot, for vanity's sake, suspect him
of deceiving them. Saracinesca did not doubt that the mere statement of
his own belief in regard to Del Ferice would have considerable weight
with the Cardinal, for he was used to power of a certain kind, and was
accustomed to see his judgment treated with deference; but he knew the
Cardinal to be a cautious man, hating despotic measures, because by his
use of them he had made himself so bitterly hated--loth always to do by
force what might be accomplished by skill, and in the end far more likely
to attempt the conversion of Del Ferice to the reactionary view, than to
order his expulsion because his views were over liberal. Even if old
Saracinesca had possessed a vastly greater diplomatic instinct than he
did, coupled with an unscrupulous mendacity which he certainly had not,
he would have found it hard to persuade the Cardinal against his will;
but Saracinesca was, of all men, a man violent in action and averse to
reflection before or after the fact. That he should ultimately be
revenged upon Del Ferice and Donna Tullia for the part they had lately
played, was a matter which it never entered his head to doubt; but when
he endeavoured to find means which should persuade the Cardinal to assist
him, he seemed fenced in on all sides by impossibilities. One thing only
helped him--namely, the conviction that if the statesman could be induced
to examine Del Ferice's conduct seriously, the latter would prove to be
not only an enemy to the State, but a bitter enemy to the Cardinal
himself.

The more Saracinesca thought of the matter, the more convinced he was
that he should go boldly to the Cardinal and state his belief that Del
Ferice was a dangerous traitor, who ought to be summarily dealt with. If
the Cardinal argued the case, the Prince would asseverate, after his
manner, and some sort of result was sure to follow. As he thus determined
upon his course, his doubts seemed to vanish, as they generally do in the
mind of a strong man, when action becomes imminent, and the confidence
the old man had exhibited to his son very soon became genuine. It was
almost intolerable to have to wait so long, however, before doing
anything. Giovanni and he had decided to allow Del Ferice's marriage
to take place before producing the explosion, in order the more certainly
to strike both the offenders; now it seemed best to strike at once.
Supposing, he argued with himself, that Donna Tullia and her husband
chose to leave Rome for Paris the day after their wedding, half the
triumph would be lost; for half the triumph was to consist in Del
Ferice's being imprisoned for a spy in Rome, whereas if he once crossed
the frontier, he could at most be forbidden to return, which would be but
a small satisfaction to Saracinesca, or to Giovanni.

A week passed by, and the gaiety of Carnival was again at its height; and
again a week elapsed, and Lent was come. Saracinesca went everywhere and
saw everybody as usual, and then after Ash-Wednesday he occasionally
showed himself at some of those quiet evening receptions which his son so
much detested. But he was restless and discontented. He longed to begin
the fight, and could not sleep for thinking of it. Like Giovanni, he was
strong and revengeful; but Giovanni had from his mother a certain
slowness of temperament, which often deterred him from action just long
enough to give him time for reflection, whereas the father, when roused,
and he was roused easily, loved to strike at once. It chanced one
evening, in a great house, that Saracinesca came upon the Cardinal
standing alone in an outer room. He was on his way into the reception;
but he had stopped, attracted by a beautiful crystal cup of old
workmanship, which stood, among other objects of the kind, upon a marble
table in one of the drawing-rooms through which he had to pass. The cup
itself, of deeply carved rock crystal, was set in chiselled silver, and
if not the work of Cellini himself, must have been made by one of his
pupils. Saracinesca stopped by the great man's side.

"Good evening, Eminence," he said.

"Good evening, Prince," returned the Cardinal, who recognised
Saracinesca's voice without looking up. "Have you ever seen this
marvellous piece of work? I have been admiring it for a quarter of an
hour." He loved all objects of the kind, and understood them with rare
knowledge.

"It is indeed exceedingly beautiful," answered Saracinesca, who longed to
take advantage of the opportunity of speaking to Cardinal Antonelli upon
the subject nearest to his heart.

"Yes--yes," returned the Cardinal rather vaguely, and made as though he
would go on. He saw from Saracinesca's commonplace praise, that he knew
nothing of the subject. The old Prince saw his opportunity slipping
from him, and lost his head. He did not recollect that he could see the
Cardinal alone whenever he pleased, by merely asking for an interview.
Fate had thrust the Cardinal in his path, and fate was responsible.

"If your Eminence will allow me, I would like a word with you," he said
suddenly.

"As many as you please," answered the statesman, blandly. "Let us sit
down in that corner--no one will disturb us for a while."

He seemed unusually affable, as he sat himself down by Saracinesca's
side, gathering the skirt of his scarlet mantle across his knee, and
folding his delicate hands together in an attitude of restful attention.

"You know, I daresay, a certain Del Ferice, Eminence?" began the Prince.

"Very well--the _deus ex machinâ_ who has appeared to carry off Donna
Tullia Mayer. Yes, I know him."

"Precisely, and they will match very well together; the world cannot help
applauding the union of the flesh and the devil."

The Cardinal smiled.

"The metaphor is apt," he said; "but what about them?"

"I will tell you in two words," replied Saracinesca. "Del Ferice is a
scoundrel of the first water--"

"A jewel among scoundrels," interrupted the Cardinal, "for being a
scoundrel he is yet harmless--a stage villain."

"I believe your Eminence is deceived in him."

"That may easily be," answered the statesman. "I am much more often
deceived than people imagine." He spoke very mildly, but his small black
eyes turned keenly upon Saracinesca. "What has he been doing?" he asked,
after a short pause.

"He has been trying to do a great deal of harm to my son and to my son's
wife. I suspect him strongly of doing harm to you."

Whether Saracinesca was strictly honest in saying "you" to the Cardinal,
when he meant the whole State as represented by the prime minister, is a
matter not easily decided. There is a Latin saying, to the effect that a
man who is feared by many should himself fear many, and the saying is
true. The Cardinal was personally a brave man; but he knew his danger,
and the memory of the murdered Rossi was fresh in his mind. Nevertheless,
he smiled blandly as he answered--

"That is rather vague, my friend. How is he doing me harm, if I may ask?"

"I argue in this way," returned Saracinesca, thus pressed. "The fellow
found a most ingenious way of attacking my son--he searched the whole
country till he found that a man called Giovanni Saracinesca had been,
married some time ago in Aquila. He copied the certificates, and produced
them as pretended proof that my son was already married. If I had not
found the man myself, there would have been trouble. Now besides this,
Del Ferice is known to hold Liberal views--"

"Of the feeblest kind," interrupted the statesman, who nevertheless
became very grave.

"Those he exhibits are of the feeblest kind, and he takes no trouble to
hide them. But a fellow so ingenious as to imagine the scheme he
practised against us is not a fool."

"I understand, my good friend," said the Cardinal. "You have been injured
by this fellow, and you would like me to revenge the injury by locking
him up. Is that it?"

"Precisely," answered Saracinesca, laughing at his own simplicity. "I
might as well have said so from the first."

"Much better. You would make a poor diplomatist, Prince. But what in the
world shall I gain by revenging your wrongs upon that creature?"

"Nothing--unless when you have taken the trouble to examine his conduct,
you find that he is really dangerous. In that case your Eminence will be
obliged to look to your own safety. If you find him innocent, you will
let him go."

"And in that case, what will you do?" asked the Cardinal with a smile.

"I will cut his throat," answered Saracinesca, unmoved.

"Murder him?"

"No--call him out and kill him like a gentleman, which is a great deal
better than he deserves."

"I have no doubt you would," said the Cardinal, gravely. "I think your
proposition reasonable, however. If this man is really dangerous, I will
look to him myself. But I must really beg you not to do anything rash. I
have determined that this duelling shall stop, and I warn you that
neither you nor any one else will escape imprisonment if you are involved
in any more of these personal encounters."

Saracinesca suppressed a smile at the Cardinal's threat; but he perceived
that he had gained his point, and was pleased accordingly. He had, he
felt sure, sown in the statesman's mind a germ of suspicion which would
before long bring forth fruit. In those days danger was plentiful, and
people could not afford to overlook it, no matter in what form it
presented itself, least of all such people as the Cardinal himself, who,
while sustaining an unequal combat against superior forces outside the
State, felt that his every step was encompassed by perils from within.
That he had long despised Del Ferice as an idle chatterer did not prevent
him from understanding that he might have been deceived, as Saracinesca
suggested. He had caused Ugo to be watched, it is true, but only from
time to time, and by men whose only duty was to follow him and to see
whether he frequented suspicious society. The little nest of talkers at
Gouache's studio in the Via San Basilio was soon discovered, and proved
to be harmless enough. Del Ferice was then allowed to go on his way
unobserved. But the half-dozen words in which Saracinesca had described
Ugo's scheme for hindering Giovanni's marriage had set the Cardinal
thinking, and the Cardinal seldom wasted time in thinking in vain. His
interview with Saracinesca ended very soon, and the Prince and the
statesman entered the crowded drawing-room and mixed in the throng. It
was long before they met again in private.

The Cardinal on the following day gave orders that Del Ferice's letters
were to be stopped--by no means an uncommon proceeding in those times,
nor so rare in our own day as is supposed. The post-office was then in
the hands of a private individual so far as all management was concerned,
and the Cardinal's word was law. Del Ferice's letters were regularly
opened and examined.

The first thing that was discovered was that they frequently contained
money, generally in the shape of small drafts on London signed by a
Florentine banker, and that the envelopes which contained money never
contained anything else. They were all posted in Florence. With regard
to his letters, they appeared to be very innocent communications from all
sorts of people, rarely referring to politics, and then only in the most
general terms. If Del Ferice had expected to have his correspondence
examined, he could not have arranged matters better for his own safety.
To trace the drafts to the person who sent them was not an easy business;
it was impossible to introduce a spy into the banking-house in Florence,
and among the many drafts daily bought and sold, it was almost impossible
to identify, without the aid of the banker's books, the person who
chanced to buy any particular one. The addresses were, it is true,
uniformly written by the same hand; but the writing was in no way
peculiar, and was certainly not that of any prominent person whose
autograph the Cardinal possessed.

The next step was to get possession of some letter written by Del Ferice
himself, and, if possible, to intercept everything he wrote. But although
the letters containing the drafts were regularly opened, and, after
having been examined and sealed again, were regularly transmitted
through the post-office to Ugo's address, the expert persons set to catch
the letters he himself wrote were obliged to own, after three weeks'
careful watching, that he never seemed to write any letters at all, and
that he certainly never posted any. They acknowledged their failure to
the Cardinal with timid anxiety, expecting to be reprimanded for their
carelessness. But the Cardinal merely told them not to relax their
attention, and dismissed them with a bland smile. He knew, now, that he
was on the track of mischief; for a man who never writes any letters at
all, while he receives many, might reasonably be suspected of having a
secret post-office of his own. For some days Del Ferice's movements were
narrowly watched, but with no result whatever. Then the Cardinal sent for
the police register of the district where Del Ferice lived, and in which
the name, nationality, and residence of every individual in the "Rione"
or quarter were carefully inscribed, as they still are.

Running his eye down the list, the Cardinal came upon the name of
"Temistocle Fattorusso, of Naples, servant to Ugo dei Conti del Ferice:"
an idea struck him.

"His servant is a Neapolitan," he reflected. "He probably sends his
letters by way of Naples."

Accordingly Temistocle was watched instead of his master. It was found
that he frequented the society of other Neapolitans, and especially that
he was in the habit of going from time to time to the Ripa Grande, the
port of the Tiber, where he seemed to have numerous acquaintances among
the Neapolitan boatmen who constantly came up the coast in their
"martingane"--heavy, sea-going, lateen-rigged vessels, bringing cargoes
of oranges and lemons to the Roman market. The mystery was now solved.
One day Temistocle was actually seen giving a letter into the hands of a
huge fellow in a red woollen cap. The _sbirro_ who saw him do it marked
the sailor and his vessel, and never lost sight of him till he hoisted
his jib and floated away down stream. Then the spy took horse and
galloped down to Fiumicino, where he waited for the little vessel,
boarded her from a boat, escorted by a couple of gendarmes, and had no
difficulty in taking the letter from the terrified seaman, who was glad
enough to escape without detention. During the next fortnight several
letters were stopped in this way, carried by different sailors, and the
whole correspondence went straight to the Cardinal. It was not often that
he troubled himself to play the detective in person, but when he did so,
he was not easily baffled. And now he observed that about a week after
the interception of the first letter the small drafts which used to come
so frequently to Del Ferice's address from Florence suddenly ceased,
proving beyond a doubt that each letter was paid for according to its
value so soon as it was received.

With regard to the contents of these epistles little need be said. So
sure was Del Ferice of his means of transmission that he did not even use
a cipher, though he, of course, never signed any of his writings. The
matter was invariably a detailed chronicle of Roman sayings and doings, a
record as minute as Del Ferice could make it, of everything that took
place, and even the Cardinal himself was astonished at the accuracy of
the information thus conveyed. His own appearances in public--the names
of those with whom he talked--even fragments of his conversation--were
given with annoying exactness. The statesman learned with infinite
disgust that he had for some time past been subjected to a system of
espionage at least as complete as any of his own invention; and, what was
still more annoying to his vanity, the spy was the man of all others whom
he had most despised, calling him harmless and weak, because he cunningly
affected weakness. Where or how Del Ferice procured so much information
the Cardinal cared little enough, for he determined there and then that
he should procure no more. That there were other traitors in the camp was
more than likely, and that they had aided Del Ferice with their counsels;
but though by prolonging the situation it might be possible to track them
down, such delay would be valuable to enemies abroad. Moreover, if Del
Ferice began to find out, as he soon must, that his private
correspondence was being overhauled at the Vatican, he was not a man to
hesitate about attempting his escape; and he would certainly not be an
easy man to catch, if he could once succeed in putting a few miles of
Campagna between himself and Rome. There was no knowing what disguise he
might not find in which to slip over the frontier; and indeed, as he
afterwards proved, he was well prepared for such an emergency.

The Cardinal did not hesitate. He had just received the fourth letter,
and if he waited any longer Del Ferice would take alarm, and slip through
his fingers. He wrote with his own hand a note to the chief of police,
ordering the immediate arrest of Ugo dei Conti del Ferice, with
instructions that he should be taken in his own house, without any
publicity, and conveyed in a private carriage to the Sant' Uffizio by men
in plain clothes. It was six o'clock in the evening when he wrote the
order, and delivered it to his private servant to be taken to its
destination. The man lost no time, and within twenty minutes the chief of
police was in possession of his orders, which he hastened to execute with
all possible speed. Before seven o'clock two respectable-looking citizens
were seated in the chief's own carriage, driving rapidly in the direction
of Del Fence's house. In less than half an hour the man who had caused so
much trouble would be safely lodged in the prisons of the Holy Office, to
be judged for his sins as a political spy. In a fortnight he was to have
been married to Donna Tullia Mayer,--and her trousseau had just arrived
from Paris.

It can hardly be said that the Cardinal's conduct was unjustifiable,
though many will say that Del Fence's secret doings were easily
defensible on the ground of his patriotism. Cardinal Antonelli had
precisely defined the situation in his talk with Anastase Gouache by
saying that the temporal power was driven to bay. To all appearances
Europe was at peace, but as a matter of fact the peace was but an armed
neutrality. An amount of interest was concentrated upon the situation of
the Papal States which has rarely been excited by events of much greater
apparent importance than the occupation of a small principality by
foreign troops. All Europe was arming. In a few months Austria was to
sustain one of the most sudden and overwhelming defeats recorded in
military history. In a few years the greatest military power in the world
was to be overtaken by an even more appalling disaster. And these
events, then close at hand, were to deal the death-blow to papal
independence. The papacy was driven to bay, and those to whom the last
defence was confided were certainly justified in employing every means in
their power for strengthening their position. That Rome herself was
riddled with rotten conspiracies, and turned into a hunting-ground for
political spies, while the support she received from Louis Napoleon had
been already partially withdrawn, proves only how hard was the task of
that man who, against such odds, maintained so gallant a fight. It is no
wonder that he hunted down spies, and signed orders forcing suspicious
characters to leave the city at a day's notice; for the city was
practically in a state of siege, and any relaxation of the iron
discipline by which the great Cardinal governed would at any moment in
those twenty years have proved disastrous. He was hated and feared; more
than once he was in imminent danger of his life, but he did his duty in
his post. Had his authority fallen, it is impossible to say what evil
might have ensued to the city and its inhabitants--evils vastly more to
be feared than the entrance of an orderly Italian army through the Porta
Pia. For the recollections of Count Rossi's murder, and of the short and
lawless Republic of 1848, were fresh in the minds of the people, and
before they had faded there were dangerous rumours of a rising even less
truly Republican in theory, and far more fatal in the practical social
anarchy which must have resulted from its success. Giuseppe Mazzini had
survived his arch-enemy, the great Cavour, and his influence was
incalculable.

But my business is not to write the history of those uncertain days,
though no one who considers the social life of Rome, either then or now,
can afford to overlook the influence of political events upon the
everyday doings of men and women. We must follow the private carriage
containing the two respectable citizens who were on their way to Del
Ferice's house.



CHAPTER XXXIII.


Now it chanced that Del Ferice was not at home at the hour when the
carriage containing the detectives drew up at his door. Indeed he was
rarely to be found at that time, for when he was not engaged elsewhere,
he dined with Donna Tullia and her old countess, accompanying them
afterwards to any of the quiet Lenten receptions to which they desired to
go. Temistocle was also out, for it was his hour for supper, a meal which
he generally ate in a small _osteria_ opposite his master's lodging.
There he sat now, finishing his dish of beans and oil, and debating
whether he should indulge himself in another _mezza foglietta_ of his
favourite white wine. He was installed upon the wooden bench against the
wall, behind the narrow table on which was spread a dirty napkin with the
remains of his unctuous meal. The light from the solitary oil-lamp that
hung from the black ceiling was not brilliant, and he could see well
enough through the panes of the glass door that the carriage which had
just stopped on the opposite side of the street was not a cab. Suspecting
that some one had called at that unusual hour in search of his master, he
rose from his seat and went out.

He stood looking at the carriage. It did not please him. It had that
peculiar look which used to mark the equipages of the Vatican, and which
to this day distinguishes them from all others in the eyes of a born
Roman. The vehicle was of rather antiquated shape, the horses were black,
the coachman wore a plain black coat, with a somewhat old-fashioned hat;
withal, the turnout was respectable enough, and well kept. But it did not
please Temistocle. Drawing his hat over his eyes, he passed behind it,
and having ascertained that the occupants, if there had been any, had
already entered the house, he himself went in. The narrow staircase was
dimly lighted by small oil-lamps. Temistocle ascended the steps on
tiptoe, for he could already hear the men ringing the bell, and talking
together in a low voice. The Neapolitan crept nearer. Again and again
the bell was rung, and the men began to grow impatient.

"He has escaped," said one angrily.

"Perhaps--or he has gone out to dinner--much more likely."

"We had better go away and come later," suggested the first.

"He is sure to come home. We had better wait. The orders are to take him
in his lodgings."

"We might go into the _osteria_ opposite and drink a _foglietta_."

"No," said the other, who seemed to be the one in authority. "We must
wait here, if we wait till midnight. Those are the orders."

The second detective grumbled something not clearly audible, and silence
ensued. But Temistocle had heard quite enough. He was a quick-witted
fellow, as has been seen, much more anxious for his own interests than
for his master's, though he had hitherto found it easy to consult both.
Indeed, in a certain way he was faithful to Del Ferice, and admired him
as a soldier admires his general. The resolution he now formed did honour
to his loyalty to Ugo and to his thievish instincts. He determined to
save his master if he could, and to rob him at his leisure afterwards.
If Del Ferice failed to escape, he would probably reward Temistocle for
having done his best to help him; if, on the other hand, he got away,
Temistocle had the key of his lodgings, and would help himself. But there
was one difficulty in the way. Del Ferice was in evening dress at the
house of Donna Tullia. In such a costume he would have no chance of
passing the gates, which in those days were closed and guarded all night.
Del Ferice was a cautious man, and, like many another in those days, kept
in his rooms a couple of disguises which might serve if he was hard
pressed. His ready money he always carried with him, because he
frequently went into the club before coming home, and played a game of
écarté, in which he was usually lucky. The question was how to enter the
lodgings, to get possession of the necessary clothes, and to go out
again, without exciting the suspicions of the detectives.

Temistocle's mind was soon made up. He crept softly down the stairs, so
as not to appear to have been too near, and then, making as much noise as
he could, ascended boldly, drawing the key of the lodgings from his
pocket as he reached the landing where the two men stood under the
little oil-lamp.

"_Buona sera, signori_," he said, politely, thrusting the key into the
lock without hesitation. "Did you wish to see the Conte del Ferice?"

"Yes," answered the elder man, affecting an urbane manner. "Is the Count
at home?"

"I do not think so," returned the Neapolitan. "But I will see. Come in,
gentlemen. He will not be long--_sempre verso quest'ora_--he always comes
home about this time."

"Thank you," said the detective. "If you will allow us to wait--"

"_Altro_--what? Should I leave the _padrone's_ friends on the stairs?
Come in, gentlemen--sit down. It is dark. I will light the lamp." And
striking a match, Temistocle lit a couple of candles and placed them upon
the table of the small sitting-room. The two men sat down, holding their
hats upon their knees.

"If you will excuse me," said Temistocle, "I will go and make the
signore's coffee. He dines at the restaurant, and always comes home for
his coffee. Perhaps the signori will also take a cup? It is the same to
make three as one."

But the men thanked Temistocle, and said they wanted none, which was just
as well, since Temistocle had no idea of giving them any. He retired,
however, to the small kitchen which belongs to every Roman lodging, and
made a great clattering with the coffee-pot. Presently he slipped into
Del Ferice's bedroom, and extracted from a dark corner a shabby black
bag, which he took back with him into the kitchen. From the kitchen
window ran the usual iron wire to the well in the small court, bearing an
iron traveller with a rope for drawing water. Temistocle, clattering
loudly, hooked the bag to the traveller and let it run down noisily; then
he tied the rope and went out. He had carefully closed the door of the
sitting-room, but he had been careful to leave the door which opened upon
the stairs unlatched. He crept noiselessly out, and leaving the door
still open, rushed down-stairs, turned into the little court, unhooked
his bag from the rope, and taking it in his hand, passed quietly out into
the street. The coachman was dozing upon the box of the carriage which
still waited before the door, and would not have noticed Temistocle had
he been awake. In a moment more the Neapolitan was beyond pursuit. In
the Piazza di Spagna he hailed a cab and drove rapidly to Donna Tullia's
house, where he paid the man and sent him away. The servants knew him
well enough, for scarcely a day passed without his bringing some note or
message from his master to Madame Mayer. He sent in to say that he must
speak to his master on business. Del Ferice came out hastily in
considerable agitation, which was by no means diminished by the sight of
the well-known shabby black bag.

Temistocle glanced round the hall to see that they were alone.

"The _forza_--the police," he whispered, "are in the house, Eccellenza.
Here is the bag. Save yourself, for the love of heaven!"

Del Ferice turned ghastly pale, and his face twitched nervously.

"But--" he began, and then staggering back leaned against the wall.

"Quick--fly!" urged Temistocle, shaking him roughly by the arm. "It is
the Holy Office--you have time. I told them you would be back, and they
are waiting quietly--they will wait all night. Here is your overcoat," he
added, almost forcing his master into the garment--"and your hat--here!
Come along, there is no time to lose. I will take you to a place where
you can dress."

Del Ferice submitted almost blindly. By especial good fortune the footman
did not come out into the hall. Donna Tullia and her guests had finished
dinner, and the servants had retired to theirs; indeed the footman had
complained to Temistocle of being called away from his meal to open the
door. The Neapolitan pushed his master out upon the stairs, urging him to
use all speed. As the two men hurried along the dark street they
conversed in low tones. Del Ferice was trembling in every joint.

"But Donna Tullia," he almost whined. "I cannot leave her so--she must
know--"

"Save your own skin from the Holy Office, master," answered Temistocle,
dragging him along as fast as he could. "I will go back and tell your
lady, never fear. She will leave Rome to-morrow. Of course you will go
to Naples. She will follow you. She will be there before you."

Del Ferice mumbled an unintelligible answer. His teeth were chattering
with cold and fear; but as he began to realise his extreme peril, terror
lent wings to his heels, and he almost outstripped the nimble Temistoele
in the race for safety. They reached at last the ruined part of the city
near the Porta Maggiore, and in the shadow of the deep archway where the
road branches to the right towards Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, Temistocle
halted.

"Here," he said, shortly. Del Ferice said never a word, but began to
undress himself in the dark. It was a gloomy and lowering night, the
roads were muddy, and from time to time a few drops of cold rain fell
silently, portending a coming storm. In a few moments the transformation
was complete, and Del Ferice stood by his servant's side in the shabby
brown cowl and rope-girdle of a Capuchin monk.

"Now comes the hard part," said Temistocle, producing a razor and a pair
of scissors from the bottom of the bag. Del Ferice had too often
contemplated the possibility of flight to have omitted so important a
detail.

"You cannot see--you will cut my throat," he murmured plaintively.

But the fellow was equal to the emergency. Retiring deeper into the
recess of the arch, he lit a cigar, and holding it between his teeth,
puffed violently at it, producing a feeble light by which he could just
see his master's face. He was in the habit of shaving him, and had no
difficulty in removing the fair moustache from his upper lip. Then,
making him hold his head down, and puffing harder than ever, he cropped
his thin hair, and managed to make a tolerably respectable tonsure. But
the whole operation had consumed half an hour at the least, and Del
Ferice was trembling still. Temistocle thrust the clothes into his bag.

"My watch!" objected the unfortunate man, "and my pearl studs--give them
to me--what? You villain! you thief! you--"

"No _chiacchiere_, no talk, _padrone_," interrupted Temistocle, snapping
the lock of the bag. "If you chance to be searched, it would ill become a
mendicant friar to be carrying gold watches and pearl studs. I will give
them to Donna Tullia this very evening. You have money--you can say that
you are taking that to your convent."

"Swear to give the watch to Donna Tullia," said Del Ferice. Whereupon
Temistocle swore a terrible oath, which he did not fail to break, of
course. But his master had to be satisfied, and when all was completed
the two parted company.

"I will ask Donna Tullia to take me to Naples on her passport," said the
Neapolitan.

"Take care of my things, Temistoele. Burn all the papers if you
can--though I suppose the _sbirri_ have got them by this time. Bring my
clothes--if you steal anything, remember there are knives in Rome, and I
know where to write to have them used." Whereat Temistocle broke into a
torrent of protestations. How could his master think that, after saving
him at such risk, his faithful servant would plunder him?

"Well," said Del Ferice, thoughtfully, "you are a great scoundrel, you
know. But you have saved me, as you say. There is a scudo for you."

Temistocle never refused anything. He took the coin, kissed his master's
hand as a final exhibition of servility, and turned back towards the city
without another word. Del Ferice shuddered, and drew his heavy cowl over
his head as he began to walk quickly towards the Porta Maggiore. Then he
took the inside road, skirting the walls through the mud to the Porta San
Lorenzo. He was perfectly safe in his disguise. He had dined abundantly,
he had money in his pocket, and he had escaped the clutches of the Holy
Office. A barefooted friar might walk for days unchallenged through the
Roman Campagna and the neighbouring hills, and it was not far to the
south-eastern frontier. He did not know the way beyond Tivoli, but he
could inquire without exciting the least suspicion. There are few
disguises more complete than the garb of a Capuchin monk, and Del Ferice
had long contemplated playing the part, for it was one which eminently
suited him. His face, much thinner now than formerly, was yet naturally
round, and without his moustache would certainly pass for a harmless
clerical visage. He had received an excellent education, and knew vastly
more Latin than the majority of mendicant monks. As a good Roman he was
well acquainted with every convent in the city, and knew the names of all
the chief dignitaries of the Capuchin order. When a lad he had frequently
served at Mass, and was acquainted with most of the ordinary details of
monastic life. The worst that could happen to him might be to be called
upon in the course of his travels to hear the dying confession of some
poor wretch who had been stabbed after a game of _mora_. His case was
altogether not so bad as might seem, considering the far greater evils he
had escaped.

At the Porta San Lorenzo the gates were closed as usual, but the dozing
watchman let Del Ferice out of the small door without remark. Any one
might leave the city, though it required a pass to gain admittance during
the night. The heavily-ironed oak clanged behind the fugitive, and he
breathed more freely as he stepped upon the road to Tivoli. In an hour he
had crossed the Ponte Mammolo, shuddering as he looked down through the
deep gloom at the white foam of the Teverone, swollen with the winter
rains. But the fear of the Holy Office was behind him, and he hurried on
his lonely way, walking painfully in the sandals he had been obliged to
put on to complete his disguise, sinking occasionally ankle-deep in mud,
and then trudging over a long stretch of broken stones where the road had
been mended; but not noticing nor caring for pain and fatigue, while he
felt that every minute took him nearer to the frontier hills where he
would be safe from pursuit. And so he toiled on, till he smelled the
fetid air of the sulphur springs full fourteen miles from Rome; and at
last, as the road began to rise towards Hadrian's Villa, he sat down upon
a stone by the wayside to rest a little. He had walked five hours through
the darkness, seeing but a few yards of the broad road before him as he
went. He was weary and footsore, and the night was growing wilder with
gathering wind and rain as the storm swept down the mountains and through
the deep gorge of Tivoli on its way to the desolate black Campagna. He
felt that if he did not die of exposure he was safe, and to a man in his
condition bad weather is the least of evils.

His reflections were not sweet. Five hours earlier he had been dressed as
a fine gentleman should be, seated at a luxurious table in the company of
a handsome and amusing woman who was to be his wife. He could still
almost taste the delicate _chaud froid_, the tender woodcock, the dry
champagne; he could still almost hear Donna Tullia's last noisy sally
ringing in his ears--and behold, he was now sitting by the roadside in
the rain, in the wretched garb of a begging monk, five hours' journey
from Rome. He had left his affianced bride without a word of warning, had
abandoned all his possessions to Temistocle--that scoundrelly thief
Temistocle!--and he was utterly alone.

But as he rested himself, drawing his monk's hood closely over his head
and trying to warm his freezing feet with the skirts of his rough brown
frock, he reflected that if he ever got safely across the frontier he
would be treated as a patriot, as a man who had suffered for the cause,
and certainly as a man who deserved to be rewarded. He reflected that
Donna Tullia was a woman who had a theatrical taste for romance, and that
his present position was in theory highly romantic, however uncomfortable
it might be in the practice. When he was safe his story would be told in
the newspapers, and he would himself take care that it was made
interesting. Donna Tullia would read it, would be fascinated by the tale
of his sufferings, and would follow him. His marriage with her would then
add immense importance to his own position. He would play his cards well,
and with her wealth at his disposal he might aspire to any distinction he
coveted. He only wished the situation could have been prolonged for three
weeks, till he was actually married. Meanwhile he must take courage and
push on, beyond the reach of pursuit. If once he could gain Subiaco, he
could be over the frontier in twelve hours. From Tivoli there were
_vetture_ up the valley, cheap conveyances for the country people, in
which a barefooted friar could travel unnoticed. He knew that he must
cross the boundary by Trevi and the Serra di Sant' Antonio. He would
inquire the way from Subiaco.

While Del Ferice was thus making his way across the Campagna, Temistocle
was taking measures for his own advantage and safety. He had the bag with
his master's clothes, the valuable watch and chain, and the pearl studs.
He had also the key to Del Ferice's lodgings, of which he promised
himself to make some use, as soon as he should be sure that the
detectives had left the house. In the first place he made up his mind to
leave Donna Tullia in ignorance of his master's sudden departure.
There was nothing to be gained by telling her the news, for she would
probably in her rash way go to Del Ferice's house herself, as she had
done once before, and on finding he was actually gone she would take
charge of his effects, whereby Temistocle would be the loser. As he
walked briskly away from the ruinous district near the Porta Maggiore,
and began to see the lights of the city gleaming before him, his courage
rose in his breast. He remembered how easily he had eluded the detectives
an hour and a half before, and he determined to cheat them again.

But he had reckoned unwisely. Before he had been gone ten minutes the two
men suspected, from the prolonged silence, that something was wrong, and
after searching the lodging perceived that the polite servant who had
offered them coffee had left the house without taking leave. One of the
two immediately drove to the house of his chief and asked for
instructions. The order to arrest the servant if he appeared again came
back at once. The consequence was that when Temistocle boldly opened
the door with a ready framed excuse for his absence, he was suddenly
pinioned by four strong arms, dragged into the sitting-room, and told to
hold his tongue in the name of the law. And that is the last that was
heard of Temistocle for some time. But when the day dawned the men
knew that Del Ferice had escaped them.

The affair had not been well managed. The Cardinal was a good detective,
but a bad policeman. In his haste he had made the mistake of ordering Del
Ferice to be arrested instantly and in his lodgings. Had the statesman
simply told the chief of police to secure Ugo as soon as possible without
any scandal, he could not have escaped. But the officer interpreted the
Cardinal's note to mean that Del Ferice was actually at his lodgings when
the order was given. The Cardinal was supposed to be omniscient by
his subordinates, and no one ever thought of giving any interpretation
not perfectly literal to his commands. Of course the Cardinal was at once
informed, and telegrams and mounted detectives were dispatched in all
directions. But Del Ferice's disguise was good, and when just after
sunrise a gendarme galloped into Tivoli, he did not suspect that the
travel-stained and pale-faced friar, who stood telling his beads before
the shrine just outside the Roman gate, was the political delinquent whom
he was sent to overtake.

Donna Tullia spent an anxious night. She sent down to Del Ferice's
lodgings, as Temistocle had anticipated, and the servant brought back
word that he had not seen the Neapolitan, and that the house was held in
possession by strangers, who refused him admittance. Madame Mayer
understood well enough what had happened, and began to tremble for
herself. Indeed she began to think of packing together her own valuables,
in case she should be ordered to leave Rome, for she did not doubt that
the Holy Office was in pursuit of Del Ferice, in consequence of some
discovery relating to her little club of malcontents. She trembled for
Ugo with an anxiety more genuine than any feeling of hers had been for
many a day, not knowing whether he had escaped or not. But on the
following evening she was partially reassured by hearing from Valdarno
that the police had offered a large reward for Del Ferice's apprehension.
Valdarno declared his intention of leaving Rome at once. His life,
he said, was not safe for a moment. That villain Gouache, who had turned
Zouave, had betrayed them all, and they might be lodged in the Sant'
Uffizio any day. As a matter of fact, after he discovered how egregiously
he had been deceived by Del Ferice, the Cardinal grew more suspicious,
and his emissaries were more busy than they had been before. But Valdarno
had never manifested enough wisdom, nor enough folly, to make him a cause
of anxiety to the Prime Minister. Nevertheless he actually left Rome and
spent a long time in Paris before he was induced to believe that he might
safely return to his home.

Roman society was shaken to its foundations by the news of the attempted
arrest, and Donna Tullia found some slight compensation in becoming for a
time the centre of interest. She felt, indeed, great anxiety for the man
she was engaged to marry; but for the first time in her life she felt
also that she was living in an element of real romance, of which she had
long dreamed, but of which she had never found the smallest realisation.
Society saw, and speculated, and gossiped, after its fashion; but its
gossip was more subdued than of yore, for men began to ask who was safe,
since the harmless Del Ferice had been proscribed. Old Saracinesca said
little. He would have gone to see the Cardinal and to offer him his
congratulations, since it would not be decent to offer his thanks; but
the Cardinal was not in a position to be congratulated. If he had caught
Del Ferice he would have thanked the Prince instead of waiting for any
expressions of gratitude; but he did not catch Del Ferice, for certain
very good reasons which will appear in the last scene of this comedy.

Three days after Ugo's disappearance, the old Prince got into his
carriage and drove out to Saracinesca. More than a month had elapsed
since the marriage, and he felt that he must see his son, even at the
risk of interrupting the honeymoon. On the whole, he felt that his
revenge had been inadequate. Del Fence had escaped the Holy Office, no
one knew how; and Donna Tullia, instead of being profoundly humiliated,
as she would have been had Del Ferice been tried as a common spy, was
become a centre of attraction and interest, because her affianced husband
had for some unknown cause incurred the displeasure of the great
Cardinal, almost on the eve of her marriage--a state of things
significant as regards the tone of Roman society. Indeed the whole
circumstance, which, was soon bruited about among all classes with the
most lively adornment and exaggeration, tended greatly to increase the
fear and hatred which high and low alike felt for Cardinal Antonelli--the
man who was always accused and never heard in his own defence.



CHAPTER XXXIV.


People wondered that Giovanni and Corona should have chosen to retire
into the country for their honeymoon, instead of travelling to France and
England, and ending their wedding-trip in Switzerland. The hills were so
very cold at that early season, and besides, they would be utterly alone.
People could not understand why Corona did not take advantage of the
termination of her widowhood to mix at once with the world, and indemnify
herself for the year of mourning by a year of unusual gaiety. But there
were many, on the other hand, who loudly applauded the action, which, it
was maintained, showed a wise spirit of economy, and contrasted very
favourably with the extravagance recently exhibited by young couples who
in reality had far more cause to be careful of their money. Those who
held this view belonged to the old, patriarchal class, the still
flourishing remnant of the last generation, who prided themselves upon
good management, good morals, and ascetic living; the class of people in
whose marriage-contracts it was stipulated that the wife was to have meat
twice a-day, excepting on fast days, a drive--the _trottata_, as it used
to be called--daily, and two new gowns every year. Even in our times,
when most of that generation are dead, these clauses are often
introduced; in the first half of the century they were universal. A
little earlier it used to be stipulated that the "meat" was not to be
copra, goat's-flesh, which was considered to be food fit only for
servants. But the patriarchal generation were a fine old class in spite
of their economy, and they loudly aplauded Giovanni's conduct.

No one, however, understood that the solitude of Saracinesca was really
the greatest luxury the newly-married couple could desire. They wanted to
be left alone, and they got their wish. No one had known of the
preparations Giovanni had made for his wife's reception, and had any
idea of the changes in the castle reached the ears of the aforesaid
patriarchs, they would probably have changed their minds in regard to
Giovanni's economy. The Saracinesca were not ostentatious, but they spent
their money royally in their own quiet way, and the interior of the old
stronghold had undergone a complete transformation, while the ancient
grey stones of the outer walls and towers frowned as gloomily as ever
upon the valley. Vast halls had been decorated and furnished in a style
suited to the antiquity of the fortress, small sunny rooms had been
fitted up with the more refined luxury which was beginning to be
appreciated in Italy twenty years ago. A great conservatory had been
built out upon the southern battlement. The aqueduct had been completed
successfully, and fountains now played in the courts. The old-fashioned
fireplaces had been again put into use, and huge logs burned upon huge
fire-dogs in the halls, shedding a ruddy glow upon the trophies of old
armour, the polished floors, and the heavy curtains. Quantities of
magnificent tapestry, some of which had been produced when Corona first
visited the castle, were now hung upon the stairs and in the corridors.
The great _baldacchino_, the canopy which Roman princes are privileged to
display in their antechambers, was draped above the quartered arms of
Saracinesca and Astrardente, and the same armorial bearings appeared in
rich stained glass in the window of the grand staircase. The solidity and
rare strength of the ancient stronghold seemed to grow even more imposing
under the decorations and improvements of a later age, and for the first
time Giovanni felt that justice had been done to the splendour of his
ancestral home.

Here he and his dark bride dwelt in perfect unity and happiness, in the
midst of their own lands, surrounded by their own people, and wholly
devoted to each other. But though much of the day was passed in that
unceasing conversation and exchange of ideas which seem to belong
exclusively to happily-wedded man and wife, the hours were not wholly
idle. Daily the two mounted their horses and rode along the level stretch
towards Aquaviva till they came to the turning from which Corona had
first caught sight of Saracinesca. Here a broad road was already broken
out; the construction was so far advanced that two miles at least were
already serviceable, the gentle grade winding backwards and forwards,
crossing and recrossing the old bridle-path as it descended to the valley
below; and now from the furthest point completed Corona could distinguish
in the dim distance the great square palace of Astrardente crowning the
hills above the town. Thither the two rode daily, pushing on the work,
consulting with the engineer they employed, and often looking forward
to the day when for the first time their carriage should roll smoothly
down from Saracinesca to Astrardente without making the vast detour which
the old road followed as it skirted the mountain. There was an
inexpressible pleasure in watching the growth of the work they had so
long contemplated, in speculating on the advantages they would obtain by
so uniting their respective villages, and in feeling that, being at last
one, they were working together for the good of their people. For the men
who did the work were without exception their own peasants, who were
unemployed during the winter time, and who, but for the timely occupation
provided for them, would have spent the cold months in that state of
half-starved torpor peculiar to the indigent agricultural labourer when
he has nothing to do--at that bitter season when father and mother and
shivering little ones watch wistfully the ever-dwindling sack of maize,
as day by day two or three handfuls are ground between the stones of the
hand-mill and kneaded into a thick unwholesome dough, the only food of
the poorer peasants in the winter. But now every man who could handle
pickaxe and bore, and sledge-hammer and spade, was out upon the road from
dawn to dark, and every Saturday night each man took home a silver scudo
in his pocket; and where people are sober and do not drink their wages, a
silver scudo goes a long way further than nothing. Yet many a lean and
swarthy fellow there would have felt that he was cheated if besides his
money he had not carried home daily the remembrance of that tall dark
lady's face and kindly eyes and encouraging voice, and they used to watch
for the coming of the "_gran principessa_" as anxiously as they expected
the coming of the steward with the money-bags on a Saturday evening.
Often, too, the wives and daughters of the rough workers would bring the
men their dinners at noonday, rather than let them carry away their food
with them in the morning, just for the sake of catching a sight of
Corona, and of her broad-shouldered manly husband. And the men worked
with a right good will, for the story had gone abroad that for years to
come there would be no lack of work for willing hands.

So the days sped, and were not interrupted by any incident for several
weeks. One day Gouache, the artist Zouave, called at the castle. He had
been quartered at Subiaco with a part of his company, but had not been
sent on at once to Saracinesca as he had expected. Now, however, he had
arrived with a small detachment of half-a-dozen men, with instructions to
watch the pass. There was nothing extraordinary in his being sent in that
direction, for Saracinesca was very near the frontier, and lay on one of
the direct routes to the Serra di Sant' Antonio, which was the shortest
hill-route into the kingdom of Naples; the country around was thought to
be particularly liable to disturbance, and though no one had seen a
brigand there for some years, the mountain-paths were supposed to be
infested with robbers. As a matter of fact there was a great deal of
smuggling carried on through the pass, and from time to time some
political refugee found his way across the frontier at that point.

Gouache was received very well by Giovanni, and rather coldly by Corona,
who knew him but slightly.

"I congratulate you," said Giovanni, noticing the stripes on the young
man's sleeves; "I see that you have risen in grade."

"Yes. I hold an important command of six men. I spend much time in
studying the strategy of Condé and Napoleon. By the bye, I am here on a
very important mission."

"Indeed!"

"I suppose you give yourselves the luxury of never reading the papers in
this delightful retreat. The day before yesterday the Cardinal attempted
to arrest our friend Del Ferice--have you heard that?"

"No--what--has he escaped?" asked Giovanni and Corona in a breath. But
their tones were different. Giovanni had anticipated the news, and was
disgusted at the idea that the fellow had got off. Corona was merely
surprised.

"Yes. Heaven knows how--he has escaped. I am here to cut him off if he
tries to get to the Serra di Sant' Antonio."

Giovanni laughed.

"He will scarcely try to come this way--under the very walls of my
house," he said.

"He may do anything. He is a slippery fellow." Gouache proceeded to tell
all he knew of the circumstances.

"That is very strange," said Corona, thoughtfully. Then after a pause,
she added, "We are going to visit our road, Monsieur Gouache. Will you
not come with us? My husband will give you a horse."

Gouache was charmed. He preferred talking to Giovanni and looking at
Corona's face to returning to his six Zouaves, or patrolling the hills in
search of Del Ferice. In a few minutes the three were mounted, and riding
slowly along the level stretch towards the works. As they entered the new
road Giovanni and Corona unconsciously fell into conversation, as usual,
about what they were doing, and forgot their visitor. Gouache dropped
behind, watching the pair and admiring them with true artistic
appreciation. He had a Parisian's love of luxury and perfect appointments
as well as an artist's love of beauty, and his eyes rested with
unmitigated pleasure on the riders and their horses, losing no detail of
their dress, their simple English accoutrements, their firm seats and
graceful carriage. But at a turn of the grade the two riders suddenly
slipped from his field of vision, and his attention was attracted to the
marvellous beauty of the landscape, as looking down the valley towards
Astrardente he saw range on range of purple hills rising in a deep
perspective, crowned with jagged rocks or sharply defined brown villages,
ruddy in the lowering sun. He stopped his horse and sat motionless,
drinking in the loveliness before him. So it is that accidents in nature
make accidents in the lives of men.

But Giovanni and Corona rode slowly down the gentle incline, hardly
noticing that Gouache had stopped behind, and talking of the work. As
they again turned a curve of the grade Corona, who was on the inside,
looked up and caught sight of Gouache's motionless figure at the opposite
extremity of the gradient they had just descended. Giovanni looked
straight before him, and was aware of a pale-faced Capuchin friar who
with downcast eyes was toiling up the road, seemingly exhausted; a
particularly weather-stained and dilapidated friar even for those wild
mountains.

"Gouache is studying geography," remarked Corona.

"Another of those Capuccini!" exclaimed Giovanni, instinctively feeling
in his pocket for coppers. Then with a sudden movement he seized his
wife's arm. She was close to him as they rode slowly along side by side.

"Good God! Corona," he cried, "it is Del Ferice!" Corona looked quickly
at the monk. His cowl was raised enough to show his features; but she
would, perhaps, not have recognised his smooth shaven face had Giovanni
not called her attention to it.

Del Ferice had recognised them too, and, horror-struck, he paused,
trembling and uncertain what to do. He had taken the wrong turn from the
main road below; unaccustomed to the dialect of the hills, he had
misunderstood the peasant who had told him especially not to take the
bridle-path if he wished to avoid Saracinesca. He stopped, hesitated, and
then, pulling his cowl over his face, walked steadily on. Giovanni
glanced up and saw that Gouache was slowly descending the road, still
absorbed in contemplating the landscape.

"Let him take his chance," muttered Saracinesca. "What should I care?"

"No--no! Save him, Giovanni,--he looks so miserable," cried Corona, with
ready sympathy. She was pale with excitement.

Giovanni looked at her one moment and hesitated, but her pleading eyes
were not to be refused.

"Then gallop back, darling. Tell Gouache it is cold in the
valley--anything. Make him go back with you--I will save him since you
wish it."

Corona wheeled her horse without a word and cantered up the hill again.
The monk had continued his slow walk, and was now almost at Giovanni's
saddle-bow. The latter drew rein, staring hard at the pale features
under the cowl.

"If you go on you are lost," he said, in low distinct tones. "The Zouaves
are waiting for you. Stop, I say!" he exclaimed, as the monk attempted to
pass on. Leaping to the ground Giovanni seized his arm and held him
tightly. Then Del Ferice broke down.

"You will not give me up--for the love of Christ!" he whined. "Oh, if you
have any pity--let me go--I never meant to harm you--"

"Look here," said Giovanni. "I would just as soon give you up to the Holy
Office as not; but my wife asked me to save you--"

"God bless her! Oh, the saints bless her! God render her kindness!"
blubbered Del Ferice, who, between fear and exhaustion, was by this time
half idiotic.

"Silence!" said Giovanni, sternly. "You may thank her if you ever have a
chance. Come with me quietly. I will send one of the workmen round the
hill with you. You must sleep at Trevi, and then get over the Serra as
best you can." He ran his arm through the bridle of his horse and walked
by his enemy's side.

"You will not give me up," moaned the wretched man. "For the love of
heaven do not betray me--I have come so far--I am so tired."

"The wolves may make a meal of you, for all I care," returned Giovanni.
"I will not. I give you my word that I will send you safely on, if you
will stop this whining and behave like a man."

At that moment Del Ferice was past taking offence, but for many a year
afterwards the rough words rankled in his heart. Giovanni was brutal for
once; he longed to wring the fellow's neck, or to give him up to Gouacho
and the Zouaves. The tones of Ugo's voice reminded him of injuries not so
old as to be yet forgotten. But he smothered his wrath and strode on,
having promised his wife to save the wretch, much against his will. It
was a quarter of an hour before they reached the works, the longest
quarter of an hour Del Ferice remembered in his whole life. Neither spoke
a word. Giovanni hailed a sturdy-looking fellow who was breaking stones
by the roadside.

"Get up, Carluccio," he said. "This good monk has lost his way. You must
take him round the mountain, above Ponza to Arcinazzo, and show him the
road to Trevi. It is a long way, but the road is good enough after
Ponza--it is shorter than to go round by Saracinesca, and the good friar
is in a hurry."

Carluccio started up with alacrity. He greatly preferred roaming about
the hills to breaking stones, provided he was paid for it. He picked up
his torn jacket and threw it over one shoulder, setting his battered hat
jauntily on his thick black curls.

"Give us a benediction, _padre mio_, and let us be off--_non è mica un
passo_--it is a good walk to Trevi."

Del Ferice hesitated. He hardly knew what to do or say, and even if he
had wished to speak he was scarcely able to control his voice. Giovanni
cut the situation short by turning on his heel and mounting his horse. A
moment later he was cantering up the road again, to the considerable
astonishment of the labourers, who were accustomed to see him spend at
least half an hour in examining the work done. But Giovanni was in no
humour to talk about roads. He had spent a horrible quarter of an hour,
between his desire to see Del Ferice punished and the promise he had
given his wife to save him. He felt so little sure of himself that he
never once looked back, lest he should be tempted to send a second man to
stop the fugitive and deliver him up to justice. He ground his teeth
together, and his heart was full of bitter curses as he rode up the hill,
hardly daring to reflect upon what he had done. That, in the eyes of the
law, he had wittingly helped a traitor to escape, troubled his conscience
little. His instinct bade him destroy Del Ferice by giving him up, and he
would have saved himself a vast deal of trouble if he had followed his
impulse. But the impulse really arose from a deep-rooted desire for
revenge, which, having resisted, he regretted bitterly--very much as
Shakespeare's murderer complained to his companion that the devil was at
his elbow bidding him not murder the duke. Giovanni spared his enemy
solely to please his wife, and half-a-dozen words from her had produced a
result which no consideration of mercy or pity could have brought about.

Corona and Gouache had halted at the top of the road to wait for him. By
an imperceptible nod, Giovanni informed his wife that Del Ferice was
safe.

"I am sorry to have cut short our ride," he said, coldly. "My wife found
it chilly in the valley."

Anastase looked curiously at Giovanni's pale face, and wondered whether
anything was wrong. Corona herself seemed strangely agitated.

"Yes," answered Gouache, with his gentle smile; "the mountain air is
still cold."

So the three rode silently back to the castle, and at the gate Gouache
dismounted and left them, politely declining a rather cold invitation to
come in. Giovanni and Corona went silently up the staircase together, and
on into a small apartment which in that cold season they had set apart as
a sitting-room. When they were alone, Corona laid her hands upon
Giovanni's shoulders and gazed long into his angry eyes. Then she threw
her arms round his neck and drew him to her.

"My beloved," she cried, proudly, "you are all I thought--and more too."

"Do not say that," answered Giovanni. "I would not have lifted a finger
to save that hound, but for you."

"Ah, but you did it, dear, all the same," she said, and kissed him.

On the following evening, without any warning, old Saracinesca arrived,
and was warmly greeted. After dinner Giovanni told him the story of Del
Ferice's escape. Thereupon the old gentleman flew into a towering rage,
swearing and cursing in a most characteristic manner, but finally
declaring that to arrest spies was the work of spies, and that Giovanni
had behaved like a gentleman, as of course he could not help doing,
seeing that he was his own son.

       *       *       *       *       *

And so the curtain falls upon the first act. Giovanni and Corona are
happily married. Del Ferice is safe across the frontier among his friends
in Naples, and Donna Tullia is waiting still for news of him, in the last
days of Lent, in the year 1866. To carry on the tale from this point
would be to enter upon a new series of events more interesting, perhaps,
than those herein detailed, and of like importance in the history of the
Saracinesca family, but forming by their very nature a distinct
narrative--a second act to the drama, if it may be so called. I am
content if in the foregoing pages I have so far acquainted the reader
with those characters which hereafter will play more important parts, as
to enable him to comprehend the story of their subsequent lives, and in
some measure to judge of their future by their past, regarding them as
acquaintances, if not sympathetic, yet worthy of some attention.

Especially I ask for indulgence in matters political. I am not writing
the history of political events, but the history of a Roman family during
times of great uncertainty and agitation. If any one says that I have set
up Del Ferice as a type of the Italian Liberal party, carefully
constructing a villain in order to batter him to pieces with the
artillery of poetic justice, I answer that I have done nothing of the
kind. Del Ferice is indeed a type, but a type of a depraved class which
very unjustly represented the Liberal party in Rome before 1870, and
which, among those who witnessed its proceedings, drew upon the great
political body which demanded the unity of Italy an opprobrium that body
was very far from deserving. The honest and upright Liberals were waiting
in 1866. What they did, they did from their own country, and they did it
boldly. To no man of intelligence need I say that Del Ferice had no more
affinity with Massimo D'Azeglio, with the great Cavour, with Cavour's
great enemy Giuseppe Mazzini, or with Garibaldi, than the jackal has with
the lion. Del Ferice represented the scum which remained after the
revolution of 1848 had subsided. He was one of those men who were used
and despised by their betters, and in using whom Cavour himself was
provoked into writing "Se noi facessimo per noi quel che faciamo per
l'Italia, saremmo gran bricconi"--if we did for ourselves what we do for
Italy, we should be great blackguards. And that there were honourable
and just men outside of Rome will sufficiently appear in the sequel to
this veracious tale.


THE END.





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